The Proofreader's Parlour
A blog for editors, proofreaders and writers
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!
You ask. I'll answer
I'm more than happy to tackle questions, especially from beginners. If there's something you want advice about, drop me a line and I'll post a solution to your problem here. The more focused your question, the more in-depth my answer will be! And if you want me to mask your identity, no problem.
Check the Q&A archive to see whether your question's already been answered.
Louise Harnby is a fiction copyeditor and proofreader. She curates The Proofreader's Parlour and is the author of several books on business planning and marketing for editors and proofreaders.
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader & Copyeditor, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or connect via Facebook and LinkedIn.
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Author Member of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). I abide by its Code of Standards in regard to my status as an independent writer.
Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). I'm a signatory to its code of practice as a professional editor.
Featured in The Book Designer's Carnival of the Indies: Joel Friedlander's collection of 'outstanding articles recently posted to blogs'.
Winner of the Judith Butcher Award 2017 in respect of 'highly visible contributions to the SfEP and its membership'.