First of all – check that this is work that you will enjoy and that it is financially possible!
Are you able to manage financially/carry out other work for around two years before your business is fully up and running?
Can you afford around £500+ for the initial training and setup?
Are you meticulous, with an eye for detail, in your approach to work?
Are you interested in grammar and good at spelling?
Are you organised and systematic?
Are you self-motivated?
Will you be able to work on your own?
Try a taster experience such as ‘Introduction to Proofreading’, a day course (also available online) run by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders or chat to other proofreaders and get professional advice.
You’ve decided that this is the life for you. Here’s what to do over the next six months:
Month 1. Start training – this is the most important thing you will do, and it will probably be one of your biggest investments in time and money in the first six months. If you haven’t got the appropriate skill set you will not feel on top of your work and you will be stressed. Invest in a rigorous course which will enable you to be competent and which is recognised by others in the business. An SfEP or Publishing Training Centre (PTC) course is your best bet. This might take up to six months, and a good course should come with a personal tutor.
Meanwhile – join the SfEP as an entry-level member and start benefitting from being part of the community by using the forums and joining your local group (most groups meet on a regular basis).
Month 2. Create a website and social presence – decide on a name and an identity for your business. This need not cost a great deal. Wix and WordPress are both good starting points for building your own website. Free logos can also be created; a Google search will bring up a variety of options. Start thinking about a Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn presence. Do all this while you are training, so that when you pass your course, you are ready to go. Clever use of social media can bring in more work and be more effective than any printed advertising.
Month 3. Working environment – create a designated area. I originally had ideas about working in cafés/on the beach, but the reality is that in order to do any volume of work you will need a working area equipped with some basic resources. I have found that running a large screen along with a wireless keyboard and mouse from my laptop works well, but everyone has their own preferences.
Meanwhile – start creating a library of reference books. Begin with New Hart’s Rules, New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors, New Oxford Spelling Dictionary, along with a good general dictionary (although there are also many online options). Another useful little book is the Oxford A–Z of Grammar and Punctuation.
Month 4. Start trying to get some work – do some proofreading for family and friends. Maybe do some voluntary work for your local community magazine. Begin to keep a record of hours spent on each task.
Meanwhile – do any additional training that you might need, such as working with Word, or PDF files. You can pay for courses, but there is a wealth of training available on YouTube tutorials.
Month 5. Create spreadsheets to keep a record of your finances and number of hours worked – begin to think about what you will charge for work based on the information you have collected so far. Chat to colleagues and look on the SfEP site and the ‘Newbies’ forum to get ideas and ask questions.
Month 6. Getting work – think about the skills that you already have. What are your specialist areas? Try approaching organisations in those areas and make use of any contacts you may have from previous careers. Many people have gained their first piece of paid work through registering and bidding on reputable sites such as ‘Find A Proofreader’. Join any local business networking groups in your area – businesses always need proofreaders (even if they don’t know it!). Go to literary festivals or, if you can manage it, the London Book Fair, where publishers and industry professionals have a presence.
First jobs – ALWAYS meet the deadline! Make sure you know what the customer wants. Take jobs you know you can do. If you’re not sure about something, always ask a colleague or post a question on a forum. Always agree a fee in advance – don’t sell yourself cheap, but remember that your aim at this stage is to build up experience and to begin to get testimonials.
Moving on – think about some more advanced training. You may feel, after some experience, that editing might be for you. If so, try an introductory copy-editing course with the SfEP or PTC. It will be important to keep training and expanding your skills.
Don’t worry if you sometimes feel as if you don’t know what you’re doing, or that you’ll never get confident. We’ve all been there, and you just have to keep pressing forward and getting more experienced. Make use of the support networks, and if you’ve done sufficient training, you will get there.
Finally, as proofreaders, we still need someone to check our work, so many thanks go to my brilliant colleague Frances Cooper – https://fcproof.com/ for looking this over for me!