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Why proofreading? Nick Jones

Posted on 24th February 2013

Nick Jones, proofreader, copy editor, copywriter
Freelance since 2004


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

After graduating with a degree in English Literature in 1999, I left university with no clear idea of what I wanted to do. Like many recent graduates in Bristol at that time, I started temping in a call centre for BT. That sales job led to another sales job, and before I knew it I'd been working in sales for five years. My last role was as a field sales executive for a freight company - and I was rubbish at it! When my circumstances changed and I moved to Manchester in 2004, I decided that enough was enough, that I needed to do something that was more 'me'.

Proofreading had always been at the back of my mind as a possible career choice, mainly because I've always been good at spelling and enjoy reading and writing. I also loved the idea of working for myself (five years in sales does that to you). So when I moved up North I treated it as a fresh start and started to think seriously about proofreading. I'm not sure why it took me five years on the wrong career path to actually take the plunge; perhaps I just thought it would be too hard to break into. How wrong I was!

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

All I had initially was a degree in English Literature and a belief that I was good with words.

What training did you do before starting out and why did you choose that option?

I bought the excellent Freelance Proofreading and Copy-editing: A Guide by Trevor Horwood, which has a series of proofreading tests at the back. I did quite well in these tests so it gave me the confidence to pursue proofreading further. I then did a proofreading course online at freelance-proofreaders.co.uk. It was quite basic but it was all I needed at the time as I wasn't particularly interested in proofreading for publishers. I wanted to proofread for students and businesses, and I soon discovered that the vast majority of them don't care for qualifications - they just want you to do a good job.

My friend built me the Full Proof website in 2004 and I started getting proofreading work with local students very quickly. This experience enabled me to land a job at Yell in Manchester as an in-house proofreader, where I worked for the next five years.

What contacts did you have before you started out?

The only contact I had was a lady called Anita who used to run freelance-proofreaders.co.uk. She was very helpful and supportive. The only other contact of any influence was my friend Dave who very kindly built me the Full Proof website for free!

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

Students. Once my website was ready I just started posting free ads on classified websites offering academic proofreading services. I did some SEO work on the site in my spare time, too. Once I'd started working full-time for Yell, however, I didn't have the time or need to really push Full Proof. It just ticked along in the background - pocket money, really - but I always asked my customers for testimonials, which I published on my website and on sites like FreeIndex. When the time came to leave Yell and work full-time as a freelancer, Full Proof's client base had snowballed rather nicely.

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

I didn't start actively looking for contacts until I left Yell in 2010. Social media was all the rage by that point, so I set up a Facebook page and Twitter account for Full Proof and invested some time and money in SEO and Google AdWords campaigns. And then there's FreeIndex, of course - the jewel in Full Proof's marketing crown! With more positive customer reviews than any other proofreading company on FreeIndex, prospective customers know that they're going to get a good service.
Testimonials are worth more than any qualification, in my opinion.

In terms of building on my contacts, I did make one very important contact during my time at Yell - Ben Corrigan, who now runs The Whole Proof. We became best mates at Yell and Ben is always my first point of contact when I have a PQ (proofreading question)!

I have also networked with other proofreaders via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I recommend befriending other proofreaders - it leads to valued friendships as well as numerous work opportunities.

You're not a member of the SfEP - do you feel you are missing out on anything as a result or are you a member of other groups or associations?

I was a member of the SfEP briefly years ago, but I put nothing into it and so I got nothing out of it. I had a full-time job as a proofreader so at the time I didn't feel the need to take their qualifications. I know of lots of proofreaders who are members and they love it. I'm a member of a few proofreading groups on LinkedIn, if that counts?

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

For some people I imagine it could get a bit lonely sitting at a desk at home day in, day out. But I combat this by emailing or Skyping my friends and colleagues.

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

  • Always look to increase your skill set. The more strings you can add to your bow, the more secure your future will be, ultimately. Two natural progressions for a proofreader would be indexing and copywriting, for instance.
  • Join FreeIndex, FindaProofreader.com and any other free/inexpensive directory sites that provide you with a link to your site. They'll boost your own site's search engine rankings as well as offering you leads. (Disclaimer: I run FindaProofreader.com so I'm biased - other proofreading directories are also available!).
  • Use social media sites to network; don't just use them to promote yourself. You'll get more work if you befriend your competitors and you won't get as lonely working from home, either.

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Written by Kate Haigh.