How to be a Location Independent Professional Editor
Last updated on 16 October 2015
This is the first guide in a two part series about how editors and writers can earn money online while being location independent. You can read the second guide helping writers here.
I won’t talk about the lifestyle component of location independence – even though this is the prime motivation for many – as there are many other blogs and resources that cover this, and nomadic living is personal.
Instead, this series will focus on how editors and writers can sustain themselves financially while being location independent.
How to Edit Your Way Around the World
You may think that earning a living as a location independent editor will be too hard. I know from experience that it is not. However, like with most things that are good in life, you have to create your own opportunities.
There is a great deal of information on the internet about earning money while being location independent, however there is nothing aimed at helping editors find editing and proofreading work.
This guide is designed to fill this void, and show editors that they can edit and proofread while travelling the world.
I was motivated to write this guide as a result of my own experiences as a location independent owner of two professional editing and proofreading businesses, and having met many like-minded editors who enjoy a better quality of life than had they followed the traditional, fixed-location employment route.
Three years ago I founded The Expert Editor, an Australian based editing company, and more recently Global English Editing, an internationally-oriented one. Eighteen months ago, I left the city that I had lived in my whole life and set about developing both businesses whilst living in various locations.
It was the best decision that I have ever made, both personally and professionally.
Work is being transformed, including editing
Because of speed of light communication and digital connectedness, many workers, including professional editors, can forego the office in favor of receiving an income online.
Inspired by the uber-popular book The 4 hour work week by Tim Ferriss, there has been an explosion in the number of location independent workers, often dubbed ‘digital nomads’ or ‘online entrepreneurs’, who are travelling the world and earning a respectable income at the same time.
Location independence is a work and lifestyle balance centered on the ability to choose where to live and when to work. It’s not just the 20-something’s who are unwilling to enter the rat race that are hitting the road with a laptop and travel insurance, but older people and even families with young children.
Editing is an occupation that lend itself very well to the location independent lifestyle.
Editors work primarily, and sometimes entirely, on a computer. A desk in an office doesn’t enhance their primary role – using their skill, experience and nous to make a piece of writing better.
While some editors are part of a larger ‘whole’ (such as a publishing company or news organisation) and need to interact daily with team members and stakeholders in person, many do not.
Moreover, English is the language of globalization and there are many businesses, non-profits, professionals and students writing in English who otherwise would have written in their native language only a decade ago.
Considering this mega-trend, it’s a great time to be a location independent editor.
How to earn money online as a professional editor
As with other forms of employment, being a successful location independent editor requires commitment, discipline and a degree of creativity. There is a strong demand for online editors in the marketplace – you just have to capture your share of it.
Here’s how to do it.
1. Reframe your existing role
This is probably the simplest way for an editor to become location independent – reframe your existing role to an online one. If you are already an editor based in the office, actively focus your intentions and attentions on reframing the role so that you are given freedom from the office. Negotiate.
Put to your employer that study after study shows that remote working leads to higher employee productivity. Or appeal to their self-interest by contending that company overheads can be saved by you not being there in terms of freed up office space (and catering for Friday afternoon drinks). Create a persuasive case and argue it.
2. Create a website and market your skills
Editors are increasingly showcasing themselves and offering their proofreading services on a personal website. If you have an in-demand skill set, why work for someone else, when you can work for yourself and charge clients what you believe you’re worth?
I have good news and bad for you – if you consider bad to mean working really hard.
The good news is that purchasing a domain, such as janetheeditor.com, and creating a website that showcases your skills and services is also not that hard. WordPress is a ubiquitous content management system (in other words, a website platform) and is simple to update, even for someone who is not tech savvy.
Writing content for your website isn’t particularly tough either. Consider the value that you offer clients, and communicate that to them in a powerful way. Think carefully about who your potential clients are, and there will be thousands as the world is a big place and many people need help with their writing.
Tailor your content to them. If you are an editor with experience in editing legal copy, for example, make sure the content appeals to law firms and law students, rather than aspiring novelists.
At a minimum, your should contain at least the following pages:
- A ‘home’ section;
- An ‘about the editor’ section – where you detail your qualifications and experience;
- Services you offer;
- A ‘contact’ section; and
- Detail regarding how you accept payment.
Although setting up a website and writing content for your site is not that difficult, marketing yourself on an extremely crowded internet is much more challenging. There are potential customers searching the internet – both on search engines and social media – every day, and it’s your job to put your website in front of them.
The biggest challenge for me in starting The Expert Editor and Global English Editing has been online marketing, and both websites only began performing after we eventually got it right (although it’s something we’re constantly striving to improve).
If you are going down the website route, I can’t recommend highly enough educating yourself on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising, and digital marketing more generally – there are many free resources on the Internet, with one of the best being Neil Patel and his Quick Sprout blog.
