Last updated 24 October 2023
Being an editorial project manager (PM) can feel a bit like being a very delicious, but very forbidden, cake. When I tell other freelancers that part of my work involves hiring copyeditors, proofreaders and indexers, I sometimes find myself the object of longing glances from those who perhaps feel they’d like a little more sugary editorial goodness. However, I’ve met enough freelancers to know that a person’s talents may not be equal to the amount of work they are receiving – it may be that with a few tweaks to their online presentation, they could be increasing the amount of ‘cake’ that makes it onto their plate.
In my previous post, I explained how I research prospective freelancers and how simply being on a publisher’s list isn’t enough for me to offer someone work. I often find myself looking on LinkedIn – it’s free to set up and one of the main hubs where freelancers and clients can find out about each other.
I’m going to be brutally honest about what keeps me reading a profile and what turns me off. But first, a few caveats:
- I’m not going to talk specifics about qualifications or experience (though obviously I’m assuming you have some), because these can come in many shapes and forms.
- This list is approximately in order of importance for me, but naturally other PMs may have a different order, or even entirely other requirements altogether.
- I am not claiming to be an expert on LinkedIn or marketing (I almost certainly break some of these ‘rules’ myself) – this is just part of the process I personally go through when I’m looking for a freelancer.
- This post isn’t about discoverability – that’s a whole other topic on which I am definitely not an expert! This post assumes a client has already found your profile.
So, with that understood, here’s my list.
1. Give detail…
The first thing that hits me is how comprehensive the profile looks as a whole. Cursory filling in doesn’t look like you value your career as a freelancer, and tells me that you may put a similar lack of effort into your work.
Bottom line: Setting yourself up a skeleton LinkedIn profile ‘just so you’ve got one’ does you no favours (and may even serve you worse than not having one).
2. …but don’t make me wade through an essay
If I have to scan your profile for more than a few seconds (yes, seconds) before something interesting or noteworthy catches my eye, I’ll look elsewhere. Pick the best few facts about you (your unique selling points) and make sure they stand out. Then go into the details further down.
Bottom line: Editorial freelancers are paid to make text comprehensible and accessible for their intended readership; a poorly organised profile suggests your copyediting, proofreading or indexing may be equally haphazard.
3. Show that you’re not an ostrich
OK, so ostriches don’t actually bury their heads in the sand. But you get the analogy.
There’s no one way to demonstrate your non-ostrich nature, but I want to see some sort of evidence of professional development and connection to the wider editing world. Details of qualifications and courses are obviously a must, as is a list of previous clients. In terms of connections with other professionals, memberships of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders or Society of Indexers are excellent examples, and regular editorially relevant posts on LinkedIn itself always look good.
Bottom line: You may have twenty years of editing experience but, if it looks like you haven’t set foot on a course or spoken to other editorial professionals in that time, I will doubt whether your skills are up to date.
4. Shout about your specialisms…
There’s a fine line between listing an impressive range of specialisms and listing too many. Yes, you may genuinely have masses of experience and be comfortable editing a wide range of subjects. Yes, many books (and other texts) don’t require subject-knowledge specialists so it makes sense to list all the topics you’re comfortable with to maximise your chances of getting hired. However, a long and indiscriminate lists just says to me that you’re a jack of all trades and a master of none.
Even if I don’t necessarily need a specialist for a particular project, if I can, I always prefer to find someone who is interested and experienced in the subject matter, as they tend to do a better job. And, of course, occasionally I really do need an expert on periodicals published in Spain between 1830 and 1838 (for example). And bear in mind that, when a specialist is needed, the rates are sometimes higher, so it makes sense to make yourself identifiable for those jobs.
Bottom line: If you simply give one long list, I might wonder whether you’re desperate for work (which indicates that you may not have done a great job for other clients in the past).
5. …and about anything else that might be relevant
Make sure you mention other expertise, such as languages, previous careers, major skills and other accomplishments. The beauty of being an editorial professional is that there are as many book subjects as there are interests, so you never know when a PM might be looking for an editor or indexer with your particular knowledge. (That being said, remember the advice in points 2 and 4 and be discerning about what expertise you list.)
Of course, your area of expertise may be very narrow and you may only get a commission in that particular subject once every few years. However, even if your expertise is only tangentially related to the subject matter of the book, it could still give a PM an idea of the way you think and whether you might be a good match for a particular project.
Bottom line: Your non-editorial experience might give you the edge over another freelancer, so shout about that too.
6. Don’t look scary
Poor profile pictures come in two varieties: unsettling and absent.
The unsettling ones are much more rare than they used to be, thanks to a general shift in how people understand the idea of a personal brand. It used to be that people chose some truly bizarre images as their professional face to the world. Yes, some freelancers’ profiles are so dazzlingly good that they could use a photo of themselves gleefully holding up a chainsaw and the mutilated remains of a dictionary. However, the rest of us need to be a little more cautious. Just make sure you look approachable and friendly, not uncomfortable, miserable or angry (I have seen examples of all three).
Unsettling images may be offputting, but an absent image is one of the first things I notice about a profile. It gives an immediate impression of half-heartedness or incompleteness (see point 1). If you need more convincing, take a look at this article at StaffEx, which reported a study that showed that
a picture made candidates seem more thorough in their work. Additionally, … respondents wondered if candidates without pictures might be hiding something.
An alternative to using an image of yourself is to use your business logo. However, I’d urge you to have a picture of yourself somewhere too. The reality is that a prospective client will feel more comfortable if they can visualise the person to whom they may be entrusting thousands of pounds and perhaps their life’s work.
Buffer has some interesting tips on the science behind choosing a profile picture.
Bottom line: A freelancer’s image (or lack thereof) won’t stop me from hiring them, but their profile will need to be better to keep my attention.
7. Other things can help, too
LinkedIn offers all sorts of other features that can lend support to a good profile. For example, high-quality recommendations from reputable sources naturally look good. However, they can be a faff to get hold of so I’m not particularly bothered if a freelancer doesn’t have any (though other PMs and other types of client may think differently).
As of 2023, the ‘Featured’ section of your profile is worth choosing with care. This allows you to pin posts and other links to the top of your profile. It’s a great way of guiding clients to the information about you that you most want them to know.
Bottom line: Use LinkedIn’s other features intelligently, according to the client base you’re marketing to.
I am not inflexible if somebody stands out for other reasons, and I know wonderful freelancers who break all these criteria. But, seeing as setting up a good LinkedIn profile is free and easy to do, why wouldn’t you?
Essentially, when a PM looks at a LinkedIn profile (or any profile), they have one aim: to find the right person, quickly. Help them to speedily become confident that you’re the one for the job and you’re far more likely to be offered work.
Do other PMs look for similar things? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
Check out this other post, which talks about what leads me to re-hire a freelancer.