A few years ago, I thought I wanted to be a freelance writer. I loved the idea of working from home and creating my own schedule. I also really loved the idea of not getting up at 5:30 a.m. unless I actually wanted to. So I jumped right in. I updated my resume, created a website, and started looking for work. It was going to be easy, lucrative, and fun.
When you go into any professional venture thinking it’s going to be nothing but easy, lucrative, and fun, that’s mistake number one. No matter what you do for a living, whether it’s your dream job or something that simply pays the bills, you’ll have to work. That’s okay; work is good. Especially when you’re working 1) toward your goals, and 2) as efficiently and effectively as you can.
Even though I mostly write books and blog posts now (instead of picking up client work), the lessons I learned in my first year of freelance writing are still fresh on my mind. In fact, I wrote a book about it, hoping other beginner freelance writers could learn from my mistakes.
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Here are the five biggest mistakes I made as a freelance writer:
I didn’t set a schedule. You know what’s really difficult? Getting things done when you don’t know where to start. I can’t even tell you how many mornings (or evenings, or weekends) I looked at my tasks and felt overwhelmed, just because I didn’t know where to begin. What would have helped is if I’d set aside specific chunks of time each day for specific tasks. For example:
7 a.m. – 10 a.m. – writing blog posts for Client A
10:15 a.m. – 12 p.m. – proofreading for Client B
1 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. – email
1:30 p.m. – 3 p.m. – networking and social media
3 p.m. – 5 p.m. – writing product descriptions for Client C
Daily schedules can be simpler or more detailed than that. All it takes is a basic outline of your day and your responsibilities — as well as an awareness of your deadlines — to set a schedule that works well for you.
I didn’t spend any money. You know the saying, You have to spend money to make money? It’s kind of true. I don’t think I spent any money, aside from purchasing my domain name, to start my business. And it showed. My website was unattractive, my advertising was mostly ineffective, and I ended up turning to content mills to get work instead of seeking better jobs.
That doesn’t mean you have to spend a ton of money to start a freelance writing business. Not at all. In fact, it’s one of the least expensive businesses you could possibly start. But if you’re as cheap as I was, you’ll pay in other ways (i.e. less income, fewer clients, etc.).
I ignored my intuition. Speaking of content mills. When I started freelancing, I didn’t know where to start. I’d picked up some clients through word-of-mouth, but I also relied heavily on content mills to boost my income. Did it work? Sure, I made a few extra dollars to help pay off my student loans. Did I enjoy it? *Laughs wildly.*
I didn’t realize this at the time, but the work offered to writers through content mills lowers the industry standard by paying pennies per hundreds of words. So yes, you can make a couple hundred dollars in a day, but you’re going to have to write all. day. long. And I’m not talking about assignments that are necessarily fun, either. (Then again, work isn’t always fun.) I’m thankful for the experience those jobs gave me, but I wouldn’t go back to that.
I didn’t blog effectively. When I first started my business, I’d already been blogging for months. But not always about things that were relevant to my business. One day I’d publish a post about setting freelance rates, and the next I’d publish a post about what happened to me at WalMart (without making it relevant to my overall topic). It took me a long time to learn how to balance the personal and professional sides of sharing. I still have that blog, but I only publish posts there once every few months. It’s just a hobby blog now.
Need help setting up a more professional blog? Try this.
I chose quantity over quality. Yep. I was pretty dazzled by the thought of paying off my student loan (which I did! yay!), outfitting our tiny duplex (my husband and I were newly married), and saving for exciting vacations overseas. More often than not, I chose multiple, lower-quality jobs over fewer, higher-quality ones. That works for some. For me, it was stressful. I was overbooked and underinspired. I’d often get home from the day job I hated only to dread the writing work that was still ahead of me. I even dreaded weekends because I hadn’t set a schedule (let alone good boundaries with my clients), so I often worked through weekends to get everything done.
Nope. Not anymore. For one thing, my priorities have changed. Stuff is nice, and so are vacations. But I’m more interested in paying our mortgage and providing a good home for our family. I’m also more interested in pursuing my real writing goals, not the ones I think I should have.
Want some more tips before you get started? Check out Ink Blots & Happy Thoughts: 20 Lessons Learned in My First Year of Freelance Writing. It’s currently free on Kindle Unlimited, so you don’t even have to sacrifice your latte money. 😉 I really hope it’ll help you learn from my mistakes so you can get start your freelance writing career more effectively than I did.
And before you go, a few more books that helped me:
Secrets of a Freelance Writer by Robert W. Bly
The Art of Work by Jeff Goins
The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferris
Strengthsfinder 2.0 by Tom Rath
The Wealthy Freelancer by Steve Slaunwhite, Pete Savage, and Ed Gandia
How to Make a Living With Your Writing by Joanna Penn
Do you do any freelance work? What mistakes have you learned from so far?