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 independent and flexible, but it can also be very financially rewarding once you can demonstrate your skills. However, as with any job, there are many things that can go wrong if you aren’t careful. We’ve put together this list of the top 10 biggest mistakes freelance writers can make when starting out or growing their freelance writing business.
Many of these errors can be avoided with the right strategy in place, and as long as you are keen to learn from past mistakes. After you’ve read 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 spend your time focusing on the bigger picture and growing your 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 have to 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 a lot 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.
According to Jobstore, the freelancer with the ability to write a good article on any subject is valued by certain clients. But the freelancer who has expert knowledge about one subject can bring much more added value. These types of freelancers are typically paid much more too.
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.
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 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.
Undercharging is also counter-productive in the long run. 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.
So be prepared to turn down work if you know that the client will not pay enough.
3. You’ve Set Your Rate Too High
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 the past. They won’t pay an experienced rate for an amateur.
For this reason, don’t make mistakes freelance writers make of 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 Listing Your Abilities and Knowledge
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 is another of the big mistakes freelance writers make. It’s not just opportunities you miss out on but also 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 fight to forge a new, better self-image into existence by “consistently aligning your thoughts and behaviors to make it so.”
In other words, 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, whether it’s deserved or not.
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. 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 is about offering all you can give to your client and keeping them happy. Lifehack talks about the fact that performing minimally and simply following orders won’t get you anywhere.
Take the initiative! If you can avoid this one of the common mistakes freelance writers make, 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 one 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. 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.
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. And don’t pay too attention to what your friends and family think or say about what you share – 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
All the freedom and comfort of the freelancer lifestyle can lead you to make bad money choices. 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 commit one of the biggest mistakes freelance writers make: forgetting that you have to save.
Whatever you’re earning and wherever it’s ending up, make sure to keep your savings healthy and to pay your bills on time. Blogging Wizard posted a useful guide on how to manage your money as a freelancer, with some tools at the end which will allow you to step away from the calculators and spreadsheets.
You may be starting to question whether you’ve already made one or two of the mistakes freelance writers make in your career this far. Often, we are our own obstacles. Taking a step back and re-evaluating 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.