Common Mistakes New Freelance Writers Make

These mistakes will hold you back — here’s how to move past them.

New freelancer writers are notorious for charging the wrong amount for their services. In a lot of cases, new freelance writers will undercharge by quite a bit because they aren’t sure about where their talent falls or what a reasonable rate is. While this can be a decent way to start as you feel your way through the freelance space and build up a good portfolio, make sure that you adapt your prices as you go.

Don’t spend ten hours to make ten dollars. A good way to start is to look for other writers with similar experience and compare your rates to theirs. Consider how long you have been writing professionally, how many clients you have worked with, how many completed projects you have worked on, and your overall rating.

While new freelance writers do tend to undercharge, a fair amount of them also overcharge. I see a lot of new writers who look up standard professional freelance writing rates and assume that is the correct rate for them. More often than not, it isn’t. If you are new to freelancing — or it isn’t your primary job — chances are that you lack in experience by a lot.

Professional rates are for professional writers. Why would any client want to pay a person who has only had a few clients and done a handful of projects the same amount that they could pay someone with years of expertise and proven results? You have to strike a balance. If you’re new to the game, your work is worth money — just probably not as much money as an established professional in the industry.

So many new writers assume that they can simply wait for work to come to them. They will create a profile on a freelance site or wait for word of mouth to launch them to fame from one of their three clients. While that approach might work sometimes, it’s a good way to keep freelance writing as a side gig instead of as a full-blown career. You should be bidding on projects every single day to build your client list — and if you’re not landing a good percentage of them, you probably need to reevaluate your pricing or work on your pitch. There’s likely a professional reason that clients aren’t choosing you.

Now more than ever, we are in the era of anyone can be a writer — and that is true, but not everyone can be a professional writer. There is a reason that your academic background does not dictate your career success in a lot of cases. It’s because the skills that you learn in school or gain as a hobbyist are almost never a direct translation to the requirements of a professional field. You learn to do a job by working and training in a specific area in a professional setting, not by reading about it.

Years of writing papers well in school or writing stories in a notebook does not make you a strong professional writer — and it certainly doesn’t make you a good blogger, researcher, or content creator. The professional writing space consists of many different crafts and each one takes time to learn. Even if you are a great writer, if you don’t know how to do the technical side of a specific style of writing, your work can still be completely useless to a client. Unfortunately, well written and entertaining work does not always serve business interests.

One of the worst things that you can do as a freelance writer is focusing on being a writer instead of a business owner. Thinking like a writer instead of a business owner is a one-way ticket to only writing as a side gig.

The truth that no one wants to hear is that there are plenty of talented writers out there. Some of them are willing to work hard to grow a business and the rest are still waiting for their genius to be discovered. The first type will have a career and the second group will just be waiting to win the lottery. Decide which kind of writer you want to be and act accordingly.

If you’re not focusing on the business side, you can rest assured that someone else will. Those people will land the client that turned you down. You should be focusing on promotion, customer service, honing your craft, and learning to serve your clients better. If you want to be a writer more than a business owner, the freelance writer space isn’t for you — and that’s fine, it isn’t your only option. Freelance writing jobs are not just about the writing, they are about the results.

Writers, do not discredit yourself. Do not be the person who shies away from a challenge. If you want to be a writer, that is great. If you are still working on learning your craft, that is even better. Working as a freelancer is a constant growth game. Today, you might not be ready for certain kinds of freelance writer jobs — but tomorrow, they might be your sole focus. I never set out to be a professional blogger. That niche emerged for me throughout my career as I cultivated my talents and grew my client list. Be patient with yourself. You’re more capable than you think.

Some writers believe that being a freelance writer just means writing for money. It doesn’t. It is a profession, and within it, there are certain types of writers and writing styles.

If someone asks if you can do X and you aren’t sure what X is, do not just Google it and think I can do that and say that you can. Instead, be upfront with your client about the fact that you don’t have the experience, then explain why you think you are a good fit anyway.

This gives your client the opportunity to decide if they want to work with you or someone who actually knows that specific style— and a lot of the time, they will still pick you. The difference is that it will save you the embarrassment of being found out when your writing clearly shows that you just read a blog on a style of writing and tried to mimic it. In my experience, clients are happy to help writers grow. Don’t ruin that by being deceitful.

Something that continuously shocks me is just how many new writers are attempting to give professional advice. On a regular basis, I see writers in forums giving terrible advice to other writers — and when I look at their page and see that they’ve only landed maybe twenty jobs and worked with five or six clients, it all becomes clear.

The blogging space is filled with writers who are still learning how to be professional writers themselves giving advice out like it’s law in an attempt to seem more credible — and a lot of the time, it is either bad advice or something that they snagged from a professional’s blog and rewrote. Either way, it is not a good look for your brand. Don’t do it.

New writers should absolutely share their stories and their journeys, but if your angle is posting ‘professional’ advice when you haven’t even made it in the industry yourself, reconsider your approach. It can come off as scammy, like those people who start mass-producing a new trendy item just to make money.

Blogging about professional writing doesn’t make you a professional writer any more than writing a post on fitness makes you a certified personal trainer. Respect your craft enough to know that it can’t all be figured out with your limited experience. Keep learning and write that advice post when you have the numbers to back it up — it will hit different, I promise.

Becoming a successful freelance writer is not an overnight process. It isn’t even an easy process. But, it is possible. Remember to respect your own growth and development. Trust yourself to learn and grow without deciding that you’re an undiscovered talent that the world is missing out on. Respect the process, put in the work, and never stop striving to be better. Everyone starts somewhere. With the right dedication, you’ll get there sooner than you think.

Full-time Writer, Content Creator, and Host of the Among the Dirt and Trees Podcast.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store