Do you want to learn how to start a proofreading business?
Proofreaders are responsible for putting the finishing touches on written content, from blog posts, web copy, marketing materials, resumes and cover letters to academic articles, legal briefs, and much more.
This is a very flexible side hustle, and it’s a great opportunity if you enjoy reading or have been known to spot grammar and punctuation errors.
Today, I have a great interview to share with you. It’s with Ariel Gardner, who has been working as a proofreader, copy editor, and freelance writer. She’s been editing for me for nearly seven years, and I’m excited because she’s putting out her first course, Proofreading Launchpad.
Ariel started proofreading as a side hustle, and it’s become a very flexible full-time job that allows her to travel with her family in the summer. She went from earning less than $500 a month proofreading to regularly making $4,000+ every month.
In this interview, I ask Ariel questions about how to start a proofreading business.
Proofreaders are in demand because business owners understand the need for error-free content. And as Ariel explains in our interview, Google favors error-free content in its search rankings.
So if you are interested in starting a flexible and in-demand side hustle, I ask Ariel questions you may be wondering about, like:
- What’s the difference between an editor and a proofreader?
- How much do proofreaders earn?
- How long does it take to become a proofreader?
- How can a new proofreader build their portfolio?
- How can a proofreader find paying clients?
- Do you need to have a degree to become a proofreader?
Today’s interview will help you get started on your path to becoming a paid proofreader.
If you want to learn how to launch a proofreading business on the side of your job, while you’re in school, or with kids at home, this interview is a great place to get started.
How To Start A Proofreading Business
Hello! Can you share your background, who you are, etc.? How did you start your proofreading business?
Yes, hi! I’m Ariel Gardner, and I’ve been working as a freelance proofreader, copy editor, and writer for about seven years.
Proofreading and editing are activities I’ve been doing since I was in high school. I was the editor-in-chief for my high school’s yearbook, and I remember spending countless hours proofreading articles written by classmates who didn’t care much about proper grammar or punctuation. I did a lot more than proofreading in that role, but I’d say that’s the first real practical application of my skills.
Even before that, proper grammar and punctuation were drilled into me. My grandpa (I called him Gaffer) was an English professor who had no problem correcting me at the dinner table. And he passed on one of the most important lessons about grammar and punctuation—it’s okay to break the rules once you understand them.
What my Gaffer meant is that writers make stylistic choices that influence the tone and meaning of their text—and that’s okay! Accepting this is difficult for new proofreaders because we’re so focused on following the rules. But I’ve tried to bring that nugget of wisdom into my work, and I think it’s why I’ve been able to work with such a wide variety of clients.
Speaking of clients, everything started when I was back in college finally finishing my bachelor’s degree in English. I was working two jobs and had three children between the ages of 4 and 11. I volunteered my proofreading services to my son’s preschool, and I did light proofreading and editing for some of their fundraising solicitations. Eventually they were paying me, but I had volunteered my services at first.
I must have mentioned that to you, Michelle, or maybe you knew I was back in school working on my degree in English, but you approached me about editing your blog posts. We were really tight on cash back then, and it was a huge deal to have an extra $300 to $500 each month.
A few other little jobs came my way, but I was still making only around $1,000 a month with my side hustle. After a couple of years of that, two life-changing things happened within months of one another: My dad passed away, and I was finally graduating from college. I was so threadbare at this point, working 80 to 90 hours a week between school, part-time jobs, and my side hustle. It was painfully exhausting, and I was missing precious time with my family.
When my dad passed, he left me his paid-off house, and although I hate talking about my dad’s death this way, being able to sell his house meant my husband and I could pay off ours. It also allowed me to make the decision to pare down my jobs and spend the summer after graduation trying to see if I could turn my side hustle into a full-time job.
That summer, I built a simple website and started putting myself out there. If I didn’t make it that summer, I would figure something else out for work. But because I didn’t want to work a traditional 9-to-5 job, I put everything into finding clients. I pitched anyone I knew and thought could use my services. To my surprise, I quickly landed some gigs, like proofreading and formatting books of poetry, working with a non-profit, and editing the copy on my friend’s graphic design site.
I was adding to my skill set and developing new services for clients throughout that period. I was constantly growing my skills to match the needs of my clients, and it was around this time that I landed two more big clients: Millennial Money Man and Laptop Empires. These sites needed weekly help with proofreading, copy editing, and writing. It felt like a sign that I was on the right path.
About six months after graduation, I was regularly netting $4,000 to $5,000/month. Eventually I quit all of my part-time jobs (phew!), and I was working as an independent contractor until early 2022, when Millennial Money Man offered me a salaried position.
