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7 top freelance writing mistakes new writers should avoid

New freelance writers often struggle with where to start. They look at content mills, bidding sites and places like Craigslist to start their experience in the freelance world. And they all make some of the same freelance writing mistakes.

These mistakes could be small spelling or grammar issues that go unnoticed until someone points them out or they could be more serious and detrimental to the business.

Yes, I’ve made plenty of freelance writing mistakes along the way. Some of them I could have avoided by not making one of the most important ones at the end of this blog post! There are mistakes that I will continue to make, because mistakes are part of learning. One mistake on this list I’ve only just rectified!

Here are the seven common mistakes that I believe new freelance writers make.

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1. Trying to take on too much work

When you’re starting out, you want as much work as possible. You don’t want to worry about your finances at any point.

When I started out, I was coming from a point of unemployment. I was so fed up with not having money that I took on as many projects that were being offered. I didn’t think for a minute about burn out — I never thought that would happen to me.

In theory, doing a lot will help you bring in money, but new freelance writers need to think about quality! When you do too much, you lose the quality and you start missing sleep to get everything done. You rush your writing just to make sure you can do everything in your diary.

When I first started, I had three deadlines that were all due within an 18 hour period. I constantly wrote. Took no breaks. Hardly ate. And drank way too much coffee! Needless to say that I was fed up — I wondered whether freelance writing was for me after all.

Part of the problem is taking on low paying work. Just because you’re new to the writing world doesn’t mean you have to work for $1/500 words (something I thought was the norm when starting out!).

You can get 1 cent, 10 cents and even $1 per word! That’s right PER WORD.

Low paying work leads to a lot of work to make a liveable wage but just isn’t worth it in the end. Spread out your deadlines and think about the amount you are charging.

2. New freelance writers put their eggs into one basket

Never ever put all your eggs into one basket. Eventually that basket will break!

Don’t rely on the one gig that you have right now. You never know when it will end. I’ve known websites start up and within 6 months close down. They were lucrative for that short period of time but what do you do when it all comes to an end?

This is one of those mistakes I managed to avoid, but more due to timing and observation than anything else. When I started writing, I joined a site with a supportive forum. Google had recently made changes and it meant one particular site saw a huge drop in views. Individuals lost out on a lot of money and they panicked: they had only relied on this one site for their income.

That was a lesson never to rely on one place. And I’m glad I followed that rule. I’ve lost clients that have been a huge chunk of income but never my total income. I’ve had the time to find new clients and replace that income.

Now I tend to drop a writing site or a client only when I’ve got something to replace the income with — even just a temporary measure until I find something better.

That doesn’t mean don’t take from it when you can. If the pay is good and the work is plentiful, definitely milk it for all it’s worth but remember to have other sources of income.

I always believe that no more than 25% of your income should come from one source. At the moment I’m running with 33% of my income from one source but I have a good client — but I am working on changing that.

What should you do as new freelance writers when there is limited work? Market yourself!

Always, always, always get out there and get your foot in doors. You could start your own blog where you can post samples or send query letters to magazines. The downtime is the perfect chance to do it.

3. New freelance writers don’t promote themselves

You read the last paragraph, right?

You need to market yourself to be found. There’s no point spending all your time writing – who will find you?

There are plenty of different marketing strategies to help you, including social media and video marketing. Email marketing is one of your best options so learn how to build your list! You could also cold call companies to find out if they need freelance writers.

It will take time to learn about marketing and how to utilise it but it is worth it in the end. With effective marketing, you will soon have prospects coming to you instead of you going to them.

The thing that stops so many writers is fear. Don’t let your fear rule it. You are good. You can write. You can tell a story. Now believe it and market yourself for more clients.

I admit that I didn’t do that great about marketing myself for a long time. I’ve made changes to that, especially in the last 12 months.

freelance writing mistakes

4. Working without a contract

There’s a reason employees have contracts. They and the employer are protected.

There’s a reason businesses have contracts when doing work. They and their clients/customers are protected.

You have a contract, right?

