Earlier this week I received an email about an aspiring editor who wished to shadow some of my work in hopes of one day becoming a proofreader herself. Easiest email to answer all week! My answer was a resounding yes.
I am often asked, How did you start freelancing? While I share some of my editing business story in my book, Write Well, my main focus in that book is on learning how to write better.
So today I’ll share here some tips about how you can start freelance editing.
First, though, a warning: if you’re looking to get into freelancing because you think it may be an “easy” way to make a part-time or full-time income, stop reading. Seriously. Because freelancing is not easy. Just like any other career path, it’s still work.
It’s incredibly rewarding work. But it’s still work where you have to show up and roll up your sleeves. This is no get-rich-quick scheme. This is an honest look at my story: how I became an editor, continually grow my business, and get to do work I love on a daily basis.
Okay, now that that’s out of the way, on to the tips!
The Two Tools You Need to Become a Proofreader
It was mid-May 2013. I had just completed my junior year of college.
I was telling my parents about this book I was editing for a friend and how maybe kinda sorta that would be fun to do as a business someday. Why not? My mother said just those two words but underneath them, I heard, really, daughter, do it.
So I did.
I drafted a webpage that would launch my entrepreneurial journey, and I signed up for Paypal.
If you’re looking to become a proofreader, I recommend you do the same two things:
- Set up a webpage. I highly recommend using WordPress (.org NOT .com) and if you’re looking for affordable hosting that comes with stellar customer service, I use Bigscoots. And Gretchen Louise is my WordPress guru.
- Get a Paypal account. I now invoice clients using Invoicely and my paypal.me link.
That may sound simple, but having an online hub to house descriptions of your services, prices, and testimonials and a way to receive payments is seriously all you need to get started.
Research Your Craft
If you enjoy editing and you’ve been told you excel at it, you’ll make a good freelance editor/proofreader. But make it a goal to never stop learning.
Check out freelancing books from the library. Listen to podcasts–here are my favorites. Read blogs. Like mine (you can sign up here for my email list so that you never miss the biweekly emails I send out every other Monday). Like these:
Writing Websites I Recommend:
You may be wondering by now what use a website and expertise will be if you don’t yet have clients. My next tip addresses that:
Gain Experience by Serving Clients for Free
I know, I know. You’re interested in freelancing because you have editing skills and you want to put those skills to work. You want to do what you love and earn an income doing it.
All great ideals you can’t achieve without clients. And what’s the number one way to attract clients?
Word of mouth.
Seriously, after five years in business, my number one referral for new clients is still existing clients. Working with writers snowballs into working with other writers. And this is how I started: by giving away my expertise.
Note: some proofreaders use job banks like Upwork. This has never worked for me but I know lots of people have success with services like these.
I started out by critiquing others’ work for free in order to collect endorsements and prove to others my skill; although my college degree helped, too, that hands-on experience and those testimonials were invaluable.
My #1 piece of advice to anyone who wants to get into editing is to gain experience by editing for anyone and everyone. For free.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for referrals from your clients. When you help someone by editing their article or book, they’ll most likely want to help you in return by sending business your way. I’m not saying to capitalize on people; but invite them into what you’re building.
When should you start charging? For me, I started charging a small fee when I edited for the first person I didn’t know. In other words, the first time a client came to me who had heard of me from another client but wasn’t connected to me personally, I offered them the price I had listed on my services page. (Feel free to use that page as a template when you’re setting up your own.)
Why I Love What I Do
I love interacting with writers; they’re the best part of this business. They only want or need a little pushing, prodding, or one last polish before they either self-publish or go off, manuscript in trembling hand, to approach editors and agents with a query letter and book proposal.
I love grammar. Because no matter how cool or fresh or innovative your voice is, you still need commas and quotation marks and some semblance of a subject-verb agreement. Most of the time.
If you love words and grammar too, you’re going to make a great proofreader and editor.
This business has taught me a lot about what it means to be a writer–simply someone who writes. And what it means to be an proofreader/editor–so much more than a red pen.
I get to be a writing coach, a mentor, an encourager.
If reading this excites you, move on to the last tip. If being a writing mentor doesn’t excite you, you might want to look for a different form of freelancing. Not being mean here, I just want to save you time and effort before you jump into a job you actually don’t enjoy.
Wait, did I just say job?
Yep, Start to Think of Freelancing as your Job
This goes back to the warning I mentioned above: remember you are starting a business. Where you will put in hard work to help your clients. It was super important to me when I started freelancing to remember my clients are people, too. They need a job done, and they’ve entrusted me with it.
If you think of freelancing as a hobby, prioritizing your work slips because hobbies are heart-projects.
If you think of freelancing as a job, prioritizing your work is of the utmost importance because not only is all your work a heart-project, you’re also helping others and building a business that you want to see succeed. Success is found when we show up and put in the work.
I hope you found this helpful! Feel free to reach out to me with any questions you may have.