I guess I kind of do work a normal 9-to-5 job now, but it’s still flexible and allows me to teach others how to start proofreading and editing, and I love the people I work with.
Whoa, that was long! I guess I have a lot of big feelings about how I got started. 🙂
What’s the difference between a copy editor and a proofreader?
Copy editors improve what an author writes. While they edit for correct grammar and punctuation, they also focus on consistency and concision. Copy editors can also rearrange sentences, restructure the text, change words, and so on. They can make much larger structural and stylistic changes, if that’s what the writer needs and wants.
Proofreaders, on the other hand, are focused on correcting spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes. They often ensure consistency within the text, like fonts, italicized and bolded words, and so on.
Most of the time, proofreaders and copy editors are following specific style guides and ensuring the text matches those set guidelines.
If you were thinking about the order of work, it would go author, copy editor, and then proofreader. But this depends on what the writer needs, and not every client needs both a copy editor and a proofreader. Actually, most don’t.
How much money do proofreaders earn?
Brand-new proofreaders generally earn around $15 to $25/hour, but pay can go up to $30 to $50/hour, depending on your niche and experience.
The highest-paying niches are in science, technology, and medicine, but you need to have a strong understanding of specific terminology and style guides used in each of those fields, if you want to proofread for any of them.
New proofreaders can leverage previous work or academic experience to get into those higher-paying niches.
Proofreading resumes, CVs, and cover letters is also a high-paying niche (some pay $200+ for a review!) because it often requires a tighter turnaround time.
In my Proofreading Launchpad course, I teach students that they can offer additional services, like light copy editing (think: fewer structural and stylistic changes and more edits focused on concision, sometimes called proof-editing) as a way to increase their pay.
Are proofreaders in demand?
What’s interesting about proofreading is that so many business owners don’t understand how much they would benefit from a proofreader. Proofreaders can edit anything from web copy, sales pages, emails, and white papers to academic articles, ebooks, screen plays, RFPs, grants, resumes, and more.
I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that any published copy can benefit from the eyes of a proofreader. Not everyone realizes that, but there’s a lot of potential!
To your question, there is a demand, especially as more and more people are publishing content online. Google favors content that is accurate and error free. If a site owner wants to keep their pages to the top of search results, they cannot ignore the need for a proofreader or copy editor.
How can a new proofreader build their portfolio?
This might be a hot take, but I believe the easiest way to build your portfolio is to offer free services to someone in your close network. You’re gaining experience, confidence, and a reference or testimonial—all things new proofreaders need!
Once you’ve completed that first free job, you’ll have something in your portfolio and a reference. From there, I recommend two different paths: start actively looking for work on Upwork (or another freelancing platform) or pitch people in your broader network.
You’ll want to start small—I mean smaller, low-paying jobs—but as you develop a niche, expertise, and your portfolio, you can begin to up your rates and pitch larger jobs.
How long does it take to become a proofreader?
It really depends on what kind of help you need getting started. People with really honed-in proofreading skills may simply need help finding clients and setting up their business. And those who need to refresh their proofreading skills will require a little extra time.
But in general, you can have a client in about a month or less. That’s about how long it takes to get through the Proofreading Launchpad course.
I honestly believe that the biggest hurdle new proofreaders have to overcome is finding the confidence to put themselves out there and pitch their services. I know this sounds a little cheesy, but the sooner you face your fear of hearing “No,” the sooner you’ll find a client who says “Yes.”
How does a proofreader find paying clients?
There are lots of different ways to find proofreading clients, and some are pretty fun. I’ve already mentioned offering your services to those in your close network and through Upwork, but you can also network in Facebook groups for freelancers or in-person groups, like your local Chamber of Commerce.
My favorite way to find clients, though, is with a method I call “I found an error on your website.” The idea is that whenever you are on a website with a punctuation, spelling, or grammatical error, you screenshot it and send it to the website owner, along with a note that says something like:
I was visiting your website to [insert your reason], and I noticed some errors. I’ve attached a screenshot to point them out, and here’s how the corrected copy should read:
[Add the corrected copy.]
If you’re interested in having someone proofread more of your site and correct any other mistakes, I’m a freelance proofreader and would be happy to discuss how I can help you.
What’s great about this approach is that you’ve shown the business owner the value in having a proofreader. No one wants to publish copy that’s full of errors, and you’re highlighting that fact while also positioning yourself as an easy solution.
What skills do you need to be a proofreader?
There are really two sides to the types of skills you need as a proofreader.
The most obvious one is being capable of spotting and correcting mistakes. That comes from understanding those rules and knowing to apply them. I should note that applying those skills includes understanding style guides.
