Ten tips for freelance success


The strong desire to break free from organisational shackles had become so overpowering in the later years of my career that it was becoming almost impossible to resist the temptation every passing day.

The need to stop the atrocious wastage of time spent commuting (six hours daily – a routine that I had endured for more than fifteen years!) and turn part of it into something productive and spend the rest with my family and kids could no longer be ignored.

The confidence that my skills were good enough to get work directly from publishers abroad had always been there but I was curious to find out how many of the contacts I had acquired over the years would actually be offering work.
The requirement to earn more than my current job was paying was perhaps the final push that burst the dam that had been holding back the freelance river flowing inside me.

I was waiting for the perfect moment to leave my job and start my freelance editorial services business, but had to take a quick decision in December 2010. I spent the first week enjoying my first real break from work – sitting in the sun and basking in the warmth of the winter sun, sleeping to my heart’s content, munching on dry fruits, calling up friends and doing absolutely nothing (work-wise).

The first two assignments came from those who had known me as a colleague for years but were now working in different companies. They approached me and asked whether I would be interested in freelancing for their companies.

The next major one came from someone who had just connected with me on LinkedIn, and another major domestic assignment came from an organisation I had worked with in the past. To make the joyride more fun, my best friend also joined me in January 2011. A whirlwind round of tests and samples followed over the next few months, resulting in a hat trick of successful results on the same day, all from international clients.

I am more than happy to share my ten tips for freelance success. These have sustained me all these years:

1. Always have money in the bank for at least six months’ household expenses:

Before you start, make sure that you have enough money in your bank account to last six months in case you don’t earn enough in the start-up stage. Even if you are lucky enough to get work in the first month, it will be some time before you start receiving the payments. The first few months of your freelance career will be a real test of your patience as most of the work that you will be doing may not be paid for (the reason being that it could mostly consist of sample editing for clients).

2. Never burn bridges with your ex-colleagues and companies as these can be your first clients:

This also means keeping in touch with your ex-colleagues through e-mail, phone, Facebook and LinkedIn. Remember: “out of sight, out of mind!”

3. Form a team:

You need to have at least one person to handle your business. This will help you offer more services, get constructive feedback on each other’s work (rather whofrom the client), handle more volume (useful for attracting clients that are interested in outsourcing), complement each other, and take a day/week off when needed.

In my case, for instance, I am fortunate to have my best friend as my partner. While she handles mathematics, physics, and chemistry with great ease, I handle medicine, life sciences, and humanities. Thus, both of us cover what all the clients have up their sleeves!

Also, in copyediting, it is vital to have a pair of fresh eyes. So, while she will pick up errors in my work that my eyes have failed to spot, having become too accustomed to the content I have been reading, I will pick up errors that her eyes have missed. What finally goes to the client is error-free, quality content.

4. Have a strong presence on LinkedIn:

It is very important to have a complete profile on LinkedIn. You must list all that you have accomplished in your career, the clients you have worked with, and what sets you apart.

The most important part of your profile is getting recommendations from people you have worked for/with. Recommendations from the client side are what you should strive for.

You also need to be an active participant in various groups linked to your field of activity. Be a part of ongoing discussions; start discussions of your own; ask, answer, share links and so on. Better still, why not start a group of your own? This is what I did and this is where I got my first international client as a result of a discussion that I had posted and participated in. Others should view you as a thought leader.

Also, do keep an eye on the various opportunities that are posted on different groups, sometimes in the Discussion section and sometimes in the Jobs section.

5. Get in-house industry experience:

If you have worked in-house for around five years, you are ready to take on the world as, by now, you have been exposed to both the expectations that clients have and the tricks of the trade, which you will never get to know if you haven’t worked in-house.

6. Underpromise but overdeliver:

Always bite off less than you can chew. If you have capacity for 100 pages, I suggest taking only 80. It is vital to have a buffer as you can never anticipate life’s unexpected twists and turns. You must never miss your deadlines; rather, you must strive to beat them. If you feel that the work requires more than you can deliver with quality in the stipulated time frame, ask for more time at the very outset rather than doing so on the due date.

7. Don’t stop learning:

Keep reading industry news, keep referring to your style manuals (every day you will learn something new) and always consult a dictionary (onelook.com is a very good option to use).

8. Network with fellow freelancers:

There will be times when you will have more work than you can handle and it is always better to refer a potential client to another freelancer (who is as good as you) rather than turn down the work outright. This way you will be perceived as a well-connected person. I continue to receive queries from clients referred to me by my fellow freelancers.

9. Get a website:

Having your own professionally designed website will help you acquire new clients and will provide you with a space to which you can direct people interested in knowing more details about you and your work.

Your website should be dynamic rather than static. Joomla freeware will help you build a dynamic website:

  • The home page should have a brief description of what you do,
  • The second page should describe you (the section must have a photo as well as your résumé),
  • The third page should list your services and programmes, and
  •  The final page should have details about how to contact you.

However, you cannot rely solely on your website to get business. Remember that it is just your business face, and you need to handle your marketing separately.

10. Strive to have dedicated clients rather than changing your clients every few months:

It is always better to build long-term relationships with your clients. This way you will be assured of work all the time and will be perceived as a dependable freelancer.

These are the tips that have helped me make a name for myself as a freelance editorial services provider. I hope these will be as helpful to you as they have been in making me a known face worldwide.

A version of this article was originally published in the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) newsletter, The Freelancer (November–December 2014). It is reproduced here with permission.

Vivek Kumar is a professional freelance editorial services provider based in India. Visit the Indian Copyeditors Forum on Facebook, find him on LinkedIn, or e-mail him at hivivek72@yahoo.co.in. Do you agree with Vivek? Do you have other top tips for successful editorial freelancing? Feel free to add your comments below.