Do you love to read and can spot punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes from a mile away? Are you always dreaming of ditching your 9-to-5 position in favor of working from home? If the answer to both of those questions is a resounding “Yes,” then it is high time that you learn how to become a proofreader. Thankfully, that’s easy to do with help from this informative guide. Just follow these steps on becoming a freelance proofreader, and then get started on achieving your work-at-home dreams.
Explore the Scope of Work
Before you can become a proofreader, you need to know exactly what they do and don’t do. Freelance proofreaders are not editors. They do not revise the document to match the brand’s voice, tone, and purpose. They are also not in charge of improving flow, reading level, or search engine optimization. Furthermore, unlike editors, proofreaders do not plan or publish content.
So, what do proofreaders do anyway? As a freelance proofreader, you will simply look over the document from top to bottom for spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes.
While looking for spelling mistakes, you will also closely watch for common word usage errors, like insure versus ensure, to make sure each sentence makes sense. You’ll also scan the copy for grammar mistakes and punctuation errors, making changes as you go to clean up the writing.
By making the copy error free, your efforts greatly improve the readability of the piece. Without mistakes standing in the way, the author’s message or story stands front and center to hit readers in just the right spot.
Since it’s essentially the final polish, the proofreading process usually occurs right after editors work their magic and serves as the last step before publishing. After that, the final draft goes live where it can dazzle readers with its perfect prose.
If this sounds like the type of work you’d love to do, then you might excel as a freelance proofreader. If you’d like to handle more in-depth revisions, the editor role might work better for you instead.
Assess Your Qualifications
Before you can dive in and become a proofreader, you need to honestly assess your starting qualifications. By looking at your initial skillset, you can figure out where to focus your attention in preparing for this field.
Although it helps, you do not need an English degree to work as a freelance proofreader. In fact, you do not need a master’s, bachelor’s, or even associate degree to achieve success in this role.
Instead, you need to have a solid grasp of English grammar and spelling rules plus an eye for punctuation errors. If you do not have even that quite yet, that’s okay. There are many excellent online training programs you can take to build up your skillset.
While studying to become a proofreader, you will need to develop an in-depth understanding of all the established rules. Your understanding should go beyond the basic rules to embracing the changes needed to align with the major style guides. You should work on your skills until you can spot the majority of errors in any given document with the first or second readthrough.
With all these skills on your side, you’ll be able to produce error-free copy that wows all your clients. You will even be able to ace any proofreading tests sent your way by agencies and large-scale companies that hire freelancers.
Look at the Earnings Potential
If you seek employment as a proofreader, you can expect to make anywhere from $23,000 to $63,000 per year. Your location and the overall size of the company you’re applying to will greatly influence your starting wage.
Big advertising agencies and public relation firms, for example, can likely pay more than indie book publishers and business support companies. You’re also likely to make more in New York than in Pennsylvania. Beyond those factors, it all comes down to your skills and experience.
If you decide to go at it alone as a freelance proofreader, the sky is the limit in how much you can make. You can set your own wages and charge by the hour, per page, or even use a project rate. You may want to switch between these charging methods depending on the job. Proofreading a 10-page website may demand a per-page rate, for example, while an hourly rate may work best for a book manuscript of any length.
As for your starting rate, you can go low or high based on your experience, but it’s often best to tailor your rates to the client. Ask for their budget, compare that to your own expectations for pay, and find a winning rate that suits you both.
Don’t go below your bottom dollar rate for any client, however, as that never works out as intended. Instead, cut down the scope of the project or break it up into more management sections if needed to better match their budget.
Find Your Ideal Proofreading Niche
Every piece of written work needs a talented proofreader to set eyes on it before getting published. Otherwise, it’s liable to end up with errors that distract from the message at hand and make it look less than professional.
Since there’s such a wide range of written work in the professional world, you can focus on a niche, like:
- Book manuscripts
- Web pages and blog posts
- Digital marketing materials
- Print ads, like brochures
- Product manuals
- Business reports
- Court transcripts
- Legal documents
By selecting at least one niche, you can quickly hone your skills and become an expert in the field. With that move, you can raise your rates faster than if you were simply operating as a generalist. If you’re not getting as much work as you would like, just grab another niche, and start advertising your services for that one, too.
