Guide to starting a freelance proofreading business

The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Freelance Proofreading Business

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Do you wish you could work from home and be your own boss, but you’re not sure what kind of job you could do? Are you the kind of person who can spot errors from a mile off? If so, maybe you might be suited to starting a freelance proofreading business.

Before you get too excited though, there is a lot more to proofreading than being good at spotting errors! There’s also a lot of work that goes into starting a freelance proofreading business.

If you have been thinking of becoming a freelance proofreader, but you’re not sure where to start, then here is a breakdown of the first steps you need to take to set up a proofreading business.

Write a business plan

Before you set up your business, it’s a good idea to write up a business plan. This is a critical first step as it will help you to clarify what you need to focus on to be successful.

Questions to ask when putting together your business plan:

What kind of editing do you want to do? There are four different types of editing: proofreading, copyediting, line editing, and developmental editing. You may want to do some research on the differences to help you decide if you just want to become a proofreader or will you also offer copyediting or developmental editing services?

• Who are your ideal clients?
>Publishing houses or self-publishing authors?
>Newspapers and magazines?
>Academics?

  • What kind of training will you need?
  • How will you attract your customers?
  • What tools will you need?

Knowing all of this will also guide you in creating your marketing plan.

I recommend reading Louise Harnby’s books Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers: A Guide for New Starters and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business. Her books are written for new entrants into the editing field and give a very detailed breakdown of what should go into your business plan and how you can market your proofreading business. I found them extremely useful when I was getting started, and I still refer back to them.

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Get some training

I’m one of those people who like to have training and qualifications behind them before claiming they can do something well. Although I had several years’ experience proofreading as part of my former day job, I chose to complete a proofreading course before I set up my freelance proofreading business to make sure my skills were up to scratch.

Completing appropriate training is a very important step to becoming a professional proofreader. Clients need to feel confident that they’re leaving their content in safe hands when they hire a proofreader.

You would be surprised how many bad habits and how much misinformation you have picked up over the years, as well as how many outdated grammar rules you’ve been hanging on to.

Having completed a course also makes you stand out to potential clients because it shows that you are serious about what you do. You’ve invested your own money in making sure that you’re fit for the job. This makes clients feel more comfortable investing their money in your skills.

Some courses I have completed and can recommend include the following:

General Proofreading: Theory and Practice, Proofread Anywhere:

Proofread Anywhere’s General Proofreading course is an online, self-paced course that you can easily fit around your other commitments. It gives you the opportunity to get lots of proofreading practice and includes a module on marketing and setting up a website. There is also a graded exam. Passing this gave me the confidence to continue on and set up my home-based business.

You can read my review of the Proofread Anywhere course here.

I also interviewed Caitlin Pyle, the course creator, to learn how she got started with proofreading and what skills she thinks you need to be a great proofreader.

Becoming a Proofreader, Proofreading Academy:

The Proofreading Academy course is an online, self-paced course that teaches you how to proofread in a variety of different genres, providing well-rounded training as well as helping its students get comfortable with the tech aspect of proofreading. 

After completing this comprehensive course, you will have honed your skills in the following areas: grammar, spelling, punctuation, formatting, referencing styles, and readability.

What I particularly liked about this course is that it shows you how to proofread academic, business, and creative writing (fiction and nonfiction) documents, which gives you a good idea of the type of content you might enjoy proofreading. 

Read my extremely detailed Proofreading Academy review here. 🙂

Essential Proofreading: Editorial Skills One, The Publishing Training Centre:

The Publishing Training Centre’s Essential Proofreading: Editorial Skills One course focuses on teaching you how to use the British Standards Institution proofreading symbols to mark up already typeset documents. It is a widely recognized industry qualification, especially in the UK. The course is far from basic. It’s a very hands-on course, requiring you to complete five assignments. You will have a tutor who marks your work and gives you detailed feedback. This course will be very useful if you intend to work for publishing houses.

Copyediting Standards, Queen’s University Professional Studies:

The Copyediting Standard’s course explores topics such as correcting grammar, punctuation, spelling, and usage; checking facts; applying editorial style; integrating visuals and non-English content; and checking for completeness. It may be useful for students preparing to take the Editors Canada Copyediting Certification exam.