You simply won’t attract new customers on a regular basis unless your online marketing is up to scratch.
Keep in mind that an editor with a website is a business, and they need to adopt a business mindset in order to be successful. A good editor doesn’t necessarily make a good business owner, although anyone can teach themselves the essential business skills through online resources.
Apart from the marketing side of things, an editor must consider and clearly articulate what type of service they will offer (and not offer) and set an appropriate price for them. Louise Harnby and Rich Adin both provide great resources about the business side of professional editing and proofreading.
Consider pitching your services at students and academics (dissertation editing is always in demand), authors, or businesses.
3. Work for an online editing company
Editors can find regular, well paying work through online professional editing companies. The Expert Editor and Global English Editing, for example, employ professional editors, and many of our contractors are location independent editors that I have met while travelling the world.
Search Google for professional editing companies and if you like the look of them, shoot them an email and introduce yourself.
The great advantage of an editor-friendly online editing service is that they offer regular work without the editor having to market themselves and find their own clients. You spend your time exclusively on editing, rather than marketing yourself, and can switch off after a job is done.
Some online editing companies will be better employers than others. For example, it’s important to clarify how flexible are they in allowing an editor to choose when to accept work and of course the remuneration they offer. Ask these questions to potential employers before agreeing to join their team.
4. Freelance platforms
A third way for a freelance editor to find work is through freelance platforms, such as Elance and oDesk.
On the surface, freelancing platforms tick a lot of boxes for a location independent editor. Setting yourself up requires minimal investment in the form of a persuasive profile as to why you are a good editor, clients are already on the site looking for contractors, and the platforms handle the financial transactions.
However, I think that these platforms have major downsides for editors. They are notoriously competitive, and even though you won’t generally be competing against workers from the Phillipines and India (unlike web designers, personal assistants, etc.) by way of being a native-English speaker, you will still be vying for projects with editors willing to work for $10 per hour.
In my view, a skilled editor should not have to work for peanuts.
If you decide to go down this route, consider what skills you have cultivated as an editor, and the differentiating factors between yourself and the other freelancers on the platform. Exploit your niches and stand your ground in terms of your hourly rate.
Above I covered why editing is tailor made to be an online career, and the various ways to find work. Below are three extra tips for succeeding as a location independent professional editor.
Be an awesome online editor
A career strategy of being awesome should be adopted equally by fixed-address editors as well as nomadic ones, and pretty much every occupation out there. Be awesome at what you do and good, often unexpected things can happen.
If you are at the top of your game, opportunities will arise for you – word of mouth among writers and employers can be very powerful.
There are main four ways for an editor to become awesome at what they do.
1. Practice your craft
Don’t be stingy about providing your editing services to friends and associates as you expand your network. Demonstrate your worth by adding value, without being attached to any particular outcome. And of course don’t limit yourself to editing just one type of writing – don’t pigeonhole yourself to one particular subject or style.
2. Learn and improve
Over the last few years I have improved myself, both personally and professionally, in two main ways: Google and fellow humans.
Learning from Google is obvious as we now have a database of combined human knowledge which is available to anyone with an Internet-connection. For editors, regularly read websites that give advice on good writing and correct English, such as The Write Life and Grammar Girl.
Find online resources that teach you how to market your editing services online and offline, or a new skill unrelated to editing and proofreading which you can one day monetize. All the information you need is on the internet and is usually free, you just have to sort through a lot of noise to find it.
If I had my time again, I wouldn’t have gone to university and racked up a massive debt. Instead, I would have read widely and taught myself new skills online.
Humans are often an under-appreciated resource for personal and professional development, but if you commit to the location independent route, you’ll have a unique opportunity to connect with many interesting people deriving an income online.
There are thriving communities of “digital nomads” on social media that you can tap into, which often form around geographical hotspots, such as Chiang Mai, Bali, Saigon and many countries in South America. Not everyone you encounter will add value to you, but you’ll be surprised at how many ambitious people you can surround yourself with, and be able to feed off their knowledge, experience and energy.
Below I detail the personal connections that I have made which have been invaluable for my businesses.
3. Add value
Consider the ways that you can add value over other editors. What’s your niche? What can your uniqueness bring to the editing role? Although specific subject matter knowledge is not necessarily required for great editing, it can be advantageous.
For example, an editor with a science background may understand the nuances of science writing, and a background in online marketing could assist in editing marketing material and website content.
4. (re)Discover your passion
Another way to be a better editor is to be passionate about what you do, and reconnect with what it is about editing that you love. Perhaps you became or intend to become a professional editor because you have a passion for the English language, and appreciate good writing. Get inspired by getting in touch with why the work really matters.
