Build Your Business the Right Way

I work with a lot of editors who want to build a bigger business, move into new areas, and/or develop new types of clients. I always applaud this. We’re working in a field that allows almost endless growth and change, if we want it. I’m doing very different work now from when I started more than twenty years ago – heck, I’m doing very different work now from what I was doing five years ago!

But there are effective ways to do this and ineffective ways to do this. Newer editors are often tempted to build their business by overstating their experience, thinking no one will ever find out – and if they do, they’ll overlook it when the delivered edit is good. But freelancers build relationships based on trust and no matter how talented you are, if you betray that trust, your clients will drop you. They may even go to great lengths to spread the word about your misrepresentations. The last thing you need is for someone to crank up the Twitter outrage machine and feed it your name.

By the same token, sometimes freelancers (even experienced ones!) are so eager to take on a project that they agree to do things outside their ability. Stretching yourself is fine. Learning new things is terrific—we should all do more of it.

Promising something you have no way to adequately deliver is not okay.

If you have experience copyediting user manuals, it’s not much of a stretch to also copyedit how-to books. But it’s another thing entirely to agree to, say, coach a novelist on figuring out the narrative arc of her work-in-progress. In other words, A to B makes sense. A to E does not.

Use what experience you do have to make logical bridges to related areas. You can find ways to connect where you are (A) to where you want to be (E) but it requires time and planning, not shortcuts. First you need to get to point (B), then point (C) and so on. It takes work and effort, but the results are more reliable, and you’ll be building your business on a solid foundation.

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