Written By Alexandra Romanov

The Top 10 Mistakes that New Freelance Writers Make and How to Avoid Them

There are a number of things that virtually every new freelance writer does that are plain and simple mistakes. I’m here to make your life much easier, by showing you how to avoid the most common mistakes. Why? So you can approach your writing career with confidence, and achieve the success you deserve.

Not working regular hours

Don’t roll your eyes, I’m not going to tell you that you need to be sitting in front of your computer from 9 to 5, Monday through Friday for 50 weeks a year. What I AM going to tell you is that you need to set regular hours and stick with them.

During whatever hours you set you need to be working on projects or looking for new projects. Period. Sitting at your computer playing Angry Birds does not count. If you don’t have the self-discipline to do this then you need to keep your day job and write as an income supplement.

Working regular hours disciplines your mind and body to work when work is necessary. It also does something else: It makes you QUIT working as well.

Fixing this is actually simple, decide on your working hours and set an alarm on your cell phone. You start and end when the alarm goes off. You don’t have to be militaristic about this; it’s okay to finish the last paragraph or last part of the project you are working on that day.

Working harder than the client expects

This is often a difficult one especially for new writers. You want to do a good job so that the client is happy and gets what they expect. The problem is that if they are paying you $100 and you are putting in $500 worth of work, you lose. It can take a while to get into the groove of meeting client expectations without going so far overboard that you lose money.

Fixing this can be tough for the new writer because you are still learning client expectations. Try and remember that rewrites and edits are part of the game and put in only as much work as the project is actually worth. Don’t do 10 hours of research for a $25 article!

Not paying attention to their hourly rate

Never, ever work for an hourly rate. I hope I have made that absolutely clear. Work by the word or by the project. That said you should always know exactly how much you are making per hour.

$100 for a 500-word article sounds great. But if you have to spend 20 hours researching it and another hour writing it then you are now actually making less than $5 a hour. It doesn’t take long to see a huge problem in your income. You are constantly working and not making any money. In fact, if you work a 42-hour workweek like that you would make $200.

Fixing this is simple. When a client asks you to write something, figure out how much research time is going to be involved before quoting your price. Unless it’s a subject I can write cold, I default to quoting a project rate. If I can write the subject cold I am open to a per word rate.

This will take a little getting used to as a freelance writer so don’t feel bad if you have been guilty of making this mistake in the past. Every freelance writer I know has done this.

Allowing interruptions

This is a big problem for most freelance writers. It’s been such a big problem for me that I could write a book on the subject; or spend the next 30 years in therapy over it. At one point I found out that I was the emergency number for 10 kids at school because their parents worked and I was at home, my husband walking in and talking to me about some mundane thing like laundry and my personal favorite, friend calling to chat during working hours.

Here are a few rules I’ve devised over the years that helped solve this problem:

1-I do have a job, I just work from home. My boss is a tyrant!

2-Unless you are a client, calling or bothering me during business hours is unacceptable and you will be billed for the amount of my time you used (my brother still owes me money on that!)

3-I always have Caller ID activated

4- Treat your freelance writing career the same as you would if you were working from a company office.

To be completely honest here, I gave the information about my working hours to my friends and the interruptions stopped immediately. My husband and brother…not so much.

If you want to make a success of freelance writing then you have to focus on work during working hours. That means eliminating as many interruptions and distractions as possible. If you were working a traditional job then these distractions wouldn’t be allowed and no one would expect you tolerate them. Your boss certainly wouldn’t allow them to go on if your productivity suffered.

Avoiding Social Media

Why so many writers avoid social media is beyond me. I suppose it’s because many writers were raised that self-promotion is a bad thing. We were raised by a generation that believed it was in poor taste to “toot your own horn” well those rules have changed slightly with the invention of the Internet. It’s no longer seen as crass to promote yourself as long as it’s part of a legitimate business. In the case of being a freelance writer, learning to navigate social media can be the difference between obscurity and financial success.

