It would be ridiculous of me to say I’m not guilty of any of these. In many ways, what I’m saying here should serve as a warning to everyone. These ten mistakes will set your freelance writing business behind. They will keep you running on the never-ending treadmill to nowhere. It’s one thing to scrape by, and another to grow your business. Don’t do these things, and you’ll avoid the former.
1.) Not getting a byline.
You know all of those ghost writing ebook projects you keep bidding on at Elance? They might be good for you now (they pay the bills), but they’ll come back to bite you in the future. Why? Simply put, you can’t publicly take credit for them. They’re attributed to someone else’s name, so it’s almost as if they flat out don’t exist in your portfolio. You know you did them, but your clients don’t, and that makes it hard for you to advertise yourself to others.
You need to search for opportunities outside of the bidding sites. They’re harder to get, but they’re worth it. You’ll get actual publicity that you can point to, live content that you can show to your prospective clients. It’s incredibly hard to build a portfolio on ghost written projects alone. Give it some hard thought the next time someone pitches one to you.
2.) Not building a website.
When all of your projects go through the bidding sites or Craigslist, you’re allowing those sites to control the conversation. That kind of sucks because I can tell you for a fact that a lot of people go to those sites to get a bargain. You can find good clients there, but the best ones are more likely come to you through your own website.
When you build your own website, you start to grab ahold of the conversation. You appear as an authority figure in your discipline. Add in a nice big portfolio, and clients will start to take you more seriously. Why get paid pennies for work you can’t be proud of when you can become a leader and truly get noticed?
3.) Charging too little.
I once spent nearly a month doing a project that amounted to 500 dollars. I will never ever do that again! Do you want to know what the worst part of it was? It was some stupid ebook project, so I never got a byline. I pretty much gave up a chunk of my life and walked away with nothing to show for it.
Think of it this way. There isn’t a chance in hell that a low-paying project will have any degree of prestige attached to it. Don’t think about how you feel right now. Think about how you’re going to feel in a few years. When all you’ve got in your portfolio are these low-paying article spam jobs, you’ll wish you’d spent your time doing something else.
4.) Burning bridges.
This is a hard one because you sometimes need to burn a bridge that’s genuinely making your life difficult. Just realize that there’s a cost attached to it, and it’s greater than the mere pay you’re getting. You want clients who will refer you to others. You want a badge of pride you can put on your website to show others that you did a great job. If you burn a bridge, you can’t do that anymore. What a bummer.
5.) Not being prolific.
I’ve already got 52 blog posts and counting. I keep adding more and more content to this website because I just have to do it. There was once a study conducted on artists. They found that the artists who made twenty paintings in a very short period of time had a better overall technique than those who focused intently on just one painting.
I think the same thing applies to writing. To get really good at it, you just have to write and write and write. I write at least a thousand words a day, and I think nothing of it. That’s the sort of mindset you need to have to be successful.
6.) Wasting time on uninspiring projects.
Have you ever had a project that just made you yawn the moment you began? That’s a big sign you need to do something else. My worst writing happens when I’m tired and uninspired. My best writing happens when I get the spark of an idea and just run with it.
Don’t do uninspiring projects. You’ll spend all day napping on the sofa, and you’ll have nothing to show for it.
7.) Not killing bad client relationships before they turn into something worse.
Some clients will drive you up the wall with multiple revisions and crazy deadlines. If I ever feel a constant pressure from a client, I think of a way to end the relationship. I want my clients to be critical, of course, but I don’t want them to be so critical that they’re tearing apart everything I write. If they’re that unhappy all the time, they should probably be working with someone else.
Don’t do what I’ve done and continue to work with these people, hoping everything will be fine. It won’t. You’ll just end up miserable when you get a project back and they’re angrier than ever before. These relationships are a cancer. They must die, and it must happen sooner rather than later.
8.) Not taking the occasional break from writing.
I started up an iPhone app development company because I wanted to have an extra source of income that wasn’t based on writing. I couldn’t be happier that I’ve done it. It’s made me more sane overall, and now that I’m back in the swing of things and blogging regularly, I feel a lot more inspired.
Writing is great and everything, but iPhone apps and computer code know no emotion. There are no revisions. They either work or they don’t work. If you get them to work, you win. Simple as that. I need more of that in my life.
9.) Freaking out when you don’t have any work.
Trust me, it’s going to be okay. The clients will come rolling in soon. If you don’t have any work right now, take your time and do something genuinely productive with it. If you sit around and worry about who is going to respond to your bids and emails, you’re wasting time you could be spending on more important things like building your web presence.
The Chinese have a saying. “No man who rises before dawn 365 days a year fails to make his family rich.” Just keep chipping away at this. Eventually you’ll get what you want, and it will happen when you least expect it.
10.) Not using the power of deadlines to work faster.
I am by no means saying you should procrastinate. What I am saying is you need to work somewhat close to your deadlines while spending the rest of your time on marketing yourself. I find that if I begin a project too early, I just end up doing it more slowly. I’d much rather feel the pressure of a looming deadline. It makes my time more productive.
Now there is one case where this doesn’t work to your benefit, and that’s when you’ve got a new client. New clients will want you to correspond with them right away. This is when you should impress them with your speed. Get it done as fast as possible, and there’s a good chance you’ll get more work from that client. If you wait until the last second, you’ll leave a bad impression.
At the end of the day, you have to think of your future self. You don’t want to find yourself looking through all the work you’ve done over the years, only to find out that there isn’t much you’re proud of. This is your career, after all. The projects you’re bidding on might pay the bills today, but what will they do for you tomorrow? You can’t build a career on spammy SEO articles. You need real writing samples. You need to work for companies and clients that matter.