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26 August 2021

My first year as a freelance proofreader

What’s the best way to impress a potential client?

Show them your T-REX! Rather than the famous dinosaur, this stands for Training, Reputation and EXperience. I obtained the T on completing the Publishing Training Centre (PTC)’s Essential Proofreading course with a distinction in July 2020. Next, I needed to focus on the REX – and this is what I did.

First step: set up a formal business

I launched Well-Tempered Proof after researching how best to market my proofreading services (and keep HMRC happy). Preparation behind the scenes meant I could offer a professional front to potential clients.

This included building a website, writing regular blog posts and investing in essential reference books. I’ve yet to complete a proofreading job without having to consult the New Oxford Style Manual or The Chicago Manual of Style.

Gaining experience and building my reputation

Suddenly finding that there’s no tutor support can be terrifying at first – how does one get experience and build a good reputation? I began by proofreading as a volunteer for a local charity. Being new to proofreading, I had neither testimonials nor a proven track record. However, I did know people who could vouch for my character.

I found my first paying clients through a friend who introduced me to her writing contacts on Instagram. I also got work from an independent publishing agency after being introduced to the chief executive by a mutual acquaintance.

The benefits of a professional membership organisation

Joining the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) has been great for strengthening every part of my T-REX. Membership means I can tell clients that I adhere to the CIEP’s code of conduct.

Plus, the forums serve as a support network and source of encouragement, and provide access to helpful resources and tips from other members.

The value of networking – with clients, authors and fellow proofreaders

While some networking efforts have led to clients approaching me, it’s crucial to find opportunities too. This is an ongoing challenge, and there’s always plenty to learn.

Sending my CV to local publishers resulted in being hired for two projects. As well as being included in the PTC’s Freelance Finder, I applied to specific publishers, asking to be considered for work and added to their freelancer databases. I was successful with one of these, which was a big confidence boost, especially as I had to pass a proofreading test as part of my application. I haven’t received any work from them yet, but at least I’m on their radar.

Approaching independent authors has required different tactics. Unless they specifically post on social media that they’re looking for a proofreader, I avoid cold calls or emails, and unsolicited, impersonal sales pitches.

I aim to create genuine interactions with people, taking an interest in what they have been working on and showing my support on social media. I’ve been hired several times because someone needed a proofreader and remembered me months after we first connected.

Building relationships with other proofreaders, and professionals, has been worthwhile too. Some have approached me about working together and, even if I’m not the right person for the job, I can often recommend someone else.

Demonstrating my proofreading skills

Initially, I demonstrated my skills by providing free sample proofreads when clients got in touch. It’s important not to undersell oneself, but there’s a balance with gaining experience. This tactic allowed me to decide if I was a good fit for the project and gave me time to work out a fair quote. Enough clients have gone on to hire me to make this a worthwhile exercise.

Adding the free resources page to my website and writing my weekly blog have also been great ways to showcase my proofreading skills.

Staying motivated

Freelancing can be lonely at times. Remembering the social aspect of social media creates a far more pleasant experience for everyone, leads to stronger connections and helps overcome feelings of isolation.

I’ve received some wonderful comments from clients, which are kept on a board next to my computer for when imposter syndrome looms.

A year on, I know that training as a proofreader was the right call for me. There have been many struggles, but my training continues to steer me in the right direction. Next, I plan to evolve my T-REX, by expanding into copyediting and developmental editing. That probably means signing up for another training course soon!

Philip Ridgers

Philip Ridgers is a freelance proofreader and professional musician.

Visit his website, Well-Tempered Proof, and follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.