Is it possible to balance a proofreading side gig with your career? You bet it is!
Lucy Usher is an advertising professional based in Melbourne, Australia, who also runs a successful proofreading business on the side. I’m grateful Lucy took time out of her packed schedule to answer some questions. She gives us a look at the nitty-gritty of proofreading for corporate clients, shares how to manage it all, and gives us a peek at her day. If you’re considering starting a proofreading side gig, you’ll want to keep reading!
Hi Lucy! Can you tell us about yourself?
I loved reading as a kid. I read all sorts but I particularly remember the Gerald Durrell animal books, Willard Price adventure books and the Terry Pratchett Discworld series.
I studied French and Spanish at university, mainly so I could go adventuring to exotic places on my year abroad, but I’ve always loved learning new languages and it’s still a hobby I turn to when I have spare time now.
I took my first job in advertising at age 22, and I’ve learnt a lot of useful skills on the job over the last 10 years. Learning new topics often and summarising large amounts of information quickly are amongst them and it definitely helps with my proofreading projects.
Where are you based?
I’ve been in Melbourne, Australia, for one year. This is where my proofreading journey unexpectedly began! I’m originally from London, UK.
You have a career in advertising. What is that like?
My main job is being a senior account director in advertising agencies. I’ve done this for almost 10 years; lately freelance, so shorter contracts, and I fill the gaps between jobs in ways that suit my interests. I currently work at The Gemba Group who specialise in branded sports and entertainment; and on Toyota’s sponsorship account, which basically means managing the clients, project managing the creative work, and doing the business side of the job.
How do you manage to find time for proofreading, copyediting, marketing, and all the tasks associated with running a side gig?
My day job in advertising is full time, but I tend to freelance for months at a time, which means I have some time off between one gig and the next. These weeks are when I give my time and attention to side projects, of which there are many!
Proofreading jobs have to fit around my day job at the moment, which means either working a day on the weekend for smaller jobs or working full time for a fixed period of time between advertising jobs. Timing has really been on my side this last year, and proofreading jobs always seem to crop up just when I have time to do them!
What were some of the proofreading projects you’ve squeezed into your busy schedule?
I’ve done two full-time proofreading contracts this year (each 3-4 weeks long, 5 days a week — intense!) between contracts for my main job, and then I’ve done the odd day or weekend [proofreading] on the side of my main job.
What made you decide to get into proofreading and copyediting?
I’ve always enjoyed proofreading, and have done the final checks on writer friends’ scripts and books in the past. Part of my day job is also giving final sign off to ads before they’re published online or go to print, so I knew I liked it and was good at it. In 2019, when a proofreading opportunity found me, I said yes straight away.
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What kind of content do you work on?
I currently work on marketing and advertising content; there is a broad range within that!
- A tech startup’s social media marketing website (client based in the Ukraine). I ensured the new site launched with high-quality writing and later providing support for guest writing additional content.
- A B2B international content matrix for a major software provider (client based in the UK). Crosschecking hundreds of pieces of content in a giant Excel spreadsheet, which 4 writers input by day and I proofread by night (the Aussie time difference worked in our favour!). We had a pretty seamless system going by the time the 4-week project was complete, and I’d proofread over a quarter of a million words!
- High-priority pitch documents written by an ad agency looking for new clients in Australia. These always have multiple people inputting at the last minute, so giving it one consistent check with fresh eyes made sure the typos were caught, the data was consistent, and the overall impression was professional and considered.
In the future, I would love to work on content and even books to do with language learning, climate-positive business practice, and self-development topics. All are areas I am passionate about and would love to delve deeper into.
What has been your favourite project so far?
I loved proofreading the first chapter of a friend’s book on new tech topics. I offered to do it free of charge just to get some practice in, and it’s made me want to learn more about how to edit books and not just short-form content.
What do you like about making extra money from proofreading?
I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to work on proofreading projects as my main source of income short-term, as well as smaller extra-income jobs. Since I don’t usually rely on the extra-income projects, I see them as a great way to keep building experience and clients whilst tucking the money away for a rainy day. When my day job at the ad agency moved to reduced hours due to COVID-19 challenges, I’ve been able to make up some of the difference through proofreading.
Do you think you’ll transition to full-time proofreading and copyediting one day, or do you plan on keeping it as a side gig?
I’d like proofreading and copyediting to be a regular part of my workflow, but I think it will always be one of several roles. If I could find a part-time ad agency role, I would fill the days off with proofreading projects and continued learning.
How did you come across your first proofreading opportunities, and what’s your preferred way to find clients?
Proofreading chose me, thanks to a well-timed opportunity to continue working with a previous employer as a full-time remote proofreader for 6 weeks. I had just moved to Melbourne, and this was the ideal project whilst I waited to land a role in a Melbourne ad agency.
Do you work locally or do you have clients from different areas or countries?
I have clients all over and I love it! UK, Australia, and Ukraine so far.
What do you like best about being a proofreader and copy editor?
The solo work and the single-mindedness of the task. My day job is problem solving a hundred different ways with dozens of people all week long, so getting to work mainly with one other person remotely and to focus purely on the quality of a piece of writing feels like a welcome change! It uses a different part of my brain, which feels relaxing and satisfying, even though it requires a lot of focus.
Any advice for people who are considering proofreading and copyediting?
Give it a go. You’ll soon realise whether it’s something you enjoy doing or are having to force yourself through. I’d also suggest starting with a topic you are already familiar with, so you can focus on learning the ins and outs of proofreading and managing clients without having to research a whole new topic area at the same time!
Would you recommend High-Level Proofreading Pro to people who would like to start proofreading and copyediting?
Yes, it’s a great way to consolidate all areas of your proofreading game and includes the essentials of running your own business. I knew enough to get by before the course, but it’s been a great one-stop resource for firming up my knowledge and teaching me about the broader landscape of the industry. It’s what I needed to have the confidence to start approaching clients, instead of waiting for them to come to me.
Can you give us a peek at what your typical day is like when you proofread?
When I was on a full-time proofreading project from home, I’d often start early around 7:30am and go pretty much straight through until 3 or 4pm. The work arrived in my inbox overnight from the UK, so I preferred to get up and on it, then relax in the evenings.
Sometimes I’d exchange an email or two with my client in the UK in the late evening, once they were starting their day. On days where I was finding focus difficult (some of the 6-day weeks had me struggling towards the end!), I would set myself a target to get halfway through by lunchtime and reward myself with lunch and a coffee on my local Carlisle Street.
I’d do another hour of slower but more enjoyable cafe work using the change in scenery to recharge me, and then head home again to complete the work before the UK office day started.
On smaller jobs, these have so far come up without much notice to be done in the next day or two, so I’d finish my day job and take a break over dinner before powering on to the proofreading job in the evening. Luckily almost all the smaller jobs fell over a weekend, so I would complete them on the Saturday as early as possible to leave time to relax, recharge with a walk, and catch up with friends.
About Lucy Usher
Lucy is a Senior Account Director in advertising with a love for words and clear communication. During a move from London to Australia last year, proofreading found her and she jumped on the opportunity to grow a small remote proofreading business. For now, this allows her to work from her favourite cafes in Melbourne for some flexible extra income. In the future, it will help to fund extended travel to keep exploring the world — although ‘the world’ will be Australia and New Zealand until post-COVID travel is possible again.