Editors have an important role to play in improving communication. Words matter, and the way language is used shapes reality. If you’re in any doubt as to why better, more accessible writing is a force for good in the world, watch this video from Jason Silva and you’ll be persuaded that it is.
Human relationships are crucial for nomadic professionals, including editors. For example, entrepreneurs with website content may directly require your editing services, and website designers may be able to help you setup your own website.
It is quite easy to cultivate relationships with skilled people who can help you develop your editing career, especially if you choose to live in a location independent hotspot.
I have been living in Chiang Mai for four months, and have made contact with many valuable people through the Chiang Mai Digital Nomad Facebook Group. I found an SEO company to audit this website to iron out its bugs and make it more Google friendly, professional academic and book editors who we now employ, and freelance writers to produce blog content.
One professional editor I met blew me away with her enthusiasm and conquer the world attitude. I hired her on the spot and have offered her regular editing and writing work. I now plan to integrate her more deeply into the business development side of things.
Living in the digital era, most networking opportunities will begin online through social media (but which can very often translate to physical meetings), particularly Facebook, Linkedin and Google+. Join all the relevant social networking groups you can find, and actually read what is being posted and contribute.
Be creative about how you connect and network with people. I met someone on Tinder who I subsequently employed as an editor (for those unfamiliar with the world that single people inhabit, Tinder is a hugely popular smartphone dating/editor recruitment app).
Have multiple income streams
If you commit to transferring your existing location dependent role to one that is 100% online, or become a freelance editor and set up your own website, work for a professional editing company or use a freelance workplace, you should be able to earn sustainable income to fund a nomadic lifestyle.
However, you don’t have to limit yourself to editing and proofreading, especially when you have likely developed a number of valuable and transferable skills as an editor. Having multiple income streams can be extremely valuable as there are always ups and downs with online work.
A professional editor should have many productive talents, such as understanding the many nuances of the English language, eyes for detail, good time management skills and computer proficiency, and be able to work well under pressure.
You’ll be surprised at how the skills that you have acquired over your working life can be packaged up into meaningful new incomes streams. Here are three:
For some editors, a complementary occupation is writing. Editors can make excellent writers, and there are opportunities out there to earn good money writing your way around the world.
If you have subject matter knowledge (such as fashion or fitness), find magazines and websites related to that subject, look for a ‘work with us’ or ‘contact us’ page, and pitch them an article. Sites like Travelfish.org, CNN travel, Asian Correspondent or the Tripadvisor blog are always looking for freelance writers in specific countries.
Many location independent writers have a blog. Much like setting up a website which showcases you as an editor, setting up a personal blog is also relatively straightforward.
A friend of mine has a wellness blog that covers everything from buying mushroom coffee, to how to nap.
If your blog adds value to the Internet, people will visit it and you will have the essential thing that all bloggers crave – traffic. If your blog becomes popular and you have traffic then you will be able to monetize it through affiliate links, reviews and ad space.
As a bonus, you might also receive free hotel stays, flights and tours in exchange for writing about the experience.
The third way to earn money from writing while being a nomadic editor is by self-publishing an e-book, such as a resource guide or ‘how to’ book. Become an authority in something (Google can make you an authority in just about anything). People respect authorities, and will buy books from them if it contains valuable information on a relevant topic.
The great attraction of publishing an e-book is the possibility of passive income in the future; once a book is published it requires very little input from you, other than telling the world how awesome it is.
2. Teach English
Teaching English to ESL students is another income option to supplement editing, as English teachers are in demand in many countries, including China and Spain. Read more about teaching English abroad on the GoAbroad.com website.
3. Start an online business
Location independent editors would do well to at least consider starting an online business, even (or perhaps especially) if it takes them out of their comfort zone.
Although entrepreneurship is never easy, it’s much more accessible now because of the Internet; all you need is a website, a valuable product or service and the marketing know-how to sell it.
Selling a physical product online can certainly be done with an online business. Engage a third party logistics provider (3PL) to handle the storage, picking, and packing, or go down the drop shipping route, which means the manufacturer makes the product on demand (when a customer orders it through your website) and ships it straight to them.
There are many services which you can sell online, including web design, software development, affiliate marketing and business and personal coaching. Be creative with the online service that you offer – add value to both people and the internet and you will be able to monetize it.
Your ultimate goal may be to create a sustainable business that earns a passive income, allowing you to live a life free of day-to-day work.
Easier said than done, but set up good systems and processes, and hire capable people, and any business should be able to operate without its creator’s direct involvement.
The hardest part about being location independent is sustaining yourself financially. If you treat it like a holiday, running out of money will be inevitable, and you’ll be forced to return home.
However, treat online editing and proofreading as a career, and location independence can be a sustainable way of life.
Commit yourself to the above strategies, and you’ll be able to earn good money as a professional editor and be location independent.