Hard Lessons From A Year Of Freelance Writing
And the areas I still need to drastically improve
At the start of January 2018, the thought of freelance writing never crossed my mind. I was “unemployed,” trying to work on a business idea that never really took off. I was also drunk on a cocktail of procrastination, analysis paralysis and self-sabotage.
Soon enough, reality caught up with me. The bills needed paying, the accounts dried up and I had a family to take care of. I was already dabbling on Medium by that time, so I decided to go all-in with getting writing clients.
Since then I’ve had a range of clients from product reviews, health and wellness, nano-technology, OB/GYN, HBOT (look it up), and even transexual porn copywriting. And with these experiences came some valuable lessons and some serious room for improvement. I hope — once I take my own advice — I’ll be able to make more and improve my value to my current and future clients.
1. When you start off, you get paid to learn.
If you’re starting off from scratch, you may not get the clients you hope for upfront. This is especially true if you have no network.
So, like me, you may end up writing about Theranostics for a few dollars per article. But that’s the sweat you put in to build a portfolio to help you scale to bigger better clients.
You also get the opportunity to make mistakes early and often so you won’t be making amateur errors for clients you really want to keep and grow.
2. But quickly know your worth and charge accordingly.
My biggest mistake was waiting too long to let go of these same clients and move onto those who are willing to pay for your work. I just thought that as these clients were pushing more work my way, I just needed to work harder and longer.
I think the moment came when I was being asked to rewrite articles from other freelancers. At that point, I knew I was not getting what I was worth and quickly started aiming for clients with better rates.
If you’re just starting out or been at it for a year, constantly assess your worth. Then add tax.
3. You will get ghosted at some point.
I think most freelance writers have a ghosted payment story at some point. Mine was after a month of non-stop work of over 50 articles. The feeling in my stomach at the time was indescribable. Yet, after taking stock I realized I was to blame for my negligence and lack of due diligence.
Take the time to research your prospective client. Make sure they exist as a business and have a solid track record. And get something signed in writing. If they’re not willing to play ball, then they’re not the client for you. Don’t get blinded by the fact someone said yes to you or the money.
4. Sometimes the unexpected clients are the best.
After my nonpayment issue, I needed a quick win. I got hired on a freelance site from a client looking for a copywriter for a porn site (all those years of watching porn finally paying off).
He happened to be my best client. The client rapport was great, he paid on time, and happily said yes when I increased my rates a second time. I learned that having a great rapport with your client can be as important as money. The content may be out of your comfort zone — or way in it — but making sure the vibe is right should be a priority.
5. Start on freelance sites if you have to, but don’t stay there.
My first jobs came from sites like Freelancer and Upwork. Those are like The Outlands of freelance jobs for a newbie. A job appears and like vultures over carrion, leaving you little to no chance.
It’s not totally bad. You can find your first client, like me. Just screen the jobs as best as possible.
Freelance sites are also a breeding ground for scammers and dishonest people who know the value of your work and wants it for free or to sell it to someone else while paying nothing for it.
If it feels weird, don’t go for it. Trust your gut.
In a short time, move on to emailing companies directly to pitch your services to. Or try Job Boards like LinkedIn, Indeed (if you’re in the US), or Pro Blogger.
6. Try to go above and beyond for your clients.
For my latest longterm client, despite the fact they have editors in place, I try to make their job as easy as possible. And to me, that means using Yoast Content Analysis to optimize my work before sending it off or adding internal links from work done before. And clients love when you do more than required.
It’s easy to go above and beyond. Review past published work and see what works for them. Even offer suggestions or topic ideas. Once you make it feel like a partnership, the work will keep coming.
7. Feedback is your friend.
At the same time, I appreciate feedback from editors and clients alike. Any comments or reviews I keep on a sheet so I can call back to it before I submit the next piece. Eventually, it comes to memory.
Soon you can sniff out what your client does not want and drastically improve your relationship with them by always taking constructive criticism. Feedback helps you with the next client or the 5th client from this one.
So don’t just expect feedback. Hunt for it.
8. Always be hunting.
One of my improvement areas is having work dry up. I spent more time writing and less time finding new work.
Even if you develop a longterm working contract with a client you enjoy, at any point, they can move on. Your client giving you 80% of your revenue can easily go. So be on the lookout for those clients and jobs that can really make your life easier.
9. Learn how to pitch yourself
Being brutally honest with myself, I would not have taken on a full-time job had I spent more time hunting and pitching my services. I sucked at this and had the efforts been aligned, I would have done better financially.
Cold emailing, prospecting, networking, are all part of being a freelance writer. The only way to get real money is to position yourself as someone who can solve a real problem for your client through your writing services.
Ready for Year 2!
It’s been quite the ride. I’ve since taken on a fulltime role, and freelancing has graduated to side hustle territory. However, the goal is to make a full-time income while writing. So now I’m looking for ways to learn how to create a great proposal, pitch my services, and close the sale.
If you’re just starting out, I hope this helps you in some way. If you’re a pro, I’d love some suggestions on how you’ve succeeded.