4 Assumptions That Hurt Your Freelance Writing Career

What I’m listening to: Entitlement by Jack White

Finally, a rest.

This is my week away from the computer, away from email, and away from work. Every year, it seems my time off gets kicked further down the road, and this year it was nearly jeopardized by yet more work coming in. However, I did what I needed to do — I said no where I had to and pushed back the rest.

The well is dry. Time to recharge.

Last week was slow because I’d worked ahead the week before. I wanted to have a little more time to arrange my schedule, get some appointments in, and work on a longer project. It’s nice to have a slow pace going into my week off. I feel ready.

I had some time last week to hang out in writing forums and read some blogs. Some of the beliefs that some freelancers hold are a tad shocking, and there they are, sharing these whacky notions online.

Let’s hope their clients are reading.

But there are some odd misconceptions out there — let’s call them assumptions — that are clearly holding people back. Moreover, by sharing these notions, they’re helping other writers get stuck in the same mire.

Here are a few things that, if you buy them verbatim, could hurt your career:

Freelance writers can only charge what the market will bear.

Clearly, the bearer of this bad bit of wisdom has never purchased anything from Starbucks. The price of a large coffee (freshly brewed) at Starbucks is approximately $2.25. The price for the same size at McDonald’s? 99 cents. And yet people line up to buy the more expensive coffee. Why? Because the clients are different. The McDonald’s clients, in general, are there for the price (though I’m told their coffee is pretty darn good). Starbucks customers aren’t shopping on price — they’re after the experience, possibly the image, more likely the notion that they’re treating themselves. Freelancers, if you’re charging like McDonald’s, you’re getting people who are putting price ahead of everything. If you’re pricing like Starbucks, you’re attracting clients for whom price isn’t the first consideration. The market has little (if any) bearing on your price. You are worth what you charge, and there are clients at all price levels.

Writing a “free sample” is a must if you want the gig.

Yes, someone on a forum actually said that he’d been in the industry for decades and the free sample request is common practice. What’s missing from this commentary — at what level this writer is working at, how much he’s struggled, who he’s targeting in terms of a client, and why he still accepts that practice after what appears to be nearly 40 years of freelancing.

No. You do not have to provide free samples (or free anything) to a potential client. If you’ve been working for any length of time, you have samples. Provide those. Or ask for a stipend for the sample (nothing for free). In fact, if you’ve consistently moved yourself up the client food chain, you should be working with clients who are not in the practice of asking for samples. Most higher-level clients will ask for your background and some examples of what you’ve done, but rare is the client who will ask for freebies. If they do, you simply explain that you can’t provide free samples, but you’re quite willing to share your existing samples with them.

Like-minded people make great friends.

Not in every case, but in forums where writers are echoing your fears and depressed thoughts –“Yep, that’s all you can charge” or “Hey, don’t expect much if you’re a freelancer” — you’re going to reinforce your negative notions and actually see people promote bad behavior (“Sign up at ContentMillsRGreat.com and you’ll see plenty of jobs!”). If you want to break out of a rut, climb out of the rut and leave it behind. 

Then locate some writers who are actually achieving the goals you’re wanting to achieve yourself. Hang out with successful writers. Learn to be like them by asking questions, listening to what they’re talking about, and adapting your approach to put yourself on a more lucrative path.

There’s no such thing as a stupid question about freelancing.

And like most things in life, there are exceptions to every rule. Here’s the exception: you can indeed ask a stupid question about freelancing. It’s this one: “How do I get started?”

Okay, stupid isn’t the right word — lazy is. It shows you’ve not bothered to do any work for yourself. You’ve not researched how to start a freelance writing business, not read blogs or books or forums that already answer that question in at least seventeen different ways per week. You’ve not read primers on how to get going, where to find clients, or what pitfalls to avoid. You’ve just put a question out there that you hope someone will answer in enough detail that you’ll have a ready-made template for running a freelance writing business. Do yourself a favor — do some of the legwork now or just forget freelancing. You have to want this badly enough that you’ll put the energy and commitment behind it. Asking others to do that for you won’t get you any closer to a lucrative freelance career.

Writers, what assumptions have you seen that are hurting freelance writing careers?

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