Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, my name is Lenny Bron, and I am The Blog Proofreader. I’m the annoying grammar police person you’ve always been tired of hearing from every time you use an ellipses incorrectly in a Facebook post you wrote 3 years ago.
I content edit/copy edit/proofread the work of several clients on a regular basis. Some of this is done as a freelancer for larger companies, some of it is done for startups looking to make sure their content marketing looks clean and presentable, and some of it is done for bloggers or other content creators who want their readers to enjoy the work they put out without stopping to try and process a sentence with a missing word in it.
I’ve been able to build my business from scratch to consistently make ~$2,000 per month with zero experience in the field, no expenses, and barely any upfront costs.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
This business idea was born in 2016, but the journey really began in 2014.
After working for a company for 8 years, I hadn’t really gotten far financially and felt stuck. I decided to find a job with better financial prospects and the possibility of advancement. After 6 months of searching, I was hired at a new employer and managed to double my salary in one fell swoop!
Just start! That little voice inside your head giving you doubts will always be there. Push through that voice and keep going until you reach a point where you’re lost.
This was obviously exciting, but also came with extra responsibilities. Not only did I have to figure out how to handle my new work life, I also needed to figure out how to handle the extra money I was making. I’d never been able to save much before that, and now I had to decide what my 401k investments would be. This was a bit scary, exciting, and confusing all at the same time.
All of this led me to the task of understanding personal finance and everything else related to the subject. I began reading books and blogs, listening to podcasts, and just generally soaking up as much information as I could find.
This also led me to find the FIRE (Financial Independence/Retire Early) community, which is a great group of people full of entrepreneurs much like the readers of this site. Reaching financial independence became my goal, and the math is simple, earn more than you spend, invest the difference, and save 25x your yearly spending.
There are, of course, more technical details I won’t bore you with (feel free to reach out and ask me about it though, I love talking about this stuff!). Anyway, the part I knew I could have the most control over was earning more, as my wife and I already optimized our spending. The more I earned the sooner I could reach financial independence and choose what to do with my time.
Now back to 2016. After reading a bunch of personal finance blogs, I kept seeing spelling mistakes, grammar errors, and missing words all over the place. These errors slowed me down and annoyed me while I was reading, and I figured they might be doing the same to other readers. That’s what got me thinking about bloggers not wanting their readers to be frustrated while reading their content, and that they might want a service where I would proofread and copy edit their content before they published it.
Describe the process of launching the business.
The main thing I kept reading about starting a business was simple: just start! The details can get figured out later.
This was especially true for my endeavour, I started by doing the simplest thing possible. I sent an email.
I was reading a post from one of my favorite personal finance bloggers and noticed several grammar issues. This would be my first go of it. In the email, I started with who I was, why I liked her content, and then copied in the parts that needed editing followed by my corrections.
Finally, I asked if she might be looking for a Proofreader or Editor for her site. This was more of an idea than a business at the time, so I didn’t expect much from it. However, not long after, she actually wrote me back! That was exciting enough, but what she told me was even better. Although she wasn’t looking for somebody to Proofread her work, she told me it was a good idea and I should pursue it further with other blogs. That validation alone made me believe this could be a viable source of income.
I sent out many emails throughout those first few months to bloggers who I kept noticing had writing errors. One person in particular is basically responsible for the success of this venture. His name is J. Money and he runs a wonderful blog (which I highly recommend!). After contacting him, he told me he didn’t have a budget for my service, but he did run a different site at the time which was an aggregator for all things personal finance. He had a directory of personal finance freelancers on the site and wanted to start a “Proofreaders & Editors” section, and offered to put me in as the first one on the list! I still can’t thank J. Money enough for this!
After a few more months and a few more failed attempts at working with bloggers, I was contacted by a fintech startup who had a blog full of personal finance material which they were continually adding content to. They actually found me through the personal finance freelancer directory! I went from making no money for about 7-8 months, to suddenly working about 10 hours per week making ~$1,200 a month with the fintech company.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Here’s something specific I did when I first started out. This didn’t exactly yield me clients at first, but it helped attract more in the future.
