5 Mistakes Freelance Writers Make in Their First Year

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Being a new freelance writer can be tough. From finding clients to knowing what to charge, there is a lot to navigate. With so many challenges, it's no surprise there are some big mistakes freelance writers make in their first year!

I surpassed the one year mark as a freelance writer in August 2018, but it's safe to say I made my share of mistakes! The good news? I also learned from them.

I started freelance writing while working a full-time job and a part-time job. Since then, what started as a side hustle has grown into a full-fledged business. I was able to quit my job in just over a year and freelance full-time!

I know a lot of new freelance writers have a similar goal of working from home one day, so learning how to avoid the mistakes that hold freelance writers back is a must.

Here are 5 mistakes freelance writers make in their first year, as well as how to avoid them!

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1. Not Having a Freelance Writer's Website and Portfolio

One of the most important things every freelance writer needs is a freelance writer's website and portfolio.  Here's why. Whether freelance writing as a side hustle or going all in as a full-time freelance writer, you need to position yourself 1) as a business owner and 2) as an expert in your niche.

A professionally designed website is the first step in showing potential clients you're a business providing services to other business. By cultivating a business relationship with clients, you move away from the “employee” mindset, which can limit both your earning potential and opportunities for growth.

Your website and portfolio assists in building credibility as a freelance writer, too. Padding your portfolio with 3-5 carefully selected samples helps with this. Make sure to showcase samples that are not only your best work but are also relevant to your niche. Sticking with niche driven samples establishes trust with potential clients because it shows you are knowledgeable in their industry.

2. Setting Rates Too Low

One of the hardest parts of being new to freelance writing is knowing what to charge for your services. Everyone has an opinion about what it realistic but it's difficult to find concrete examples for newbies. That's part of the reason new freelance writers fall into the trap of content mills and freelancing platforms like Upwork and Fiverr.

Who could blame them?

New freelance writers may feel like they don't have enough experience to charge a rate similar to more seasoned freelance writers. I totally get it! In fact, I felt the same way when I first started freelance writing. I was stuck in that mindset for a few months until I finally quit Upwork and took a different approach to find new, higher-paying clients.

If you have dreams of quitting your day job to become a full-time freelance writer, you need to charge what your services are worth. Otherwise, you'll be stuck in the same old rut. The good news is, there's an easy way to calculate your ideal rate as a freelance writer. I even created a free workbook to walk you through the steps.

3. Being Afraid to Cold Email

When people hear the phrase “cold email” the first reaction is often, “I'm not doing that.” Why? There are a couple of reasons.

First, cold emailing is a cold calling's sister. While cold emailing is a slightly more appealing alternative to cold calling strangers, it still has negative feelings associated with it. People regard cold emailing/calling as an invasion and as a nuisance to its recipient. No one wants to be a bother, right?

Second, they're afraid. Selling your freelance writing services to a complete stranger can be intimidating. What if they no? What if they call you a fraud? The fear of rejection can hold freelance writers back, causing them to lose out on high paying jobs.

Cold emailing doesn't have to be a negative experience. Yes, there will be rejections. Cold emailing is a numbers game. Not everyone you reach out to will be the right client for you. If they are, they may not be ready to invest in your services yet. When you reach out, you plant the seed that could grow into working with them in the future.

The Right Way to Cold Email

The way you craft your cold email will set you apart from others who are pitching freelance writing services. It's important to tailor each cold email you send to that particular person. A general pitch clearly sent to multiple people will get you nowhere.

Do some research. Take a peek at their website and existing content. What catches your attention? Is there something missing? Identify what you like about it and compliment them on it in your email. It shows you've actually taken the time to get to know about their work and potential needs.

Next, tell them why should they care about your ideas or the services you offer. This is an excellent time to position yourself as an expert. Here's an example: “I'm a professional IT copywriter and I specialize in content marketing that helps IT service providers get more leads.”

From there, tell them (politely) how you think you could help them. “I noticed your company website doesn't have a blog. I can help by…” Then invite them to set up a call to discuss it by saying something like, “Do you have time for a quick call this week to discuss…I have some ideas I'd love to go over with you!” Opting for a specific time frame encourages urgency.

Other things to include in a cold email:

  • A personalized subject line
  • The person's name
  • The company name
  • A professional email signature

4. Not Following Up

It may surprise you that it can take a minimum of five emails to close a sale. An even more surprising number? More than 70% of people don't send more than one email to potential clients. Crazy right?

Not following up after cold-emailing a potential client is a huge mistake. It means losing out on a new client and leaving money on the table. As a freelance writer, you need to make sure you always follow up!

To say business owners are busy is an understatement. With so many things on their plate, it can be easy for your email to 1) get lost in an over-crowded inbox or 2) put on a to-do list for a later date. Following up with another personalized email (or two or three) shows initiative and that you are genuinely interested in working with that business. Plus, sending even one follow up email sets you apart from other cold emailers who don't bother to follow up.

5. Saying Yes to Everything

When building a business, turning away clients is both terrifying and feel like a mistake. Your goal is to make money, after all. Turning down work may seem counter-intuitive but in order to succeed as a freelance writer, you have to know how and when to say “no.”

As a newbie, it's likely you'll feel like you need to take on everything that comes your way whether it fits inside your niche or not. However, niching down and defining your target client will actually benefit your freelance writing business. By being specific about what you do and who you work with, you're free to take on the clients and projects that bring you joy. Another benefit of this is increasing your credibility as a freelance writer. Working within one niche helps to develop your skills and position you as an expert in your industry.

It's okay to be picky about the work you take on. If a client or project doesn't seem like the right fit, don't be afraid to say so. You can even refer them to someone else who might be a better fit. Likewise, if you're swamped with work, don't take on more. Give yourself time to get your head above water and catch your breath. Saying yes to everything offered to you will leave you feeling burnt out and run down, not to mention taking the joy out of what you do.

Mistakes are Learning Opportunites

You may not have made all of these mistakes but being aware of them helps to limit the chance you will. If you have made mistakes in your freelance writing career, don't let them get you discouraged.

They don't make you a failure or an imposter.

Mistakes are a chance for growth. Own them and then learn from them. If something isn't working, pull a Ross Gellar and pivot! 😝

By Katie Jenison

Katie Jenison is a freelance writer offering copywriting, blogging, and ghostwriting services. She works closely with home builders, remodelers, interior designers, real estate and property management professionals to help them create content marketing strategies, improve their digital presence, generate leads, and engage with their target audience. Katie also helps freelance writers and creative entrepreneurs pursue their dreams of working from home by providing tips and advice, business strategies, and writing tips on her blog, The Quiet Type. Download her free workbook, A Freelancer’s Guide to Setting Rates, here.

View all of Katie Jenison's posts.

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