If you love to write or have a passion for the pen, writing for a living can be extremely gratifying. The life of a freelance writer is not only an independent life with a great deal of flexibility, but it’s also one of great financial success once you can demonstrate your skills. However, as with any job, there are many things that can go wrong if you aren’t careful. Since these mistakes are very common, we’ve decided to put together this list of the top 10 biggest mistakes freelance writers can make when starting out or growing their freelance writing business.
These 10 mistakes can ruin your day, week or month as a freelance writer, or even deter you for a successful career in freelance writing. Many of these errors can be avoided with the right strategy in place, and as long as you are receptive to learning from past mistakes.
Once you read through this list, you can begin to create a strategy to prevent these errors from occurring. Instead of putting out freelance-writing-fires, you can instead focus on the bigger picture and grow your small business.
Let’s dig in.
1. You Haven’t Defined Your Writing Specialty or Niche
Writing on a variety of topics can help develop your style, knowledge, and skills at the beginning of a freelance writing career. Producing content in different markets also allows you to be more flexible with rates so that you can gain more experience, which is helpful when starting out.
Unfortunately, it can become difficult to manage clientele and produce unique content within a variety of writing specialties. Writing for different topics means that you must do more market research and be familiar with the ins and outs of each specialty. If you are writing in two or more niches, this can lead to an accumulation of unpaid time, overwork or not being able to deliver the services you promised.
As the old saying goes – jack of all trades, master of none.
Solving this issue is a matter of choosing between deep knowledge (depth) and broad knowledge (breadth). According to JobStore, the freelancer with the ability to write a good article on any subject will be valued by certain clients. But the freelancer who knows expert knowledge about one subject will provide clients with the step-up that they need when providing written content. These types of freelancers are typically paid much more when hired within their experiential niche.
Take your time to discover what you like to write about, and what niches you see yourself writing in within five to 10 years. It’s only then that you’ll achieve focus on the subjects that you love and are willing to learn more about. This will, of course, allow you to receive bigger payments whenever clients hire you as an expert.
Passion attracts clients, don’t forget that.
2. You’re Undercharging Your Clients
Undercharging your clients is one of the mistakes freelance writers make that affects them more than others. Since a freelance writer is often competing in a global market, they find themselves up against bids for projects that are dirt cheap compared to normal rates.
It can seem tempting to lower your rates if you need the income. However, lowering your rates only decreases your value as a freelancer and tells future clients that you’re willing to work for less. By maintaining a fair rate, you are also educating clients on how much an expert rate costs and that selling out to a cheaper rate might not be worth it.
This strategy also allows you to speak to the right clients – those who are willing to pay for expert content – so you aren’t making do with clients who won’t fully appreciate your work. When you charge the rate you are due, you are given a chance to show clients why you are the best choice and why your work will add value to their project.
Furthermore, undercharging is counter-productive in the long run (you have to work much more to make a living), and in the short term hustle. By undercharging, you’ll have to dedicate more time to make the amount you know you deserve. You then run out of time for other essential work tasks, such as hunting for new work, learning new skills, and all of the side projects that you could be doing.
You may need to turn down work if you know that the client is asking for too much work and not enough pay.
3. You’ve Set Your Rate Too High
While in mistake #2 we discussed undercharging, it’s also important to realize that some freelancers are guilty of overcharging, or more specifically, overestimating your skills.
When it comes to freelance writing, there’s a huge range of budget sizes you’ll encounter during your career. This is because budgets will vary depending on what the client needs. When the client pays more for your services, know that they will expect more in return. Experience is one such expectation, as clients are typically looking for someone who has performed a similar task once or twice in their past. They won’t pay an experienced rate for an amateur.
For this reason, you need to be careful with demanding too much for what you’re offering. Of course, years of job experience, relevant courses, a degree in a related field, and the right resources at hand to get the project done successfully will allow you to charge higher rates. But you can’t expect to set the rates of an expert when you’re starting new in a niche and have never been around the client’s market before.
Be humble, ask for a smaller starting rate if you’re new to the market. And try to learn as much as you can before you decide to raise what you’re earning.
4. You’re Selling Yourself Short When Citing Your Abilities and Knowledge
Sometimes, being humble just won’t work if you want to succeed. Being humble can stem from low self-confidence or poor habits you developed growing up (Mom and Dad telling you not to brag). Being humble might also reflect an unawareness of the market, or you may simply be unfamiliar with how to market your abilities.
Selling yourself short to a potential client can turn into a big mistake. It’s not just opportunities you miss out on – it’s also the fact that you’ll miss out on so many experiences that would have enriched your career and grown your freelance writing business. It’s not easy, but sometimes you will need to stand up for yourself and your skillset. Entrepreneur talks about how you need to work towards your goals now and how you must fight to forge a new, better self-image into existence by “consistently aligning your thoughts and behaviors to make it so.”
In short, don’t undervalue what you know, who you are, and what you can do. After all, it is a competitive market. Others will be promoting their work as just as good as yours, if not better, even if it’s not deserved.
