Although I have been doing editing and proofreading tasks for my company for a while, I knew I needed proper training plus experience of working in different settings to make sure my skills were up to scratch. I’m sure many new editors and proofreaders face the same dilemma – how do you get that vital work experience to show that you know what you are doing?
Not every proofreader and copy-editor begins their freelance career with a ready-made portfolio of relevant experience to offer potential clients. Some editors start their freelance careers after working in-house for several years and therefore begin with a wealth of experience and industry contacts, while others begin from scratch following a career change or a desire to achieve a flexible work–life balance. Many new editors begin by undertaking training, including the range of excellent courses offered by the SfEP. But what can new editors do next to consolidate their newly acquired skills and develop their résumé?
While it’s tempting to offer your services for a reduced price or even for free so that you can build up a client list, there are a number of important questions to consider before volunteering your valuable time:
Who should you volunteer with?
An obvious (and possibly rewarding) option is to help a charity or non-profit organisation. Smaller charities may lack the funds to hire a professional editor to assist with a newsletter or website and would welcome your help. But don’t assume so – many charities have healthy budgets for such things and can afford to pay. Many regions in the UK have volunteer centres that help local charities, and you can find your local centre on Do-it.
Or you could help an organisation you are personally interested in, for example a poetry newsletter or the SfEP. This blog relies on a team of volunteer proofreaders who check posts prior to publication and others proofread our web pages, training materials etc.
What will you get out of it?
This is important. If the person or organisation you are volunteering for doesn’t know what’s required of a good editor or proofreader, how valuable will their testimonial really be? Will you actually get any constructive feedback? Working for a client (or especially a friend) who doesn’t understand the process (and while you are still learning yourself) could turn into a tricky or negative experience.
Volunteering might allow you to network and build useful contacts, so factor in who you want to work with in the future to your decision about which organisations to approach. Spending a few hours helping the right person could provide a valuable reference for marketing material and possibly lead to other organisations in the same field hiring you in the future.
What skills do you want to practise?
While any experience gained could be beneficial, it’s important to try to match your efforts with your overall career goals. If you want to copy-edit for biomedical journals you may get more benefit from editing a friend’s science PhD thesis than a website publishing short stories, for example.
How much time are you happy to provide?
In the early stages of your freelance career you will be busy building your new business and need time to develop your marketing strategy, website etc. All of these tasks take priority over volunteering. Any time spent volunteering must fit around the creation of your new freelance business, and other important personal commitments, to ensure a healthy work–life balance is maintained. There will come a time when you are too busy with paid work to volunteer and must decline future opportunities (see Laura Poole’s recent blog How to say ‘no’ for advice).
Remember too that if you work for a client for free, or even a reduced rate, it will be very difficult to start charging at full rate when asked to take on future projects.
Mentoring – a good option?
One opportunity that will provide useful practice and good feedback is the mentoring programme offered by the SfEP. All mentors are experienced SfEP Advanced Professional members who share examples from their paid work for mentees to proofread or copy-edit. Mentees have the opportunity to work on real-world projects and receive feedback based on the mentor’s experience.
If you would prefer to develop your skills in a less formal manner, check out Liz Jones’ recent blog post Practice makes (closer to) perfect.
I was fortunate to be invited to coordinate the SfEP blog, and I have gained valuable experience in this voluntary role. I have worked with the editors who regularly contribute to this blog and learned so much – exactly what the right volunteering role should provide. I hope the advice provided helps you find the ideal opportunity to get some quality experience and achieve your goals.
If you are interested in joining the SfEP team of volunteer proofreaders, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Proofread by SfEP Entry-Level Member Sarah Dronfield.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP