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Play to Your Strengths! Jessica Earns Money from Her Proofreading Skills

Sometimes when people are trying to figure out what kind of work to do from home, they overcomplicate things. 

They get caught up with looking at what other people are doing. 

“So-and-so is earning good money as a graphic designer; maybe I should try that?”

Never mind the fact that they’re color-blind and have no eye for design whatsoever!

One way to shortcut your success when working from home is to play to your strengths. What skills do you already have? What do people always tell you you’re good at? 

Are you known for your proofreading skills? 

Have you always been a good writer? 

Are you good with numbers?

If you choose to further develop and monetize a skill you already have, you cut the learning time in half (though you should always make sure your skills are up to date!), and you have more confidence from the beginning.

After years spent teaching, Jessica was feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. Using her existing proofreading skills, she found a way to earn money from home — and she also found happiness!

Keep reading to hear more about Jessica’s story!

Q: Hi, Jessica! Tell us a little about your background. What did your life look like before you crossed paths with PA?

Cut the learning time in half when you play to your strengths and make use of your proofreading skills!
Photo credit: Rebecca Trumbull Photography (rebeccatrumbullphotography.com)

When I first crossed paths with Proofread Anywhere (PA), I was a full-time English as a Second Language (ESL) instructor at a university, where I taught classes in rhetoric, ESL academic writing, and ESL grammar; as such, I was regularly involved in the intricacies of language. In addition to teaching, I had also done sporadic freelance editing/proofreading for a number of years. Additionally, I have a Bachelor of Science degree in technical communication, a Master of Arts degree in English, and a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing. I’ve always had a bent toward writing and an eye for detail, regularly noting proofreading errors (e.g., spelling mistakes on menus, apostrophe and comma errors on signs). With such a background, I felt as though I would be an ideal PA student.

When I happened upon PA, I made the decision rather quickly to sign up. Although I enjoyed interacting with my students and guiding them toward improvement in writing, the overall demands of teaching left me feeling exhausted and unfulfilled. At the end of the day, I wanted to have the energy to pursue my own writing path. Creating a proofreading business sounded like something that would suit me. Although I had done editing and proofreading as a side gig for many years, I didn’t know how to make it a full-time enterprise. I liked that PA set out a guided path; that was just what I needed and was a big reason why I signed up.

Q: I’m so glad you found a way to pursue your own writing path while also still using your proofreading skills. When did you start proofreading, and what made you decide to learn how to proofread?

I’ve been a “proofreader” (in the loosest sense) for all of my adult life and then some. In high school, my peers came to me to proofread their papers and help them with grammatical issues, and I also volunteered in my high school’s writing center. A few years later, as an undergraduate in college, I worked as a writing tutor in that school’s writing center. Many years later, as a graduate student, I again found myself working in a writing center, this time primarily helping international graduate students. 

Although not proofreading per se, all of these experiences helped me develop my eye for detail as well as for the nuances of different types of writing. In my freelance editing work (before the PA course), I also provided proofreading services. At that time, though, I didn’t recognize the difference between proofreading and editing. Ultimately, I decided that if I wanted to make proofreading a full-time endeavor, I needed proper training. So, I dove right into the General Proofreading course.

Q: A lot of people don’t realize there’s a difference between proofreading and copyediting. Kudos to you for recognizing the need for training. What was the most challenging part of getting started?

Cut the learning time in half when you play to your strengths and make use of your proofreading skills!

I didn’t find getting started in the General Proofreading course challenging. I dug right in, taking diligent notes and soaking up all the information. If there was anything challenging about it, it was finding time and energy. That said, the fact that the course is self-paced was an enormous advantage. Although I was driven to finish as quickly as possible, I didn’t feel rushed by the course itself. 

The most challenging part of actually starting the business was probably setting up my website. I was fortunate in that I have a friend who builds websites. Although I created my website myself, he was able to answer questions and assist me when I got stuck. There were a number of other steep learning curves in the development of the business itself, but the PA Facebook groups provided (and still provide) awesome support. I honestly felt (and continue to feel) that I was (and am) part of a strong supportive online community with PA.

Q: The Facebook groups are a lot of people’s favorite thing about the course. What was the most valuable thing you learned during the course?

There is no one most valuable thing that I learned in the course—everything I learned was valuable. However, I will note that learning the difference between proofreading and editing (as well as putting labels on the different types of editing) was eye-opening. For most of the freelance work I’d done prior to PA, I did both editing and proofreading, not realizing the tasks were distinct.

Q: How long did it take you to find your first client? And how many clients do you have now?