5. You’re Difficult to Work With
This one may be hard to swallow. Unfortunately, if you’re not getting long-term work as a freelance writer, it may be because your clients don’t seem to get along with you much. Contract writing is still a business of relationships after all, and many clients will prefer to work with someone who is flexible, more open and generally friendlier.
As a freelancer, your job isn’t to make buddies. However, it is important to recognize the human aspect when working with a client. Ask the client what their expectations are, always listen to what they have to say, communicate your doubts and problems often, and know that you could speak with your client about anything work-related.
In fact, proper communication is underrated. Some freelance writers believe that the relationship is just to receive work → write → submit work → review → get paid. This isn’t the case.
In fact, according to Proposify’s Definitive Guide to Going Freelance, “the root of many problems can usually be pinned to either miscommunication or lack of communication all together.” Think of this whenever you have to speak with your client about anything that you don’t agree with. It could save your relationship.
6. You’re Not Offering Enough as a Freelancer
Depending on your niche or specialty, it can be hard to estimate what services you should or shouldn’t provide. Clients may be looking for an expert in one or two aspects of writing, but they may also want to get the maximum value out of their experts. If you are familiar with the field, they may want you to provide suggestions for future work or by being extra thorough with a given project. Or, a client may want you at off-hours, with a quick turnaround.
While some of these expectations may be different from the normal 9-5, you must be able to give-and-take within the freelance writing business. Most clients, regardless of budget, would rather spend their money on freelancers who offer more. This will give you an edge above other freelancers who may not be able to offer more (or simply don’t), even though they may provide similar work.
We talked about broad knowledge versus deep knowledge before, but this is more than that: this is about offering all you can give to your client and keeping them happy. Lifehack talks about this – performing minimally and simply following orders won’t get you anywhere.
Take the initiative! If you can accomplish this, your relationship will be both long-term and successful.
7. You’re Accepting Any Job Offered to You Because “It’s Money”
We get it and have all probably done it at some point, especially if it’s to get some experience. But try to avoid becoming a culprit of this since it is the quickest way to lose focus on your long-term goals and ultimately will only fill your schedule with subpar projects.
It doesn’t matter if you can do something – you have to ask yourself if you should perform the task. If a client offers you a project that you’re not a specialist in, or worse, don’t feel passionate about, first reflect on whether or not the project will provide value to your business. A job you don’t like won’t suddenly become more fun because you need the money for rent: it’ll still feel like you’re being forced to do it.
Be sure to market yourself more effectively if you are having difficulty finding work in the topics you’re best at, and you will soon land the perfect (or almost perfect) contract.
8. You Find It Hard to Deliver Before the Deadline
Yikes! If there’s anything a client doesn’t like, it’s having to deal with a freelancer that can’t deliver within deadlines. Time is money, as the old saying goes, and a freelancer is hired precisely to deal with specific problems with a certain level of urgency.
If you’re having trouble meeting deadlines, you’re going to need to work harder on time management. It might be that you’re distracted and taking too much time off from work instead of finishing off your pending tasks. Maybe you’re lacking the ability to properly prioritize and are therefore putting less important tasks ahead of your main goals. Perhaps you’re simply overloaded.
Luckily, Freelancers Union has compiled an important list of hacks for meeting project deadlines, including tips that will surely get you out of trouble and help you meet deadlines. This, and similar other strategies (which you can either Google or search for on YouTube), can change your troublesome habits of being late for good.
Be sure to try them out.
9. Your Profile (LinkedIn, Freelance Portfolio) Isn’t Getting Enough Views
As much as you may want to sign contracts with new clients, you can’t get that far if they’re not even finding you online. Visibility is a crucial element that you will need to improve if you want to catch the eye of a potential lead and start making more money.
In general, the main recommendations are that you should always make sure to distribute your profile and the content you produce as a writer (i.e., with personal blog articles, thoughts, projects, among others) on reputable websites. This will allow you to gain visibility across the web over occasionally (or never) updating your LinkedIn or freelance profiles.
That said, don’t pay excessive attention to what your friends and family will think or say about you when they see your online life – this is one of the biggest obstacles people have. Just do what you need to and don’t give a darn!
10. You’re Making Bad Decisions with the Money You Make
Let’s face it, freelance writing rocks. You don’t just get to do what you love, but you also make a bunch of money that doesn’t involve office hours, commuting on buses and trains, awkward co-workers or demanding bosses.
Still, all of this freedom and comfort can lead you to make bad choices with the money you’re making. You may find that you have more leisure time. You also don’t have to spend money on fuel or public transportation as much as you used to. Now, you get to enjoy more time at home, eating, drinking or just having fun. Because of this, you can easily get sloppy with your earnings and forget that you have to save.
Whatever you’re earning and wherever it’s being deposited, make sure to keep your savings healthy and to pay your bills on time. Forbes posted a useful guide on making the most of your earnings and savings as a freelancer, and most of the tips you’ll read will help you to reconsider those unnecessary expenses that can ruin you in the long run.
You may be questioning one or two of the behaviours that you’ve carried into your freelance career this far. Often, we are our own obstacles. Taking a step back and reevaluating how we deal with clients, deliver content, and value ourselves can only be a good thing.
Remember, we have to learn from our mistakes in order to become better at what we do.