Finding favor in freelance copy editing

April 1, 2016 By Junnelle Hogen Conferences

The freelance copy editor may work in a sometimes free-for-all environment, but for those with thick skins, inquisitive natures, and determined mindsets, a full-fledged copy editing career is just a circle of contacts away.

Such was the gist of longtime freelancer Laura Poole’s ACES breakout session Thursday, titled “A Commonsense Guide to Freelancing.”

“Someone asked me once: ‘What’s your business plan?’” Poole recounted. “It’s ‘do work and get paid.’” Poole identified several ways to break into the copy editing industry.

Keep it simple

“Freelancing can get very intimidating when you’re just getting started,” Poole said. Poole encouraged burgeoning copy editors to avoid the mental panic button by slowly rolling out their proffered services, and allowing time for the fruit of their labor to flourish.

“Show (me) the money!”

The financial future of a freelance copy editor may be likened to uncharted waters. In lieu of trusting fate, Poole urged copy editors to pursue several practical outlets in order to achieve financial independence and stability. These ideas included planning for an IRA, charging a livable retaining fee, budgeting for dry spells, setting aside one-third of earnings for tax season, and maintaining a bookkeeping trail.

Poole added to the list of dos and don’ts a cautionary not to cheapen per-page and per-hour rates.

“It does the whole industry a disservice if you charge under the going rates,” Poole said.

Start freelance editing as a side income

The idea of devoting oneself wholeheartedly to a career may be tempting. However, establishing a flourishing and self-sustaining copy editing career may take time, particularly in a competitive or ambiguously defined job market.

Instead of waiting for the savings account to empty, Poole urged caution combined with a dash of clairvoyance.

Treat it as a business

Depending on the person, an interest in copy editing might have started as a devoted side interest, or a draw to the pleasant side of punctiliousness. However, whether or not copy editing used to be a hobby, Poole reminded aspiring freelance copy editors to pursue a career practically.

“The world is not going to deliver all this business to your door,” Poole said. “You are the rainmaker.”

Poole encouraged editing devotees to network and choose work wisely, in order to have both enough work and the right type of work. While the standard for a self-employed individual hovers around 2,000 billable hours annually, equatable to full-time employment, Poole cautioned that the uncertainty of their work may cause copy editors to fall under this standard. Poole encouraged editors to estimate an income sustainable through temporary dry spells, and negotiate eventual pay raises while seeking multiple sources of employment.

“Don’t have all your eggs in one basket,” Poole said.

Talk about your work

“Your business is only open when your mouth is open,” Poole cautioned. “People need to know that you edit.”

Poole outlined several ways for freelance copy editors to spread the word about their services. One of her suggestions was for copy editors to discuss their skills using social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Also, she encouraged copy editors to carry around engaging and interesting business cards, preferably with a head shot and a brief background. Poole mentioned freelance editors should also be prepared to give an “elevator pitch”: an authentic explanation of what services they offer and why.

Lastly, Poole added that editors should ask for referrals among their network of business acquaintances and friends, and occasionally offer discounts as an incentive for the assistance.

Be bold

Some copy editors might typeset, but they don’t all fit a type. For editors who are natural socialites, building a network of people who use the freelancing services may be a habit of nature. For those who need a little nurture to overcome the nature, Poole lauded a “go get ‘em” strategy.

“Ask for what you want and need,” Poole said, mentioning that for copy editing, the adage that “a worker is worth his or her wage” might instead be that “a worker is worth his or her self-valued wage.”

“Do the scary things to move forward,” Poole said.

Break the cycle

As Poole vociferated, sometimes success is paired with careful forward thinking. Poole stressed that freelance editors, if they need assistance acquiring work, should be careful when approaching fellow copy editors, and ask to help build their businesses instead of telling other editors that they want to pick up work leftovers.

Poole also suggested that newbies do a little homework to find the right local and online outlets to grow. Some business resources, like the Service Corps of Retired Executives, more commonly referred to as SCORE, provide free entrepreneurial mentoring.

Lastly, Poole added the Golden Rule of commonsense freelancing: know thyself. A person should consider his or her limits for taking on work, as well as personal work style and space needs, she said.

“Know when you just can’t work any more,” Poole said.

ACES newsroom member Junnelle Hogen is a student at the University of  Oregon.

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