Proofreading & Editing Skills

Freelance Proofreader: Exploring the Trade!

Freelance Proofreader
Dobrica Frankevich
Written by Dobrica Frankevich

Entering the freelance waters as a proofreader can be confusing at first. At least, it was for me when I first applied for a proofreading job about eight years ago. To help you get a head start in the industry, here’s what it means to be a freelance proofreader:

A freelance proofreader reads, checks and ensures that a piece of written content is free of any spelling, typing, grammatical, and punctuation errors. The content that the proofreader revises could come in any form: articles, web content, eBooks, blog posts, etc. Working freelance as a proofreader means to work independently and have the possibility to take on multiple clients at once, as opposed to working exclusively for one client or company. 

So, are you a detailed-oriented person who always finds the tiniest errors in texts? Are you bothered by that extra space before a comma? If yes, keep reading because a career as a freelance proofreader could be just the right step for you.

What Tasks to Expect as a Freelance Proofreader?

Many confuse the tasks of a proofreader with the ones of a content editor. I’m here to tell you that these are two different things (even though they always go hand in hand).

As a freelance proofreader, it’s not your job to rewrite huge blocks of text or edit the content, tone, or style of writing – this is the editor’s job. Plus, the editor’s job comes before the proofreader’s. 

Step 1: Writing → Step 2: Editing → Step 3: Proofreading

By the time that you, as a proofreader, receive the copy for revising – it should’ve already passed through the editor’s hands and it should be in its final form. 

As a proofreader, your task is to thoroughly read the given text in its final version and correct any mistakes in typography, grammar, punctuation, and similar. 

Any text that’s going to be shared with an audience, regardless if it’s print or online, needs to go through proofreading. For example, you might be asked to proofread:

  • Web content
  • Articles
  • eBooks
  • Resumes
  • Whitepapers
  • Novels and Romans
  • Research papers
  • Blog posts
  • Social media content
  • Emails
  • Sales copies
  • User manuals
  • Restaurant menus
  • PR texts
  • …and practically any other piece of writing! 

Speaking from personal experience, when you’re a beginner in this industry, it’s better to take on smaller jobs such as proofreading a 500-word article, rather than novels or large eBooks. 

You definitely want to build up both your portfolio as well as your experience and skills before you over-promise and under-deliver. 

It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver if you aim for producing quality work and getting higher-paying clients. 

Regardless of the type of writing assigned, a freelance proofreader should always check for the following: 

  • Misspelled words
  • Misused punctuation
  • Formatting of the text
  • Correct use of grammar
  • Correct page numbers
  • Consistency of paragraphs
  • Line spacing
  • Inconsistent capitalization
  • Consistency in the language used
  • US vs. UK spellings
  • Misused homophones (there, they’re, their)

How Big Are the Earnings of a Freelance Proofreader?

According to a Glassdoor report from February 8th, 2020, freelance proofreaders can earn from $41K per year to an average of $61K/year. 

However, these numbers are valid only with a constant supply of gigs and jobs to complete. 

There are several things to consider when deciding how much you should charge your clients as a freelance proofreader. 

  • Your years of experience and portfolio
  • The condition of  the written text you receive
  • The topic area of the written text
  • The turnaround time required for completion

As mentioned above, proofreading should be only the final revision of mistakes throughout the text. Thus, if a client asks for editing instead of proofreading, the hourly rate should increase. 

On freelance platforms such as Upwork, some freelance proofreaders will work for an hourly rate of $10/hour (or less). However, there are also proofreaders whose hourly rate is $25 or even up to $50. 

From all of this, we can conclude that the average hourly rate for freelance proofreaders is the following:

Entry level: $8 – $15 per hour

Intermediate: $15 – $25 per hour

Expert: $25 + per hour

What Skills Does a Freelance Proofreader Need?

One of the most crucial skills needed for a freelance proofreader career is a firm grasp of the English language. 

Remember, you’re the person checking the writing for final mistakes before it goes to print or publish. English grammar, correct punctuation and correct spelling are essential!

To get started as a freelance proofreader, you won’t need any degree or certificate – what clients care about is your quality of work. 

To start working as a freelance proofreader, you’ll need to possess the following:

  • Self-management and time organization
  • A firm grasp of the English language 
  • A sharp eye and attention to details
  • Self-discipline and ability for independent work
  • Patience for finding the tiniest of mistakes and details
  • Microsoft Word and its ability to track changes
  • Google Docs and editing in Suggestion mode 

One important thing to note when it comes to proofreading skills: even though an excellent command of the English language is all you need for most types of texts, certain proofreading formats such as a PhD thesis might require knowledge of the rules for that specific format.

