You Think You Want To Be A Freelance Proofreader
By Jan K., The Proofer
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 fiction 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
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 in-house newsletter?
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
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 text.
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 great?).
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 awhile. Unless Lady Luck plops
the perfect client in your lap tomorrow, it is probably going to take
you quite awhile 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 can,