I landed my first two clients within a couple of weeks of launching my website. They were both fairly small projects, but both helped me refine my process and gain confidence. Additionally, I learned fairly early on that many clients are interested in both editing and proofreading. Therefore, it’s important to confirm with clients what they actually want; I’ve learned to base my price quote on their individual needs. To that end, my services are quite customized. I don’t just have proofreading clients, and I don’t just have editing clients. 

Additionally, in some cases, my clients also want writing guidance (which I call “consulting”). Because I have a background in teaching both writing and grammar and because my writing background spans technical, academic, and creative writing, I’m comfortable offering such customized services. I currently have six long-term clients; three of them are through alternate freelance channels (and not directly through my business). 

Here’s what Jessica’s happy clients have to say!

Cut the learning time in half when you play to your strengths and make use of your proofreading skills!
Cut the learning time in half when you play to your strengths and make use of your proofreading skills!

Q: How long did it take you to recoup the cost of the course?

After “officially” launching my business, I’d say it took about three months to recoup the cost. My first large project was a doctoral thesis, which I was initially hired to edit. The client later had me proofread the thesis too. That was the project that helped me fully recoup the cost of the course (and then some). 

Q: What advice would you give anyone thinking about enrolling in the course to learn how to proofread? Is it worth the money?

My biggest piece of advice: Be patient. For me, the course was definitely worth the money, but the outcome, of course, is not immediate. For any educational setting, whether it be an online course or whether it’s a workshop or seminar at a conference, the onus is on the student. You get out of it what you put into it. That goes for the course itself, and it goes for starting (and maintaining) a business too.

My other piece of advice would be to consider your current background and skills. I went into the course with a strong writing background and with extensive knowledge and understanding of grammar and punctuation. I’m the type of person who, for years, has read grammar books for fun. Yet I still found there were things I didn’t know. And the learning process is never-ending. So, be realistic as to what you hope to achieve and in what timeframe. The less background knowledge you have of grammar, the more time you may need to allow to learn it.

Q: Wise words! Purchasing a course will do nothing for you. You need to take action and implement what you learn to achieve success. What does your life look like now as a working freelance proofreader?

My life is much closer to how I’ve envisioned it at many different points in my life. I always wanted the flexibility to travel when I wanted, and I’ve always desired a better work-life balance. I now have that flexibility, and I also have a very healthy and fulfilling work-life balance. There’s a freedom in working for yourself and being in control of who you work with. I don’t like to say that I’m my own boss, though, because, it’s really all of my clients who are my bosses. But I have flexibility in who I choose to work for. 

I also have flexibility in when I can work. Instead of getting up at 5:30 and working a ten-hour day fueled by caffeine, I have formed a routine that works for me, one that allows me a full night’s sleep (most nights, at least) and one that allows me to take a midday break to go for a run or walk my dog. I’m not restricted to any one location either, another benefit. 

Notably, many in my circle of family and friends have commented on my improved attitude. I’m happier than I was at my previous job. I feel a sense of fulfillment doing something that I’m good at but also that I enjoy doing. I end the day full of energy rather than devoid of it. I’m not yet earning my goal income, but my second year in business (which has just begun) is looking quite promising.

Q: I love that your family and friends have noticed a positive change in your attitude and happiness! Anything else you’d like to share with the PA community?

I “officially” launched my website almost exactly a year ago. So much has changed in a year. My business has morphed, and I’ve learned how to put myself “out there” and network and connect with other freelancers and entrepreneurs. 

I consider networking an absolute necessity, and I have learned so much in the process. Importantly, one needs to be open to change. You need to join groups (virtual or in-person groups) and continue to learn, both the craft and the business aspect of it. Don’t expect to learn everything in the course itself. Do expect lots of learning curves. Don’t stagnate. Do try different things, both in regard to marketing and what services you offer. I’ve done very little paid marketing, but I have an active business Facebook page and try to also keep up with LinkedIn and Twitter. 

Don’t underestimate the power of social media. I’ve gotten two clients through LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a mecca for entrepreneurs and freelancers, and several of my clients have been other business owners. Don’t underestimate the power of connections with other business owners, not just as potential clients but as mentors and advisors too. Other proofreaders (and editors) are not your competitors; they are your colleagues, peers, and collaborators.  

Our Take

I love that Jessica chooses to play to her strengths and use her existing proofreading skills to earn money from home. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel; you may already have a good foundation in place and just need to fine-tune your skills.

Your Turn

Want to use your proofreading skills for more than billboards and restaurant menus? You need to leverage your strengths! Check out our FREE Intro to Proofreading workshop to learn how you can earn money from home with a skill you already have!

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