When a friend was retrenched and asked me what you need to set yourself up as a freelance proofreader or editor, I mentally went through the tools I use and gave her a rundown. It occurred to me that the list might be useful to others. So here it is:

A desk of your own

This might seem too obvious and not worth listing, but it’s important to make it conscious. You can do anything on the kitchen table, in a pinch, but the concentration levels required to edit anything means you need a quiet spot to call your own. I have a big table in a communal entertainment room, which works for me since it is empty most of the day. And when people come home, I can greet them with joy. (The other benefit of having your own desk is that you can tidy it up when procrastinating.)

A computer and a printer

In fact, if and when you can afford it, two computer screens are better; when checking changes from one document to another, you can have them up on two screens simultaneously. I won’t go into specifics about the kind of computer, save to say that a laptop/notebook is better than a desktop PC because you can keep working through load-shedding. And stick to an operating system that’s likely to be compatible with the rest of the world – basically that means Windows or IOS. About the printer … yes, we supposedly live in a paperless world, but I find that one round of editing on paper in any given project is essential.

A good Internet connection

You need to do research. People will send you documents to download. Clients will email you. And you can procrastinate on several social media platforms at once if need be. (To keep my Internet connection going during load-shedding, I have a UPS to keep the router powered up. And my husband has rigged up battery-powered lighting for those early morning stints – more about that here.)

Industry-compatible software

You can use the open-source versions when you start out but, when you can afford it, I would highly recommend buying Office 365 – word processing, spreadsheets and a note app make it useful, and mean that you are using the same software as most of your clients. And its One Drive feature means all your work is in the cloud: that alone is worth the money. (Yes – you can use Google Drive – but I find their document processing to be streets behind Office.) Adobe Reader DC is free, and can be used for proofing on PDF. And Gmail is my go-to email client.

Your own online resources

You need to start finding your own online resources, and bookmarking them in an organised way. These include dictionaries, picture sources and bloggers who cover the industry.

Professional membership

This is not essential, but I would highly recommend joining a local association. I am a member of the Professional Editors’ Guild and find it invaluable. There’s an email support group, free access to the Oxford Online dictionary and training opportunities.


Note: This post was first published on Safe Hands.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of PEG.

About Renee Moodie

Renee Moodie is a senior journalist who draws on decades of print and online experience to offer a range of writing, editing, training and consultancy services. She worked as a reporter for the Cape Times before moving into sub-editing at the Cape Argus and then to online journalism at Independent Online, eventually becoming Deputy Editor. After leaving Independent Media, she opened Safe Hands Writing & Editing, a communications business with clients in online news, publishing, academia and the corporate sector.

About PEG

The Professional Editors’ Guild (PEG) is a non-profit company (NPC) in South Africa. Since moving to online activities in March 2020, PEG has been able to offer members across South Africa, and internationally, access to an extensive online webinar programme. Continuing professional development remains a key offering and the first PEG Accreditation Test was administered in August 2020 to benchmark excellence in the field of editing.