You Think You Want to Be a Freelance Proofreader…
How many times have you thought to yourself that you would
be a good proofreader? You have a decent working vocabulary, you are able to
construct a well-turned phrase, and you know when to hyphenate a compound noun
(or maybe you don’t, but you could take a good guess!). You’ve always wanted
to work at home, and you’ve thought about becoming a freelance proofreader.
But just how do you become a freelance proofreader who works at home?
You know who you are. You are the person who picks up the
newspaper, a magazine, or a book and shakes your head every time your brain
stumbles over a typo, incorrect punctuation, a poorly worded sentence, or lousy
page layout and design. Your eye wanders down the right-hand margin taking note
of the excessive word breaks and you turn the page only to find an orphaned line
perched at the top of the page, sitting there all by its lonesome. “Didn’t
anybody proofread this?” you lament. You start thinking that maybe you
could be freelance proofreader. You’d really love to “be your own boss”
and make your own schedule. What you don’t know, however, is how do you go
about making this dream a reality.
I have to be honest-- being a freelance proofreader was not
my “dream.” My dream was, and still is, to buy the winning lottery ticket.
In the meantime, it seems that I enjoy eating on a regular basis. My father had
the audacity to be born into Middle Class Working America, so unfortunately, I
do not have a family fortune to cover the checks I write at the grocery store.
Therefore, I was left with one option: I had to work for a living.
Even so, it was still not my dream. In fact, I was a
corporate accountant weenie for almost 20 years. How far removed is that from
having my own at-home job as a proofreader? It was more luck and opportunity
than anything else that brought me to where I am today-- successfully earning a
living while working at home, providing a service that I never thought to
provide. I happened upon this career through a temporary job that I took several
years ago when a lifestyle change had been prompted by a switch in my
husband’s careers. That change made it impractical for me to work full time.
The temp agency with which I signed was contacted by a company that needed
someone who could proofread accounting-based, research-journal articles (some
combination, huh?). Given my strong accounting background and the fact that
I’d mentioned that I was writing my own novel, my temp recruiter thought I
just might be a good match for the job.
It turned out that the recruiter didn’t know how right
she was. I temped for that firm for almost a year and when it was time for my
husband to relocate (as we had to do from time to time for job purposes), I
proposed to the company that I continue to proofread for them off-site. Voila!
“Jan K., The Proofer” was born.
I don’t recommend this way of starting out, although you
shouldn’t rule out the possibility of checking with temporary agencies in your
area. It may be that they get requests for proofreaders; the old axiom “You
won’t know until you ask” might come into play here. However, temp agencies
needn’t be your only resource. You need only to look at yourself, your
interests, and your own work experience and education to provide the fertile
soil from which you can cultivate and grow your own at-home proofreading
What is it that you do for a living? What trade journals or
newsletters are there that pertain to and are published for people in your
profession? What literature do you read that relates to what you do? Someone
wrote it, someone did the page layout, and someone probably proofread it. That
proofreader could be someone like you.
What around-the-town publications do you encounter other
than the daily newspaper? Does your town produce a monthly magazine? Are there
any graphic design businesses in town that produce brochures, meeting materials,
or advertising catalogs? Are there local organizations that put out newsletters?
Is there a college or university in or near your area where there are students
writing research papers? Does the company for whom you presently work have an
Does your church or your kids’ school hand out flyers or
news bulletins? Who does the newspaper inserts? When the local stores advertise,
who does the advertisements?
If you think about it, printed text surrounds you. You
encounter printed matter for almost everything you do. What you need to do now
is narrow the field and determine where to find a likely starting place.
It is probable that you are not going to get an at-home
proofreading job by simply showing up at a printing shop and announcing “I am
a freelance proofreader, give me work.” You might, but my guess is that this
particular method of self-advertising is not going to score you enough work to
allow you quit your day job. What you need is experience and exposure.
