If you’re looking to start a proofreading and editing business at home, then you’ll want to read this interview I had with Sandra Wester, who is a proofreader, copy editor and content editor based in North Carolina.
I’ve always stressed that if you want to become an editor, you need to learn proofreading and copyediting because they are the foundational skills that will take you to higher level editing. Also, clients, especially entrepreneurs and businesses, are expecting more from one person now — why hire three different people to clean up content when one person can do that?
Sandra is also a graduate of my program, High-Level Proofreading Pro, and she shares how she found her first client through cold calling, gives advice for starting, and takes us through her average day. Read on and remember to sign up for the free training!
Hi Sandra! Can you tell us about yourself? Were you a big reader growing up?
Growing up I was always writing something down in a notebook — songs, poetry, and ideas — I just loved expressing myself through writing. One of my most treasured possessions as a child was my rhyming dictionary because it gave me a wide variety of words to choose from to complete my poetry. I guess I have always been in search of the right word, whether it’s for a poem, short story, web content, or marketing copy. I have always loved reading as well — I remember my aunt showering me with books because she knew how passionate I was about reading.
When I entered the corporate world after college and took a position in marketing, I naturally fell into writing copy. However, it wasn’t until I left the corporate world to homeschool my children that I started to fine-tune my writing and editing skills!
I started teaching writing at our local co-op using a program developed by the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). Teaching and learning alongside my children helped me to explore writing structure and style, and it gave me a much needed refresher in grammar! As I edited more and more papers for students, adults started coming to me as well to edit documents for business and collegiate-level content.
What made you decide to get into proofreading and editing?
A few years ago, my daughter graduated and headed to college, and my role in my son’s education shifted to more of an advisory role. I was excited to jump back into the workforce but wasn’t sure where to begin. I took a few continuing education courses at my local community college, which included publishing, website creation, writing, and editing. They were great courses, but they didn’t provide me with the depth I needed to begin a career.
After much frustration, I decided to take a position teaching ESL to children overseas through an online platform. Even though I loved the kids and enjoyed connecting with them every morning, I still felt something was missing. Meanwhile, people were still coming to me to look over their documents.
Around that time, another popular proofreading course started being advertised on my Facebook feed. After researching that program and comparing it to Phon’s Art of Proofreading course, I decided that Phon’s checked all the boxes I was looking for, especially since it included instruction on copyediting. But even after I decided to move forward with a career in editing, I kept putting off enrolling in the course. I waited at least five months after being put on Phon’s email list to consider taking the High-Level Proofreading Pro course. At that time, she was having a Black Friday special and the sale price was getting ready to expire at midnight. I signed up ten minutes before midnight! Looking back, I wish I had taken the plunge sooner and trusted my instinct to invest in myself and my future.
What do you like best about running an editorial business?
Honestly, I love the freedom of setting my own schedule and being able to spend time with my family. Also, I love what I do. I love connecting with the author’s intention and voice and translating it, in a way, to the people who connect with that content. The feeling of correcting and polishing a written work is so incredibly satisfying!
What would you say is the most challenging aspect of freelance editing?
Without a doubt, the hardest part of any freelance job is marketing yourself and finding clients. In a perfect world, the clients would be lining up outside your door, and you could focus on doing the work you love. However, all that marketing, website creation, and cold contacting is well worth the effort. And once you get an established client, you can ask for referrals.
Can you tell us about the content editing work you’re doing right now? What is it that you do?
Right now, I am working with a Christian businesswoman editing eBooks and marketing materials. My client is an incredibly talented speaker and prefers speaking to writing, even though she has written several books. I am taking her transcribed speeches and editing them so that she can turn them into eBooks.
My goal is to make her content sound more like a book and less like a speech while maintaining her original intention and voice. I believe that editing transcribed speeches is a fantastic niche market for editors and one that is only going to grow as more people go live with content that they want to turn into books. I’m excited to be working in this arena.
How did you find this client?
My client has been a personal mentor of mine for a few years, and I am on her email list to receive promotional materials. I probably receive two emails from her a week and usually glance over them pretty quickly to see if I am interested in a teaching she has released. At the beginning of February, my client sent out an email and attached an inspirational word for the new year that God had spoken to her heart.