There’s also skill required in running a business, like marketing yourself, maintaining good client relationships, and so on. These aren’t proofreading-specific skills—they’re requirements for starting any kind of freelance work.
The Proofreading Launchpad course is designed to help you develop both of those skill sets: proofreading skills and freelancing skills. Your success as a proofreader depends, ultimately, on your ability to marry those two things.
Do you need to have a degree to become a proofreader?
No, you don’t need a degree to become a proofreader.
There may be some jobs that require a degree, but that’s more likely the case if you want to get hired on with a larger proofreading or editing firm.
Just to be clear, if you are working as a freelancer, you do not need to have a degree.
However, having a background in academia can help find certain types of jobs. For example, if you have a degree in a STEM field, you’ll be better-suited for editing journal articles, textbook copy, or research papers in whichever STEM field you pursued. You can bring up that experience as you fill out profiles on different freelancing platforms.
So, while a degree isn’t required, it can help if you know how to leverage it.
Can you work from home as a proofreader? Is this a good freelance career?
For sure, on both of those questions!
Proofreading is a great work-from-home career. You can easily start your business from the comfort of your home, but it’s also possible to work as a proofreader if you want to travel. My husband is a teacher, and we try to travel as much as possible when he’s on summer break, and I can bring my work with me when I need to.
As far as proofreading as a good freelance career, there are lots of one-off jobs and recurring work. This is an ideal situation for freelancers because you can build lasting relationships while also taking on exciting and challenging projects with new clients.
It’s also entirely possible to expand your services as you grow your business. You can start with general proofreading and advance to editing manuscripts or legal documents. Many proofreaders also go on to offer copy editing services, like I did.
What specific steps does a person need to take to make money proofreading?
The first step is refreshing your proofreading skills. You began learning how to proofread as early as elementary school and learned more through high school. You might not remember everything, but it comes back over time.
Pay close attention to the content you are reading, from books to social media posts. When you see errors, make note of how you would correct them. That’s how you start dusting off those skills.
The next step is learning how to find clients. There are countless ways to do that, and it’s best to focus on one or two strategies to begin with. I find this keeps you from getting overwhelmed, and you can really master a strategy this way.
Don’t get overwhelmed in the beginning with the formalities of starting a business—building a website, forming an LLC, getting a business bank account, and so on. You’ve got to stay out of your own way and focus on finding people who will pay you to proofread.
When you first start, it can be as simple as asking a friend if they’d like you to proofread their resume as they begin job hunting.
I don’t want to be reductive, but it’s really those two steps: refreshing your skills and finding clients. You can certainly break those down into smaller steps, and that’s what I’m teaching in Proofreading Launchpad.
Can you tell me about the proofreading course you offer? Why should someone take it?
I am really excited you asked! Proofreading Launchpad is designed to teach you the easiest way to start proofreading. I start the course outlining three main outcomes, which are:
- You are confident in your proofreading skills.
- You are capable of finding paying clients.
- You are excited to get started.
The course is structured with those outcomes in mind, and I made sure everything feels very actionable.
That’s what makes Proofreading Launchpad such a solid course—it’s so usable.
You’re learning all of the necessary skills, for both proofreading and freelancing, and how to apply them. I also lay out two very clear paths for finding your first paying client and the easiest way to build your portfolio, which gets you that all-important work experience that is so difficult when you’re brand new. There’s even a lesson on SEO, which is a must if you’re working with clients who publish content online.
This might sound strange, but my course also has a lot of heart. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to building a successful proofreading business (sure, there are some proven strategies, which I teach), but I am teaching you how to be adaptable and build strong client relationships from the beginning.
Last, are there any other tips you have for someone who wants to learn how to start a proofreading business?
I have one major tip that I mentioned briefly: Stay out of your own way. Explaining what that means might sound a little woo-woo (I’m warning you upfront!), but I really believe in what I’m saying.
Starting a side hustle can be terrifying. You might be afraid of hearing “No,” that you’re not good enough, or any number of other fears. I’ve been there, and a lot of successful business owners I know have been there too.
When we are fearful, we often put things in our way to prevent us from dealing with whatever is scaring us to begin with. I mean, think about that for a second. If you were being hunted by a lion, you’d want to put distance and a physical barrier between the two of you. It’s the same protectionary response.
But the reality is that hearing “No” after you pitch a client isn’t the same as being hunted by a lion. One threatens your life; the other threatens your ego.
The sooner you accept that your fears are normal and aren’t trying to maul you, the sooner you can devote your energy to finding a paying client.
Are you interested in starting a proofreading business?