Do you love to read?
Can you spot punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes from a mile away?
Do you dream of ditching your 9-to-5 job?
Hate commuting but love commas — and the couch?
If you screamed “YES!” to any or all of these questions, then this Ultimate Guide on How to Become a Proofreader was written just for you.
Psssst! Fast-track your success as a proofreader with our free video workshop!
Step 1: Explore the Scope of Work
Before you can become a proofreader, you need to know what proofreaders do… and don’t do!
Proofreaders are not editors. They never rewrite any part of the document to improve its voice, tone, or purpose. Proofreaders are also not in charge of improving flow, readability, or search engine optimization.
So what do proofreaders do? It’s simple but not easy: Proofreaders read the entire document from top to bottom to find any stray errors, including (but not limited to) spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes.
Proofreaders also check for common word usage errors — like insure vs. ensure — to make sure each sentence makes sense. To put it simply, proofreaders polish the final draft to ensure it’s as close to perfect as humanly possible.
Without mistakes standing in the way, the author’s message or story stands front and center, hitting readers in just the right spot. Proofreaders are often the secret weapon for high-performing authors, screenwriters, and bloggers whose content stands out from the rest.
Newbies to the writing world often fall prey to the misguided belief that editing and proofreading are the same. This leaves them open to their work getting rejected by publishers — or worse, burned with negative online reviews about how many typos readers found on the Kindle edition!
Proofreading usually occurs right after editors work their magic — often the last step before publishing. After that, the final draft goes live where it can dazzle readers with its perfect prose.
If polishing a document sounds like the type of work you’d love to do, then you might excel as a freelance proofreader. On the other hand, if you enjoy ripping first and second drafts to shreds, editing may be a better fit!
Step 2: Assess Your Skills
Before you can become a proofreader, you need to honestly assess your current skill set.
Just like writers work with proofreaders to polish their work, polishing your skills as a proofreader dramatically improves your confidence… and confidence improves your ability to succeed as a proofreader.
Although it certainly doesn’t hurt, 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 be successful as a proofreader! Great news, eh?
You do need to have a solid grasp of English grammar, punctuation, and spelling rules. While memorizing style guides is not necessary — or even possible for most people! –successful proofreaders need a working understanding and an ability to research.
Online proofreading courses that include in-depth grammar refreshers and practice material come in handy here as a cost-effective way to optimize your proofreading skills. You’ll ace any proofreading tests sent your way by agencies and large-scale companies that hire freelancers.
Step 3: Evaluate How Much Proofreaders Can Earn
If you seek employment as a proofreader, you can expect to make anywhere from $23,000 to $63,000 per year — sometimes more! Your skills are the greatest contributing factor to how much you can earn as a proofreader. No surprise there!
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.
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.
Step 4: Identify Your Ideal Proofreading Niche
Every piece of writing needs proofreading magic before getting published. Leftover errors are unprofessional and distract readers from the intended message.
Proofreading skills are useful in any business. You can specialize in proofreading any type of document, including but not limited to:
- Book manuscripts
- Websites and blog posts
- Digital marketing materials
- Print ads, like brochures
- Product manuals
- Business reports or white papers
- Court transcripts
- Legal documents
Within any niche, there are subniches too! That means you could specialize in proofreading transcripts for court reporters or proofreading documents for attorneys. If you have previous experience working in academia, proofreading dissertations could be a great fit for you.
By specializing in a niche, you can quickly hone your skills and become an expert in the field. This allows you to raise your rates faster than the “one size fits all” proofreader. Start with one niche, then if you’re not getting as much work as you would like, consider offering your services to professionals in a related subniche.
As you build a reputation as an expert in your chosen niche, you may be surprised to find that clients come to you! Word-of-mouth referrals can grow your proofreading business quickly.
Step 5: 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 — especially if that course includes everything you need to know about how to succeed in the business world too. The most talented proofreaders out there can still fall flat if they haven’t cultivated the confidence to put themselves out there.
There’s no need to invest thousands of dollars on training, either. Since 2014, Proofread Anywhere has offered high-quality technical and business training specifically for proofreaders. Students complete our general proofreading course in as little as 30 days.
For those who aren’t quite sure if proofreading is a good fit or not, we offer a free, no-obligation video workshop that’s packed with tips and motivation to take you to the next level — regardless of which path you choose. There’s even a quiz for you to test your word skills.
NOTE: The following steps are 100% possible to complete without the aid of a proofreading course like the ones offered by Proofread Anywhere; however, we’ve streamlined the process of starting a successful proofreading business into bite-sized pieces. No more guesswork!
Step 6: Learn the Major Style Guides
The English language constantly evolves. This means that grammar, spelling, and punctuation rules change as well. But what you might not know is that there are more than one set of rules that are “correct” at the same time.
These rules are compiled into gigantic reference texts called style guides.
Major style guides include:
- 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 proofreaders use for each project depends on its intended publication location and overall purpose.
Many businesses also have their own style guide that you may need to follow while proofreading their work. That’s where learning how to reference the style guides can really help you! If you’re not sure about a rule, you’ll need to look it up.
You can use either a printed or digital version of the style guides. It isn’t necessary to memorize the rules — that’s impossible for most of us! With practice, you’ll become familiar with the rules, speeding up the proofreading process considerably.
Style guides are updated regularly, so make sure you use the most up-to-date version of your chosen manual.
Step 7: 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 work through the practice modules within an online proofreading course.
No matter which path you choose, practice proofreading by going through the document several times.
