12 Common Freelance Writer Mistakes

Everyone has to start somewhere, but you don’t have to make the same dumb mistakes everyone else does.

Illustration by Ramiro Roman
Illustration by Ramiro Roman

As a freelance writer, you will make dozens of mistakes throughout your career; however, here are the twelve mistakes you might be making right off the bat:

1. Limiting Yourself

Just because you’ve chosen a niche for yourself doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself. You can still write for other sub-niches under the umbrella of your main niche.

For example, if you’ve chosen parenting as your main focal point, there’s no need for you to forget about your love for fashion, pets, or fitness. You can write articles like:

  • “Get Glam! 15 Make-up Tips for Moms on the Go!” (Parenting/Fashion)
  • “10 Ways Dogs Help Our Children Become Better Human Beings” (Parenting/Pets)
  • “How Having Two Under Two Helped Me Lose 20 Pounds!” (Parenting/Fitness)

Even if you’ve chosen a particular niche, you can still put all of your writing expertise to use! Don’t limit yourself.

2. Disliking Other Writers

Other writers are your friends, yo! In fact: About 60% of my current business comes from fellow writers. Other writers are not “the competition.”

There’s plenty of writing to go around!

Think of it this way: Everything  you read — from blog posts to billboards — was written by someone. And that someone could be you! But you’re going to need friends to help you along the way…and fellow writers make the best friends. They know exactly what you’re going through, and, when you two get cozy, you may even be able to swap clients.

3. Not Using Contracts

When a writer comes to me with a client-based issue, my first question is usually, “Well, what does it say in your contract?” At which point we either get things cleared up pretty quickly . . . or they say “I don’t have a contract” and then I feel the vein in my temple start to throb as I hold back the urge to shake them by their lapels.

Never, ever work without a contract!

One of the quickest ways to spot a Red Flag Client is if they refuse to sign your contract. You can solve so many client issues before they even start with a single document.

4. Not Saving for Taxes

When you’re a traditional employee, taxes are taken out of your paycheck for you. So when you get your first freelance “paycheck,” you might fist pump the air and let out a yelp of satisfaction – you’ve just made more money in a solid lump than you ever made at one of your crappy minimum wage jobs! You’re well on your way to being a self-made millionaire! Right . . .?

Not exactly. Just because taxes are no longer taken out of your earnings doesn’t mean the government doesn’t want to collect them. Because they do. They so do.

Taxes will vary depending on where you reside, but, on average, expect about 20 percent of your earnings to be taken from you come tax time. Plan ahead!

5. Not Reading

“Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

~Stephen King

It really is that simple.

No matter what kind of writer you are: You need to read.

Not only do you need to read to increase your knowledge and up your writing skills, you need to read so you don’t drive editors crazy. Even if you aren’t reading as many books or articles as you’d like, you need to at least read the editor’s guidelines before submitting a pitch!

6. Living in Fear

Writing comes with its own set of fears; however, freelance writing takes all those fears, amplifies them to the max, and then adds a new set of fears of its very own. Not only do you have to face the usual fears that no one will like – or even read! – what you write, you now have to worry about that same writing feeding yourself and your family that month.

Well, forget those fears. They’re only holding you back!

That’s right: Forget your fears about rejection. Forget your fears about clients. And forget your fears about career instability.

The only real thing you need to fear as a freelance writer is burnout – from trying to do too many amazing things at once!

The honest truth is: You will always have job security. Clients come and go but the only way you’ll ever lose your job is if you quit. That’s one of the primary benefits of becoming a freelancer!

The only stability you need to worry about is that of your own mind.

Things can never get worse than they are right now. You can’t go backwards. Either things stay the same or things get better.

Freelance writing is like walking — you keep moving forward.

7. Not Marketing

If you’re subscribing to the myth that all professional writers do is write, then you’re going to be bitterly disappointed.

Sure. You could just write – but you won’t be successful. I really can’t state it more bluntly than that.

Successful writers have to market themselves.

8. Not Writing in Your Own Voice

When you’re new or lack confidence, it can be tempting to imitate others. You look at your favorite writers thriving in the world you hope to someday dominate and you think, “I’ll just do what they’re doing!”

The problem is, when you use their voice, you sound stiff and awkward. And maybe even vaguely disturbing (like a robot wearing a flesh suit made from successful bloggers). It just doesn’t work.

9. Being Unreliable

Freelance writers have a reputation for being unreliable. And, sadly, it’s a reputation they’ve earned. To quote Leaving Work Behind’s Tom Ewer:

“If you’re like most freelancers, you fall into one of two categories: those who are reliable and those who are not. If you stay in the latter group, you’re unlikely to increase your rate beyond what it is now.”

Of all the mistakes on this list, this is the one that will cost you the most clients in the long run. Missed deadlines and sloppy work won’t cultivate repeat business.

Writing is your job now, so treat is as such. You wouldn’t skip work at a 9-to-5 and expect to still get paid! Have some respect for your career, your clients, and yourself. Don’t perpetuate the “unreliable” stereotype – for both your sake and for your fellow freelancers.

10. Not Knowing Your Worth

If you’ve never been paid for your writing before, any amount can seem like “a lot.” But if you keep that attitude, you’ll likely never make enough money to live off of.

Don’t be afraid to investigate what the “going rate” is for writing. Check out rates guides (I like using the Writer’s Market books) and ask other — successful! — freelance writers what they’ve charged for similar projects. And, most importantly, know how much you would need to earn in order to live comfortably…and then ask for it!

11. Saying “Yes!” to Everything

Saying “no” to a potential client can be tough — especially if you need the money. However, cheap clients are not worth it. (Again: Know your worth!!). And taking on too many projects at once will buy you a one-way ticket to Burnout County.

When you are your business, you can’t afford to burn out. Take care of yourself so you can take care of your — few, well-paying — clients.

12. Lacking Confidence

When I talk to my mentees, I tell them that successful freelance writing is all about the Ps:Patience, Perseverance, Pitching, and…Personality.

Having the right personality type is, fortunately or unfortunately, essential to your success as a freelancer.

The good news is: You can fake it.

Confidence is the name of the game, but confidence is a “fake it ‘til you make it” skill. You can learn more about that HERE.

But, just like every other skill you need to hone as a freelance writer, you need to be willing to put in the time to up your confidence game. It takes Practice (See? Freelance writing is all about the P words!).

And that is the biggest mistake new freelance writers make: They aren’t willing to put in the time to practice.

Success isn’t going to come overnight. And that’s okay! That’s normal. The main thing is you have to KEEP GOING.

So, actually, that is the number one mistake newbie freelancers make: They quit.

Don’t be one of those freelancers.

And feel free to share some of your newbie mistakes in the comments’ section so other writers can learn from your mistakes!

5 thoughts on “12 Common Freelance Writer Mistakes

  1. Awesome post, Lauren – a common mistake I started seeing among starting freelancers is the “know it all” attitude. While self-confidence is a good thing, being overly confident and not learning from other freelancers mistakes and experience can play a bad joke on you.
    ~ Diana

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