Not everyone enjoys networking in the traditional sense (going to meetings with people you don’t know, drinking coffee, handing out business cards), and a lot of editors tend to be natural introverts who shy away from situations where they might have to walk into a room full of strangers and make conversation.
However, being part of a network of individuals with shared interests, experience and knowledge is a vital part of being a successful freelancer.
I realised this myself when I left my job in a large publishing company in Oxford, in the UK, and moved to a rural village over an hour’s drive away from all my editing friends and colleagues. I hadn’t realised how much I relied on them for everything from advice on the finer points of grammar to gossip.
Yes, as freelancers there’s Facebook, which is great for joining groups where you can ask questions, get a virtual pat on the back or let off some steam (I like the Editors’ Association of Earth group in particular for this.), and there are national organisations for editors such as the SfEP and the EFA with their forums for members.
But nothing beats face-to-face contact from time to time, just to remind yourself that there is life outside your four walls, there are new skills to pick up, new industry insights to learn about, and new friends and contacts to be made.
So, a few months after I'd settled in to my new way of life, and long before I’d even heard of the SfEP, I contacted a few other Oxford-based freelancers in my field (English language teaching materials [ELT]) and suggested getting together for lunch, more for my benefit than theirs – I was worried that I would lose touch with all the people, skills and insights I’d gathered around me during my time in-house if I didn’t do something about it.
That was in 2008, and what started out as a lunch for about ten former colleagues, grew to lunches for up to 50, local get-togethers over coffee and cake, and most recently, two Awaydays with about 100 paying delegates at each.
So, if you’re feeling a bit like you could use some editorial company in real life and there isn’t a conference in sight, why not organise an event of your own? Here are my top ten tips for getting started.
Start small and local. People will need to take unpaid time away from their desk to get to a get-together, and there will be travel costs involved. Minimising the cost in terms of time and money when you have your first meet-ups will let everyone see that it could be worth travelling further and incurring more costs in the future.
Have a topic for discussion. If people don’t know each other, having a few points to think about or questions to answer will break the ice and lead to further discussion. As our lunches got bigger, we put questions on the tables to encourage editing chat as well as catching-up-with-friends chat.
Decide whether you want to specialise or not. I know that there are lots of freelancers who only work on ELT materials, so I targeted the lunches and Awaydays at them. Editors of fiction (or physics, or any other subject/genre) would be more than welcome to join us, but I’m sure they have their own niche issues to discuss.
Advertise (for free). Let people who are outside your immediate network know what you are organising so they can be part of it and help to grow it. Information about all the lunches and Awaydays I’ve organised has been spread purely through Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Find a buddy. A friend and former colleague offered to help me organise one of the Oxford lunches, and our partnership has grown from there. We organise the Awaydays because we enjoy doing it, but both have several other hats to wear, so it’s good to be able to share the work out and bounce ideas around.
Choose your venue carefully. For a get-together of more than about six people you probably want to find somewhere where you can get away from others, both so you can hear yourselves speak, and so other patrons don’t have to listen to you talking about macros, PDF markup tools or style sheets.
Plan ahead. If you’re organising a lunch for more than six or eight, ask the restaurant if they can offer a fixed menu. You can pre-order to save time on the day, and everyone will know what the costs involved are. Send out any tips on parking, public transport or roadworks ahead of time so people can be on time and get maximum benefit from the event.
Make badges. A sticky label is fine. It’s much easier to talk to someone and use their name than to make awkward conversation and have to ask later.
Invite experts. As your events grow in size, ask participants what they would like to find out about. At the Awaydays Helen and I have organised, we’ve invited ELT publishers who have shared information about how they work with freelancers and how they are responding to the demands of digital publishing, designers who have given their insight on how editors and designers can work best together, digital publishing experts, an accountant, a representative from the SfEP, and ergonomics experts. We’re just wondering who to invite next year.
Gather feedback. Send out an email shortly after the event asking for comments so you can make tweaks for next time. People are more likely to come back if they think you’ve listened to them and taken their points on board.
I hope that’s given you some inspiration to organise an event, however small. I’d love to hear how you get on.
Karen White is a freelance project manager, editor and trainer specialising in ELT publishing. She runs a Facebook page where ELT editors can chat and share information, and blogs about editorial issues at White Ink Limited. If you’re a Twitter user, you can find her @KarenWhiteInk.