How To Start a Proofreading and Editing Business

Attracting clients as a freelancer is the hardest part, especially if you have no work experience. But hard work and strategy will soon lead you to work flexibly and independently as a business owner. 

Here’s my breakdown of how to establish your proofreading and editing business. Find out how to gather tools, set rates, and network with fellow professionals.

How Do Proofreaders Get Clients? 

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Proofreaders get clients differently, such as by networking with other proofreaders and joining online groups. Proofreaders from an online group or organization can answer questions and refer clients to one another. 

Other proofreaders email clients whose work they want to review. For an automated way to do this, you could launch an email marketing campaign. 

But the easiest way for proofreaders to get clients is by marketing themselves on different websites. They can set up profiles on LinkedIn, Freelancer, and Upwork to attract clients.

If you’re a total newbie, I would highly recommend starting with gig jobs or find a company looking for a proofreader.

How Much Money Can You Make Proofreading?

The average proofreading rate per word is about $0.013-$0.016. These rates depend on the proofreader’s expertise and the genre of writing. For example, fiction and academic works usually cost more per word than technical or blog posts.

In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that the average proofreader salary is $39,140 per year. But this salary varies because most online proofreaders work flexibly. Some consider the job a side hustle, while others consider it a full-time job. 

Some proofreaders also work as bloggers, freelance writers, and social media managers. That means their annual salary is vague and constantly changing. 

Do You Need Qualifications To Be a Proofreader?

Although online proofreaders need not have a bachelor’s degree to build a business, they need specific skills to succeed and earn more. Here are some of the skills you will need as a proofreader.

Language Skills

A good proofreader knows the grammar and mechanics of the language they are working with. For example, if you’re an English proofreader, you should know the basic sentence structures and forms. It helps if you also learned the purpose of each punctuation mark. 

Aside from grammar and syntax, qualified proofreaders are familiar with common writing conventions. Enroll in online, self-paced courses or refer to reference manuals for common spelling errors, especially homophones and homonyms. 

Language skills also include knowledge of tone, fluency, and clarity in writing. Determine the type of content you are editing and proofreading, and memorize what makes this genre perfect. 

For example, lengthy sentences and passive voice construction can sometimes be acceptable for novels and research papers. But you should avoid these writing features on blog posts and technical writing. 

Knowledge of the Standard Proofreading Marks and Style Guides

Online proofreading and editing are usually done using Microsoft Word and Google Docs. But you will encounter clients wanting you to use proofreading symbols on their printed copies. These are not demanding and difficult clients at all.

Knowing how to use standard marks for traditional proofreading is essential even if you operate online. It’s part of every proofreader’s foundational knowledge in the industry.

You should also master style guides to be a professional editor or proofreader. The most used guidelines come from the Chicago Manual of Style, but you might also be asked to use APA or MLA. 

Consult a grammar or punctuation book for basic writing guidelines if you are a general proofreader. Thorough knowledge of these topics will make you spot last-minute errors more quickly.

Some organizations and companies also have internal style guides. These guides include common terminology, questions, and other topics related to their business or discipline.

Communication Skills

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You’ll deal with different types of clients for every project. Some independent authors want you to take your time proofreading their works before self-publishing them. There are also bloggers who need the document back in only a few hours.

Good communication and interpersonal skills will help you build relationships with a diverse clientele. It will also get you in different organizations and reap the benefits of networking.

Good communication skills are more vital for an editing business. You need to talk to your writer from time to time, provide meaningful feedback, and perform several rounds of edits. It will also help you negotiate your rates. 

Knowledge on Business

To start a proofreading business, you don’t need to be an enterprise capitalist. But it helps to learn the basic business models, concepts, and terms. Marketing methods and pricing are also essential business skills.

Having enough business knowledge also means knowing when to accept and turn down projects. Once you have established branding, making your services exclusive will improve your status in the industry.

Discover how to form a legal entity and pay your taxes. Applying for insurance will also help cover any loss in your company. 

Attention to Detail

Whether you’re an editor or a proofreader, you should be able to spot the tiniest mistakes in a piece of writing to make sure it’s spotless. Provide a fresh pair of eyes to your writer’s work so you can give constructive feedback on their writing. 

Some difficult mistakes include extra spaces, inconsistent font size, and typos. Concentrate well on the paper so as not to miss a single error.  

The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Freelance Proofreading Business 

Starting a proofreading business is more than just improving your skills and gathering clients. You also need to decide on your marketing strategy, pay taxes, network, and collect reviews. 

Write a Business Plan 

All proofreaders should develop a business plan to help them decide how to offer their proofreading service. A well-structured plan will help you reach business milestones easily while growing your client base.

Ideally, your plan should include the projects you will undertake in three to five years. If this is too long, you can have your specific goals, actions, and key performance indicator for each.