It’s important to be aware of the difference between being certified and having a certificate. This blog post by Katharine O’Moore-Klopf explains the difference. You will be better able to decide which is the most appropriate avenue for you to take once you identify who your ideal clients are.

RELATED CONTENT: Is Proofread Anywhere’s General Proofreading course worth the money?

Gather your tools

You’ll need to make sure that you have the appropriate tools for the job.

Reference books:

Which style manuals and dictionaries you’ll need will depend on your clients’ locations and preferences. If your clients are located in North America, it’s likely that you will need the Chicago Manual of Style and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. If your clients are located in the UK, you might need New Hart’s Rules and the Collins English Dictionary.

One punctuation book I recommend getting is  The Best Punctuation Book, Period. I recommend this to other editors all the time. The author, June Casagrande, explains each punctuation mark in the most easy to understand way I’ve ever come across. I also loved one of her other books It was the best of sentences, it was the worst of sentences.

RELATED CONTENT: 15 Essential Reference Books for Proofreaders

Office setup:

In addition to books and reference manuals, you will need to set up your office space, making sure you have a quiet, comfortable place to work. You’ll need a laptop or PC, a printer (if you like to do your proofreading passes on paper as well as onscreen), and a good selection of stationery to get you started.

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Editing software:

You’ll need Microsoft Word and Google Docs so that you can use their track changes functions. If you intend to work with publishing houses, it’s likely that you’ll need to be familiar with standard proofreading marks and be able to mark up electronically using Adobe software (or similar).

Struggling with Microsoft Word?

I know some of you feel like your proofreading career is being held back by your technical skills. If you’re not a confident Microsoft Word user, don’t worry. You can improve your skills in this area. Some libraries offer Microsoft Office skills courses for free or for a reasonable amount to help people get familiar with using it. If you want to improve your skills right now, check out this Mastering Microsoft Word course from Proofreading Academy. You can complete it online in your own time without having to leave home.

You’ll need to get anti-virus protection for your laptop or PC. You don’t want to run the risk of receiving or transmitting a virus through sending files back and forth with clients. I purchased my anti-virus protection from McAfee.

To increase your efficiency, you may want to try PerfectIt. PerfectIt is a Microsoft Word add-in that checks for consistency. Some of the checks include checking that words are spelled consistently throughout, that spelling and punctuation are aligned to your chosen dialect (e.g., American or British English), that acronyms are spelled out at first mention, and that lists are formatted consistently. It has a yearly subscription fee of $70, but there may be discounts if you’re a member of certain editing societies. You can try it for free for 14 days.

You may also find Grammarly useful. Grammarly is an online editing program that detects errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and word choice. I wouldn’t recommend that you use Grammarly to do your job for you! It’ll never replace an experienced human proofreader, but it can be useful as a final check to catch any last-minute errors before sending the document back to the client.

RELATED CONTENT: Grammarly: A Professional Editor’s Review

Set Your Proofreading Rates

As a freelance proofreader, you get to set your own rates. While it’s tempting to set really low rates at the beginning to get clients, a lot of experienced proofreaders and editors are of the opinion that this is a mistake for the following reasons:

  • Proofreading is a skill that not everyone can do, so you should be paid an appropriate amount for your skills, particularly if you’ve invested time and energy in editorial training.  
  • Low rates tend to attract clients that expect a high level of service but that are not willing to pay well for it. 
  • Low rates bring down the average rates for everyone, creating a race to the bottom.
  • Repeat clients will expect this price for the next job.  

Most people don’t become a proofreader to become rich, but they don’t do it to work for less than minimum wage either. It’s perfectly fine to set a rate that’s a bit lower than the average for your first few jobs, but consider raising your prices as soon as you’ve gotten some experience and testimonials. 

Speaking of the average amount proofreaders charge, how do we know what that is? The Editorial Freelancers Association publishes a chart of the average proofreading rates (as well as other services) every couple of years. 

EFA proofreading rates

As you can see from the chart, proofreaders typically charge around $31–$45 per hour or $0.02–$0.039 depending on the niche and complexity of the document. 

Should you charge per word or per hour for proofreading? 

That’s completely up to you. Personally, I find it works out better to charge per word for longer documents like books and per hour for shorter documents like email newsletters.  

