4 Commons Mistakes New Freelance Writers Make

Become a freelancer they said. It’ll be fun they said. Admittedly the draw of skipping a shower and choosing your clients is powerful. As of an October 2016 survey, freelancers made up 35% of the U.S. workforce. That percentage equates to about 55 million Americans and together, they took home roughly $1 trillion.

But maybe you’re struggling to get your slice of that $1 trillion pie or you’re hesitant to pull the trigger and venture out on your own.

Here are a few common mistakes to avoid that undercut your earnings and wear you down:

1. Over-Promising Your Clients

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You’ve won your first bid and you’re talking with your first client. The project manager asks you for 45 short blog posts about sous vide for the first month. You immediately say “yes!” so that you don’t lose your first client.

You settle down at a coffee table with a latte (because that’s how all freelancers work), open your laptop, and it isn’t until your fingers are hovering over the keys that you realize – you don’t know anything about sous vide. What is sous vide?? Panic sets in. You spend a day and a half trying to learn about the topic and take your first crack at a post. Three and half hours later you’re feeling pretty good. Word count check: 200 words. I’m dead.

This is a classic tale of first-time freelancers over-promising just to get/keep a job. To be fair, it’s not really anyone’s fault. New freelancers don’t have a lot of experience managing their time and prospective clients may be as clueless about expectations as their freelancer is.

How to side-step the panic that comes with your first gig:

Take it slow. Promise little so that you can over deliver. Your client might be a little put off by your slow start but excellent work covers that quickly. If your client can’t be negotiated with, withdraw. A prospective client’s unreal expectations will only get worse.

2. Under-Valuing Your Work

When you first start out as a freelance writer, you may find yourself dealing with a little self-doubt. Your mom loves what you write — but will any prospective clients gush like she did over the poem you wrote when your dog died? Will they laugh when they see your rate and read your portfolio? Trust me, these are genuine fears. I’ve had them too.

Desperate for work, you might be convinced by your shoulder demon to charge less than your worth. (Note: SOME people won’t have this problem at all and will over-value their work. I’ve never understood those people). You think clients will flock to you as a “great value” but there’s a relationship between price and quality. Consumers and clients alike evaluate the quality of a product or service by it’s low, median, or high price. Your low, low price may just be a red flag for prospective clients.

The good news is that there’s sort of a science to your freelance rate.  

How to calculate a fair rate for freelance work:

Start with your target annual salary (including costs incurred for being a freelancer such as software license and memberships). Remember to think of your projects as contributors and not single solutions. One project will not fund you for a year. If you go with a lower rate, bid for more jobs.

Divide your target annual salary by the number of days worked. Traditionally, a full-time employee works 2080 hours but you’ll want to subtract hours for vacation, holidays, and potential sick days (safe to say 200 hrs for all of this). This formula will give you your billable hours.


Target annual salary / (number of work hours – anticipated time off) = billable hours

Example: $50,000 / (2080 – 200) = $27/hr (rounded)

If you’re working with a site like Upwork or Freelancer, you may want to weigh your rate against those of similar experience. If you want to charge more than your fellow freelancers, just be prepared to demonstrate why you are worth the rate.

This is your moment of decision. Once you have your hourly rate, you may need to consider working more, charging more, or maintaining a second job as supplemental income. These are tough choices but that’s life!

3. Being Afraid to Ask Questions

I’m not sure when we stop asking questions. Kids can’t stop asking questions and they aren’t embarrassed by what they don’t know. Yet as a adults, we will back ourselves into an impossible corner to avoid looking like we don’t know something.

Freelancers can’t afford this kind of arrogance (or timidity). Asking the right questions can provide important clarity for the work ahead of you. You can even guide your client toward a clearer vision for their business or product by asking good, thought-provoking questions.

How to ask the all the right questions:

Request an interview. If you’re using a brokerage site such as Upwork, an interview can happen via their chat function but if not, request an interview before contracting your work. No, this isn’t weird and no, you won’t have to get a suit. Just a quick phone call with your prospective client gives you the opportunity to ask your questions and gauge response in tone and engagement. Likewise, your prospective client can get a sense of how you operate and judge your sincerity as well.

Talk about money. What is the budget? When and how do you pay freelancers? Will I get credit for the work? Do you feel a sweat breaking out of your forehead just thinking about asking these types of questions? Don’t sweat it! You are talking to businesses and organizations that are used to having these types of questions. Not only that, you save yourself from a lot of hassle and potential scams by getting to the bottom of the tough questions.

Ask clarifying questions early. To help avoid some of the awkwardness of asking a lot of questions, be sure you’re asking the right questions at the right time. Details needed for the project, the voice of the narrative, and delivery expectations, for example, should be covered before you are contracted. Here is an excellent list of questions to ask a prospective client.

Before you go…

I’ve outlined three common mistakes made by first-time freelance writers, but that’s not to say these are the only mistakes you’ll make. It’s ok. Becoming a freelancer is the same as starting a business; it carries a lot of risk and reward. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll lose a bid. You’ll fumble a project. Embrace it. Shake it off. Move on. The rewards outweigh the risks and if you give it time, effort, and energy, the freelance lifestyle can be a ticket to freedom. And yes, it also means you can skip the shower and shave some days.


Originally written by Amanda Davis for Proseandcons.us