Which websites are you using? How will you get your prospective client? How do you make connections with authors? These are just some questions that your business plan will answer. It will also inform your marketing strategies.

There’s no right or wrong method to write a business plan. You get to decide the form of marketing you want to use, whether email marketing or social media. The key thing is do your research for your decisions to be firm.

Questions to Ask When Putting Together Your Business Plan 

Here are some specific questions you need to ask yourself while developing a proofreading business plan:

  • Who are your potential clients?
  • What type of content will you be proofreading and editing?
  • How will you announce your proofreading business to the public?
  • What types of editing and proofreading tools will you need?
  • What are your specific goals for the company? 
  • Which courses will you be taking?

Get Some Training

Education is the most significant investment when setting up a proofreading business. Spend time enrolling in different proofreading courses so you’ll know how to spot common spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors. 

As a business owner, you should to know the type of authors you will be dealing with. You will apply different proofreading and editing methods to different kinds of writing. It’s also essential to learn the various tools you’ll be using. 

Complete a proofreading course that will teach you general proofreading methods and tips. An excellent online course also includes how to set up a proofreading and editing business. 

Many instructors will teach you about the best platforms for finding clients. You’ll even learn how to make a resume and build your portfolio. 

Completing these courses will help you stand out to potential clients to let them know you are qualified for the job. It also shows you’re willing to spend money to enhance your skills. 

Gather Your Tools

Proofreading businesses require several tools to help them perform their job efficiently. You may need essential editing software like Microsoft Word and Google Docs to track changes and make suggestions for their documents.

Advanced online editors will also save you more hours doing your work. One online spell and grammar checker every proofreader and copy editor should have is Grammarly. Use it for academic, blog, business, and creative writing.

Grammarly caters to several writing styles because its suggestions are customizable according to your intended audience and tone. Every freelance proofreader will enjoy its ability to fix sentence structures, inappropriate tone, awkward sentences, and more.

If you proofread long-form content, Scrivener is an excellent app. You can work on different chapters separately and navigate any part of the writing. 

Grammarly, Microsoft Editor, and Google Docs Spellchecker are not substitutes for a human proofreader. You should still use your skills to identify errors.

Other tools for becoming a proofreader include a dictionary, style guides, and a thesaurus. I also recommend having an optimal office setup where you can comfortably work and focus.

Take Some Quizzes

Proofreading quizzes are the best way to test your knowledge and skills for your career. These tests cover basic spelling, grammar, and punctuation rules in a multiple-choice or identification type.

But these types of tests only address lower levels of learning. You should also take tests that resemble authentic writing pieces, then practice editing on them. These application quizzes are available everywhere.

Make sure to take quizzes for both proofreading and editing. Doing so will help you differentiate the tasks of these two professions. Practice different genres, including academic articles, fiction, business documents, and blog posts.

Taking a proofreading quiz will help you determine where you need to improve. Some proofreaders have difficulty spotting typos because of their brains’ autocorrect function.

Start Working at Another Company First

When building an online business, it helps to familiarize oneself with the market first. Why not start as an employee? Enhance your proofreading skills by applying to different proofreading websites and companies.

Finding an online editing and proofreading job will allow you to communicate with corporate clients. You’ll also gain lots of proofreading practice on different types of writing like magazine articles, blog posts, and essays.

Online proofreading for a company is more manageable in terms of taxes than setting up a big business immediately. It’s a great first step to establishing a successful freelance proofreading business.

Get Testimonials

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Gathering reviews is essential, especially if you’re a first-timer in the industry. It will reassure future clients that others enjoyed your work despite your limited experience. 

Asking for a review can be awkward and intimidating, but you will need these pieces of evidence to make your business credible. Some proofreading courses will teach you how to ask for feedback from clients. They also discuss how to take constructive criticism.

Send an email to your first client, asking them if they would be willing to give you a review. It’s okay if they don’t reply immediately or decline your request. Sometimes, it doesn’t necessarily mean they hated your work.

Many clients are busy doing their own work. Others try to keep their identities private, so they would rather not leave public reviews on your website. Follow up again once their writing is published or submitted. 

Asking your client for feedback is also an excellent way to continue your relationship with them. They might hire you again for a new project or even refer you to other clients. 

Filter the testimonials posted on your profile. I’m not saying you should remove the negative ones. But your future clients will not read several pages of reviews, so you need to include the most important ones. 

Build Your Portfolio

Freelance proofreading jobs require a portfolio before starting their own business. Some clients even consider it more essential than your resume. This is especially true if your academic background and work experience are minimal.

One thing to consider when building your portfolio is whether you want to include all your projects or just a curated selection. Also, how do you wish to present your future business? Will you be specializing in fiction, business documents, or academic work?

