Q&A with Louise: ‘I have no experience, no training, no degree and no time. How do I become a proofreader?’
Lisa got in touch to ask for help with getting her proofreading career off the ground. She’s feels as if she’s between a rock and a hard place because of a lack of academic qualifications, career experience and time.
Hello, Louise! It seems that a lot of future editors have great educational experience. They can build on that to start with as a marketing tool. What can I do if I have spent 25 years raising children, and I don't have more than an associate's degree in General Studies, no experience, and not a lot of time to spend on learning marketing? I am a dog-walker and pet-sitter during the day, and I want to start marketing myself as a proofreader. Help!
Hi, Lisa! Thanks so much for your question.
I can appreciate that you probably feel like you’re banging your head against a brick wall at the moment. I do have two books that take you through the steps of editorial marketing, and one free booklet.
I’ve posted links to those at the bottom of the article. They’ll give you the detail; here on the blog, I’m going to focus on the basics and try to get you in the right mindset.
Time management is a tough one, but it’s something that everyone who’s set up their own freelancing business has experienced. The challenges don’t go away once we’re established either.
Take me for example. I have to find time to work on my business, too – time for marketing, time for administration, time for advanced training, time to train others! I, too, have a family and a business to run (my fiction editing work) during the day. Time for the business of running my business has to be found, and it’s tough.
That’s why I’m writing a blog post now, at 9.30 p.m. on a Monday evening on my laptop in front of the TV. The dog’s to my left, the girl’s in her room, the hubbie’s on the other sofa! My life is all about multitasking and there’s no way around it.
I know a lot of people who do their marketing out of hours, or chunks of it at least. We all have the same 24 hours in a day and we all juggle our backsides off to make it work. It’s just the way it goes. There’s no way of cheating it, no shortcut for any of us!
So, MINDSET TIP #1: Instead of thinking about how much time you don’t have, think instead of where you might borrow time from.
Here are some ideas:
Do you work 7 days a week, 365 days a year? For some people in the world, that’s a reality not a horror story, and if that’s you, you have my genuine sympathy. But if you do take weekends off (or one or two other days during the week), and if you do take some annual leave, might you consider using it as a busman’s holiday – devoting it to your business (marketing, training, etc.)?
This isn’t most people’s idea of fun; it’s certainly a sacrifice. But if it gave you that 50 hours of professional training that you need to get off the starting blocks, it would be a sacrifice worth making, an investment for your future.
Once you’ve borrowed some time, you need to decide what to do with it. I mentioned training briefly above but let’s dig a little deeper. You didn’t tell me what pro training you’ve completed, so for safety’s sake I’m going to assume it’s limited.
Professional training is, I think, a requirement for anyone wanting to be taken seriously in today’s editorial freelancing market. It gives you confidence, ensures you’re fit for purpose and puts you on a par with the thousands of trained colleagues with whom you’ll be competing.
Having pro training is no longer stand-out, it’s stand-ard. You might be worried that you don’t have time to do in-depth professional classes – you’re at work all day so can’t attend on-site training.
So, MINDSET TIP #2: Think online. This is the way to go because you can train at your convenience in your own borrowed time.
Above, I talked about Laura Poole and Erin Brenner’s online classes via Copyediting. The Society for Editors and Proofreaders and the Publishing Training Centre in the UK both offer outstanding distance-learning courses for copyediting and proofreading, too.
Those are just a few examples, but nailing the classes means you can demonstrate on your website that you’re a professional – with pro training, a pro attitude and pro commitment.
I believe that our marketing messages should focus on our clients’ problems first and foremost, but backing that up with training is a no-brainer. So let’s talk about marketing.
The thing about marketing is that you can get right on it – start doing it while you’re learning it.
Perhaps there are some editorial freelancers who have client lists as long as their arms and can rely completely on word of mouth. Or they have lots of publisher clients who offer repeat work (I’ll talk about that below). But the new starter in today’s market has to think bigger.
So, MINDSET TIP #3: Be visible. The invisible proofreader (or editor) is an unemployed proofreader (or editor). Even pro proofreaders and editors need to market themselves consistently.
Some types of marketing are slow burn; some can have a much quicker impact. Here are some ideas that fit into both categories:
And that final point leads us onto something else worth considering …
When it comes to marketing, every editorial business owner needs to think about which clients they’re going to target. For you, this may feel trickier because you don’t have a career background that lends itself to a particular subject specialism.
