The Best Freelance Mistakes I’ve Ever Made

What I’m listening to: Hello by Adele

piece-of-paper-1241091-1280x960Wednesday already? It feels like it’s Monday and I just sat down at the computer. Not overly busy, but lots of busy work.

After a few weeks of absolute madness, I was glad for the chance to exhale. I spent time reflecting too on the way things have been going this year. Pretty good all around. Not perfect, but close.

So I asked myself what wasn’t perfect. Here’s what I came up with:

  • I took on too much at once
  • I worked with one or two clients despite the red flags waving
  • I didn’t stand my ground every time

That last item bugs me most, but it’s because it was most recent. The other imperfections were just as challenging. I got through them all. And once again, I learned from the imperfect situations.

We freelance writers learn the most from those situations that put our backs to the wall. Click To TweetWe’ve all made mistakes in the course of building a successful freelance writing career. Here are some of my mistakes, and why I think they were the best things that could have happened to me:

Caving in to pushy clients. Gawd, we’re kind of stupid when we’re new to freelancing, aren’t we? I remember being so eager to please that I took on every directive — every. single. one. Whether it was within the scope of work or not, I was going to please. Well, you know how that turns out. The minute a client like that is given the freedom to push, it’s not going to stop. That’s because you’ve now become their unofficial dumping ground/scapegoat/gopher. You take it, so why should they stop? Lesson learned: Boundaries establish you as a professional.

Taking on low-paying clients. See above, because honestly, the pushiest clients I’ve ever had were at the lowest end of the pay range. Low-paying clients often expect more work for less compensation. They tie up time and energies that could be spent finding someone who appreciates a good writer. You get stuck in the thinking that hey, that low rate is a stepping stone, a way to move up the scale. Only…you don’t. Writers tend to move laterally when hanging out with cheapskate clients. Click To Tweet They don’t tell their colleagues and associates that “She’s an excellent SEO writer” but rather “She’s cheap!” Your mother would be so proud. Lesson learned: If you don’t value your own skills enough to charge appropriately, you’ll not find clients who value those skills, either.

Working without a contract. Yes, I still work without formal contracts in some cases, but it has to be with a client who’s proven themselves — an upfront deposit, previous work, emailed confirmation of project/payment terms, or a recommendation from other writers. But walking into a brand-new situation with no contract meant I lost money when the client disappeared. The most I lost, thankfully, was $300, but it was enough to wake me up. Lesson learned: Trust must be earned on both sides of the writer/client relationship.

Agreeing to scope creep. It’s so easy for a client to say “Oh, I forgot. Could you do this, too?” Too easy because I’d agree to it. Then four or five more additions in, I’m looking for a polite way to say the freebies stop here. So I had to amend my approach. “Sure, I can do that this one time.” That’s helpful, yet there are limits clearly stated. Otherwise, you find yourself eleven interviews into an 800-word article and here’s the editor with interview #12 that she thinks must happen…. Lesson learned: It’s okay to put limits on the time you’re spending on any one project.

Letting the client dictate my work process. One of my earliest, most disastrous project outcomes, I let a pushy client dictate to me how I was to be delivering the project sections. Worse, he didn’t stick with his own process, which meant neither of us knew what was happening at any moment. Edits were lost, tempers flared, and I walked away with half of my expected fee. But from that point on, I took control of the process and have had multiple successes for other clients. Lesson learned: It may be their project, but it’s your process. Own it.

Saying yes when my gut said no. I’m a firm believer that a writer’s intuition is one of their strongest business tools. Yet a few times over the years I’ve ignored those instincts and agreed to projects that just didn’t feel right. In nearly every case, my instincts were right. Now, should I stick my hand back in that flame (hey, I get bored), I make sure I have an exit strategy. In one case, I charged for the initial consultation and fact-finding. And I went in knowing it could easily fall apart. That meant I was more likely to limit my time on that particular phase of the project. It worked, too. The client stuck around and the situation, while not perfect, managed to sort out to the satisfaction of us both. Lesson learned: Trust your gut and cover your ass.

Writers, what are the mistakes that have taught you the most?

In hindsight, would you have come to those conclusions on your own?

Have there been any mistakes that had no teachable moments? If so, what were they?

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