Becoming a freelance editor requires a specific set of skills to be successful. If you have these skills, you’ll set yourself apart from the rest in your industry and become known as a top-tier freelancer.
If you’ve decided on this new freelance path, here are the 9 skills it takes to succeed as an in-demand freelance editor.
1) Strong grammar/language skills
As an editor, you need to have an eye for catching errors. You’ll definitely need a strong command of the English language — or whatever language you’re editing. This includes grammar, syntax, style, punctuation, and spelling. Bonus points if you can move between the different types of English language conventions such as US, Canada, UK, and Australian.
But being an editor is not just about editing and proofreading and finding the errors. It’s also about editing documents while staying true to the tone and style of the writer. You should have the ability to quickly pick up your clients’ brand style and keep your edits within that range. After all, it’s not your work. It remains your clients’, so it must still look and feel like theirs.
If you can master this skill of maintaining your clients’ tone and style while editing — even if the doc is riddled with errors — you’ll soon become a successful and sought-after editor.
2) A strong attention to detail
Editors need to pay sharp attention to detail. You should be able to gain a full understanding of what your clients want from your services. For example, what should you do if your client wants the tone of their work to be formal, conversational, or businesslike? You pay attention to the grammar, structure, and rules that support their preferred writing style. Attention to detail here means not changing the tone of their writing unless agreed.
Detail-oriented editors keep clients happy and bring in those much-needed repeat clients, referrals, and new business to keep growing. Your level of thoroughness and accuracy, checking your work, process management, and insightfulness will generate trust from your clients.
3) Time management and organization skills
While being a freelance editor does give you flexibility over your hours, it still requires that you manage your time well.
You want to be the freelance editor that clients know they can count on to get the job done by a set deadline. You want to build that reputation as a reliable freelancer.
Use physical planners or your online calendars to schedule your projects to ensure you keep track of them and meet the deadlines agreed to with your clients.
4) The ability to meet deadlines
Meeting your deadlines naturally follows from having excellent time management skills. You should have a firm idea of how much editing you can reasonably do in a specific time.
Don’t agree to deadlines you can’t meet just to get a contract. You’ll likely lose that client and any potential referrals they could have sent your way.
As a freelancer, you’re in control of setting your deadlines most times. Be sure to make the best decision for you and your client. Remember: it’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver.
5) Research skills
Let’s face it: we won’t always remember all the grammar rules in our heads. Kudos to you if you can because I’m just a little bit envious of you right now. 😉 I always have The Chicago Manual of Style handy when I’m working on a project, and I’m constantly checking and rechecking rules.
Using your resources doesn’t mean you’re not a successful editor; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. You need to know where to turn when you have a question pop up. This is where the ability to research and use your tools and resources effectively comes in handy.
6) Good communication skills
Freelancing in the digital age tends to lend itself to faceless interactions. You have the chance to again set yourself apart and nurture a successful freelance career just by having excellent communication skills.
While you’ll most likely not be face-to-face with clients, you’ll still need to communicate. If you’re meeting online, video calls are an effective way to make a connection. And when you do, look for those nonverbal communication clues that can give you insight into the client.
Whether video or audio communication, you should practice active listening, and email communication should be clear and error-free.
I know…I can hear your ugh through the screen. 😉 I know that networking can and will take a lot of us outside of our comfort zone. And as freelancers, we’re used to working on our own, and we might find it more challenging to connect with others, whether inside or outside our industry.
But we have to learn how to network.
To build up a roster of clients, you need to get out there and let people know what you can do. This requires effective networking skills. Networking isn’t only in-person or for those who identify as extroverts. The internet has leveled the playing field and given us the tools and resources to make networking an art and a breeze.
Start by connecting to and interacting with your ideal clients on social media. Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook all allow you to cultivate meaningful relationships with others at your own pace.
8) Be a lifelong learner
If you want to be a successful freelance editor, you’ll have to constantly learn and improve your craft. In fact, the mark of a great freelance editor and business owner is the craving and desire to always improve, learn, and grow.
It’s important to keep up to date on market changes that can affect the editing industry, new tech tools and resources, and new language usage so you know what edits will be welcome by your clients and their target audience.
9) A little business skill
As a freelancer, you’ll initially be responsible for managing your business and finances. Once your business grows, you can hire a VA, accountant, and other business professionals to support your business. In the meantime, you’ll need to understand the basics of managing your client roster, keeping track of your finances, filing your taxes as a business owner, etc.
Do you think becoming a freelancer editor is right for you? Grab a copy of my FREE How to Start a Freelance Editing Business Quickstart Guide below. Learn how to set up your freelance editing business — whether as a side hustle or a full-time career move.