Since I had absolutely zero experience to speak of, I offered to edit/proofread 3 articles for free so the prospective client could see the value I added. This was a no-lose situation for the people I emailed. They received my services for free, and I would have the opportunity to prove my worth. I did have a few people accept this offer who never ended up moving forward with hiring me, but it was invaluable because I could now say I’ve worked with some of the most prominent bloggers in personal finance.
Own up to your mistakes! You messed up, so now you have to own it, apologize for it, and most importantly, learn from it. The only way to get better is through experience, so don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty, but know you’ll screw up.
In the realm of retaining customers, I’d say being as honest and upfront as possible about my skills and time constraints is helpful. When I’m not well-suited to a task, I will explain to a client why it’s not a good idea for me to handle it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for trying new things, whether it be transcribing podcasts, proofreading an entire ebook, or writing an article, there are just some things I’m not good at. Saying “no” isn’t always a bad thing, and in the end, I think it’s beneficial to both myself and the client as they can find somebody who could do the job better. The same applies to time constraints. I always tell clients I need at least 24 hours to complete a task, and that’s pushing it. I might not always need the 24 hours, but having that buffer in place is necessary in case I’m already swamped with other work.
Finally, owning up to my mistakes is another way to maintain trust and attract clients. I’m far from perfect, so I’m sure I’ll make (and have definitely made) mistakes on occasion. But accepting the blame, offering an apology, and trying to make sure something similar doesn’t happen again is the only way to handle the situation. I might not always be able to correct the mistake, but I want the clients to understand I’ll do my best to not let it happen again. This is done in a sincere way, mainly because I mean it, and because I really hate making mistakes!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The short story goes like this, the one large client I had since the beginning of 2017 told me they were hiring a full-time editor in February 2018. I was told they might need me for more work in the future. This was a majority of my Proofreading/Editing income gone overnight. This also might have been the best thing that could have happened to me in terms of this venture.
There were now several factors that played into me gaining three regular clients within a 2-month period. First, the client was kind enough to offer to post about me on a message board for other fintechs. This yielded a client I still work with today. I emailed a blogger whose newsletter I signed up for about helping proofread his content, and I was hired by him shortly thereafter. Finally, I applied for a freelance position with a larger content creator and was hired because of all the experience I accrued within the previous two years. Three months later, the original client asked me to come back because there was already too much content for their new full-time editor.
None of those things would have happened if I didn’t get let go, but it also shows that, sometimes, it’s good to mix things up. I’d gotten complacent at the time, and this event helped motivate me to pursue new clients again, which opened up many new opportunities because I now had a resume full of work I could use to attract new clients.
Today, I have four clients I work with on a regular basis, and they give me plenty of work to keep busy. But I also have enough time to do the work, maintain my day job, and spend quality time with my amazing wife and beautiful baby daughter. This is currently an ideal situation for me.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Some of these are things I might have mentioned previously, but I believe they should be reiterated.
Take the smallest first step you can. Things will snowball from there. This might be the hardest part because your insecurities will begin kicking in. Do not listen to them. Just remember, what’s the worst thing that could happen?
No matter what you’re doing, be it a service business or an e-commerce business, you have to add value. How does this “thing” I’m selling help my customer? How can this “service” I’m providing make my customer’s life easier? Ask yourself these questions. And only then can you try to figure out a way to make it worth your while.
Be upfront, be clear, be honest!
Especially when you’re just getting to know a new client, or trying to gain new clients. State what you can do or sell them right away. Explain how you will do the service or how good the product is. And then follow through with everything you promised. Saying “no” isn’t a bad thing either. Don’t waste the client’s or your own time if you know it won’t work out.
Own up to your mistakes!
