Kateproof offers an affordable and efficient proofreading service

Why proofreading? Kate Haigh

Posted on 24th February 2013

Kate Haigh, copy editor and proofreader
Freelance since 2010


What made you want to be a freelance proofreader/editor?

I've always had an interest in languages, including English, and having worked in-house for a magazine publishing company, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in proofreading and editing but wanted the freedom and flexibility associated with freelance, not to mention higher earnings potential compared with in-house roles where I was living at the time.

What experience did you have and why did you think you'd be suitable?

As mentioned above, I worked in-house for a magazine publisher as production supervisor so I copy edited and proofread files, paginated the magazines and got them ready for print and loved all that it involved. I also had business experience from other jobs I've worked at, which I thought would be really useful for the admin and marketing side of things (more about that later). A degree in German, which involved fully understanding English grammar before tackling the finer points of German, also gave me confidence that I was capable.

You did the Publishing Training Centre's course - what made you choose that course and would you recommend it?

While I was deciding whether to pursue the freelance route, I spoke to a former colleague who was (and still is) a freelance proofreader and he recommended the course to me. I admit I didn't really even look into the alternatives because the PTC course came so highly recommended. In my in-house role, I'd never used the BSI proofreading symbols, so it was useful to learn those, even though I haven't used them much since.

It was great to do a course that confirmed my ideas about what proofreading involves and even though I don't use the symbols much, it gave me confidence and taught me about wider issues in publishing and formatting etc., which are invaluable for all clients as business often want me to format documents and get them ready for print.

I have recently heard from a few publishers that they will only use freelancers who have done the PTC course, so if that's the field someone is looking to get into, I think this course is a must.

If someone is going to focus on working for business clients and/or students then maybe there are other courses available with more emphasis on on-screen proofreading or if you have in-house experience that you can reference, then that might suffice. I know my business clients judge me on my work and don't necessarily know much about the proofreading-specific qualifications, but then I know nothing about an electrician's qualifications but wouldn't employ someone without them.

What contacts did you have before you started out?

I worked outside the publishing field for a while after my in-house role, then went travelling for a year before starting my business so I'd lost touch with most of my in-house contacts and more or less had to start from scratch. I knew one or two proofreaders so asked them for advice, but I had no client contacts whatsoever.

Who/what was your key target market when starting out and how did you hope to attract them?

To start with, I realised one of my USPs was the fact I'd worked outside of the publishing industry. With knowledge and understanding of the financial world and having also worked for the public sector, I felt that this experience would help me understand the needs of business clients and therefore help with my proofreading and editing of their files. I knew that when I looked for a service, the internet would be my first port of call, so with the help of my IT Director (aka Peter Haigh), I set up a website and asked a few editors, proofreaders and honest friends to critique it. I also braved early morning networking meetings, did my 60-second pitch, attended regularly, built relationships and then I soon got clients that way, some directly and others indirectly. For many businesses, having their documents proofread isn't something they've done before, so they're taking a gamble on paying a freelancer to do something they often think they don't need. Making sure you appear professional and legitimate is therefore key and the face to face element really enhances this.

It was almost by chance that I got my first student client as it hadn't really occurred to me before that they would want their work proofreading. Once I saw that this was a realistic target market, I separated them out on my website as they have different needs from businesses/publishers and created a set fee pricing structure for them (business clients often want an hourly rate, publishers often determine the fee for you). I saw an advert for a networking event in my local area that was due to be held by someone who supervises Master's students and I contacted him to ask if I could chat to him before or after the event. He replied, we met for coffee, he took my business cards - as they say, the rest is history... I think from that one coffee, I have had over 15 enquiries from one section of one university. My website is my biggest source of student work, though I have also had quite a few via my CIEP directory and my local group.

How have you built on those contacts/developed your business since then?

Word-of-mouth referrals have been key to the success of my business and probably make up for over half of all my work. Aside from the networking meetings, I haven't really done much direct marketing. When I first started I tried emails/letters/calls to a few local companies but it didn't really work for me, and to be honest with my website, SfEP directory and referrals, I haven't really needed to try the hard sell. I've recently started working for more publishers and am hoping to get on the books of a few more, so I plan to send my CV to a few contacts I've been given details for but I don't tend to find that works with businesses and definitely wouldn't work for students. Maintaining a presence at local networks, building on the clients I already have and generally being available are all essential parts of my day-to-day progress.

What value do you personally get from your SfEP membership? How was it as an associate compared with now being Ordinary/Advanced?

As an associate, the main benefit I had was attending my local group, which was invaluable. I was also on the AA list and though I got no paid work from it, I made a great contact who has been a reliable and informative adviser when I've had occasional but quite specific queries. I couldn't do the work due to a holiday I had booked, but we stayed in touch and she's passed my name to a few authors since then, so inadvertently it has led to paid work.

As for being an Ordinary member, I'm now on the directory instead of AA and have had a lot of work as a result. I don't always ask clients how they found my details so I don't know exact figures, but in the first year of being on the list, I think I directly earned enough to cover the next 20 years' subscription costs (to the directory, not SfEP overall).

At both levels, the local group(s) have been amazing and worth every penny. I've made some great friends, have a go-to email group of people who I can ask the most stupid of questions (though sometimes I think I ask intelligent ones too) and the wider SfEP network via Facebook and Twitter etc. really help alleviate the loneliness and sense of isolation. It's great to get other people's ideas and perspectives, and if you're just starting out, I think attending the groups (even as a guest for the first three times) can be vital for helping answer start-up issues and general queries.

My two local groups also pass work/leads around if the client agrees and I've gained a lot of contacts and clients this way.

What, if any, negatives are there to being a freelance proofreader/editor?

For me, one of the downsides to focusing on business clients is the irregularity of the work. Publishers know their schedules weeks if not months in advance so you know what work you have lined up, how much time you have to do it, what you'll earn, etc. with decent lead times so you can work around this. That doesn't generally happen for businesses so I think my peaks and troughs are more pronounced than other freelancers. Students are similar, and their peaks are immense, meaning you either work a lot of hours or lose a lot of work as they can't change their deadlines and you will have limits to how much you can do per day.

I've mentioned the loneliness in the section above, but it really is key and if you're a naturally sociable animal then office sharing or regular scheduled events may be the way forward (though both would have costs to consider).

What are your top tips for someone looking to start out?

  • Speculate to accumulate! I see many people saying they have gone freelance but now can't afford to upgrade with the SfEP or can't afford to do certain training, but I truly believe you get out what you put in. Unless external circumstances force your hand, don't go into the freelance proofreading world without decent savings and/or financial backing/support from a partner. The first few months will be tough and you don't want to give up because you haven't got the cash.
  • Specialise first, spread your wings later! Ideally focus on a specialism or client type to start with as this will help ensure marketing methods are aimed at the right audience. Once you've got established, feel free to branch out but again, it's probably easier to branch out based on specialisms/interests/specific clients.
  • Look beyond the text. Running a freelance proofreading business obviously requires proofreading/editing skills, but unless you can afford to outsource (which I doubt many can) it also involves marketing, admin., finance (even if not doing accounts, sorting invoices and chasing payments is key), IT, HR, etc. Some luck is often involved when getting the first client, but the rest often comes down to how you manage these other elements. It may be daunting at first, but it's this variety and challenge that for me makes running Kateproof worthwhile.
  • Get a website. Absolutely without doubt the main reason why my business succeeded has been my website - not only has it got me clients directly, but it also adds to the credibility and accountability of me and my business.

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Edited in March 2020 after the Society for Editors and Proofreaders became the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading.

Written by Kate Haigh.