Side Hustle #77: Online Proofreading/Editing ($1,600/mo)

by Guest Author -

online editing

[What up what up! Got another side hustle to share with you today, this time from a personal friend of mine, Lenny Bron, who has helped me on MANY occasions with my own blog here… Which would basically bankrupt me if I hired him full-time for, lol ;) Such a great avenue though for those who love words!! Congrats on all your success, man!]

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Do you like reading? Do you enjoy correcting other people’s mistakes? Are you well-versed in English grammar? Do you dream of semicolons and ellipses chasing you in your nightmares?

Well, if three of those four questions sound like you, then you might be good at proofreading/editing online content as a side hustle!

Hi, my name is Lenny Bron and I’ve been proofreading/editing blogs, content marketing, e-books, and a slew of other content for roughly 3 years now. You can find me at theblogproofreader.com (it’s a landing page, best way to reach me is through email or through the “contact me” form on my site). I’ve flirted with writing this post for some time now, and I’ve had J$’s blessing for a while, so I’m finally giving this a shot.

First, I’ll tell you my little story about how I got into this business. Then, I’ll go into some ways people might be able to do something similar to what I’ve done starting from zero experience. Finally, I’ll bare it all financially and give you the details about how much money I’ve made in the last few years. Strap in, this is going to be a semi-exciting ride!

How I Got Started Proofreading

I knew nothing about personal finance 6 years ago. Well, almost nothing, I knew I could max out one credit card and then transfer the balance to another card with a 0% balance transfer for 18 months and then try (usually unsuccessfully) to pay that balance off before transferring to yet another card! Let’s call it “Frogger-ing” my credit card debt. I was also making ~$40,000 per year while living in NYC. (Hence the credit card debt, that yearly salary does not work in a high cost of living area.) Plus I needed to take semi-regular vacations I couldn’t afford, go out to bars every weekend, and have fancy dinners with my friends. In a nutshell, financially delusional!!!

But then I got lucky. I met an amazing woman and decided I needed to find a new job and get my life in order around 2014. So I did! This new job came with some great perks too, and one of them is a sweet 401k matching program. Good thing I knew absolutely nothing about investing, the numbers on the screen might as well have been differential calculus. My friend at work took mercy on my soul and gave me a little advice by telling me to pick funds with the smallest expense ratios (good advice!), but nothing explaining allocation (makes the expense ratio advice moot!). I even attended the company 401k seminar to try to get some actual knowledge. This was not helpful, they can only talk about the plan, not how to use it properly (pretty weak).

I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands and learn about personal finance/investing. This, of course, opened my world up to many personal finance books, blogs, and podcasts. (I have too many favorites to list, although you’re reading one of them right now!) It took some time, but after a year or two I thought I finally had a pretty good grasp on things. And something I kept seeing pop up was that people should have multiple sources of income (i.e. side hustles), so I began searching for something to sink my teeth into outside of my 9-5 job. I flirted with an Amazon FBA business shortly, before deciding it wasn’t worth the possible hassles.

I also kept reading all of these different personal finance blogs and seeing more and more spelling errors, grammar mistakes, missed words, and even double-wording. It was all over the place! I even had a massive running list of grammar mistakes from a bunch of different blogs. Anyway, what I didn’t like about these mistakes was they slowed down my reading. I like to read relatively quickly, but if there’s something wrong in the text, I’m stopping and auto-correcting inside my head. This was definitely a time suck. So I thought maybe there are bloggers out there who would pay me to proofread/edit their blog posts so they could provide a more enjoyable reading experience for their readers.

Testing the Waters

After reading yet another blog post with grammar issues I could fix, I decided it was finally time to give my idea a shot. I emailed the blogger, first introducing myself, then highlighting the errors with my fixes, and then offering my services as an editor/proofreader. Fortunately for me, the blogger did not need the services of a proofreader. I say fortunately because she told me it was a good idea, and that I should definitely keep trying because there will be people out there who need my services. That was absolutely a catalyst for me. I’m not sure I would have kept going had I not been given that little push.

