Calling All Word Nerds: Make $56K Working From Home as a Freelance Proofreader
Find yourself spotting spelling mistakes or grammatical errors in everything, from packaging to social media posts? Your keen eye might be a sign it’s time to start your own proofreading business.
A proofreading business can be a great fit for those interested in finding writing jobs or editing jobs that combine the flexibility of remote work with a love for all things grammar.
Do Proofreading Jobs Still Exist?
You’d be forgiven for assuming that editing software or AI chatbots have obliterated the need for proofreading services.
While Microsoft Word or more sophisticated programs like Grammarly have become more adept at spotting grammar mistakes, they’re no substitute for the kind of editing services freelance proofreaders provide.
What Are the Qualifications for Freelance Proofreading Jobs?
When scanning job listings, you’ll discover the average online proofreading job requires much more than excellent communication skills and a detail-oriented focus. Many proofreading jobs online prefer industry-specific expertise and a deep understanding of the technical or academic writing processes.
Most freelance proofreaders are expected to go beyond spotting errors and do fact-checking of dates, statements and any claims being made. Some freelance jobs may also require candidates to take a proofreading test as part of the application process.
How Much Do Freelance Proofreaders Make?
As with most industries, there is a wide range in salary between entry-level proofreading jobs and those who have a well-established freelance proofreading career. Salary.com puts the average proofreader salary at $56,191, while ZipRecruiter ballparks it at $53,733 per year.
Most remote proofreading jobs are calculated using an hourly rate, which means you can expect to get paid anywhere from $20 to $26 for proofreading and editing services.
Q&A With Professional Proofreader Caitlin Pyle
Sometimes, it takes getting fired from your day job to realize the perfect business is staring right at you.
That’s how it happened for Caitlin Pyle, the proofreading powerhouse behind ProofreadAnywhere.com. While working for a court reporting agency, Pyle proofread a transcript to help her boss, and she excelled. She was moved to the editing department, where she met a lot of court reporters — and started taking on a few on the side as proofreading clients.
Pyle wasn’t yet convinced proofreading was going to be her best source of income. She even spent nearly $6,000 to learn to become a personal trainer and worked with high-profile clients for several years. But her eagle eye kept calling her back to proofreading. In 2012, she hung up her tennis shoes and devoted her career to proofreading — and teaching the trade to others.
Curious about how to start proofreading as a side hustle or freelance business? Here’s Pyle’s best advice.
What’s your educational background? Were you a word nerd as a kid?
I was always the one people gave their essays to for proofreading. I wasn’t all that great at writing them from scratch, but man, I could spot errors like a hawk, and had a real knack for making things sound good on paper. I got my bachelor’s degree in communications at University of Central Florida in 2009.
What made you change your mind from personal training to proofreading?
I was proofreading for two court reporters from my old job before I went to school for personal training, and just kept that up on the side. After I finished personal training school, I thought I’d do proofreading to pay the bills while I got my bearings as a trainer.
(But) as that business grew, I quickly noticed I was able to make quite a bit more money per hour proofreading transcripts than I was able to make as a trainer — and I didn’t have to be anywhere at a certain time to do the work. I really liked being able to make money on my own terms, and loved the flexibility it provided. I eventually realized while fitness training was fun, it was economically inefficient.
How do you hustle to find clients and get your work done?
At the beginning, I did a lot of contract work with one court reporting agency. This agency still hands out my name. I do get referrals from current clients, too. With those two things combined, I really don’t need to do much marketing of my own these days. The work tends to market itself: If you find potentially embarrassing errors in a transcript, those really market to your client: “See what I found? This is why you need me.”
Much of my hustle comes from being really focused and willing to prioritize and eliminate distractions to get the work done, and done well. That leads to really happy clients and more work for me.
It did take some time to build up stamina to read as much as I do. Not procrastinating plays a role, too. I never, ever “sit” on work. If I have work to do, I get it done as soon as possible. If I let it sit, it can pile up fast and I can get overwhelmed.
How much does a proofreader make?
