In preparing to speak to folks at the monthly Editors Toronto meeting in September 2021, I decided to tap into the freelance editing community to find out how people landed their first paid editing job. I collected 107 responses, which I stripped of identifying details, popped into this spreadsheet, and coded into categories.
Unsurprisingly to me, the majority of respondents, 59%, found their first paying clients through people they knew: their friends or colleagues—current or former—had hired them, or one of these folks recommended them to someone else. In each of these instances, the newbie editor made sure that other people knew they were available for freelance projects:
- “My mum’s friend from her yoga class had written a novel and needed an editor.”
- “A friend from 8th grade found out I was starting an editing business and asked me to edit his company’s newsletter.”
- “I posted a picture of myself on Instagram doing homework for one of my SFU [editing] courses. An acquaintance saw it and contacted me for a quote to edit her novel.”
So if you’re looking for editing work—either your first or your next client—make sure that people know that you’re able to solve their problems.
But the 41% of people who didn’t find their first clients through networks must have used other sources. So what were these?
1. Responding to requests
Of the 17% of folks who responded to a job ad or request for help, 13% of those encountered that ad through social media—usually in a Facebook group, but sometimes on LinkedIn. The other 4% used platforms like Upwork, Reedsy, and Freelancer.com to find their first client.
2. Contacting from the cold
Seven percent of respondents wrote a compelling email to a potential client in their niche or walked into an office to ask for work. Of these folks, though, a few simply jumped on chances when they became available:
- “My first paying client was someone for whom I was a participant in an underwear design focus group.”
- “I bought a Groupon for a makeup class on a whim. The quality of the offering turned out to be excellent, but the web copy was terrible. I pitched my editing services to the owner and ended up writing and editing copy for her for years.”
3. Letting someone else do the marketing
Only 2% of respondents got their first paid freelance editing work through an editing packaging company—an organization that collects texts that need editing and farms them out to editors. If you’re willing to take a pay cut to save yourself from needing to market your services, a packager could be for you. They’re especially popular in the subfield of editing for academics who speak English as a foreign language.
4. Being in the right place at the right time
Some folks found their first client by using scattershot marketing techniques or by being approached:
- “I put up a business card at a coffee shop and got a call.”
- “An author approached me after a comic con writing panel [after I asked a question about editing].”
- “I posted an awesome meme in a small writers’ group [on Facebook].”
In each of these instances, the prospective editor needed to spend time where their clients also spend time, and, subsequently, take an action to make themselves and their services visible. It’s a strategy similar to content marketing, but is mixed with a bit of serendipity.
Would you like me to speak at your editors’ group meeting about getting into freelance editing? Please contact me!