Common Freelance Writing Mistakes That Could Cost You Your Career

freelance writing mistakes

No one likes to make mistakes, and in the beginning, it can feel like that’s all you’re doing as a freelancer. When I started, there were few classes and books explaining online content writing, the term content marketing wasn’t in common usage, and most internet users barely understood what a blog was. Talk about a learning curve. Needless to say, I made a lot of mistakes.

Lucky for you, these common freelance writing mistakes can easily be avoided, because today, people like myself are writing about them on the internet. If you are guilty of any of the following err’s, don’t worry. We’ve all been there. Simply adjust your strategy accordingly and follow my advice below to avoid future pitfalls and safeguard your freelancing career. 

Mistake #1: Working For Free

This is probably the most misunderstood concept in writing. It’s a bit of a puzzle because it’s not okay to work for free, except when it is. Let me explain what I mean. If you’ve spent any time looking for writing gigs online, you’ve likely come across an ad that offers to let you write for a site for free because they are just getting started. They often say they’ll pay you as their traffic increases. This is a lie.

They offer you exposure, except exposure is something they obviously don’t have since they need a free writer to help build traffic. Most of these sites or platforms will not exist long enough to become profitable. This kind of working for free may help you develop your writing skills, but it will not:

  • Turn into a lucrative, paying writing gig. (I am sure there are stories of this happening, but it is not a thing, trust me.)
  • Give you exposure to build your brand as a writer, or connections that will lead to other paying gigs.
  • Build your resume, or even portfolio credits in most cases, since they don’t typically give you a byline.

Mistake #2: Not Working For Free

On the other hand, while I know a lot of writers do not agree, some free writing gigs can be very valuable. Guest blogging on other sites is a great way to gain experience, get connected and even drive traffic to your own site using links. Some guest blogging opportunities pay, but others are purely network and resume building.

There is an updated list of guest blog opportunities at Listiller with over a thousand blogs that use guest writers. Look for high-profile sites like Huffpo, that can give you great exposure, drive traffic to your own site, and are often required resume credits for marketing writers.

Here are some rules to follow:

  • Don’t write for free if the “client” is going to make money from your work, directly, such as contributing short stories to anthologies, or ghostwriting short novels.
  • Don’t write for free expecting you will get paid when the site takes off. This rarely, if ever, happens.
  • Don’t write for free if you don’t get a byline or anything else in exchange for your services.
  • Do write for free if the site is high enough profile and will allow you to link to your other work or personal website.
  • Do write for free to support causes and movements you think are valuable, as a volunteer.

Mistake #3: Working Too Cheaply

Sometimes working for too little is worse than working for free. At least when you donate your time and talent, you make that choice knowingly. By setting your rates too low, or applying for gigs and positions that pay less than your minimum rate, you are setting yourself up to suffer.

  • Cheap clients are just that, cheap. It’s unlikely to get better over time.
  • Working at a discount often ends up being more work. Think about this, they are already asking too much for what they are paying, that should be a clue.
  • It’s easy to get stuck working a lot of hours to make ends meet at the low end of the rate pool. By the time you’re finished, you don’t have the time or energy to look for better-paying work.

If you’re not sure what you should be charging as a freelance writer, read this.

Mistake #4: Not Learning The Craft

Just because you got A’s in English, or even earned a degree in writing, doesn’t mean you know everything you need to know. Freelance writers have to meet all kinds of specifications for their clients, while still producing quality content that readers will enjoy and share. If you approach freelancing as if you have nothing to learn, you’ll have a hard time getting started.

  • Study style guides and learn what’s expected. Every client has different needs.
  • Keep up with your learning. It never hurts to take a course or two. The internet changes rapidly, and we have to work to keep up with the trends.
  • Don’t be afraid to learn new skills. A writer that knows SEO, or can edit images is much more valuable than one that doesn’t.

Mistake #5: Not Having a Blog

You’re a writer, and you need to write. It’s important that you not only create content for your clients but for yourself as well. Having your own blog gives you a place to create content for yourself, and a way to attract an audience or potential clients to your website. I try to add to my blog regularly, although I am not as consistent as I should be. My recommendation is once a week, at least. Write on writing topics or subjects you get hired to write about for the most consistent branding. Not only that, but you can offer any kind of products, courses, and services, without concern for breaking platform rules.

  • Your website is yours. Unlike social media and other platforms, which can change overnight, you choose the branding, content, and themes.
  • Writers with websites that have their names in the title are easiest to find. Using a middle name, or initial adds uniqueness and makes you even easier to find.
  • A properly optimized site, with content on the topic of freelance writing, or other related topics, can bring clients directly to you.

Mistake #6: Not Promoting Yourself Enough

You have plenty of high paying work now, but what about next month, or even next week? Even long term, consistent projects can dry up overnight online. Self-promotion is essential when you’re a freelance writer. Staying active in searching for new clients and projects is part of your job description. You also need to keep your face on social media, update your blog regularly, and spend some time networking, in person, or online to keep your pipeline full.

  • Freelancing is seasonal. Work slows down from time to time. Make sure you have some extra projects in process to survive the slow times.
  • Regular promotion, such as an active blog and social media channels can get clients to come to you.
  • This is especially important if you are also an author with books or courses to sell. They do not sell themselves.
  • Unless you are contractually obligated for a specific time period, you should always be looking to upgrade your client list. I replace clients for two reasons: low rates, and high maintenance.

Allow me to remind you again: if you’re making any of these common freelance writing mistakes, it’s going to be okay. There’s a reason they’re “common.” When you’re a freelancer of any sort, there’s always a learning curve and a period of figuring things out. You are your own boss now, and therefore your own advocate. Your success is wholly dependent on you. Now that we’ve identified some of the most common freelance writing mistakes, you can easily adjust your strategy to avoid them going forward.

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Mark Morris

Mark Morris is a freelance writer from Oklahoma City where he lives with his wife of 25 years and 8 kids. He belongs to a 200lb mastiff named Ruby who likes long walks on the beach. In his spare time, he's cranked out over two million words of copy in the past 8 years, and self-published 14 volumes of fiction and inspirational non-fiction.

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