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On paper, freelance writing sounds like living the dream. In many ways, it is. You get to pick your hours, set your price, and work on jobs that appeal to you (if you’re lucky). And yes, you get to lounge around in your pyjamas and scoff donuts if you so desire; the freedom’s there if you want it.
However, like any job, it’s not all a bed of roses. There are a few pitfalls associated with freelance writing, and if you’re not aware of them, they can cause serious headaches.
Here are a few of the most common freelance writing mistakes… and how to avoid them.
Failing to get a solid brief.
Bragging to excess.
When you’re starting out, it’s tempting to ‘big yourself up’ a bit. After all, you’re a small fish in a whopping great pond, so you need to stand out. However, start making out like you’re the next Pulitzer Prize winner, and you’re setting yourself up for problems. Emphasise your good points, but don’t over-exaggerate your talents. It’ll only bite you in the ass when you can’t live up to your own hype.
Working on a topic you know nothing about.
You’ve probably got specialisms – subjects that you know really well. That’s brilliant, and it’s a good idea to target your job search based on that. Occasionally, you might have to take on writing jobs that aren’t your speciality (trust me, I’ve written about welding supplies, virtual servers and African crop cycles before – it can be done!). However, I’d advise against accepting a job that’s 100% out of your comfort zone. If you don’t have the first idea where to even start with it, it’ll take you far longer than you expect. Five words – Waste. Of. Time. And. Money.
Failing to manage expectations.
Most clients are very reasonable. They’re realistic about what they expect from you, and if anything is amiss, they’ll simply request changes. This isn’t always the case though, so don’t get complacent. Some people have crazy expectations – they’ll hire you to ghost-write their book, then complain that it didn’t make it to the New York Times bestsellers list (yes, that really did happen to me once), or they’ll ask you to create a blog post, then blame you when it fails to generate five hundred sales in the first week as a direct result. Find out exactly what they want to achieve from the project and take it from there.
Charging too low.
This is a major bugbear of mine. Sure, when you’re starting out, you might charge less - especially if you lack the experience to qualify for a higher rate. That’s perfectly normal and you shouldn’t feel bad about it - we all start somewhere. However, if you’re charging crazily low rates (I’m talking about $5 an article – that type of thing), then what you’re ultimately doing is giving clients worldwide a false impression of how much work is involved. Also – start too low, and it’s incredibly hard to build it up to a rate that works for you, unless you’re happy to wait several years to start earning proper money.
Pouring out poor quality work.
Yeah, it’s tempting to give ‘em any old waffle, especially if you feel like you’re not charging enough. My advice? Resist. If you start to get a reputation as a poor-quality writer, you won’t win future gigs. Simple as that.
Bad mouthing clients.
When a job goes wrong, your instinct is likely to be a) punch the wall, then b) get on social media and start moaning about it. This is never a good idea, as it’s uncanny how often things get back to clients. Again, it’s all about reputation, and you want to be known as one of the good guys, not one of the ‘precious writers’ who freaks at any problem, no matter how minor.
Not managing time effectively.
When they start out, most freelancers end up working very long hours for not much reward. Part of the problem? They failed to manage their time properly. When writing an article, time yourself. Then you’ll know how many you can realistically take on each week. Remember, it’s not just the writing. You need to factor in research, proofreading, amendments (if required), plus communication with clients. Trust me, it’s amazing how much time can be wasted just replying to emails each day.
Failing to separate family and work.
When you work from home, your job never leaves you. It’s always there, intruding on your private life. That’s probably the worst part of it, if I’m being honest. Work emails constantly pinging on your smartphone. Your work laptop, lying on the dining room table, insisting that you spend just half an hour or so finishing an article. Be firm with yourself. Establish working hours and stick to them, no matter what. Clients are human too – they’ll understand if you don’t reply immediately!
Not having a longer-term game plan.
If you’re serious about freelance writing, it’s a good idea to have a solid plan in place. Where do you want to be in a few years’ time? How much do you think you should be earning (and most importantly, how many articles will you need to write each week to achieve it)? It’s the same as any business – you need to strategise.