Each year, I receive at least a dozen phone calls and at least as many emails from people who want to become freelancers. We chat for a good deal of time as I answer their questions and offer advice. I received one such call the other day, followed by an email from someone else, which prompted me to make this the subject of this month’s blog. So here are some of the most common questions I’m asked, and the advice I give in response.
  1. How do I source work? It’s the old problem of needing experience to get a job, and needing a job to get experience. Somehow, you have to get a break. I got my first job (assisting a legal secretarial agency) by searching the Internet for organisations and businesses I thought might want a freelance proofreading service and contacting them. I also used sites such as Seek, Elance and Serviceseeking to look for jobs. Of these, I found http://www.serviceseeking.com.au/ to be the most effective for procuring new clients. You have to be prepared to get out of your comfort zone, try some ‘warm-calling’ and emailing. If you knock on enough doors, eventually one will open. If you are interested in academic work, contact local universities and ask if you can advertise your services to students. Students are great at word of mouth and will pass your name around. You can also get experience by proofreading work for friends and family (and if you’re lucky, they might pay you), or by offering to proofread documents for your employer. They may not pay you, but the experience is invaluable. In the meantime, if you have another paid part-time or full-time job, DON’T QUIT! It takes a long time to become established and bring in enough to live off. Using social media, in particular LinkedIn is also a good place to get advice and look for jobs.
  2. Do I need a qualification? If you already have excellent grammar and spelling skills and did well in English at school or Uni, getting a qualification just to put on your CV is not only pricey (some courses cost thousands of dollars), it’s unnecessary. BUT, if you plan to apply for positions at a publishing house or as an in-house proofreader or editor for an organisation, you may need to know the proofreading and editing symbols. I did a Professional Editing and Proofreading course (including the Advanced course) through the Writing School http://www.lifestylelearningdirect.com/about_us/writing_school. Despite initial reservations, the quality of the course and standard of tutoring was excellent. The course not only brushes up your English skills, it teaches you the editing symbols, editing skills, how to set up a business, how to sell your services, information about the latest technology, e-publishing etc.
  3. What skills do I need? It goes without saying, you need extremely good English grammar and spelling skills and a sharp eye for detail – do typos always jump out at you? It also helps to have an inquiring, analytical mind. When you read something, does it make sense? Would you notice that Jane was blonde on page 2 but on page 320, she’s suddenly a brunette? The Institute of Professional Editors Limited (IPEd) has a list of skills an editor should have at http://iped-editors.org/About_editing.aspx.
  4. How much should I charge? Proofreaders and editors are not as highly paid as they should be and to begin with, you will be keen to charge a low rate to win jobs. However, there are two problems with this:
    ONE: Peanuts. Monkeys. People are generally concerned that a cheap rate could mean a sub-standard job. However, others are set on paying cheap rates and are prepared to use an overseas proofreader who will work for a couple of dollars an hour. You don’t want these clients!
    TWO: Charging cheap rates devalues our noble profession. Those of us who have worked hard over the years to bring our rates up to a respectable level are hurt by claims that we are overcharging when people see cheaper rates advertised.
    It’s possible to get an idea of proofreading rates on the Internet (bear in mind they vary from country to country depending on a number of variables, including the cost of living, tax rates, exchange rates and so forth). I strongly recommend you don’t charge any less than AUD30 per hour, and go UP from there!
  5. 5. Do I need a website? It’s definitely helpful to have a website. If you are lucky enough to have the knowhow, create your own, BUT what’s more important is your website is FOUND. There’s no point in having a website (no matter how flash) if you are on page 30 of Google (or page 3, for that matter). A large percentage of my work comes through my website, so I would recommend you spend time and money on SEO to ensure your site is easily found. Make sure you get your clients to write a nice testimonial for you as soon as you finish a job. If they hesitate (or are just too busy/lazy/disorganised, which is often the case), write one for them and ask them if they’ll agree to put their name to it.
  6. 6. Where can I get more information? Your local society of editors or equivalent is a good place to start. In Australia, I recommend you visit IPEd’s site http://iped-editors.org. There are also useful websites and blogs, such as Louise Harnby’s site http://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/ (her e-book “Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers” is excellent) and Liz Dexter’s site http://libroediting.com/author/libroediting/. She also has several great e-books on starting a business available through http://lizbroomfieldbooks.com/.
  7. 7. Should I also apply for jobs? In-house proofreading jobs are rare. Nowadays, businesses are increasingly outsourcing their proofreading work to freelancers because we’re cheaper, and they don’t have to pay us sick leave, annual leave, superannuation etc. But jobs do come up; it’s worth subscribing to sites such as Seek or LinkedIn to receive notifications of any jobs that come up.
  8. Will I earn enough to live off? NO! Not at first – in fact, not for quite a long time, if ever! Although proofreading is highly skilled work that is normally done by people with tertiary qualifications and years of experience, sadly the rate you earn is usually not commensurate. Most proofreaders have other jobs, often as writers or in libraries, teaching or administrative positions.
  9. Will I enjoy it? You wouldn’t be thinking about becoming a proofreader if you didn’t have a love of language and reading. Perfecting written work is extremely satisfying – especially when you have appreciative clients thanking you (and paying you) for turning something hum-ho into a work of art. BUT proofreading is hard. It can be hard physically, in that you can suffer eyestrain, RSI, vitamin D deficiency (from being holed up in an office all day), it’s hard financially, and it’s hard emotionally (the isolation of working alone, the frustration of procuring work, etc.). Like any job, there are pros and cons and other vicissitudes. BUT, if you remember the reason you became a proofreader in the first place and are prepared to work hard and stick at it, hopefully you will love it as much as I do.

Do you have any other tips for new proofreaders or editors? Send them to sally@fullproofreading.com.auGOOD LUCK!

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