There’s a wide range of ways to design your portfolio. Check whether you want to include screenshots of the document with your comments and proofreading symbols. Perhaps you want to show a before and after of the piece.

Your portfolio requires extensive marketing skills. Whatever you’re displaying will help you set competitive rates for your services. I also recommend including a short bio at the top of your portfolio. Add your philosophy, area of expertise, and a brief description of yourself. 

Try checking other proofreaders’ portfolios for reference. This will guide you into producing your own as a freelance business owner. 

Form a Legal Identity

Once you’re ready to work independently, it’s time to build the business. Popular business structures are sole proprietorship, partnership, and corporation. Search which structure is best for you to meet business goals and avoid legal issues.

Another typical business structure is the limited liability company. It can protect you from being held liable if someone sues your freelance proofreading business. The same is true with a corporation.

Form a limited liability company to pay for minimal costs. You can also contact an agency that offers LLC services for a small fee. They can handle your legal documents to make your job easier.

Part of forming a legal identity is registering for state and federal taxes. But before applying for taxes, you need to apply for an EIN. You can also use your existing EIN if you already have one. 

There are also specific taxes that apply to your proofreading and editing business aside from the general ones.

Network

Business owners know networking is essential in making your proofreading business thrive. It’s the secret to maintaining the best and most organic form of marketing: word-of-mouth marketing.

Networking in the proofreading industry is not just about asking for help from a professional proofreader to get a range of clients. It’s all about trusting relationships with people with years of experience proofreading.

One way to network is by joining the Editorial Freelancers Association or EFA. EFA hosts annual meetings, holiday parties, and other events for freelancers who want to get together. 

The organization also offers programs, courses, and webinars for freelancers who want to improve their skills. Follow them on their social media and engage with their topics and posts.

You can also set meetings with clients so you can ask them about the type of service they need. Include follow-up questions and reassure them of your high-quality work. Continue building trust until you close the deal.

Consider Specializing

Once your business is running and stable for a few months up to a year, it’s time to specialize. Perhaps you want to offer expert proofreading services for fiction and non-fiction books exclusively. Or you want to be a developmental editor for academic articles.

Your prior knowledge and continuing professional development will help you determine your career path. Keep honing your skills until you produce a strong pitch that will sell them. For instance, if you want to specialize in academic proofreading, master proper citations.

You must also know universities’ and specific disciplines’ different writing style guides. Once you have a general knowledge about proofreading academic papers, you can start being more specific. 

You can try specializing in being a research editor or a social science editor. A successful proofreading business always entails adaptability and lifelong learning. 

Get Business Insurance

A business that operates safely and lawfully helps in obtaining the ideal client. Once you’ve received proofreading training and experience as a regular proofreader, it’s time to get business insurance.

Business insurance will protect your financial well-being no matter how much you earn. These companies will assist you in the event of a covered loss. 

General Liability Insurance is probably the more common type of insurance you can get. But it’s worth researching different insurance policies for your specific business. Check the potential risks your business may face. 

You can also consider Workers’ Compensation Insurance. Your state will also ask you to carry Workers’ Compensation Coverage if the proofreading and editing venture includes employees.

Create a Business Website

You will need to develop a website if your business is purely online. This site should include your proofreading business name, mission, and more information about your services. Word the copy to clarify how you can help your clients.

Include the editorial style you practice, your style manuals, and the type of content you edit. Do you accept non-English content, novels, or only shorter documents? Your website should answer common proofreading questions clients may have.

Your business website should have a contact form where they can send their messages. Provide your contact info, including your email address, number, and social media links. 

Update the website frequently with your recent jobs, reviews, and training. These additional data will increase your search rankings on Google. Some proofreading and editing businesses add a blog to boost traffic and enhance their online presence.

Market Your Editing Business Every Day

It’s not enough to market your proofreading and editing business monthly or weekly. Depending on your company’s business model, you should be marketing your job daily.

Any award-winning proofreading company uses a range of campaigns and methods for promoting its business. You can try search engine optimization for your services to be more visible to search engines. 

There are many aspects of proofreading you can focus on for your company. You might want to share your writing piece on social media for many writers to see. Or let forums know about your experienced proofreaders. 

Taking an online module on marketing will help you determine your unique selling point. It will also inform you about different digital marketing forms that will promote your work. 

Traditional marketing forms like attending networking events can be beneficial. Speak at book conferences, and list your company on directories and billboards.

Be Your Own Boss

Having your own proofreading and editing business requires a huge financial, social, and educational capital. You need to enroll in an online course and join groups to hone your skills.

I wish you luck in starting your proofreading and editing business. Remember that consistency is key. Market your business every day to attract more clients and widen your network.

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