Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy. In fact, many freelance writers never make any money at all, or they give up entirely after a few months.
But you’re going to be different, mama! Because the truth is you’re in control of your own success (or failure) — and you’re about to discover the 7 most common mistakes freelance writers make that guarantee they’ll fail. If you want to succeed in the freelance writing world, avoid these at all costs!
Don’t Treat Your Business Like a Business
The biggest reason most freelancers (not just writers, but anyone in the freelance world) fail is this: they don’t treat their freelance business like a real business.
People seem to think that because the word “freelance” is in there, it’s not a real business. It’s just a side hustle or a hobby.
But there are freelancers making multiple six-figure incomes and beyond, and they only get to that level by showing up as a professional.
If you want to make serious money with your writing and have clients lining up for your services, you need to start treating it like a business from day one. That means:
- Getting a domain and creating a nice website with a portfolio of your best work
- Investing in your skills so you’re always leveling up and getting better results for your clients
- Using a professional email address (not email@example.com!)
- Treating clients with respect and professionalism (clear communication, meeting deadlines, showing up on time to meetings, having a contract, etc.)
- Using a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software to track your leads and clients
- Taking payments in a variety of ways based on what’s best for your client
- Registering with your state and filing taxes when you should (and for the right amount!)
It took me a few years to really dial in my freelance writing business and treat it like a real business, but once I did, everything became easier AND more profitable!
Don’t Have a Solid Business Plan or Goals in Place
Part of treating your business like a business is having a plan and setting goals. You need to know what you’re working towards so you can put systems and strategies in place to get there.
When I first started, my goal was simply to make enough money to leave my terrible restaurant job. That gave me motivation, and I was able to focus my efforts on finding and working with clients that actually paid well.
But as my business grew, I realized I needed to get more specific with my goals:
- What did I want my business to look like?
- How much money did I want to make in the next 5 years, 10 years, or more?
- What kind of clients did I want to work with?
- What services did I want to offer?
Asking yourself these questions will help you create goals that are attainable and specific. Without them, you’ll just be flailing around aimlessly, hoping to make some money.
But with goals in place, you can take specific actions that will help you achieve the results you want.
Deadlines are important too. Mile-markers that are tied to a specific date help keep you accountable and on track.
If one of your goals is to make $5,000 per month from your freelance writing by the end of the year (which is totally doable!), then you need to break that down into smaller goals with deadlines so you know exactly what needs to be done and when.
Don’t Market Yourself Consistently
The feast or famine cycle is real, my friend. And it’s one of the biggest struggles freelance writers face.
When you initially start out, your focus is on lead generation and marketing. You obviously need to start getting clients, so you’re hustling and putting yourself out there…
And it’s working! You land a few clients and think, “I’ve got this freelance writing thing down!”
But then something happens…
All your energy starts going towards project fulfillment. You are busy with client work and so you stop marketing yourself.
And what happens when those projects end?
The leads dry up and the work starts to dwindle…
Stress sets in as you wonder where your next paycheck is going to come from…
And then you’re approaching every lead out of desperation (and nothing pushes away potential clients more than a scarcity mindset!)…
For many freelancers, this is where they give up.
Or maybe they push through this cycle a few more times (market like crazy, land some new clients, get busy with projects, stop marketing, watch the work dry up again…), but then they get frustrated and finally give up.
If you want to be a successful freelance writer, you have to break this cycle.
And the only way to do that is to market yourself CONSISTENTLY. Even when you don’t “need” new clients.
That way, you always have a pipeline of leads and you’re never scrambling to find new work. I would rather be booked out 2 months in advance and have a waiting list, then be freaking out about an empty calendar.
You really have to be intentional about this. Schedule time for marketing activities every week, and make sure you stick to it!
Here are just a few ideas to market your freelance writing business:
- Post on your professional social media pages
- Reach out to potential clients directly on social media
- Share advice and comment on posts in Facebook groups that have your ideal client in them
- Send cold emails
- Be a guest on a podcast
- Write a guest blog for other companies in your niche
- Attend networking events (online or in person)
There are endless possibilities, but DON’T do them all at once. You’ll just get overwhelmed and stop marketing (and then you’ll be back in that vicious feast or famine cycle!). Instead, find the one lead generation strategy that you like best and that also has the best results — and then stick to it!
Take On Too Many Clients at Once
Having a ton of work is a great problem to have, right? Wrong. At least, not if you want to build a sustainable freelance writing career.
See, when you take on too many clients at once, you end up spreading yourself too thin. You’re rushed and stressed out all the time, trying to keep up with everyone’s deadlines. Your work suffers and (more important) so do your relationships.
As a mom, your family should always come first. The whole point of becoming a freelance writer in the first place was to have more time and flexibility for your family, not less!
So if you’re constantly working and never have any time for your kids, what’s the point?
You might as well just get a traditional job.
I’ve had a few seasons where I’ve made the wrong decision and taken on too many clients. It made me miserable and I wasn’t present with my family. I was always thinking about work, even when I was “off the clock.”
