The Systems for Your Business of Copyediting: From First Contact to Finished Project

By Andrea Susan Glass

I’ve never been much for systems. Have you? Yet, every “successful” business owner I talk to says you have to have systems to be successful. And yes, I would love to be more successful.

So I took a hard look at my business, and I discovered, YES, I actually had some systems. I just didn’t call them that. If you’re an independent copyeditor, that is, not working within a company but having your own business, this information is for you.

 Let’s look at the systems or procedures that a successful business could have in place that would smooth the process from first contact to finished project.

1. Get the lead: referral, past client, search

How do you get leads and prospects and convert them into clients? Do you have a system for that? It could be sending regular emails to your mailing list. It could be posting regularly on social media. It could be keeping your website active by adding content to attract visitors. Or maybe you have referral partners you contact regularly. You can systematize this by keeping track of your lead generation.

2. Set up a meeting – phone, Zoom, or email

How to you turn a lead into a client? Do you set up a phone or Zoom meeting? Do you have a standard way you communicate to close the deal? Keep track of your conversions to record what works and what doesn’t.

3. Offer a bid

How to you propose a bid to a prospect? Do you send a standard email or have a bid form? Keep track of your bids and those you win on a spreadsheet.

4. Contract with cost, terms, date of completion

Do you have a standard contract with price, timeline, legalese, and any other specifics? I email one to a client, and ask for the signed contract back with a PayPal deposit. If the client is paying by check, they mail me the signed contract.

5. Email to referral source to say thank you; pay a commission

Do you regularly send a thank you email and or pay a commission to clients you acquire through referrals? This could be systematized as an email in your contact management program like Mailchimp or Constant Contact.

6. Intake form

Do you have an intake form to get all the facts about the project? You might want to know the client’s timeline, budget, expectations, etc. You can create a questionnaire with a Google form.

7. Style sheet

You may agree to a specific style like Chicago Manual, or you might set one up with the client. My recent client had requests for capitalizations, contractions, and other specifics. I find that with self-published books, the authors tend to have their own choices of editing style or they’ll choose one based on your suggestions.

8. Milestones

Some clients like a regular check-in. I’ve had some where I would send the first quarter of the book to make sure I was on the right track and that the client could decipher the editing marks and comments. Setting up your milestones up front, even in the contract, allows the client to feel that the copyeditor is on track to meet the timeline.

9. Payment

Do you have a protocol for how to bill and receive payments? A recent client decided to pay a third up front, a third in the middle of the project, and a third when the project was done. I always get the final payment before delivering the edited doc, as I’ve been burned the few times I didn’t follow this process.

10. Deliver project

How do you deliver the project? Do you send an email and then check with the client to be sure it was received? Do you set up a Zoom call to review the edits and comments? I’ve had to do this with a few of my elderly clients who couldn’t work with the tracking feature in Word and didn’t know what to do with the comments.

11. Testimonials

Assuming the client was pleased with your work, it’s a good time to ask for a testimonial. I save mine until the book is on Amazon. Then I put the testimonial on my website with a photo and link of the book. This might not work for projects other than a book, but asking for a testimonial is not only good for your ego, but will be social proof on your website or wherever you post it.

12. Ask for referrals

Now that you have a happy client, ask if he/she knows someone who could use your services. A colleague wrote a book called You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get. Don’t be afraid to ask for referrals, and keep in touch with each client regularly. They might have another project soon.

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