This is one of the biggest freelance writing mistakes that all new writers make. They don’t have contracts and then they wonder why they’re not paid.

Your writing contract needs to state the amount of work you will do, the pay you will receive for the work and the payment terms, among other things. This makes sure you both know the work that needs to be done and protects you from not being paid.

When working with a new client, always ask for 50% of the first month’s pay upfront and the rest upon completion. You could keep doing this for a few months while you build the trust. If you don’t, how do you know that the company is willing to stick to their payment schedule?

Another option is to have the money placed in an escrow account so that it is ready to send to you upon completion. As you build trust – I no longer ask for payments upfront from four UK clients because they have proven to be trustworthy – you can start accepting payments afterwards but still make sure they are in the contract.

I’ve been burned in the past because I didn’t have a contract in place. No, the contract doesn’t prevent all non-payers – I’ve recently had one – but they do offer some protection.

5. Missing your deadlines

Your computer stopped working. You have a family emergency. You’re sick.

All these are common excuses for missing deadlines. Yes, they may be legitimate excuses but that doesn’t mean missing deadlines is acceptable of new freelance writers. It’s not acceptable from any freelance writer – even those who have been in the business for 30+ years!

I’ve struggled with power cuts (I had a two-day one back in 2011) and meant that I couldn’t meet deadlines. My computer only had four hours of battery left and the internet was out.

What did I do? I got onto my phone, used the mobile internet and sent a message to my client. I asked for an extension but had a plan if that wasn’t possible. Luckily, the extension was.

What would I have done? I’d have taken a drive to somewhere with power and an internet connection. I knew the power cut was only my immediate area so I would have gone out of there, to a coffee shop and gotten on with work. If it was further, I’d have taken an hour drive to my in-laws and borrowed their internet and electricity.

But what about when you’re sick? Or there’s a family emergency?

The trick is to never leave your work to the last minute. Just because you have a deadline in a week doesn’t mean that it can wait four days before you start. I try to hand in all work three days early. That way I have time if something does come up.

Part of the missing deadlines problem is having too much work. There are still times that I cut it close but I try to avoid it as much as possible.

Missing deadlines, especially when you don’t get in touch, proves that you are unreliable. If your timekeeping is bad, what is your quality like? You will lose your new client and that could cause problems finding more.

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6. Not having a writing niche

This is one of those freelance writing mistakes that I’ve recently rectified. To be honest, there are lots of debate about this topic.

I sort of had a niche: I focused locally. But after moving, things had to change. I’ve rebranded my writing site to find clients, focusing on the niches that I enjoy the most. It was a big move and required some work, but it will help my marketing efforts.

You need to have a writing niche. There’s no point being a Jack of all trades and master of none. You won’t command the writing rate that you deserve, as you won’t be viewed as an expert. Focus on a niche and build your authority voice on the subject. Potential clients and Google will love you.

7. New writers don’t have mentors

And this is where I completely went wrong when I started. I didn’t think a mentor was worth my money or my time. Why hire someone to tell me things that I can find out for free online?

Well, there is so much more that you gain from having a business or writing mentor. When I finally hired one, I found that I had someone to bounce ideas off. I could seek help when I was in new water and I was able to get advice without spending days researching online.

Time is money in this business. All the time that I spend researching was time that I could have better spent marketing, writing, and reaching out to new clients. That research time was costing me money. Spending a little on a mentor was worthwhile just for that reason.

Of course, a writing mentor is also useful for accountability and learning from their mistakes. There are some mistakes that I’ve made in the past that I haven’t even included on here. They’re not the biggest writing mistakes but they are ones that you could do with avoiding.

I am available as a freelance writing mentor and coach to help you avoid more new freelance writing mistakes in the future. Let me help guide you to success.

Those are my top seven common mistakes that new freelance writers make. Don’t be one of them. Set out your business, market yourself like crazy and make sure you have a contract and stick to deadlines! You will soon find that you have clients coming for you and enough work to last you the year.

Have you had problems with freelance writing mistakes? Did you find that you made these during your first few months or that you made others that were just as important? Share them with me so other new freelance writers can learn from them.