If you’re a new writer focused on building your freelance writing income rapidly, it’s easy to get frustrated. You try different ways to get gigs, and they just don’t seem to work out.
Recently, I’ve been seeing a trio of basic blunders that newbie writers make. These can really put a damper on your chances of success in freelancing.
The wrong moves waste precious time, letting your savings run out before you can get any traction. Then, too often, writers end up having to take another hated day job, and their dreams of earning a fat freelance writing income go on the back burner.
How do new freelance writers mess up their chances? Let me count the ways…
1. Apply for anything and everything
New writers often spin their wheels by applying to every freelance job ad they can find. It doesn’t matter if they have zero experience in that topic or type of writing, or if they don’t even understand all the words in the job title — they’re going for it. I’ve seen a series of forum posts like this in Freelance Writers Den:
“Help! I’ve applied to a job for a blog strategist, and they’ve gotten back to me. I’ve never actually done blog strategy, what books or resources can you recommend to me?”
While I don’t want to discourage writers from stretching a bit, mass-mailing your resume out for jobs you don’t know the first thing about isn’t a great strategy. It just leads to the sort of panic you see above, when you realize you’ll actually have to create a brand tagline, social-media marketing calendar, or 10-page white paper — and you’ve never done anything remotely like that.
Understand that beyond writing a successful blog post — and at this point, even that is highly technical — there’s a ramp to learning specific writing types. There’s no way to become accomplished in them overnight. Accepting offers where you’re unqualified often leads to follow-up notes I get like this:
“Help! I took a client who wanted case studies. I’ve never written one, and they didn’t give me much to go on. But I didn’t want to ask questions, so I just wrote up what I had. Now, the client hates my draft and wants to kill the project. What do I do?”
The Fix: Unless you enjoy experiencing writing-assignment train wrecks, make sure you have at least half a chance of executing the gig before you go after it.
Think about your writing experience, life experience, and job experience. Writing gigs you try for should touch on at least one of those three, to give you a shot at successfully doing the assignment. If you can’t point to any past experience that indicates you’d be good for this gig, it’s probably not for you. If you need more experience, do a pro bono gig and get a clip — I describe how here.
Also, stop applying to online job ads, because it’s mostly a waste of time! Instead, identify companies or publications where the work would be right up your alley, and pitch them. Proactive marketing to likely suspects will be more time-efficient than the pray-and-spray approach.
2. Pick a rate out of the air
New freelance writers often don’t have a clue what professional rates are. So they just make it up. Usually, this means your bid is radically too low — like for everybody out there still taking $25-a-post blogging gigs and slowly starving.
But every once in a while, it’s wildly too high.
For instance, I recently saw one Denizen bid $15,000 for two blog posts and a little social media to go with those, for instance. He said he wanted to “Go big!” When a good going rate might be $300 apiece for blog posts, and many places still want that for $50 a post or less. In reality, instead of a big score, he went home without a job.
The fix: It’s key to build a writer network and learn about going rates for different types of writing. You can’t grow your freelance writing income if you don’t know that you’re radically under (or over) market rates. Bidding appropriately will help you score more gigs that pay a living wage.
3. Worry about whether you’re doing it right
The top time-waster I’m seeing today among freelance writers is hand-wringing over whether you’re doing a freelance writing business task the right way. As in:
Hello, Is it appropriate to tell a client that your rates are going up (the rate that you normally charge) after you agreed to their low amount?
Who cares if it’s appropriate or not? If you want to raise your rates, you raise them. If the client doesn’t like them, you move on. Right?
Another few “I’m worried about my process” questions I recently received:
“How should I deliver my writing to the client?” (Answer: However the client wants. Just ask.)
“Is it OK to give out an e-book instead of a free report?” (Special points on this one, because they’re virtually the same thing.)
“What’s the best time-tracking app for me to use?” (Answer: The one you like and will consistently use.)
I find many writers would rather compare apps for time-tracking or software for query-letter response logs all day than send out more pitch letters or attend an in-person networking event. Hint: The latter is what builds your income.
“I’m afraid if I say X, that I’ll be making a huge gaffe.” (So what? The risk that you’ll be shot for that gaffe, I’m thinking, is low.)
The fix: Since there are few official “rules” in freelance writing and every client situation is different, you’ll grow your freelance writing income faster if you spend less time worrying about etiquette and more time putting yourself out there.
Get to work to grow your freelance writing income
Trial and error is the way all great startup companies have been built. Stop sweating the small stuff, find out what to charge, and focus your pitches on gigs you’re good for. Soon, you’ll be over the hump and getting lucrative gigs.
What blunders have you made as a new freelance writer? Come visit my Facebook page and let’s discuss.