How to Start an Editing Business

by Cam Merritt - Updated September 26, 2017
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It takes more to start an editing business than a red pen and a well-thumbed dictionary. You need a level of expertise that will make clients comfortable hiring you. You must be ready to take jobs from clients as soon as they come in, which means investing in the proper equipment and materials so you can hit the ground running. You must also be able to quote an appropriate rate to clients. And, of course, you need clients. And that may be the hardest part of all.

Determine Areas of Expertise

It might be tempting to promise potential clients you can edit anything, but that's the boast of an amateur. A professional knows his strengths and markets those strengths to potential clients. Freelance editing jobs vary greatly. At one end of the spectrum, you might be pulling together an entire publication on behalf of the client, assigning work to creative professionals and shepherding the project to completion. At the other end, you might be proofreading a finished product, looking for stray commas or improper formatting. Know what editing tasks you do best, as well as which subject matter is your strongest. Focus on these areas when you're starting out. Use your promotional materials -- your website, business cards and brochures -- to identify your particular areas of interest and expertise and to highlight your experience in those areas. Leading with your strongest work is more likely to lead to additional work from existing clients as well as referrals to new ones.

Have the Right Equipment

Clients will not only expect you to know what you're doing, they'll also expect you to have the right equipment to do it. The specific types of editing you do will determine some of your equipment requirements, but assume you'll need a good computer with a printer and scanner. High-speed Internet service is often a necessity, as clients may expect you to send and receive large files. Software needs vary by client, but expect to have Microsoft Office -- particularly Word and Excel -- and Adobe Creative Cloud (formerly Creative Suite), which includes industry standard programs such as InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop and Acrobat. Be prepared to buy other software as necessary.

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Get Reference Materials

Every good professional editor has a library of reference materials, but it wasn't built all at once. As you take on clients and perform different jobs, expect to add to your reference library. Some basics to consider: "The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law," also available as an online subscription; "The Chicago Manual of Style;" "The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers;" and Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style." You'll need dictionaries, too. Some clients might have a preferred version, such as "Webster's New World College Dictionary" or "The Merriam-Webster Dictionary."

Set Your Rates

Setting rates for your services is tricky. Charge too much, and you'll drive away potential clients -- especially those who view editing as an "extra" that's not strictly necessary. Charge too little, and you won't be able to pay your bills. Depending on the nature of the project, editors charge clients by the job, by the hour, by the word or by the page. With light proofreading of a manuscript, for example, it's common to charge by the page. When fact-checking of dense fine print is involved, charging by the hour would make more sense. The Editorial Freelancers Association publishes a list of typical fees for services. Just be aware that rates can vary greatly by region, as well as such factors as the editor's ability and experience, the size of the audience the client is addressing, and the level of importance the client places on the project. One way to get a sense of the going rate in your area is to check local publications that likely hire freelance editors and ask them how much their editors charge. Some services draw up a schedule of rates to give to their clients, which they provide on request or even post on their websites. Other editors negotiate with each client.

Drum Up Clients

The hardest part of getting an editing business off the ground is simply finding enough clients to make the business viable. If you've worked in journalism or communications, check with your professional contacts to see whether they need freelance help. Local newspapers, magazines and informational websites are obvious options if they don't have staff editors -- and many don't. Really, though, any individual or business that prepares written communications is a potential client. Look at newsletters, mailings and websites of local businesses and identify those that could use editing help. Those who need help typically have documents or web content with poor grammar, unclear or boring language, sloppy organization or confusing layout. Prepare pitches for potential clients that explain how you can help them present a better face to their customers or users. To pitch, stop by a business during slow periods to chat with the owner or manager, or send proposals by mail or e-mail. Tailor each pitch to the potential client. You don't want to be offering website editing to a business that doesn't have a site.

Develop Marketing Materials

Every professional editing business should have a website that you can refer potential clients to for more information. Prepare brochures and business cards you can send out with pitches or leave with potential clients. Set up social media accounts for your business. Even if new business doesn't come to you through your website or social media, having a digital presence still makes it easier to keep in contact with your clients.

About the Author

Cam Merritt is a writer and editor specializing in business, personal finance and home design. He has contributed to USA Today, The Des Moines Register and Better Homes and Gardens"publications. Merritt has a journalism degree from Drake University and is pursuing an MBA from the University of Iowa.

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