10 Things That Could Destroy Your Freelance Writing Career

freelance writing tips

Young freelance writers who are just starting out experience the same fear of disappointing a client and never finding another writing job again. Doubt is paralyzing, crippling, and terrifying. It’s the one feeling you must rid yourself of if you ever want to fulfill a long career as a freelance writer.

It takes years to brand yourself, build trust and establish a stable clientele. However, all this could be jeopardized in seconds if you make career-ending mistakes. This article discusses habits and psychological traits and highlights other mistakes you might be making that is costing you clients.

[bctt tweet=”It takes years to brand yourself, build trust and establish a stable clientele. However, all this could be jeopardized in seconds if you make simple yet career-ending mistakes. ” username=”freelancewj”]

Which mistakes are you making as a freelancer?

1. Doubting yourself

Some freelancers have to quit their day job to dedicate themselves to a full-time writing career. Seasoned writers like Alice Munro and Dean Koontz almost let self-doubt ruin their careers. There are many questions running through your mind on a daily basis.

Will I make enough money to feed my family? Will my pitch bring in new clients? Am I really good enough to be a professional writer? What if I never get any work?

The first step is to kill that feeling of doubt and never second-guess your decision to become a professional writer. You’re bound to receive some negative criticism from experienced writers, but take it on the chin and learn from the best.

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2. Selling yourself short

While it’s true that you can’t command huge fees in your first year, this doesn’t mean you have to sell your writing services lower than the cost of a cup of Pepsi at KFC. If you sell yourself cheap, all you’ll get is $0.3 per word contracts, which aren’t enough to put a roof over your head in most cities. If you’re a good writer who provides value that meets the client’s needs, you should get paid more.

[bctt tweet=”You have the right to negotiate your rates and to say ‘no’ to low pay as a freelance writer.” username=”freelancewj”]

You have the right to negotiate your rates and to say ‘no’ to low pay. Cheap prices hurt your career and professionalism.

3. Allowing criticism and rejection to kill your confidence

Writers are artists. We take everything to heart and if someone utters a mean word, we can easily feel heartbroken. Not so for experienced writers who’ve had years of practice receiving criticism from clients and colleagues within the profession. Some clients are harsher than others. They’ll critique every little grammatical error or inappropriate wording, but always look on the positive side of every criticism and don’t linger too long on it.

4. Fearing mistakes

Carol Tice is an accomplished freelance writer who has won many accolades for providing useful resources that have helped thousands of freelancers. Yet she has also made a lot of mistakes in the course of her freelance writing career: spelling errors, getting the brief wrong, gathering piles of rejected pitches, and putting the wrong foot forward.

However, she kept moving in spite of all that. You’re human, so expect to make mistakes sometimes. There are millions of writing jobs that are snapped up every year. People forgive and move on. Focus on your work and in time, you’ll build a great reputation.

5. Procrastinating

What do writers need to get started with their freelance career? A PC, internet access, and booking gigs to begin with. If you want to secure more jobs, you simply have to set up a blog using good web hosting like the ones offered at Umbrellar. Sadly, if you never take the right steps, you’ll have to compete with hundreds of writers on sites like Upwork, where writers are always willing to slash their fees to find work.

[bctt tweet=”Procrastination has killed many a freelance writing career and you have to stop it before it destroys yours.” username=”freelancewj”]

Stop procrastinating and take those steps that will make you a better writer today. Procrastination has killed many a freelance writing career and you have to stop it before it destroys yours.

6. Lying about your expertise

You don’t become an expert simply by conducting research and piecing together information. Claiming to be an expert to earn more money in your field is a huge mistake. Experts have years of experience in their industry. When they speak, people listen, because they’re sharing reliable, trustworthy information that encourages clients to pay more for their services. Trust is essential in the world of freelancing. Don’t lie to your client about your credentials.

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7. Sending lengthy pitch emails

Do you know how many emails editors receive daily from freelancers? Probably hundreds. They can’t read all of them, which means they’ll skim through and skip those long emails. Check the length of your pitch emails and your response to an editor’s request. Don’t use paragraphs where sentences will suffice. Use direct questions that will be answered quickly and always keep it short and straight to the point.

8. Pitching topics instead of stories

Before pitching an editor, you’re not required to secure the sources, but if you’re being specific, it helps. For example, if the topic is “The effect of the Christchurch earthquake on the Australian economy,” a story would be “I want to shadow some families who were affected by the earthquake to track how they’ve adjusted since the incident.”

Pitch a story, not a topic. For this example, ensure you have actual families lined up, who you’ll be interviewing for your story.

9. Missing deadlines

All professionals must commit to deadlines. It’s not optional, except in emergencies where it can’t be helped.

[bctt tweet=”Deadlines are NOT optional. #freelancing #freelancewriting” username=”freelancewj”]

Don’t be too quick to give the client a date. Factor in elements like the time it would take to conduct proper research, as well as the difficulty level involved. Leave enough room for your day to day for life too. Smart freelancers always include unexpected delays like computer crashes or having a slight cold when setting a deadline. This ensures that even when you’re behind on work, you have sufficient time to meet the deadline.

10. Working without a contract

Big mistake. No freelancer should work without a contract, however scary they might look. It’s scarier when you have to return a payment because a client isn’t pleased with your work. You don’t have to use technical legal grammar to draft a contract. Just make sure the client understands your terms and conditions. Put them in a document, sign it, and send it to the client to countersign. There, you’re all set. Here’s a guide that will help you create a freelance writing contract.

DON’T do the above ⬆️ and propel your freelance writing career forward

The great thing about a freelancing career is that you’re constantly learning, even when you’re an expert. Be confident in your abilities and keep your customers happy. Don’t sell yourself cheaply. Send out your pitches in short emails. Keep a few dates free at the end of the month to evaluate your work and check for errors you might be making frequently. Mistakes won’t hurt your business if you learn fast.

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This post was written by James Cummings. He is a digital media expert, writer, and business psychologist. He is an experienced senior manager who has helped build and deliver top-level web solutions on multiple projects across a variety of niches to some of the world’s leading brands. Working with highly skilled and dedicated staff from all around the world, including the UK and US, James currently has over 40 WordPress properties. See more here.

[First published in 2018; updated November 2022]






3 responses
  1. Lisa Jo Rudy Avatar

    Although confidence and action are, obviously, key to success, I simply don’t understand how you can say ” If you want to secure more jobs, you simply have to set up a blog using good web hosting like the ones offered at Umbrellar.” That’s nonsense!

    Editors don’t troll young writers’ blogs to find someone to hire unless they, themselves, are at the bottom of the barrel with nothing to offer. In fact, self-started individual blogs (unless they’ve already gone viral) are simply a form of vanity press: they allow you to have written something. If it’s extraordinary, with scads of followers, focused on and monetized for a specific area of interest, it can become a legit and useful work sample; if it’s anything less than extraordinary it’s just stuff you wrote.

    To secure jobs of work you need experience, clips, references, and the ability to network through friends/contacts OR apply successfully for opportunities advertised online or in other ways.

    1. Tamra Bolton Avatar
      Tamra Bolton

      I agree with Lisa, you have to reach out, make contacts, and look for opportunities and be proactive. Just having a good website /blog is no guarantee of jobs, most blogs are lost among the millions. Do something extraordinary and you might get noticed, otherwise, you are just another noise on the Internet.

  2. Nick Avatar

    $.3 per word would mean $300 for a 1000 blog post – arguably pretty fantastic pay. Perhaps you meant $.03

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