How to Avoid Common Freelance Writing Business Mistakes

Freelance writers are just like other independent contractors who do something for a living, they’re going to make business mistakes.

While I’m definitely a more optimistic than pessimistic individual, I can’t help but look for dangers lurking in the weeds, hence the reason for discussing this matter.

As a freelance writer for more than 20 years, I’ve made my share of mistakes along the way, something I hope you can learn from. Whether it was taking on too much work at one time or not charging enough for such work, I’d like to think I’ve grown a little since venturing into the freelance world back in the late 1980s.

In this post, I’ll provide some tips to help you avoid some of those mistakes.


Avoid Common Business Mistakes

If you’re already doing freelance writing or thinking about giving it a shot, here are some thoughts to file away:

  • Choose wisely–Do you carefully select the companies and individuals you want to freelance for or do you just wing it? It is important for freelancers to do their homework and make sure the companies or individuals they seek to freelance for are reputable, will pay on time, and have a history of having available work. Since many freelancers network with one another, take the time to get some background information.
  • Don’t get ripped off–I can definitely say I’ve been guilty of this gaffe. Before you agree to take on a freelance writing assignment from someone, make sure to arrange a suitable rate for your services. Too many writers undercut themselves and end up not getting paid the proper amount for their services. My goal is typically charging a little more than I actually want to receive for the assignment, hence I would generally come in at the satisfactory rate when I say I’ll go a little less than my initial offer.
  • Don’t forget the tax man–Initially, some freelancers will think that they can put away a nice chunk of change freelancing. While that can be true in some instances, don’t forget Uncle Sam. In most cases, freelancers will not have money deducted from their paychecks, so the government will want its piece of the pie come April 15th. It is important for freelancers to remember that and be prepared to pay the piper.
  • Carry the proper workload–Like many freelancers, I thought I had an endless amount of time in my schedule to take on various assignments. As it would turn out over time, I discovered that was not the case. Along with burning themselves out, freelancers who take on too much work and then cannot deliver become viewed in some circles as unreliable. Freelancers should always pace themselves and not get themselves in too deep.
  • The lack of self-marketing–When I first began freelancing, there was no social media to promote oneself. Today, freelancers can spread the word of their stories with links on Facebook, Twitter, and many more sites. Not only is this good self-promotion, but it allows writers the opportunity to network with others. For those freelance writers who fail to seize upon this free self-promotion, they are only hurting themselves.
  • Buyers beware–As a freelancer produces and submits copy, it is important that they know the intimate details regarding their agreements with publishers. It is important to determine deadlines for copy and payments, find out if there are kill fees involved for stories one works on but that do not get published, and more. Never just assume the publisher is going to meet your requirements when it comes to payments. Get the details in writing so there are no misunderstandings.
  • Home is where the office is–Lastly, we writers need our space when putting pen to paper (in most instances, thoughts to a laptop or desktop). While some writers like the feel of a Starbucks or library to bang out their articles, others like myself find home is where we are most productive. Wherever one finds their comfort zone, it is important that it is just that, comfortable. For those who have significant others and/or families, make sure they are reminded of the need for space when writing occurs.

Your Turn

Freelance writing can be a great opportunity to earn some money on the side or in a number of cases, supplant a full-time income, along with providing outlets for one’s thoughts.

When done correctly, freelancers have the ability to write a new chapter in their lives.

How do you keep from making business mistakes in your freelance writing business?

Image by photosteve101

Comments

  1. says

    My understanding is that a freelance business is nothing more than a sole proprietorship. My copy of the Accounting 101 text book states that the only purpose of a sole proprietorship is to make a profit.

    There is no other reason. You can do what you want with that profit (like paying taxes etc.).

    At a time when I was an employee and trying to make Brownie points with my boss I took a business law course at UCLA. That help to prevent most of the “Common Mistakes” told about in this FreelanceFolder.

  2. says

    As awkward as it is, if the job is over $100, I require a contract and deposit. If you’ve never done a big job on a virtual handshake and not paid at the end, you may not see the need but once it happens, you see things differently.

    Most people are honest but it only takes one to hurt your monthly bottom line. Anybody who was planning to pay anyway is fine with a contract and deposit in my opinion.

    If they don’t want to commit money upfront, ask them to use an escrow service.

  3. says

    Ah, thank you Dave for this informative piece. One way to keep away from making freelance mistakes is to keep on the lookout for mistakes reported in the freelance circles. Freelance forums online are a great place you can hang out just to listen to some of the complaints freelancers are making and try and pick out the mistakes that led to the complaints, even when the freelancers don’t explicitly state where they made a mistake.

    For example, following Google’s first Panda update many freelance writers who depended solely one particular web content creation company were suddenly let go and their complaints were as loud as thunder in the freelance circles. My pick from this outcry was that these freelancers made the mistake of relying too heavily on one client. I am a strong believer and advocate of diversifying and spreading your wings as far as possible in terms of finding and working with freelance clients.

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