I cover the topic of how much proofreaders make in more detail in this blog post.

Set up a website

If you want to have a successful proofreading business, you’ll need a website.

Your clients need a way to find you. You may find some work through local connections and word of mouth, but to create a sustainable business you’ll need to look further afield.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when setting up your website:

• Word your website copy so that it’s clear how you can help your customer. They aren’t interested in hearing about you and what you want, they only want to know how you can solve their problem.

Consider the future when naming your website. Do you plan to add other services? If so, then consider not using the word proofreading in your business/website name. Although, it may be good for search engine optimization if you do.

• Make sure that it’s clear how they can contact you.
>Have a contact form on your website. Put it on more than one page if possible.
>Include your email address as well in case they’d rather email you directly.
>Include links to your social media accounts.

Update your site frequently with your most recent projects, testimonials, and training. This will help search engines to recognize that your site is relevant and ensure that you appear higher in the search rankings.

Consider adding a blog to your website. This will drive more traffic to your website, increasing the number of people who are aware of your services. If you blog about editing, you may become known as an expert which will make you attractive to potential clients.

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Set up social media accounts

Unfortunately, having a website alone won’t have clients knocking on your door to work with you. It can be incredibly difficult to be found on search engines. You need a way to drive customers to your website, where they can then read all about how you can help them.

Having a presence on social media will help to attract potential clients and drive them to your website.

The social media platforms I focus on to promote my business are Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. I use each of them for different reasons.

  • I use Twitter to make personal connections with authors and other editors.
  • Pinterest is my go-to place to promote my blog posts. If you want to learn more about how to use Pinterest to promote your blog, I recommend Pinteresting Strategies. This course was created by a blogger who grew her website page views from 0–200K using Pinterest!

***Use the coupon code PINNING5 to get $5 off Pinteresting Strategies!***

  • LinkedIn is perfect for connecting with people you meet at networking events and also for promoting blog posts that are more professional in nature.
  • I also use Facebook groups to connect with other editors. There’s a community of editors on Facebook who are available to help you with challenging proofreading questions, difficult clients, and to give useful tips on how to be more efficient.

RELATED CONTENT: 3 Reasons Why Editors Should Tweet




Start Networking

Networking should be part of your overall marketing strategy. As well as networking with potential clients it can also be beneficial to network with other editors.

Benefits of networking with other editors:

  • Allows you to learn from editors with more experience.
  • Decreases the risk of isolation and loneliness you might feel as a result of working from home.
  • Creates colleagues who may be able to refer clients to you if they are too busy.

Joining an editing society is a great way to network, although you will have to pay a fee to join. Many societies have monthly local meetings where you can listen to a panel discussion or just meet to chat. They also hold annual conferences where you can attend different workshops and learn about topics such as changes to style guides, ways to become more efficient, or marketing strategies.

Which society you join will most likely depend on your location. Here are some editing societies that I’m aware of:

You should also attend networking events where you’ll meet potential clients as well.

Ways to network with potential clients:

• If you have a genuine interest in writing as well as editing you might consider joining a writing group.

• Attend a small business class or talk at your local enterprise center or library. They often hold talks on setting up a business, accounting, or legal issues. This may be the perfect opportunity to meet other new entrepreneurs.

• Join a Meetup group for entrepreneurs/small businesses and go along to one of their coffee mornings.

You can also network online by joining Facebook groups or taking part in Twitter chats. I list some monthly Twitter chats in my post 3 Reasons Why Editors Should Tweet.




Find directories to list on

You shouldn’t rely on directory listings as they’re a passive form of marketing, but they’re important nonetheless. You’ll need as many ways as possible to get your name out there.

Some directories you might consider are

  • Find a Proofreader
  • Reedsy
  • Editing society’s directory—Most editing societies will have a directory. It may be included in your membership fee or in some cases you may have to pay extra to list on the directory. Also, some societies, like CIEP, require you to reach a certain level of membership before you can list on the directory.

Get some experience

The most intimidating part of setting up a business is getting that first customer. A good way to get this out of the way early on is to create profiles on some freelancer websites. They may not be part of your long-term plan, but they can be a great way to get some experience, build up your confidence, and get some testimonials for your website. Your long-term plan for attracting clients might be to cold-email publishers, use content marketing (blogging), and network.