I’d say the average rate per page is about $0.35. Most of my students in my course, Transcript Proofreading: Theory and Practice, begin at around 50 pages an hour with their first “real” jobs. We’ll call that average — some students may read faster or slower. If the average student charges the average rate of $0.35 per page and reads at 50 pages an hour, that’s $17.50 per hour. Not bad! What’s cool is you’re in control of your rate, and you can charge more for rush (work).
It’s important to remember you are paid per page! So if you get distracted or procrastinate and drag out those 50 pages over several hours, it may seem like you’re not making any money. I do a lot to stay focused: I plug in headphones and set a timer to time my speed, so I can ensure I stay on task and my bottom line isn’t affected.
Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve had too much on your plate? How do you balance your workload?
Yep! I have indeed been in a situation where I’ve had too much work. My first step is to communicate with the client and tell them I am swamped. Usually they’ll say, “OK, it’s cool, no problem,” and let me know the latest I can get their work back to them and still be happy. Or they will find someone else, or ask me to refer them to someone else. Other times I simply say “no.”
I’ve learned that time is just as precious as money. Sometimes, I’ll gladly turn down a job worth $50 or $60 just so I can have an afternoon to myself to watch “Friends” on Netflix. Or take a Friday off because I want to take the train downtown with my husband and eat french fries at a bar (true story!). Life is short, and I don’t get to do it over, so I don’t want to spend every minute working to earn money if I’ll never get to spend any of it to do cool things or see new places.
I have also learned to tell new clients right upfront that I’m a very busy proofreader, and give them my list of “smooth sailing” guidelines so they know how I work before they even send me the first job. If they want to look elsewhere, they can, but most don’t — they know if I’m that busy, I must be good.
What are your business costs? Can you talk about some of the tools that have been worth paying for?
Anyone who feels they are cut out for proofreading transcripts and wants to start can get training and equipment for about $600 total. After that, there’s really not much else to pay for, making it an ultra-low-cost startup. Most of my students make back that investment in the first month or two, as well.
As for what equipment is required, you can proofread without an iPad (I did so for almost a year!) but I 100% recommend using one. I use an iPad Mini 2. Switching from laptop proofreading to iPad was a game changer for my business because of the $10 app I downloaded, iAnnotate. It has so many crazy-amazing tools that made my work so much faster and efficient than proofreading on my laptop.
My other optional, yet for me essential, expense is FreshBooks cloud accounting. I’ve been using it for over two years now. It costs me over $200 a year, but I am so organized! Invoicing and billing is so easy. I can’t believe I used to write invoices manually on Excel. Never again!
5 Tips for Finding Online Proofreading Jobs
Use these tips to find proofreading jobs that’ll take your freelance career to the next level.
1. Remember proofreading skills are not the same as editing skills.
When you’re trying to find freelance proofreading jobs, don’t forget that proofreading tasks are fundamentally different than the work freelance editors do. Proofreading focuses on eliminating errors, while a freelance editor works to give the text clarity and increased readability.
Just be sure that both you and your potential client understand the difference and that you’re being compensated for the kind of work you’ll actually be doing.
2. Separate legitimate proofreading jobs from scams.
The best online proofreading jobs sound amazing. Flexible schedules, sky-high salaries and no experience required. But if you turn something up in your job search and it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Spot the work-from-home scams with our guide to how these scams work and which red flags should send you running.
3. Stick to freelance platforms with built-in safety nets.
If you’re scouting out new work or trying to land your first proofreading job, stick to a platform like Upwork or Fiverr that has a safety net if your new client skips out on payment.
Already have plenty of experience or taken a proofreading course? You might be able to sign on with a proofreading website like Scribendi.
4. Build a base for repeat business.
To make serious money proofreading, you must create a repeat clientele base. So ask for referrals, build your online portfolio with recommendations and glowing reviews, and watch the work pile up.
5. Broaden your skill set.
If you want to make a career out of proofreading online, offering additional services will help bring in the big bucks. And there are plenty of free resources online to help you broaden your skill set.
Home proofreading jobs seem a little niche. But add in academic editing services or gain some experience from a language editing assignment, and you’ll find yourself in demand for a lot more than online proofreading.
Kaz Weida is a senior staff writer at The Penny Hoarder covering saving money and budgeting. As a journalist, she has written about a wide array of topics, including finance, health, politics, education and technology, for the last decade.