7 (More) Sins of Freelance Writing

What I’m listening to: Coastin’ by Zion I 

Yesterday was just one of those days where nothing significant was accomplished. I was waiting for calls, emails, and responses so I could get a project moving. I’m still waiting.

I did get to talk with a new client prospect, and I hope I was able to help him a little even in our initial conversation. He has a neat business, and I’m happy he wants me to be part of getting the company more brand recognition. I’m looking forward to it.

I was reading some forums yesterday and noticed a lot of the same thing happening. Maybe it’s because there are always new writers entering the profession, but the same questions I saw 13 years ago are still being asked. Moreover, the same mistakes are being made.

I wrote about the Seven Deadly Freelance Sins nearly six years ago. The seven things I wrote about then still hold true – writers don’t market, don’t stick with it, don’t follow up….but more is happening that makes me think that list is growing.

#1: You look to others for your rate. Hey, I get it.  You’re new to this. You don’t know what to charge, so you ask other writers and you think you’ll just use their rates. Here’s what wrong with that tactic: those writers may not be charging enough. Or they may be charging a ton based on some very specialized skills. While it’s okay to ask, don’t think the prices you hear are necessarily ones that you should adopt verbatim. Here’s a better idea — set your own rate and use tools like All Indie Writer’s Rate Calculator to find your number.

#2: You’re still searching passively. Yes, you can find clients via job boards. Yes, you’ll earn a living that way. Yes, you might find a client who’s willing to negotiate with you. However, you’re putting your earnings decisions in the hands of strangers. By responding to an ad with a stated rate, you’ve just agreed to work for someone else’s rate, not necessarily your own. Also, passive client searches mean you’re going to see a lot of one-and-done jobs. Plus, a passive job search doesn’t scream “professional writer” to clients. It more or less shouts “employee without benefits.”

#3: You’re relying on others to do your homework. That’s a pretty common mistake when you’re new to freelance writing. You ask blanket questions. You follow up with questions that you could easily get answers to via an internet search. You pump every drop of info from someone who was kind enough to answer that blanket question and not let you hang for fear that you’d pump every drop of info from them. If you aren't willing to do the research, your freelance writing career will not grow. Period. Click To Tweet

#4: You’re still not sure how to do X or Y. You go to the forums, ask advice, then…what exactly? Do you try applying the advice? Do you search for more info elsewhere? Do you adapt anything that resonates? Or do you think “Cool. I’ll try that. Tomorrow”? If you want to know how to market, teach yourself how. If you want to learn how to network, read and apply what you’ve learned. You are solely responsible for the outcome of your career. If you’re two years or more into your career and you’re still asking the same questions, you’re not trying. You’re waiting. My question is what exactly are you waiting for?

#5: You still think there’s a magic formula for success. I watched with discomfort as one conversation unfolded on a forum. Writer A was asking Writer B to tell him the formula for her success. He was certain that if he asked three times and rephrased the question, the secret to success would come tumbling out of her. Here's the secret to freelance success: consistent hard work. Click To Tweet

#6: You’re not asserting boundaries. While most clients are respectful of your professionalism, there are a handful who will test your ability to say no. Since most of us writers are introverts to some extent, we’re relying on our creativity to charm them into submission. Good luck with that when you get a client who’s trying to avoid payment by bitching about the results three months after the invoice was due. Practice how you’ll handle complaints, pushy requests, and demands that go beyond the project scope. Write it down. Then before you respond, pause. Think it through for at least 12 hours. If you need advice, ask your writing circle. Then do what’s best for your business.

#7: You’re not making it easy to be found. I just talked with a client who found me online. He needs someone with specialized knowledge. Had I not had any kind of online presence, he wouldn’t have found me. Do you need an online presence? In my opinion, yes. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get some mileage out of connecting with people offline. While online means those clients you’re unaware of can locate you first, you can still find quality clients without a huge online footprint. I wouldn’t recommend it because you’re going to have to work a lot harder at marketing, but that, like all business decisions, is up to you.


Writers, what do you think are the deadliest sins a writer can commit?

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