There are numerous freelancer websites that you can create a profile on including Upwork, Fiverr, and Guru. I decided to focus on Fiverr when I first started. On Fiverr, you create “gigs” that outline what you will do and how much it will cost. Don’t let the name fool you. You can charge more than $5 if you want to!

Many people are against sites like these because they seem to encourage clients that are only willing to pay the very minimum. I’m inclined to agree; this type of client is not your target market! However, I do think they can be a good starting point to get some experience. I’ve also gained some regular clients through Fiverr and worked on some interesting projects.

You may also consider proofreading on a voluntary basis for some non-profit or local organizations to build up some experience.

Once you’ve got this initial experience, you can leverage it by gathering testimonials from these clients.

Gather testimonials from your first customers

Having testimonials on your website from satisfied customers is one of the most important aspects of convincing potential clients to work with you. It will reassure them that you know what you’re doing.

I understand that asking for a testimonial is a nerve-wracking experience. Especially when you’re first starting out, and you’re nervous about how your first few jobs went. If you’ve completed a training course though, there should be no need for you to worry about getting a negative response.

Email your first customers and ask if they would be willing to give you a testimonial that you can add to your website. Don’t worry if they don’t reply straight away. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they weren’t happy with your work! They’re probably preoccupied with getting the book (their baby!) formatted, published, and marketed. Follow up again once the book is published. Ask them how the book is doing. This can be a good way to build an ongoing relationship with them.

I include my testimonials on my home page and my portfolio page. Don’t expect that a potential client is going to click on every single page of your website. You may need to include the important things like testimonials and contact details on several pages to get their attention.

Engage in Continuous professional development

Most experienced proofreaders will tell you that your training doesn’t stop after one course. One course is not enough. Style guides change. Language evolves. It’s so important to keep up to date with these changes.

You may also wish to add another string to your bow by adding another editing service like developmental editing or copyediting.

Keeping your skills current will look good on your résumé and will reassure potential clients that you take your business very seriously.

Another great reason to engage in continuous professional development is the chance to meet other editors and make some “edibuddies.”

Some training courses to consider are

• Most editing societies offer courses. You’ll get a discount if you’re a member, but you can usually still take the course even if you aren’t a member.

ACES holds masterclasses on a regular basis with topics ranging from grammar and punctuation to social media marketing and editing for SEO.

• Refresh your grammar knowledge with Grammar Lion—my favorite grammar course that takes you right back to the basics of grammar and fills in the gaps.

RELATED CONTENT: Is Grammar Lion the Best Online Grammar Course?

Want to be a freelance proofreader and work from home? Follow these steps for setting up a freelance proofreading business and working online.

Final Thoughts in This Starting a Proofreading Business Guide

So there you go. The list above is not exhaustive but is intended to give you an overview of the main steps you need to take when setting up a freelance proofreading business.

It takes time to build a successful business, so don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t happen as quickly as you’d like. Keep honing your skills and marketing your business on a regular basis, and you’ll start to see results.

If you’re curious about what it’s like to be a freelance business owner, then check out my day in the life of a freelance proofreader post!

Want to know how much it costs to start a freelance proofreading business? Check out this post to find out how much I spent to start and run my business in its first year.

Short on time? Download this article as a PDF to read later!

10 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Freelance Proofreading Business”

  1. Wow, It’s the proofreading guide. I am sure many aspiring proofreaders, as well as experienced one, will benefit from this post.
    I am so sharing this post.
    Great work Catherine 🙂

  2. Hi Catherine, some great information there thanks. I’ve nearly finished the SfEP proofreading course and was looking for some advice on how to move a proofreading business forward,, so glad I came to your site.

    Thanks again
    Jon

  3. Donna R. Williams

    This has been the best site I’ve been on so far for setting up a proofreading business! Thank you so much.

  4. This article has been my bible in setting up my business. I am still working on getting it off the ground. All this advice seems excellent but overwhelming. Do you have tips for what someone should focus on for the first three months?

    1. Hi, Shaman! Apologies for the late reply. I think the most important thing to focus on is getting proper training before you look for clients. After that, I would create a website and social media accounts and start networking to get contacts.

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