First, if you don’t already know them (and why would you
if you’ve been checking gas meters for your local utility company for the last
ten years?), you will definitely need to learn the standard proofreading/editing
“marks.” These are the little glyphs and squiggles that indicate to the
typesetter or page layout artist what corrections need to be made to the printed
material and where. Some marks are self-explanatory, while others look like an
Ancient Egyptian Sanskrit language. There’s no secret-organization ban on you
learning the marks. Go to any library and check out a book about editing or
proofreading, or go to a bookstore and purchase The
Chicago Manual of Style. In it you will find several pages that list all of
the standard proofreading marks, what they look like, and what they mean.
Practice on any text that you have on hand. Chicago
will even provide an example for how the marks are placed in and around the
Second, consider taking on some volunteer proofreading
work. Try your church, the school, or a local charity group-- any organization
that puts out something in print. Offer to do it for free in exchange for an
acknowledgment: “Proofreading for this newsletter has been provided by
Wilomena the Word Wizard.” The acknowledgment does not suggest that it was
done for free, but rather who “provided” the service. Work on getting a
couple of assignments. Build up a small clientele and ask them if they are
willing to act as a reference for you.
Third, do some self-advertising. You can spend less than
$50 and produce professional-looking brochures, business cards, and handout
flyers with your own computer and printer. Walk through your handy yellow pages
and jot down some target markets: graphics design shops, print shops that do
typesetting, colleges or universities, and/or publishing firms. Spend some time
taking your brochures to these places. Tack up flyers in library, stores that
have public bulletin boards, at your neighborhood community center, and
storefront shops like Mail Boxes, Etc.
Get a web page! There are dozens of domains that will allow
you to create a free web site if you can not afford a dot-com site. Most domains
even provide web page design templates for those of you who may be a Web Yutz-bo
like me. I now have two regular clients who found me on the Web (they found me,
I didn’t have to spend a minute trying to find them… ain’t technology
Get a plain-paper fax machine! You can get them now for
$100 or less. I can honestly say that I recouped the cost of my fax machine
within the first two months that I had it. I can’t begin to count the number
of small jobs I’ve gotten because I was able to receive a three- or four-page
project, proof it, and fax it back within the hour or same day. I’ve even
gotten jobs that were hundreds of pages long that needed to be faxed back, page
by page, as I finished it. I have one regular client for whom I can work only
because I have a fax machine.
Fourth, be prepared for this to take a while. Unless Lady
Luck plops the perfect client in your lap tomorrow, it is probably going to take
you quite a while to build up a clientele. It literally took me four years (and
a very supportive husband) to establish myself to the point where I have work
almost every day. I do have dry spells, and once a year my primary client has
nothing for me for an entire month. So, I’m still working on self-advertising,
keeping my web site updated, and schlepping brochures and flyers around town.
Once you actually begin to work, be prepared to do the work
and not see the check for a couple of weeks. Not everyone is going to hand over
a check when you hand over the completed project, especially if you land any
large-firm clients that have Accounts Payable departments where the policy is to
pay everything at 30 days, period. Although I do establish up front that my
invoices are presented “Due Upon Receipt,” I have had to accept the fact
that some companies reply “That’s great, but we’re going to pay you Net
30.” Fortunately, in almost five years of working freelance, I’ve only ever
had one client stiff me, and even then it was only for about an hour’s work.
Lesson learned: it’s gonna happen.
As with any work-at-home job, it is not for everyone. You
have to be self-disciplined and able to devote quality time and concentration to
the job at hand. If you can not deliver quality work, and on time, then you will
never be successfully self-employed. If you don’t have the skills or
education, then you need to get some. If you don’t have any experience, create
some through volunteer work. No job contacts? Find them! Don’t know how to
design your own brochures or business cards and can’t afford to have them done
professionally? Look to your own friends; who do you know who can do that sort
of thing and what can you swap or barter with them for the service? (That’s
how I got mine done, and my brochures, business cards, and flyers look GREAT!)
If you are determined to work at home, and you are
determined to be a proofreader, then you can make it happen. I did. And if I can
do it-- me, who couldn’t sell game software to a Play Station junkie-- you
Jan K., The Proofer is a full-time freelance proofreader and copyeditor. In business since 1995, she has enjoyed working for a diverse world-wide clientele, covering subject matter including academic research, medical law, consumer surveys, and self-help materials. Please visit http://www.janktheproofer.com for more information.
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