My Biggest Freelance Writing Mistakes (and How You Can Avoid Making Them)

Do not do as I do.

I’m not perfect. I make mistakes.

But I learn from them. Especially when it comes to my job.

I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I have. Your work is hard enough.

So sit back and read as I share my biggest freelance writing mistakes with you, dear readers.

Weirdly, some of these points, at least on the surface, go against everything I preach. Just remember: you gotta know the rules before you can disregard the rules.

Agreeing to write about things I wasn’t interested in writing about

I am a health writer — yet my first freelance writing job was in the fashion niche. Last year I wrote about personal development and tech, too. There were moments I loved the opportunity to learn new things and “expand my knowledge base.” But the busier I got, the more I realized: I needed to focus on my niche. Writing outside of it wasn’t worth the money or the experience after just a few months. I’m all for the idea that it’s not bad to write within the unfamiliar. But if you’re trying to establish yourself within a specific niche, stay in that niche.

Offering to do more than I was getting paid for

I’m an overachiever. I work to impress. But in the beginning, I took that a little too far — and as a result, it took me longer to be able to do better work for better pay. When it comes to freelance writing, there isn’t opportunity for advancement. Not in the way you’re hoping. Going above and beyond will get you re-hired (maybe) … but so will doing everything you’re asked to do, exceptionally well, and nothing more. You only have so much time. And dedicating more time to more projects than your client is willing to pay you for, you’re only using up time you could be spending doing more work for another, possibly better-paying client.

Expecting a pay raise

Prospective clients love to say, “I can’t afford to pay you this much RIGHT NOW.” As if somehow your writing alone will make their business so much money they’ll offer you double your hourly rate in a matter of months. Real talk, folks: it’s never going to happen. Your rate is never going to change. Never when I have asked for a pay raise has a client agreed to pay me a decent amount. They have a set amount in their budget they’re willing to pay for a writer, and there’s not much you’re going to be able to do to change that. Do what you have to do in the beginning, but once you have enough experience to work for more money, say goodbye to low-paying clients and move on to better ones. It’s nothing personal. This is business.

Expecting people to actually review my qualifications

I had a client once who hired me to write in-depth science articles before realizing I had several degrees in the subject.

“Wait, you have a master’s degree in this stuff? That’s impressive!”

Well, yeah, dude. It’s the only reason I’m qualified to do what you’re asking me to do.

Except clients couldn’t care less about you, honestly — and in no way can you expect them to. Freelancing is not a partnership between clients and writers. If a client sees you can write, and they can get away with paying you the least amount of money possible, you’re pretty much hired. I just smile now when clients assume I don’t know what I’m doing. They forgot to check my credentials. That’s their problem, not mine.

All you need to do is prove you can write. Everything else is just glitter and rainbows (and most people really don’t care to notice). Credentials and experience sounds fancy, but if you can’t deliver on those talking points, it’s going to become obvious so, so quickly. (That’s me speaking from my experience as an editor, who has seen writers talk themselves up then fail miserably when it came time to perform.)

This whole freelance writing thing? It isn’t easy. But you can make it at least a little easier on yourself. Don’t be like me. (:

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.