I sent out many emails throughout those first few months to bloggers who I kept noticing had writing errors. One person in particular is basically responsible for the success of this venture. And you’re reading his blog right now! After contacting J$, he told me he didn’t have a budget for my service, but he did run a different site at the time (Rockstar Finance) which was an aggregator for all things personal finance. He had a directory of personal finance freelancers on the site and wanted to start a “Proofreaders & Editors” section, and offered to put me in as the first one on the list! I still can’t thank the man, the myth, the legend that is J. Money enough for this!

After a few more months and a few more failed attempts at working with bloggers, I was contacted by a fintech startup who had a blog full of personal finance material which they were continually adding content to. They actually found me through the Rockstar Finance freelancer directory! I went from making no money for about 7-8 months, to suddenly working about 10 hours per week making ~$1,200 a month with the fintech company. This just goes to show, if you can nail down a niche and get in touch with the right people in that niche, you have a much better shot of succeeding (no matter the industry).

Gaining New Clients

To make a long story short, my large fintech client told me they were hiring a full-time editor in February 2018. I was told they no longer needed me but might bring me back for more freelancing work in the future. That was a majority of my Proofreading/Editing income disappearing overnight. That also might have been just the thing I needed to kick my side hustle into gear.

There were now several factors that played into me gaining three regular clients within a 2-month period. First, the fintech client was kind enough to offer to post about me on a message board for other fintechs. This yielded a client I still work with today. I emailed a content creator whose newsletter I subscribe to about helping proofread his material, and I was hired by him shortly thereafter. Finally, I applied for a freelance position with a larger content creator and was hired because of all the experience I accrued within the previous two years. Three months later, the original client asked me to come back because there was already too much work for their new full-time editor!

None of those things would have happened if I didn’t get let go, but it also shows that, sometimes, it’s good to mix things up. I’d gotten complacent at the time, and that situation motivated me to pursue new clients again, which opened up many new opportunities because I now had a resume full of work I could use to attract new clients.

Today, I have four clients I work with on a regular basis, and they give me plenty of material to keep busy. But I also have enough time to do the work, maintain my day job, and spend quality time with my amazing wife and beautiful baby daughter. This is currently my ideal situation!

The Dirty (Financial) Details

Did you scroll down to read this section first? I really can’t blame you if you did, the numbers are always the most interesting part! (A phrase that could only be uttered in a personal finance blog!)

proofreader earnings

Not too shabby for almost 3 years of side hustle work. Notice how everything declined in February of 2018 when my client left and how it came back within 2 months and surpassed all my previous other months just 4 months later. That’s the one I’m really proud of.

Potential Drawbacks

If I’m going to be completely honest, this side hustle isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. To begin with, this is not a way to earn passive income. You’re not sitting back while somebody else packages and ships a product for you. Editing and proofreading takes time. And you need enough time in your day to actually do it. I’m lucky enough to have the time for now, but family and friends always come first, followed by my 9-5. The side hustle will always be third banana in that regard.

Another real drawback is the one you always hear about when freelancing: You’re not really your own boss, you now have many bosses… we just call them clients! And every client wants things done their own way and you have to adjust to their wishes.

Remember, the goal of a proofreader/editor is to make the client look good by making sure the writing is clear, concise, and grammatically correct. Flexibility is the name of the game here. You have to be able to adjust on the fly and meet every client’s expectations. Ever gotten an angry email because you missed a punctuation mark? I have, and let me tell you, it ain’t fun. But still, I enjoy working with all of my clients very much and am happy with the relationships I’ve formed with them and all the other fantastic people I’ve run across while doing this hustle.

Resources I Find Helpful

Lastly, here are a few resources for anyone who goes down this path.

