Proofreading and copy-editing: enjoying good relationships with clients


Every week I meet up with a good friend who lives locally for a chat and a coffee. She’s self-employed too, so the conversation inevitably turns to work at some point. My proofreading business is very different from her cleaning business, but we encounter many of the same challenges and enjoy similar aspects of our work. A recent conversation turned to how much we enjoy the flexibility of our work hours. We compared this (probably rather smugly, I have to confess!) with the fixed hours of many of our friends. When I got home, I started to think about the other things that I like or love about my job.

(You may be wondering why there is a photo of old mailboxes at the start of this post. It would seem more obvious to have a photo of a computer screen showing an email inbox, perhaps, but I thought that might be a tad dull.)

Proofreading and copy-editing are the best bits

I love copy-editing and proofreading. There’s nothing more satisfying than feeling that I’ve hugely improved a text, and it’s great to get positive feedback from clients. But one of the other really enjoyable things is the relationships with clients that evolve over the years. I’ll write briefly in this post about some of the types of relationships that can develop over time.

Following clients’ careers: student clients can turn into lecturer clients

Several of my current clients are now academics whose PhD theses I proofread in the past, and it’s good to know that they’ve progressed in their chosen career. They now send me journal articles to copy-edit and proofread, and I’m always interested to see what their job title is and what university they’re working at. They often give me snippets of information about their current research or job role. My relationships with these clients are mainly on a professional level. We do exchange the occasional piece of personal news, though, so over the years it’s possible to build up a picture of each other. This means we can have relaxed and chatty ‘conversations’ among the nitty gritty of the work details in emails.

Professional relationships can be personal too

Sometimes a relationship with a client suddenly takes an unexpectedly personal turn. A client whose essays for a counselling diploma I’d been proofreading for a while wrote in one essay about something that I found particularly moving and that struck a chord with me, and I mentioned this to her in my email when I sent the completed work back. This led to a really lovely exchange in which we both openly discussed various things (I seem to recall it was mainly me harping on about ageing and how it’s making me think more deeply about the past and the future), and I really enjoyed the openness and personal nature of this.*

Star clients

I’ve been working for about five years for two clients who currently live in Canada.* They’re an academic couple who are friendly, upbeat, and relaxed and are generous in their approach. We’ve shared some personal news over the years, and although we’ve never met in person, I feel as though I know them a little bit and like them a lot.

I don’t think I’d ever said that I couldn’t do a piece of work either of them had sent, even though sometimes it needed doing urgently. But one day a few months ago, I had to apologise and explain that I couldn’t help because it was my birthday and I was having a day off to go out for lunch with a friend. Their response? They wrote ‘Happy Birthday, Bev!’ on a whiteboard and took a selfie with one of them standing on either side of the message, smiling away. Getting this picture was a really lovely surprise and a reflection of their generous approach that I mentioned earlier. Clients like these brighten up my day and make my work so much more enjoyable.

My approach

As well as concentrating on doing thorough and professional-level proofreading and copy-editing work for clients, which, let’s face it, is the most important thing, I also like to think I’m friendly, positive and helpful when I communicate with them. Building up relationships with clients is an aspect of my job that I really enjoy, and it’s very satisfying when certain clients come back year after year to ask me to work for them. I hope all of my clients feel valued and that they feel confident that my goal is to do the best possible work for them, because that’s always my aim.

* I have these clients’ permission to write about them.