With each pass through the text, you’ll want to:
- Search for spelling and word usage errors (effect vs. affect)
- Ensure the text follows the appropriate grammar rules
- Look for incorrect or missing punctuation
- Identify any formatting errors or inconsistencies
Don’t hesitate to read the paper backward and forward in search of errors you may have missed the first time around. Read it aloud to see how the writing sounds to your ears, which can reveal even more hidden errors. Word processing programs can even read it back to you as you follow along.
Walk away from the document whenever you feel like you’re spinning your wheels. Taking a break can go a long way toward refreshing your eyes and giving you a fresh look at the writing.
Each practice paper you proofread builds upon your skills. With enough practice, you’ll develop a unique workflow that can further streamline the proofreading process — allowing you to work efficiently, maximize your earnings, and build a positive reputation.
Step 8: Prepare to Work From Home
Although the work-from-home world sounds like a dream come true, it often throws newbies for a loop.
At first, it’s all coffee, lounge pants, and tons of time sitting on the couch while reading to your heart’s content. As the novelty wears off, you may find it difficult to stay focused. It can feel rather lonely sometimes too.
So you can proofread anywhere… now what?
Reflect on how you like to work and where you’ll be most productive. Perhaps you do all your proofreading at night on the sofa. Maybe you need a dedicated office instead. You might even find that you proofread better at a coffeehouse — with noise-canceling headphones! — to avoid feeling isolated.
Whatever the case, set up your workspace accordingly. You can always “proofread” your environment as you go, so don’t worry about getting it perfect!
Step 9: Build Your Brand
Crafting a strong brand presence of your own can go a long way in how your clients perceive you as a proofreader.
What’s included in an effective brand?
- Company name. This can be as simple as Your Name + Proofreading or something more inventive! Just make sure that whatever you choose is not already taken by another company.
- Logo. It’s not necessary to hire a designer unless you want to. Grab a free icon on PicMonkey.com and add your name next to it. Export to a transparent .png file — and you’re done!
- Business cards. It may seem old school, but these still work! Vistaprint.com is a well-established site that allows you to easily create effective business cards for your proofreading business.
Step 9: Create a Professional Website for Your Proofreading Business
If your goal is to build a proofreading business for the long haul, then a well-designed website adds near-instant credibility — and an edge over the competition.
While not necessary to get “off the ground” as a proofreader, a website acts as a storefront that quickly educates potential clients on your skills and services.
Be extra, super, doubly, triply sure your website has ZERO errors 🙂
Creating a website for your proofreading business might seem like a huge undertaking, but it’s actually quite approachable when you follow the right steps.
FREE GUIDE: Build Your Own Freelance Website — On the Cheap!
Step 10: Seek Out Great Clients
Once you have your professional website set up, it’s time to start seeking out your first client as a proofreader!
Share a post with a link to your website on all your professional social media channels, informing your followers that you offer proofreading services.
You can network in person too. It’s a lost art, but building relationships face-to-face makes you far more memorable to potential clients. Don’t forget to hand out your business cards! Feel free to speak with the owners of local businesses you frequent. Let them know about your proofreading services.
If you came from a related industry, reach out to your former colleagues to let them know you’ve started a proofreading business. Ask for referrals from your family and friends, even offering to perform some proofreading work free of charge in exchange for a website testimonial.
You can also use search engines to your advantage by writing blog posts on your website. That’s exactly how Proofread Anywhere started! Write engaging articles about your adventures as a proofreader and any topic your ideal clients might enjoy. This is a great way to showcase your expertise in a particular niche or specialty. Infuse your blog posts with the leading keywords for the industry, then give the search engines a little time to “crawl” your site.
Be sure to share what you write on your social media channels as well.
Step 11: Create Your Own Work Schedule
The beautiful thing about working from home as a proofreader or any kind of freelancer is that you have the ultimate freedom to work not just where you want but when you want!
Sometimes friends and family have a hard time adjusting when someone they know shifts to working from home. However, it’s your responsibility to guard your time and protect your work environment.
Minimize interruptions and distractions by letting your friends and family know when you’re “on the clock.” Ask them politely to avoid contacting you unless it’s an emergency. Do not apologize for ignoring their calls, texts, and other messages during that time — and definitely do not answer the door if they want to swing by for “just a minute.”
Proofreading work often includes a deadline, so creating an impermeable shield around your workday better ensures you can meet that deadline. No one respects your workday more than you!
Step 12: Track and Protect Your Earnings
Friends and family aren’t your only potential distractions when 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. Every time that happens, your work time dissipates — making it difficult to proofread enough work to meet your financial goals.
We recommend Freshbooks for invoicing, time-tracking, and accounting! Keeping accurate records makes tax time a breeze. Software empowers you to easily track how much you work, how much you earn, and any business expenses you may have — like a new PC.
As you gain more proofreading experience and improve your skills as a proofreader, you can charge more for your services. Commit to regularly marketing your business so you can grow your clientele.
Instead of raising your rate for all clients, simply quote a higher rate as potential clients come your way. As higher-paying clients come on board and fill up your schedule, you may choose to let other clients go. If you get too busy, you can also refer clients to other proofreaders. This happens in the Proofread Anywhere graduate communities all the time.
Many freelancers raise their rates by about 5% per year to keep up with inflation and reflect their service improvements.
Ready to Learn How to Become a Proofreader? Take It One Step at a Time!
As you move through the steps in this article, you will develop the skills and know-how needed to become a successful freelance proofreader.
Even the longest journey begins with a single step. If you’d like to shorten the learning curve and kickstart your proofreading career by joining the Proofread Anywhere community, tune in to our free introductory workshop — and get The Work-At-Home Survival Guide free.