One common question I get asked all the time is “How do I know if proofreading is for me?”
To be honest, I can’t answer that question for you. I don’t know what skills and experience you have. I don’t know how good you are at finding errors. And I don’t know what kind of business owner you’ll be.
So how do you decide if you have what it takes to be a proofreader?
Besides the fact that you are your family’s go-to resource for grammar and spelling questions, there are usually some telltale signs that you might be a good proofreader. Excellent proofreaders often possess many of the same qualities. Chances are if you have almost all of these qualities, you’ll thrive as a proofreader.
Keep reading to find out what qualities proofreaders have in common.
1. Great attention to detail
Proofreading is something that I’m innately good at, so it was a natural choice when I was looking for ways to make money from home. When I got into proofreading transcripts for court reporters back in 2012, I became hooked on finding errors and polishing my clients’ products. I was so good at spotting errors, I became known as “Eagle Eyes.”
Eagle eyes. You’ve probably heard me talking about eagle eyes before. Excellent proofreaders must be able to spot errors a mile off. They need to jump off the page at you.
Have you ever been tempted to call business owners to let them know what punctuation faux pas they’re committing? Ever wonder why businesses didn’t hire someone to proofread their content before they put it out there for the world to see? Do errors make your eyes twitch and your blood boil?
If mistakes on billboards, menus, social media memes, etc. drive you crazy, then you might have it in you to be a proofreader.
But if you’re the kind of person who skims while they read or doesn’t really care about the nitty-gritty details, then proofreading most likely won’t be a good fit for you.
2. Excellent grasp of spelling, grammar, and punctuation
You won’t get far as a proofreader if you don’t have an above-average grasp of spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
Excellent proofreaders understand the difference between there, they’re, and their. They know when you should use “less” rather than “fewer.” And they don’t hang on to outdated or just plain wrong grammar myths.
3. Willingness to learn
You don’t have to know everything right off the bat. Grammar and spelling can be learned. But you have to care about learning it. You have to be willing to research what you don’t know — whether that’s a grammar rule you’re not sure of or upgrading your computer skills.
The key is knowing an error when you see one, or at the very least knowing it could be an error and having the sense to stop and check.
A good proofreader doesn’t assume that they know everything just because they were good at English in high school. They understand that the English language changes over time, and they’re aware they may have picked up some bad habits or misinformation over time.
An excellent proofreader will be willing to invest in themselves to make sure that they’re providing the highest quality service they can provide to their clients. They understand the importance of taking a proofreading course to hone their skills, and they actively use style guides and reference books like the Chicago Manual of Style to check if their gut feelings are correct.
The biggest hindrance to learning is refusing to open up your brain to actually learn.
What’s the purpose of learning? Mastery. Before you can profit from a skill, you must master it. That’s when the confidence comes. What does it mean to master something? It means you can do the thing almost effortlessly.
So I want to encourage you: No matter how much you know (and I know you *do* know a lot!!), be willing and able to receive new knowledge into your brain.
If you want to learn how you can brush up on your proofreading skills, check out my free Intro to Proofreading workshop!
Proofreading isn’t always a 9-to-5 job, especially if you’re in the court reporting niche. This type of work can come in waves. When your clients aren’t busy, neither are you. But when they’re busy, you better be ready to work.
If you think you’ll be able to make as much as I did working from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. Monday through Friday, let me tell you, it’s not going to happen.
Most transcript proofreading work comes in in the evenings, and it will take you longer than an hour to complete. General proofreading tends to be less fast-paced, but your clients won’t wait weeks for their documents to be returned. They may have deadlines that they need to meet.
You’ll need to be willing to communicate with your clients to make sure the timeline works well for both of you.
5. Desire to be excellent
You’ve got to want to do an amazing job. You’ve got to want to wow your clients with the accuracy of your work and your level of professionalism.
Professional proofreaders can’t half-ass things. It’s not that kind of industry. Excellence is expected… and mistakes aren’t forgiven as easily as they would be in any other industry.
Of course, proofreaders are still human (last time I checked!). We make mistakes. But when we do make a mistake, we need to handle it with grace and learn from the experience.
It’s not easy — learning a new skill and starting a business. It comes hand in hand with a lot of self-doubt. Maybe it feels like you’ll never understand how to use a comma properly. Or maybe your business has been up and running for a few months, but you still don’t have any clients.
We can’t let things like these stop us.
The only ways to guarantee failure are 1) never even try, and 2) give up.
Everyone starts their business with zero clients.
Everyone deals with rejection.
And everyone feels inadequate at some stage.
It’s the ones who keep going even when it feels like they’re getting nowhere — who eventually get exactly what they want.
I’m not saying you have to go after your goals with 100% intensity all the time, but if you take consistent action and keep going despite the roadblocks, you’ll get there eventually. If you give up, you’ll NEVER get there.
7. Willingness to step outside your comfort zone
You need to be willing to do the hard things.
Maybe you’re worried you won’t be able to memorize all the rules? You don’t have to! You just have to know they exist and know where you can find the answers.
Maybe you’re worried you won’t be able to master new-to-you technologies like iAnnotate or Microsoft Word? You can! There are tutorials in my courses and all over the web.
And the big one… maybe you’re terrified of marketing? That’s normal, but the more you do it, the less scary it will feel. Getting clients is 100% a result of your own actions, but not just the actions you take with regard to marketing. It starts with building your confidence, and the best way to build confidence is to master your proofreading skills.
I get it. It’s scary outside our comfort zones. But if you let all these fears stop you, you’re restricting yourself to a certain life. A life where you’re stuck in a dead-end job, stuck with a long daily commute, or stuck doing something you hate for the rest of your life.
Getting outside your comfort zone is the key to getting unstuck.
Did I scare you away? Or are you now convinced that proofreading is the right fit for you? If you’ve already got many of these qualities, then you’ve probably got the right skill set and mentality to be a proofreader. All you need to do now is hone your skills and start your proofreading business!
So what’s the verdict? Do you have what it takes to be an excellent proofreader? You can get started right here!
I look up a lot on the internet, about how to make money online and I came across transcription and proofreading, and many other things that have to do with writing. And I should say I am quite interested in anything that has to do with writing, English, and just basically fiddling with the keyboard. But as much as I thought, just because I can read and write basic English, that would be enough for me to get started, I was very wrong apparently, I needed way more than that. I went on to study punctuation and its usage, and that was still not enough. I really felt discouraged but after reading your article about how self-doubt is part of the ordeal and how I will definitely feel that once or twice the trick is to not give up, it has helped me feel better to learn more and be well on my way. I love how you say: “By giving up, you are refusing yourself some type of life.” I would love to spend more time with my daughter and invest in my businesses which have shut down because of covid19. Thank you for this article it really helped me a lot.