As you build a reputation as an expert in your niche, the clients will likely start coming to you. Word-of-mouth advertising is a powerful tool that only gets stronger as time goes by. Just don’t forget to keep marketing your services despite having work, so you can stay busy year-round. You want to keep your calendar booked at least a month out at all times, which takes consistent referrals and a solid marketing program.
Take an Online Proofreading Course that Teaches How to Become a Proofreader
Even if you have an English degree, taking an online proofreading course is a good idea. In that course, you’ll not only learn the skills needed to excel in this field but also how to build your work-at-home business from the ground up.
Better yet, it doesn’t take long at all, and this particular course is completely free. In just 76 minutes, you’ll learn everything you need to know to become a proofreader. To start, the free course will take you through the five key signs that this career is the right fit for you.
Plus, it will let you know how becoming a freelance proofreader will open the doors to true freedom from your 9-to-5 without compromising on financial security. In fact, you’ll learn just how much entering this field could bolster your finances when you take all the right steps.
The course will then take you on a deep dive into what it takes to proofread documents with the best of them. You’ll finish up by learning how to attract all your ideal clients and wow them from the start.
By the end of the free online proofreading course, you will walk away with the skills, knowledge, and confidence to kickstart your online business. You can then begin moving through the steps, so you can ditch your day job faster than you might ever believe.
Learn the Major Style Guides
Grammar, spelling, and punctuation rules are not always as static as they seem. More often than not, they change depending on the style guide used by the publication.
For that reason, you should get well acquainted with each of the major style guides from:
- Associated Press (AP)
- Modern Language Association (MLA)
- American Psychological Association (APA)
- Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS)
- Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD)
The style guide you’ll use for each project depends on its intended publication location and overall purpose. When proofreading pieces that will get published on the web, you’ll undoubtedly use the AP style guide to clean up their work. Legal documents, on the other hand, require use of the ALWD style guide instead.
Many businesses also have their own style guide that you may need to follow while proofreading their work. You’ll have to dig through each guide to find the sections relevant to your work, discarding the directions for editors on voice, tone, and the like.
At first, you’ll likely need to keep a paper or digital copy of the style guide on hand while you proofread. Over time, the rules may become ingrained, speeding up the proofreading process considerably. Since the style guides are updated on a regular basis, it’s wise to check the newest releases to see what’s changed.
Practice to Build Your Skills
Before you seek out your first professional proofreading job, you should practice, practice, practice to build your skills. You can offer to proofread for friends and family, reach out to a non-profit for volunteer opportunities, or just head online to find worksheets.
No matter which path you choose, practice proofreading by going through the document several times.
With each pass, you’ll want to:
- Search for spelling and word usage errors
- Check grammar to ensure the work follows the rules
- Review all punctuation and verify it’s used correctly
- Look for missing punctuation marks in the copy
- Align the copy to match the selected style guide
As you work, don’t hesitate to read the paper backward and forward in search of errors you may have missed the first time around. You may even want to read it aloud to see how the writing sounds to your ears, which can reveal even more hidden errors. If you need to hear it from an altogether different perspective, have your word processing program read it back to you as you follow along.
Keep all your style guides plus a dictionary and thesaurus nearby as you work. You never know when you may want to refer to those materials to double-check your corrections and confirm you’re on the right path.
If you cannot find confirmation in those materials, don’t hesitate to look up your hunch online. With a quick search, you can easily figure out if your semi-colon works where it’s at, for example, or if you should break up the sentences instead.
Just don’t be afraid to walk away from the document whenever you feel like you’re spinning your wheels. The break can go a long way toward refreshing your eyes and giving you a fresh look at the writing.
With each practice paper you proofread, you’ll greatly improve your skills and develop a workflow that streamlines the process considerably. Your efforts can help you breeze through your future projects, maximize your earnings, and build a positive reputation in the industry.
Get Certified in Proofreading
Although you can get started by taking an online proofreading course and practicing your heart out, you might also want to get certified as a proofreader. As you prepare for that test, the additional practice will help hone your skills even more.