Start by setting up LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Make sure that you have the accounts set up to sync, that is tell each other when you have posted to one of the accounts. In this way you can make a single post on Facebook and have it also show up on Twitter and LinkedIn. Be sure to engage your readers on these accounts as well. If you write for blogs or other online media that has a comments section, respond to comments posted by readers. The more you respond and interact with the various social media platforms the more comfortable you will become with them and the faster your business will grow.

Not creating and maintaining a website

This is a huge mistake that many beginning freelance writers make. The cause behind it seems to be that if no one knows you then you don’t need a website. The problem with that is that most potential clients expect you to have one and will go looking for it. When you don’t have one you look unprofessional and the potential clients move on to the next freelance writer on the list.

This is a super easy fix. You get a website with your own domain name or that of your freelance writing business. You create a professional looking site and keep it updated. It’s simple to set up, easy to maintain and will show potential clients who you are and why they should hire you.

Working for horrible clients

This is seriously one of the stupidest things anyone who works as a freelancer ever does. It’s devastating to your emotional and physical health and it will make you burn out faster than anything. Fire these people immediately.

I’m a big fan of Timothy Ferriss and his book The 4-hour Workweek. In it he points out the 80-20 rule. This is an interesting economic theory that long ago proved that 80% of the people cause most of the problems while 20% create most of your profits. It is rare if not unheard of that these are the same people. You need to figure out which 20% are the most profitable and attempt to replicate those clients while eliminating the 80% who are difficult.

In addition, stand up for yourself. If you have an insulting and abusive client, call them on it in a polite and professional manner. Let them know that you will no longer tolerate the abuse and that if they can’t behave in a professional manner then they need to find someone else.

Never accept abuse from anyone. There is no amount of money worth your mental health and that is what these people are taking from you.

Not setting up an accounting system

You need this for tax purposes on the whole. Eventually the government is going to want their share of your income. I strongly recommend hiring an accountant. Beyond that a simple accounting system that tracks your income v/s your expenses is usually enough. Keep every receipt for your business.

Beyond the tax issue, without an accounting system in place you have no idea where you and your business are in the grand scheme of things. You need to be able to plan both short and long term and without an idea of where your money is coming from and where it’s going the process is much harder.

In the US, consider taking a small business accounting class at a community college. These courses are often offered through adult continuing education for a small fee. Normally a class like this will meet one evening a week for 6-8 weeks. You don’t get a certificate or degree and the classes are not for credit. What you get is the information you need to have a better handle on the financial side of your business.

Not setting business goals

You don’t have to set up a full business plan but you should have yearly, quarterly and even monthly goals. They can be goals pertaining to earnings, publications or numbers of new clients. It’s always good to jot these down and assess yourself every now and then. Consider it a performance review of yourself. Without goals you will find yourself working without purpose, as in just earning money for the sake of earning money. Hard as it is to believe, that is perhaps the worst reason to work. If you want to grow your business, you need to set realistic goals and work towards meeting them.

Becoming a Workaholic

This is the single most devastating thing that a new writer can do to their freelance writing career. Nothing will speed you on your way to burnout faster and nothing will destroy the foundation of your business faster than overwork. It’s also totally pointless.

You cannot work 20 hours a day for a long period of time without burning out, not in this business. The primary function of sleep is to refresh and recharge the brain. Without enough sleep your writing will suffer.

Building a freelance writing career takes time but it’s not like I can tell you to spend 200 hours on it and presto you will be a success as soon as you the 200th hour. The time it takes can’t be rushed because you are only half of the equation. Take your time and build at a steady rate. The foundation of your business will be stronger. Spend your time building a client list of great clients and weeding out the bad ones. Spend time marketing your business and using social media to get your brand in front of an audience. These are the things that build successful freelance careers. Then when your normal working day is finished, stop and enjoy life. Leave work at work. If you are always working, at least in your head, you will exhaust yourself and bore friends and family to tears.


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