So, MINDSET TIP #4: Instead of thinking about what you don’t have in terms of education and career experience, think about what clients want and what their problems are.
Here are just a few examples that will help you develop your marketing message:
Focusing your message on solutions to your clients’ problems means they see you concentrating on them rather than on you.
Imagine this … you walk into two shops, intent on buying a new pair of shoes from one or other. In store A, the assistant spends half an hour telling you about her feet. In store B, the assistant asks you about your own. Where do you want to buy your Jimmy Choos – A or B?
All of us need to make our clients want to buy editorial services from us, so we need to focus our message on their problems and their needs, not how brilliant we are. And in fact, though, we can demonstrate our brilliance precisely by being focused on them. It comes down to good old-fashioned customer service.
Hope that helps. I wish you well on your editorial business-building journey, Lisa!
Louise Harnby is a line editor, copyeditor and proofreader who specializes in working with crime, mystery, suspense and thriller writers.
She is an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), a member of ACES, a Partner Member of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), and co-hosts The Editing Podcast.
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Fiction Editor & Proofreader, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, connect via Facebook and LinkedIn, and check out her books and courses.
9/10/2017 12:31:31 pm
You make some valid points, Louise. Bottom line, freelancing is not a 9-5, Monday to Friday job. My husband and I both run our own businesses and we basically live them 24/7 (well, okay, not while we're asleep - but I do dream about work). I try to keep the billable work to weekdays (although I do some marketing for half an hour first thing in the morning and last thing at night), and the non-billable work such as invoicing, quoting and blogging to weekends. And out of every four weekends, I might take a weekend off - well, a Sunday. At the end of the day, if you want to make it work, you find time, put in the hours, and make hay while the sun shines.
9/10/2017 01:44:45 pm
Interesting, Sally. I do a lot of my marketing work out of office hours, but all my editing and admin is pretty much 10-4, Monday-Friday. I don't work weekends unless it's an emergency. I think what this shows is that there are many ways to make it work. If an editor wants to do it 9-5, 24/7 they can. If they want to take of school hols, that's an option (depending on their circumstances). There's no one-size-fits-all, which is why, for many of us, it's so appealing!
9/10/2017 04:55:34 pm
Thank you for a very thorough response to your reader's query about how to compete with editors who have already put many years and much effort into becoming a professional proofreader.
10/10/2017 09:13:06 pm
Hi, Maria! Thanks for your comment. I suspect that Lisa's feeling a little overwhelmed and can't see the wood for the trees. In a situation like that, the answers don't always seem as obvious. Then, when someone lays out the path, the head clears! That's what I hope will happen for Lisa; she'll be able to take those first steps of managing her thought processes, and she'll move forward and make informed decisions.
10/10/2017 02:13:20 pm
Great job, Louise! If Lisa is checking in, I say to her:
10/10/2017 09:22:42 pm
Thanks for your comment, Kathie. I slightly disagree with you (sorry!). I think it's best not to fess up negatives, and instead concentrate on the positives.
10/10/2017 09:33:15 pm
11/10/2017 01:38:00 am
11/10/2017 04:24:04 pm
Lisa, that's wonderful to hear - you're doing brilliantly! Keep up the training and crack on with the marketing stuff. When you've finished the UCSD course you'll be on fire! I suspect you simply needed some reassurance that it was possible and that you were on the right track. Well, you are, so congratulations. And best of luck!
16/10/2017 11:05:38 am
That was really a thoughtful and thorough reply, Louise. One other option I'd like to propose is that she practises proof reading for her friends first. Somebody will have a website or blog or even produce leaflets and notices for local events. If she offers to check these for free, she'll build up experience and confidence. It's important to keep doing this while training. In my experience, about half of the proof readers I know have a degree The other half come mainly from print/publishing where in-work training has always been more highly valued. I've rarely been asked if I have a degree. I don't think it's as necessary as varied experience.
16/10/2017 11:39:09 am
Great idea! In fact, Lorna, I think they can be considered part of the training process - the practice of editorial work is as beneficial as the acquisition of technical and theoretical knowledge. Thank you!
16/10/2017 11:41:04 am
Great idea! In fact, Lorna, I that approach could be considered part of the training process - the practice of editorial work is as beneficial as the acquisition of technical and theoretical knowledge. Thank you!
27/11/2017 01:33:45 pm
Thanks for this, Louise. Really helpful post.
27/11/2017 04:19:32 pm
Glad you found it useful, Michelle!
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