Through certification, you can gain even more confidence in your skills plus get tangible proof of your ability to serve as a competent proofreader. Then, you can use that certificate to market yourself and land great clients from the start. You can also bump up your starting wage as a reflection of your dedication to excelling in this field.
You can seek proofreading certification through your local community college or online training centers. Expect to spend several days or weeks preparing for the certification test and earmark a couple of hours for actually taking it. Once you pass the test, it could take a few more weeks for the certificate to land on your doorstep.
Prepare to Work From Home
Although the work-from-home world sounds like a dream come true, it often throws newbies through a loop in the early days. At first, it’s all coffee, PJs, and tons of time sitting on the couch while reading to your heart’s content. As the newness wears away, you may find it difficult to focus, rather lonely, and outright unsustainable.
Fortunately, it’s easy to get past those negative feelings and truly hit your stride while working from home. The easiest way to do that is with help from a definitive work-at-home survival guide.
As you dig into the guide, you’ll learn how to overcome all the most common barriers to success, such as:
- Ways to stay focused on your daily work
- How to find true inspiration in all you do
- Where to go for career support and camaraderie
- How to find excellent clients and keep them coming back
- What to do to avoid burnout through the years
Once you get your head straight and understand what it takes to be a successful work-at-home proofreader, you can prepare your workspace.
Reflect on how you like to work and where you’ll be most productive. Perhaps you do all your best work late at night from the comfort of your couch? Or do you need a dedicated office with a desk, chair, and full print station? You might even find that you need daily work sessions at the local coffee shop to avoid feeling isolated in your work environment.
Whatever the case, set up your workspace accordingly. You can always make changes as you go, so don’t worry about getting it perfect the first time around. It’s even common to change up your work environment and approach on the fly based on each proofreading job you take.
Build Your Brand
If you are looking to build a lasting career as a freelance proofreader, you must build a strong brand presence all your own. With the right brand elements, you can create an effective website, digital marketing materials, and print ads you love to share.
To start building your brand, you will need to dream up a company name. You can use your own name if you would like or dream up a creative moniker that perfectly sums up your purpose and approach. Just make sure that whatever you pick is not already taken by another company. Avoid names that are a tad too similar to other brands since you want to select a name that helps you stand out from the crowd.
Once you have a brand name in mind, you can register your business under that name through the Secretary of State or business bureau for your area. You will need to decide whether you want to operate as sole proprietor, LLC, or other business structure during the registration process. You can also trademark your brand through the United States Patent and Trademark Office if you wish.
With all the legal business out of the way, you can focus on the fun part: creating your logo, choosing your color scheme, and finding your favorite fonts. Using those elements, you can create business cards and other advertising materials, including a professional website.
Create a Professional Website
With a well-designed website on your side, you give your freelance proofreading business instant credibility and an edge against the competition. You will use your website to educate potential clients on your skillset and services in hopes they will sign right up. Since you’ll need plenty of copy to fill out your site, it’ll also serve as a clear testament to your abilities.
Although creating a professional website for your proofreading business might seem like a huge undertaking, it’s actually quite approachable when you follow the right steps. To get started, you need to select your ideal hosting provider and plan plus a personalized domain name.
If you created a brand name, try to use some variation of that while keeping it short and sweet, yet wholly memorable. Otherwise, pair your name with proofreading, proofreader, or the like to instantly sum up what your site offers.
From there, you’ll need to install WordPress and get started building your site. Begin by choosing a theme that will best highlight your brand and support your clients’ needs. Remember to incorporate all your brand elements, like your logo, color scheme, and font selections, into each page.
Then, focus on adding the content that your customers need to weigh the benefits of choosing you as their proofreading expert. You may also want to add widgets that further improve the value of your site, like social media icons that take visitors straight to your top professional profiles. Don’t forget to use plug-ins that help make your site lightning fast, search engine optimized, and attractive to all your visitors.
Seek Out Great Clients
Once you have your professional website set up, you can start seeking out your first client. You will need to heavily market yourself at first by sharing your website with anyone who will listen. Share a post with a link to your website on all your professional social media channels, informing your followers that you’re in the market for clients.
You can network in person, too, by sharing your new venture and giving out your business cards. Don’t hesitate to speak with local businesses to let them know about your services. You can even ask if they will put a stack of your business cards on their front counter. If you want to extend your professional reach outside your local area, write up a quick letter of introduction and send it to businesses all across the nation and beyond.
If you came from a related industry, reach out to your former colleagues to let them know what you’re up to these days. Connect with them on social media and share your website with a request to pass it along if they know anyone who needs proofreading services.
You can also use search engine optimization to your advantage by creating blog posts for your website. Write up blogs on all the topics your clients might want to learn more about and make sure they are perfectly proofread before posting. Infuse them with the leading keywords for the industry to bring your blogs up to the top of major search results pages. Then, post the blogs on your website and share them far and wide through your social media channels.
As you impress all your initial clients, you can expect word-of-mouth advertising to start kicking in. That doesn’t mean you can abandon all your other marketing efforts, however. You want to keep marketing through every season to maintain a full schedule and keep lulls to a minimum.
Follow a Strict Schedule
After landing your first client, it is time to reflect back on your work-at-home survival guide to streamline your workday. Use that guide to establish a strict work schedule and follow it on a daily basis.
Minimize interruptions and distractions by letting your friends and family know when you’re on the clock and to avoid contacting you unless it’s an emergency. Then, do not apologize for ignoring their calls, texts, and other messages. And definitely do not answer the door if they want to swing by for “just a minute.”
By creating an impermeable shield around your workday, you can focus on the task at hand and get every proofreading project done by the deadline. No one will respect your workday more than you. So, set the standard from the start to ensure everyone recognizes the importance of your professional pursuits. Otherwise, you’ll get well-meaning, but wholly derailing disruptions coming your way more often than not.
Track Your Earnings
Your friends and family are not the only distractions you have to watch for while working from home as a freelance proofreader. Social media, TV shows, and even your pets can instantly grab your attention, leaving you struggling to get back on task. As that happens, your hourly rate may plummet and make it difficult to meet your earnings goals for the day, month, and year.
To keep that from happening, you can simply track your hours and earnings for every job you do. Use a time tracking app or maintain a paper timesheet to record all your start and finish times. Then, alongside the hours, write how much you made in any given period, although weekly tracking tends to work best.
As you track your earnings, you will likely see your hourly rate fluctuate with the demands of the job. That’s perfectly normal and nothing to worry about. Over time, you’ll likely see that rate hit a stable range unless you end up dealing with too many distractions, that is. With that information, you can make adjustments to your schedule or approach to hit your goals and achieve true financial stability.
Raise Your Rate Over Time
In addition to tracking your earnings to maintain a strong hourly rate, you should aim to raise your overall service fees over time. As you gain experience and improve your skillset, you deserve to charge more for your services. Your commitment to regularly marketing your business can help you do that without jeopardizing your monthly income.
Instead of trying to raise your rate across all clients, simply quote a higher rate as potential customers come your way. As they come onboard at the higher rate and fill up your schedule, you can let your other clients go. If you don’t feel good about cutting your business relationship short, you can refer them to other freelance proofreaders if you know of any taking on new clients.
On top of raising your rates for new clients, enact a rate hike at the beginning of each year as a regular course of business. Many freelancers raise their rates by about 5% per year to keep up with inflation and reflect their service improvements.
You can send out a bulk letter in January, letting your existing clients know that the new rate goes into effect in March. This gives them time to start negotiations if you’re open to that or find a new proofreader if the increase won’t work with their budget.
Ready to Learn How to Become a Proofreader? Just Take It One Step at a Time
As you move through all these steps, you will develop the skills and know-how needed to become a successful freelance proofreader. If you falter along the way, you can always revisit whatever steps you need to regain your footing.
Over the years, your dreaded 9-to-5 job is sure to become a distant memory as you settle into the work-at-home life you always dreamed of enjoying. So, take the plunge and get started on the first step to start working toward the online job of your dreams — and the earnings to match.