The-efa.org/rates — a great starting point for how to price your services

CapitalizeMyTitle.com — for making sure you have the correct title capitalization (which can be tricky!)

ThePunctuationGuide.com — for a quick resource on punctuation

Best of luck!

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Lenny is a proud dad of a baby girl, and based out of the New York City area. He enjoys helping writers provide the best content to their fans and can be reached at theblogproofreader.com, or via email at Lenny[at]theblogproofreader[dot]com

lenny bron - blog proofreader

Past hustles from our series:

Full list of 70+ hustles: Side Hustle Series

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Allysgrandma November 21, 2019 at 9:10 am

I’m not a great writer by any means, but my job for 32+ years was a medical transcriptionist. I made doctor speak into something another medical professional could understand. My personal pet peeve is lose/loose. It drives me nuts, but I say nothing because I find people who correct people’s grammar and spelling on line are annoying, but I do cringe!

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2 J. Money November 21, 2019 at 9:48 am

Haha…

You would not have liked this blog a decade ago when I first got started. Every other sentence had at least two errors in it and I refused to use capitalization for some reason :)

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3 Lenny Bron November 21, 2019 at 6:20 pm

Sounds like an interesting way to make a living. Must have been difficult at times because we all know how ridiculous the handwriting of some doctors can be. Luckily, I’ve been able to keep my side hustle going by being annoying and correcting grammar, but I at least try to keep it to emails instead of comments.

J, do I need to go back 10 years into the archive and start working my up?

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4 BC | FrugalWheels November 21, 2019 at 11:08 am

Wow, two new side hustle posts in a week’s time! Christmas come early! haha

Love it. I’ve done some proofing and paid for some as well. I can see why a lot of bloggers said no though. It’s an expense that doesn’t necessarily generate ROI. People expect a touch of grammar and spelling issues on blogs and are generally forgiving – but someone seeking a professional service would be less so.

Learning to adapt proofing styles is key. I did some freelance work for a college friend of mine who started a web design service – he paid me well and I could do it kind of whenever as long as I got it done by a particular date. But I learned quickly editing for business clients is different than newspaper editing – one has to use a lot of diplomacy and also really understand the audience. The first site I worked on had a lot of jargon and it was crucial to know if their potential clients understood/expected the jargon or not. Eventually my friend got a pretty sweet university gig so shut down the business but it was nice work while it lasted.

Proofing/copyediting can be a great side hustle. Still not as good as my photography side hustle but so far it’s second place in the rate I’ve earned.

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5 Lenny Bron November 21, 2019 at 7:09 pm

Very true, most bloggers don’t have the means to afford proofing. Most of my work ends up being with companies or content creators that have A LOT of material to put out. I really enjoy blogs though, so I started there hoping it could work. Luckily for me, it did.

And great advice about adapting proofing styles. There is definitely a change in style depending on the client. Glad the photography side hustle is working out well for you!

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6 Christine November 21, 2019 at 12:54 pm

I think this was the first in the side hustle series where my ears (or eyes?) perked up when I saw it, as it’s something I could actually see myself doing. That being said, having been an editor, I can appreciate that it isn’t easy money, and I doubt I’d have the time to devote to it. I’ve found it to be a highly undervalued skill. It’s one of those things like writing that many people think they can do, but they can’t (at least well).

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7 Lennny Bron November 22, 2019 at 5:54 am

Agreed. It really isn’t as easy as it sounds sometimes. Glad it made you interested in the possibility at least.

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8 Treanna November 22, 2019 at 4:05 pm

Thank you for this post. This is a side hustle I’ve really been interested in. Did you have any training or take any courses to learn how to proofread/copyedit? I’ve been thinking about taking an online proofreading course, but I’m worried it will be a waste of money.

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9 J. Money November 25, 2019 at 7:23 am

I think anything you can do to learn more would be beneficial – whether it’s a paid course or just practicing a little every day :) maybe you can start by reviewing all your friends’ facebook posts, haha…

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