4 Mistakes You Should Avoid When Working as a Freelance Writer
Working for family for free is just one of them! Find out what other three mistakes you could make that could derail your business.
5 min read
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The following excerpt is from Laura Pennington Briggs’ book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple Books | IndieBound
One of the easiest ways to grow your business is to avoid making preventable mistakes. You can speed up your path to success by avoiding the following mistakes.
1. Working for friends and family
Many people in your immediate circle might be excited to help you start or grow your business. You might be interested in the prospect of helping them with a project they don’t want to do or don’t have time to do. This is a best-case scenario when working for someone you know. In the worst-case scenario, however, a friend or family member might not have any clue about market rates for freelance projects. They might assume that they’re entitled to a steep discount because they know you. And worst of all, if the business relationship goes south, your friendship or relationship could be damaged.
Another possible downside to working with someone you know is it can be hard to separate your personal and business life. For example, consider the tension that could be created if you’re working for a friend whom you’re connected to on social media and you’re late on their project. If that friend sees you posting pictures of your latest outing when their project is overdue, bad blood can ensue.
If you choose to work with someone you know, go the extra step of explaining your process. Someone who doesn’t fully understand your world as a freelance writer might need help understanding that you don’t work for them alone and that you could be busy with multiple projects at once. Before committing to work together, offer a basic overview of what they can expect.
2. Taking on low-paying, high-stress clients
As a new freelance writer, you’ll probably be excited when anyone offers you work. But this also means that it’s far too easy to end up in a cycle working for clients who don’t pay you enough. Considering the relatively low minimum wage and the challenges of leaving your house to pursue other income in a more traditional part-time job, an offer to pay you $0.05 per word might seem like a good deal.
But then when you sit down and factor in how much work you had to do to land that client, research the ideas, write and complete the work, you realize you might be making minimum wage or less. As a newbie, it’s common to accept lower rates than what you’d take if you’d been in business for a decade. But the truth is that you can’t live on low wages forever, and it also doesn’t reflect your growing experience and talent.
As your freelance writing ability and client list grows, so too will your rates. Don’t beat yourself up if you suddenly come to the realization that you’re charging way too little. Either fire these clients once you’ve replaced the income with someone better or tell the client that your rates are going up, including an effective date, and give them the choice to pay your higher rates or to move on.
3. Plagiarizing other’s work
In the business world, there’s no faster way to burn bridges as a freelance writer than to copy someone else’s work. It’s bad business, and even if you’re lucky enough to slide by once, why would you want to? Eventually, your clients will find out and be disappointed, and you will have lost their business and any jobs they might have referred your way.
This is a lazy way to approach your freelance writing business and not ever worth the risk. I’ve worked with dozens of clients who came to me after they discovered that another writer was plagiarizing, so just assume your clients are checking your work for originality. Having a unique style and approach to each project makes you more marketable anyway.
4. Overbooking yourself
It’s a new freelance writer’s dream — and worst nightmare — to be so overbooked that you miss deadlines and upset current clients. There’s no easy well to tell what your own schedule should look like since this depends on the time you have available. One freelance writer might be comfortable cranking out 10 articles a day whereas another feels totally exhausted after doing the research for one.
If you start to feel like you’re barely keeping up with your projects or that you’re making mistakes and clients are making comments about it, this is a key sign that you could be overbooked. But there’s an upside to being overbooked once you dig yourself out of the weeds: It’s time to raise your prices. There’s obviously a demand for your services when you have so many clients that you can’t keep up with your current projects, so it might be time for you to raise your rates for any new clients you take on.
It can take some time to find your footing as a freelancer, and you’re likely to realize your own limits just after you’ve passed them. It’s a good reminder to decide how best to handle the situation so that it doesn’t happen again. If you’re overbooked, you might need to log some extra time in front of the computer, let a client go, or raise your rates immediately since there’s such a high demand for your talents.