For more specific types of writing such as in the case of a PhD paper, you might want to get familiar with writing styles such as APA, MLA and CLM. 

What Type of Clients Need a Freelance Proofreader?

Luckily for you, practically any type of business that relies on content in any way will need a proofreader. Some of your clients might be:

  • Publishing houses
  • Independent authors
  • Content agencies
  • Marketing agencies
  • Individuals for different needs
  • Bloggers
  • Small brands or businesses
  • Students

…the list is endless! 

Just imagine – every business out there that relies on content, whether offline or online – will need you. Freelance proofreading as a career path is not going away any time soon. 

Where Can Freelance Proofreaders Find Work?

If you’ve decided to start a career as a freelance proofreader, there are several places and ways in which you can find a regular flow of gigs to work.

Some job sources are more beginner-friendly, while others are for more advanced freelance proofreaders.

1. Beginner-friendly ways to find a freelance proofreading job:

2. Advanced ways to get a freelance proofreading job:

  • Networking
  • Online Portfolio/Website
  • Blog
  • Social Media
  • Cold Outreach

When you’re just starting out as a freelance proofreader, companies such as Proofreading Services and Reedsy, as well as freelance platforms like Fiverr are the best way to go.

Usually, services on Fiverr start at $5 for basic tasks. For example, you can create a profile on Fiverr and place your offer:

“I will proofread 500-words in 24 hours for $5”

Or, something like: “I will proofread 1000-words for $5 with a quick turnaround” 

Of course, you can place your own price instead. Just remember that sometimes it will be necessary to start small and build your way up.

Once you’ve gained some experience, you can move on to more serious freelance platforms such as Upwork. Do some research on writing great proposals that are client-focused and show why you’re the right person for the job, and you’re good to go. Start by watching this YouTube video to learn how to write winning proposals:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kPKMJY2Ije8

And finally, when you feel ready and with all that experience you’ve gathered, you can start your own website or blog and start showing your portfolio to the world. At this stage, your main goal will not anymore be ‘to get any job’ but to ‘get a better job and better clients’. 

What Tools Does a Freelance Proofreader Use?

In terms of tools or requirements to get started, a freelance proofreader will usually need the following:

 

Microsoft Word or Google Docs To be able to track your corrections with their track changes functions
Dictionary & Styles Guide A complete dictionary of the English language together with grammar/styles section
Anti-Virus Protection Because all of that back and forth of documents with different clients can be risky
Spell Check & Grammar Tool Tools such as Grammarly are a necessity for every proofreader 
APA, MLA, CLM Style Guides Online/offline resources to help you format the text in the needed style and make sure it’s consistent

 

Tips & Tricks to Boost Your Freelance Proofreader Career

#1: Build a portfolio by proofreading your friends’ and relatives’ writings

It’s much easier to land your first job as a freelance proofreader if you already have a portfolio to showcase. You have to start somewhere. 

#2: Create social media profiles for your business and start giving value

Like this, you’ll leave a footprint and become an authority in your industry, thus increasing your chances of getting spotted and hired.

#3: Don’t over-rely on spell-checkers

If spell checkers could completely replace a proofreader, then nobody will need us, am I right? The only reason why you should use a spell-checker tool is to make sure you didn’t overlook any spelling or typos. 

#4: It’s ok to start small

In fact, it might even be necessary. Any freelancer knows that the beginning is the hardest. Landing that first job seems like an eternity, so sometimes you might have to work a job or two underprice, in order to get that much-needed feedback! 

#5: First, start broader…

It’s good to have different types of proofreading jobs in your freelancing portfolio when you’re just starting out. 

#6: …and then specialize!

Even though specializing in only one type of proofreading task at first seems like you’re limiting your possibilities, in the long run it’s much more profitable! Usually, proofreaders that specialize in one field are seen as specialists and paid much better!

And now to break free from all this seriousness, take a look at another type of definitions on proofreading:

‘Proofreading (n.) – something we do best after hitting the ‘send’ button’

‘Proofreader (n.) – a person hired to criticize your work’

‘When life hands you melons instead of lemons, you need a proofreader.’

 

About the author

Dobrica Frankevich

Dobrica Frankevich

Dobrica is an experienced copywriter with 8+ years of freelance work. She’s specialized in the health and wellness niche, clinical research, as well as in the areas of freelancing, remote working, HR and SaaS. With a Bachelor’s degree in English and a Digital Marketing Specialist certificate, she helps businesses grow with the help of content and social media marketing. To get in touch with Dobrica, visit her Upwork profile below or shoot her an email.

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