Now, I only work with 3-4 clients at a time. And I only take on projects that I know I can complete without too much stress. This allows me to provide my best work for my clients, and also have plenty of time for my family.
Focus on quality over quantity. It’s better to have fewer clients that you can give your full attention to, than a bunch of clients that are getting mediocre work and stressing you out.
Don’t Set Rates That Reflect the Value of Your Work
When you’re just starting out as a freelance writer, it can be tempting to low-ball your rates in order to try and land some clients.
I get it. I’ve been there. I had a few projects in the beginning where I wound up making less than minimum wage because I didn’t know any better.
But here’s the thing: if you don’t value your work, no one else will either.
And that’s when you end up with cheap clients (who tend to be the most demanding and high-maintenance). They don’t pay well and they don’t respect your time or effort.
It’s not worth it. You’ll end up working yourself to the bone for pennies.
You need to realize that you’re a business, and businesses need to make a profit to survive. If you’re not making a profit, you’re going to be out of business very quickly. And then you can’t help anyone, including yourself or your family.
I don’t love the expression “charge what you’re worth” because you are worth so much more than just a career, or a skill set, or a service. You were uniquely and wonderfully made, and you have a lot more to offer the world than your writing business…
That being said, I understand the sentiment — and I do think it’s important to make sure that you’re charging enough to cover your costs and make a profit.
It also helps to understand how your rates stack-up against other writers in your niche. If you’re just starting out, you may need to charge a bit less than established writers. But as you gain more experience, and produce better quality work, you can increase your rates.
So instead of “charging what you’re worth,” focus on setting rates that reflect the true value of the results you deliver.
That means being honest with yourself about your skills, experience, and the time it will take you to deliver quality work. Once you have a good understanding of those things, you can start to set rates that will not only cover your costs, but also ensure that you’re making a profit.
If you’re not sure where to start, here’s what I did in the beginning:
- I looked at what other writers in my niche were charging for the services I wanted to offer (you can usually get a rough idea by Googling for writer websites, searching in Facebook Groups, or looking at the average rates released by AWAI)
- I decided how long different projects might take me to complete, including any meetings with the client, research, writing, editing and revisions (this takes some trial and error…projects always seem to take longer in the beginning so add buffer time)
- I charged a flat-rate project fee that was consistent with the low-end of what other professional writers were charging (key word: PROFESSIONAL! Don’t try to match the lowest rates you can find — you can NOT compete with overseas “writers” who will work for next to nothing)
- After I had 3 happy clients, I raised my rates. After the next 3 happy clients, I raised them again.
Continue to raise your rates as you get more experience and testimonials. If you can tie your results as a writer directly to the return on investment for your clients, you can charge even more!
Don’t Deliver Work on Time
This should be obvious, but it’s a major issue! If you said you could complete a project by XYZ date…then DO IT!
That may mean cramming in some extra hours, making some sacrifices, or even outsourcing parts of the project out to someone else. But find a way to get your work turned in when you said you would.
In my 6+ years as a copywriter, I have NEVER missed a deadline. In fact, I always deliver my work a few days early. This shows my clients that I’m reliable, and it helps me to stand out from other freelancers who might not be as timely.
And honestly, your writing doesn’t even have to be as good as the other person’s…
A lot of clients have been burned by writers who make promises and don’t deliver.
So if you can turn in projects on time, that alone will put you ahead of most of your competition.
If you find that you’re consistently missing deadlines, it’s time to take a good, hard look at your business practices:
- Are you taking on too many projects?
- Do you need to give yourself more buffer time?
- Is the industry too technical or complex for you to be able to write quality work in the time frame you’re giving yourself?
- Do you procrastinate?
There are a lot of factors that can contribute to missed deadlines, but if it’s a consistent issue, then you need to address it.
I understand that life can get in the way, so if you absolutely can’t make a deadline, be honest with your client and explain the situation as soon as possible. They may give you an extension, or they may decide to hire someone else who can get the job done on time. But at least they’ll respect you for being honest.
Don’t Try to Be Everything to Everyone
When I first started out as a freelance writer, I tried to take on any and every project that came my way. But I quickly realized that this was a recipe for disaster! I was trying to be everything to everyone, and as a result, I wasn’t reaching my potential as a writer.
It’s much better to focus on one specific niche and become an expert. Not only will you be able to write better quality work, but you’ll also be able to charge more for your services.
After all, if you’re the go-to expert in your field, clients will be willing to pay a premium for your services. But if you’re just another generic freelancer…they’ll be able to find someone else who can do the job just as well for a lower price.
Plus, when you focus on a specific niche, the writing becomes MUCH easier. You’ll already have a good understanding of the industry, the terminology, and the general issues your clients will be facing. This means you’ll be able to write faster and with less research. And when you can write faster, you can take on more projects and make more money!
So that’s what I see as the most common pitfalls freelance writers face. These 7 mistakes will basically guarantee that your freelance writing business will fail. But if you can avoid them, you’ll be well on your way to a successful and profitable career!
What other mistakes do you think new freelance writers make? Share in the comments below!