How I started a six-figure editing company in 48 hours for $350.

The first website I made was for my art. It was awful. But I learned. When I was doing my MA in literature, I started an editing company. I saw those websites that fixed student papers and tried to copy the style, then build traffic.

I was so excited when I got my first $300 from a total stranger. But I made some mistakes, the main ones being these:

1. Papers are too short, and often hard to edit, and don’t earn that much.

Sure I could earn about $100 a day from the work that was coming in, but I was always busy checking email and dealing with new clients.

2. It was too general: I offered to fix EVERYTHING. That doesn’t give confidence to a client with something special. That original website is www.paper-perfect-editing.com. It looks OK but I’ve shut it down, because I don’t do editing any more (if anybody wants to buy it, let me know – it still brings in traffic).

Starting over

Since I started Paper Perfect, I’d learned a lot about design and branding. I also knew that the best editing work was in books: because they were long and authors would pay more. But you need to convince authors you’re the best editors in the world, with lots of experience editing books. Luckily, since I’d been working in publishing, I had a bunch of colleagues who were amazing professional editors – they had the right skills but had trouble generating their own traffic and getting the clients.

So I decided to start a new company: one that just did book editing. An average book costs roughly $2500 to edit, so I planned to get 10 projects a month. Editors would make 75% and the rest would go to overhead and advertising. We charged more so we could attract and keep the very best editors. Clients could submit a free trial to the website and get replies from several editors, and choose the best one.

To make it exciting, however, I called it the Book Butchers, with the tagline, We Slaughter Your Writing, So It Can Rise Again From The Ashes. 

bookbutchers

I picked out a nice dark WordPress theme and had fun making a custom header that would attract writers. It isn’t a super theme. I had to hire two different designers to tweak it and add a blog (grand total to set up site=$350). It still doesn’t look perfect. But basically, it sells the service and gets authors to send in a trial. We follow up and make sure they find an editor they like – we have about 10 editors, but we always try to replace anybody who isn’t getting the work with somebody better.

That’s only of the reasons we’re awesome: most other editing companies are one person operations, so they may be really good but they probably aren’t the best. As owners, my partner and I don’t really care which editors the clients chose, as long as they are happy – that means we’re free to always improve our editors by actively recruiting editors away from other companies, or finding freelancers who want to get more clients.

We started out by offering a prize of free editing, in exchange for writers sending in articles for a writing contest. That probably wasn’t the best move, but we did it to build up a bunch of content quickly and also get backlinks (we encouraged the writers to share their article and try to get more likes and shares from their friends).

More recently, I’ve added a free book on self-editing that people can get by sharing; which keeps people sharing and sending more traffic our way. I’ll admit though, I haven’t done much to grow the company – I’ve been busy with my own businesses and writing. I make roughly 10% of total revenue, which right now is about $1000 a month, which means we’re close to if not already over $100K a year. Most of that money goes straight to editors, who are working freelance and not really employees (we’re more like a simple agency, that pairs writers with the best possible editor for their book, and then we earn a “finder’s fee”).

What’s next

Feedback has been great and we have very happy clients, which means it’s time to get bigger. I always hear from writers and authors who are seeking trustworthy, reliable, talented editors: it’s hard to make a decision and they don’t know where to start. Since I have a team of brilliant editors, it’s my responsibility to make us easier to find.

Luckily, with our theme, we can do some cool things with branding.

I put these out recently on Instagram and Twitter.

COXJ__FUsAIyNsn editorial services for fiction

 

Soon I’m going to make an awesome teaser video, with people actively destroying books – it should be shocking and fun, and cool enough to generate some interest.

10 clients a month should be pretty easy, if I can double traffic. We’re already doing well with a tiny bit of traffic, less than 100 visitors a day. 10 clients should be around 25K a month, or $300,000 a year, and I’d earn $30K of that.

But there’s no reason we can’t get bigger. There are tons of authors looking for high quality book editors. Why go half-assed? The majority of book editors are great at editing but bad at business. Most have ugly websites.

Getting more visibility and traffic means we can attract more of the world’s best editors, and help readers find the one that’s perfect for their book. With a little bit of content marketing, by 2016 I think I can get 200 visitors a day in natural search traffic, or about 6,000 a month. If we get 1% conversion, that’s 60 clients a month, or around $150,000.

That’s a 7 figure business.

It’ll cost more and be harder to stay organized, but I can hire staff to keep things organized. I’ll probably need to redo the website and make it convert better. (It’s hard to test conversions though until I have more traffic).

Takeaway points

1. The secret to business success is providing something people want, but doing it better than anybody else is doing it.

2. You need a brand and website that stands out but attracts your target clients.

3. Don’t make things complicated: most editors make it too hard to contact them or don’t post their prices clearly. We made everything simple, so authors can just send a sample right away and we can follow up.

4. Business isn’t always about being the best; it’s about being found. If people can’t find you, they can’t hire you. It’s your job to make sure your site shows up.

5. Do the work. Any business will fail if you can’t satisfy clients. Editing books is hard, and a very unique skill. It takes a ridiculous amount of focused concentration and brain power – usually for weeks. Hire the best and make sure you can provide what you promise.

6. It’s much easier to survive in businesses where the average project earns several thousand dollars, instead of a few hundred. Don’t try to offer a service for everybody. Find a high-end service that a handful of people will pay good money for.

 

 

 

About Derek Murphy

Derek Murphy is a book editor turned book designer with a Ph.D. in Literature. He's been featured on CNN and spoken at dozens of writing conferences around the world. These days he mostly writes young adult fantasy and science fiction, while helping authors write and publish bestselling books. FREE GUIDE: Sell your work without selling out.