You messed up, so now you have to own it, apologize for it, and most importantly, learn from it. The only way to get better is through experience, so don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty, but know you’ll screw up. The thing is, clients understand this. They know mistakes happen because they make them too, which is why they’ll likely forgive you. Remember that you’re the hardest one on yourself, so learn to forgive yourself for mistakes as well (easier said than done, of course!).
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
This is slightly difficult because I don’t really use many tools. I bought a domain through Godaddy and host my site on HostGator.
I managed to get my @theblogproofreader.com email for free through Zoho Mail, which then forwards to and from my Gmail account. I initially started with the intent on spending the least amount of money to gain the most benefit, and I haven’t changed much since I began because I haven’t needed to.
Figure out the smallest possible step forward and take it. You’ll always be your own harshest critic, so if you can get beyond your own thoughts, there’s nothing anybody else says that can possibly slow you down.
For example, I was asked to provide a logo for this very interview. I went out and designed one for free because I haven’t needed one before. Finally, being an editor means I need a word processor on my computer and guess what, Microsoft Office isn’t the only game in town. I downloaded LibreOffice for free and am enjoying the same exact benefits of working offline.
The other part of this will sound a bit like a resume, but the tools/platforms I’ve had to use are really based on my clients. Whatever platform they’re on is my responsibility to navigate. This includes (in no particular order) Wordpress, Trello, Airtable, Dropbox, Google Docs, Drupal, ActiveCampaign, Shopify, Kajabi, and LinkedIn. I’m not an expert in most of these, but I can get around enough to not have to bother constantly asking for help from my clients.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I began in the personal finance space, so some of this will be about that. Here’s a small list, again, in no particular order.
The most fun way to learn about personal finance through a lighthearted conversation between two entertaining hosts. There are informative guest segments, and a regular roundtable segment full of some of the finest personal finance bloggers around. If you want to learn about personal finance through your ears, please start here.
Tim Ferriss is one of the original productivity/self-improvement podcasters. You might have heard his name from his book The 4-Hour Workweek and several follow-ups to that title, as well more recent best-sellers. He has many well-versed and accomplished guests on his long-form podcasts and asks them the right questions to elicit thoughtful and insightful responses. If you want to delve into the minds of top performers, this is one of the best podcasts to listen to.
This series of blog posts basically defines my investing approach. And it got me thinking about simplicity in all aspects of my life as well, not just investing. If you’re not sure about how to invest for your future, read this series, or even better, buy the book he published based on this series.
The quintessential financial independence blog. This man is all about retiring early to do things you love (which includes working on projects and businesses), but also making the world more environmentally sustainable. Start with this post first.
Amazing personal finance content made for everyone. J. Money brings a spirit of pure light hearted joy and enthusiasm to see everyone in the world succeed by making them better with their finances. He’s been tracking his net worth for over 10 years on the blog with monthly updates. He also has a great series about side hustles that readers of this site might be interested in. There are already 70+ hustles to choose from.
There are a few more, but you can tell all of my choices skew toward personal finance and financial independence in particular. I’d be happy to give more suggested blogs if you email me. Always happy to chat about FIRE!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Again, this is something I’ve already mentioned, but also worth repeating. Just start! That little voice inside your head giving you doubts will always be there. Push through that voice and keep going until you reach a point where you’re lost. That’s when you can start asking other people for help on next steps. Again, figure out the smallest possible step forward and take it. You’ll always be your own harshest critic, so if you can get beyond your own thoughts, there’s nothing anybody else says that can possibly slow you down.
I know, I sound like some ridiculous motivational speaker, but maybe that’s what people need sometimes. Why do you think all the motivational speakers exist and earn a hefty sum to kick people into gear?
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I’m not hiring anyone, but if you’re interested in becoming an editor/proofreader or are already one and want to talk more, feel free to email me.
Where can we go to learn more?
- @blogproofreader (Just FYI, I don’t really tweet much.)
- [email protected] (Best way to reach me)
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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