When I received the email, I made a note to go back and read it later, but something caught my eye. I noticed a very small and insignificant typo in her email, and I suddenly remembered that she was looking for an editor a few years back. I had just finished the High-Level Proofreading Pro course, but I still felt a little unsure about pitching my services to her. But it was a new year, and I decided to take a chance. What did I have to lose?
So I copied the email message and two attached documents into Word and proofread them for her, and I made up my own style guide based on her documents. Then I typed her a cover letter explaining how I would love to partner with her as an editor, and I attached the proofread documents as a sample of my work. I hesitantly hit “send” and said a prayer. But if I’m honest, I did not expect to hear back from her for weeks, if ever.
Much to my surprise, she emailed me back within a few minutes! When I received my first project, I emailed Phon right away for guidance. I think the subject line of my email read, “Help, I have a client and need advice!” She emailed me back in a timely manner and walked me through the details of working with a new client. Phon has been there all along my journey to give me plenty of advice and much needed direction in this new endeavor. I could not have asked for a better experience with a course instructor.
Did your training in proofreading and copyediting prepare you for content editing?
Yes, I believe that everything I have learned to this point has definitely prepared me to take on this challenge. Content editing is more involved than copyediting and proofreading, but understanding the editing process more intimately has made me a better and more well-rounded editor.
With each new project, I continue to learn and grow. It’s impossible to memorize every rule in every style manual, but these resources are literally at our fingertips. And when I am stumped, I usually ask Phon or another editor friend of mine — I am fortunate to have formed a friendship with one of the Art of Proofreading graduates! Collaboration is a beautiful thing.
Note from Phon: If you want to learn how to start your own proofreading and editing business at home, sign up for my free masterclass that’ll teach you my 4-step framework that includes editorial skills, marketing and publishing knowledge.
What advice do you have for people who are considering freelance proofreading and copyediting?
I would say to make an investment in yourself and enroll in the High-Level Proofreading Pro course! The course provides a wealth of knowledge and resources that will lead you in the right direction. Also, I would say keep learning — you don’t have to have it all figured out before you launch your business. Most of all, take steps toward your goal and don’t worry if you make mistakes. Don’t let months go by before you take action like I did. Take that leap of faith!
Did High-Level Proofreading Pro prepare you for working as a freelance proofreader, copy editor, and content editor?
Definitely! This course combines the technical details necessary to help you become a proficient proofreader or editor with the business and marketing tools you will need to launch your business. Phon is a wonderful instructor who really cares about the success of the students who take her course. I frequently refer back to the course for guidance, and lately she has added even more resources to her course and to the alumni website.
Can you give us a peek at what your typical day is like?
After getting ready for the day and spending time in prayer and Bible study, I usually eat breakfast with my husband and discuss our plans for the day. Some mornings I teach ESL classes for about an hour. In the morning and at several times during the day, I check in with my son to get a report on his online courses.
After that, I like to get completely focused on my editing and go into the “zone.” My favorite spot to work is on our screened-in porch overlooking our garden. At lunch I try to go outside and take a walk or bike ride to clear my head. If I have a heavy project load, I will continue to work on editing until dinner. I also try to concentrate some time in my day to marketing my business and improving my skills through online study.
After dinner, I spend time with my husband enjoying the beautiful North Carolina weather either in our backyard or our neighborhood pool. In the evening, we all like to sit on our back porch and talk or hang out. We are currently working on several backyard improvement projects, and I am helping my daughter plan her wedding.
The fact that my schedule can be flexible is so important to everything we do as a family. Honestly, every day follows a little different format, and that’s the beauty of working from home. I can take a day off if I need to or rearrange my schedule to accommodate a family event or day out with one of my friends. I love this life!
Sandra Wester is a proofreader, copy editor, and content editor located in a suburb of Raleigh, NC. She lives with her husband, daughter, son, and their lovable chihuahua named Toby. In her spare time, she loves to take trips to the coast or enjoy kayaking and paddle boarding at her family’s lake house. She is always in search of a better word to fit in a sentence because she believes writing is a work of art. You can check out her website at www.sandwestedit.com.