Having been a freelance writer for almost ten years, I get a lot of questions from people interested in becoming freelance writers.
Whether you want to freelance full-time or use it as a way to make extra money on the side, you have to be sure you’re taking the steps. Mistakes waste your time, cost you money, and can turn you off to freelance writing all together.
1. Not charging enough.
Eager to get their foot in the door, new writers often accept jobs that pay just a few bucks for 500 words or so. Do you realize how much you have to write at this rate to make a livable wage?
I’ll confess that I was guilty of this 9+ years ago when I first started freelancing. When I calculated how many $5/500 word articles I had to write to match the salary I was getting paid, I knew I’d have to make some changes.
I raised my rates slowly over the years. I just regret not raising them high enough fast enough.
2. Letting clients talk you into accepting less.
There are people out there who want to hire freelance writers, but don’t won’t want to pay higher rates. Sometimes it’s because they don’t truly understand the value of quality writing and want to get good writing for cheap. Just walk away; it’s not worth it.
You can sometimes work within a client’s budget by doing less work for the same price. For example, instead of writing six blog posts for $100, negotiate for two or three.
Always have in mind the lowest you’ll accept. That way, when clients want to negotiate with you, you know the price point you can’t accept.
3. Not knowing when to charge by the hour, by the word, or by the project.
There are lots of different ways you can set up your rates and you can use any of these depending on the project.
For example, an hourly rate works well for longer projects that don’t necessarily have a word count or you can’t estimate how long it will take to complete the project. The clients have to agree to pay you for your time and you have to do the work of tracking the time spent on the project.
In most cases, charging by the word or project works.
4. Writing about something you have no experience in.
If you’ve ever taken an English or writing class, you’ve been told to “write what you know.” When you write about something you don’t know about, you end up having to do more research. This, in turn, increases the amount of time you spend on the writing assignment and lowers your hourly rate for that project. Even if you’ll have to do some research, you need to be at least a little familiar with the topic of the writing assignments you focus on.
5. Accepting every job that comes your way.
Again, eager for some work and flattered that people want to hire you, you may be tempted to say “yes” to every prospective client. However, you’ll have to turn down some jobs, particularly if they’re outside your expertise, pay lower than you can accept, or require more time than you have available.
If you feel bad about saying no to a good freelance writing gig, have a few other freelance writers in mind that you can refer the job to. Make sure you’re not sending bad clients or bad writing jobs to other writers.
5. Taking on too many writing jobs at once.
At first, having too many writing jobs sounds like a great problem to have. The more jobs you have, the more money you can make, right? Except that overscheduling yourself makes you more likely to miss deadlines, creating a negative reputation with your clients. Get good at estimating how long it’s going to take you to complete a writing assignment so you can schedule your time appropriately.
6. Not getting clear enough instructions on what your client wants.
You want to complete your assignments with as few rounds of editing as possible, especially if you’re writing short blog posts. (Longer assignments like ebooks may have multiple drafts.)
To reduce the amount of rework you need to do, ask as many questions as you need to upfront so you completely understand what the client wants from you.
7. Choosing the wrong clients.
When you’re first starting out, it can be difficult to select the right clients. You don’t know what you’re looking for yet. But, let me give you some signs that a client is not worth working with:
- They take too long to email you back.
- They’re not paying enough for the project.
- Their preferences are unclear.
- They email you too much.
8. Doing more than is necessary to make your clients happy.
Customer service is a necessary part of the job. You never want your clients to walk away unpleased with the work that you’ve done for them. However, you shouldn’t jump through hoops to please clients who are insatiable, especially when you’ve agreed on the specifications, clarified their expectations, and made reasonable efforts to do a satisfactory job.
On the other hand, if you have a client who politely asks you to make reasonable changes to the work, it’s probably ok to do the extra work to make this client satisfied. Learn from the experience and know what you can do next time to avoid the additional work.
9. Expanding the work without adjusting your rates.
If a client wants to make project changes that will take more time, you may have to adjust the rates. Don’t agree to a change just to make the client happy.
Think about it, if you take your car for an oil change and then decide you want to have your tires rotated too, the mechanic is going to charge you extra. The same thing goes for your writing jobs.
When clients make requests for additional work, let them know you’re happy to make the adjustments, but also quote them on the increased time and cost.
10. Working with just one client.
If you’re freelancing on the side for some extra money, having just one client may be ok. But serious freelancers who want to grow their writing business cannot do this.
Working for a single client isn’t really freelancing, you’re more like a contract worker. And if this client leaves, you are left with no clients. You’ll have to find another clients – likely several clients – to fill that void. You’re probably a little rusty on your marketing considering you’ve been relying on just one client which means it may be a little harder getting new clients.
Diversify your income among various clients and projects, even some of your own projects.
11. Not taking a deposit.
When you’re a new writer and you don’t have much experience choosing clients, taking at least 50% deposit on your projects should be a rule. You can make exceptions from time to time, but requiring a deposit ensures you get paid for your work.
I don’t make exceptions for new clients or big jobs. However, for a blog or website that hires freelancers often and they have a defined pay schedule, I don’t push for a deposit.
12. Not setting payment terms.
Payment terms don’t have to be complicated. You simply need to state how much you should be paid, by when, and by what method.
Is the payment due upon completion? Do you accept personal checks? Have a written payment plan either posted on your website or included in your communications with prospective clients. Make sure your client agrees to the payment terms before you start work.
13. Not sticking to deadlines.
If you’ve set a firm deadline for a project, stick to it. Don’t be that person who’s habitually asking for extensions and sending work after the date you’ve committed to.
Use a calendar to keep track of your deadlines and take every effort to meet them.
14. Treating freelance writing like a hobby.
Freelance writing isn’t something you can just dabble in here and there and expect to make a serious income. Freelance writing is a real business and you won’t be successful if you don’t treat it like one.
15. Spending your money as you get it.
Financial management is crucial to long-term success as a freelance writer. I collect freelance writing income in a separate account and pay myself monthly like I am my own employee. It’s much easier to track income this way rather than making $200 and $300 deposits here and there.
16. Starting a .wordpress or .blogpsot blog.
Yes, it’s free, but it is one of the worst looks you can have for yourself as a serious freelance writer.
Buy a domain. Get hosting. Find a theme or template – there are plenty of free ones, but you can buy one, too. It will be a $100 investment tops, but the instant credibility you gain from having a hosted blog is worth it.
17. Starting a blog about freelance writing.
Unless you’re establishing yourself as a freelance writing expert to help other freelance writers, your blog shouldn’t be about freelance writing. Your blog should be about whatever you’re an “expert” in, e.g. interior design, personal finance, fitness, etc. If you’re a new freelance writer, chances are you don’t know enough about freelance writing to run a blog.
18. Not updating your portfolio with your latest and greatest work.
Your portfolio is one of the ways clients decide whether they want to work with you. Treat your online portfolio kind of like a resume. As you complete additional work, update your portfolio so it’s a reflection of your growth as a freelance writer. As you add newer work, delete the older work that may not be an accurate representation of your current skillset.
Mistakes Don’t Have to End Your Freelance Career
Mistakes happen. Even people and companies who’ve been in business for decades can make mistakes.
Bookmark this list and read through it every few months as a refresher to make sure you’re making all the right moves to be a successful freelance writer.