Five thoughts on getting and keeping new clients 

By Denyse O’Leary 6iyX7LL4T

Things have changed a lot from the days when a computer took up a large room, instead of a zipper case in a backpack. But fortunately, good business practice has not changed. Here are some concepts that have helped many of us stay solvent over the years:

  1. Specialize.

We don’t get face time with clients just by saying we need work; we get it by building confidence over time that we can solve the specific problems they identify. For example, one area I specialized in early was indexing. Indexes add greatly to the value of non-fiction works, but most authors can’t write them, and most editors are too busy to do it when it must be done—in the last stages of publication.

Other old-timers have made editing for science journals or checking a foreign language translation their specialty. Over the years, an editor’s reputation grows among clients who need the specialty—because, no surprise, those people tend to all know each other.

  1. It is unwise to turn down jobs when overbooked.

Better to refer them to trusted fellow editors. Could those editors then steal the clients? Yes, maybe.

But consider: The clients you’d want are hardly going to lose your email address on account of the fact that you solved a problem for them. And those other editors will be too busy themselves sometimes as well. Chances are, you will be hearing from the clients again yourself. Over time and with experience, we will, of course, refer only to people who know enough to return the favour. Of course.

  1. Clients like it when we editors keep up to date with the industry conditions they face (technical, legal, financial, competitive).

That’s much easier today than before the Internet and builds mutual trust and encouragement.

  1. One should always feel free to ask for feedback.

Any pattern, positive or otherwise, can be helpful. When someone refers a client to me, and the client is pleased with my work, I suggest letting the referrer know. It tends to lead to the “chain migration” of jobs, over time.

  1. What if things go wrong?

The proactive position is generally recommended. That is, (1) see if you understand the problem correctly, and (2) ask yourself how this problem can best be resolved. One isn’t required to agree, but first one must fully understand the other party’s position.

Defensiveness is considered unwise, as it usually obliges the other party to double down on a position, which, in turn, impedes solutions.

That said, some relationships will just not work out, for all sorts of reasons. That’s okay. One benefit of the proactive approach is that we can walk away from a situation we just cannot resolve with self-esteem intact: We can all learn, but none of us can work miracles.

We can all take a tip from “The Gambler” (Kenny Rogers, anyone?):

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em

Know when to fold ’em

Know when to walk away

And know when to run

You never count your money

When you’re sittin’ at the table

There’ll be time enough for countin’

When the dealin’s done

Editing, in my experience, has been a calling, a lifestyle, a business, and a lot of fun, not necessarily in that order at all times. So there is a lot to be said for that gamblin’ man’s approach, if not his lifestyle(!).

Denyse O’Leary has been a freelance editor since 1985. 

This article was copy edited by Ellen Fleischer.

One thought on “Five thoughts on getting and keeping new clients 

  1. Nice post, Denyse. I heartily agree with your suggestion to specialize. My former life was in financial risk management, and my best contracts so far have been in this area. Since I know the lingo, there are fewer query notes to my clients.


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