4 Hard Truths on Why Freelance Writers Fail (& Now Hate Freelance Writing)

Thinking about becoming a freelance writer?

Heard you can make full-time living from this and you want to give it a go yourself?

Freelance writing is a great choice for stay-at-home moms, bloggers, aspiring writers and anyone who just wants a change from their typical 9-5 job. I started freelance writing when I was a stay-at-home mom and needed to find a way to continue staying home and raise my twins.

4 Hard Truths on Why Freelance Writers Fail (& Now Hate Freelance Writing)

But, not everyone can be a successful freelance writer. Jennifer Mattern, of All Freelance Writing, has said before that most new freelance writers fail and hate freelance writing within the first few years.

I’ve just finished my first year of freelance writing and I can say I’ve had a blast! I don’t hate freelance writing, but I can see how others may end up hating writing after wanting to become a freelance writer.

Not only have I become a sought-after writer, but I own several blogs, including FreelancerFAQs, and I have a successful freelance writing course.

So, why do many new writers lose sight of growing their freelance writing business and end up failing and worse, hating freelance writing all togehter? It’s not because they miss deadlines, earn too little or because they have poor writing skills.

Let’s look at four hard truths on why you’re going to fail at being a freelance writer and may hate freelance writing.

Hard Truths, Failing and Hating Freelance Writing

1. You Have to Start at Square One

I know, you just don’t understand.

You’re a journalist; you went to school to study writing and you expect having this background should make it a cinch to land online writing gigs.

You don’t realize that when you began, you had to start from the beginning, just like everyone else did when they started freelance writing.

Instead, you expected to get paid hundreds of dollars a post, when in fact, you need to build up your reputation to earn that type of pay.

When I first started pitching, I quoted $.05/word.

I emailed seasoned freelance writers and asked them about what my rate should be. You know what all of them said to me? Find a rate that you’re comfortable with.

I felt $.05/word a good starting rate, but I actually never landed any gigs at this rate. You know why? Because I knew I had to build a reputation online before anyone would actually pay me to write.

I knew all the guest posting I was doing and the social engagement I was doing on Twitter and on blogs was going to pay off. And it did. My first real paid gig was $.12/word.

So, even though you have experience writing, writing for an online audience is different.

Hustling online is different from hustling in your local town where people know you.

Pitching is a whole new game because you are competing with hundreds of other writers just as capable as you so you have to stand out.

2. You Avoid Learning New Skills

You think you know what it’s all about. You passed English in high school so how hard can it be to write a few blog posts or a press release for a start-up?

You’re the grammar queen (or king) and you don’t need any tool or other person to check your work.

Having this arrogant attitude and hating freelance writing because of what you have to do won’t get you far in your career. Even though you have a firm grasp of the English language, you may be clueless about the online language.

Businesses look for writers that can persuade, engage and capture an audience. Your high school English class probably didn’t teach you about how to do this online.

That’s why it’s important to learn these new skills. For example, I’m learning about copywriting (specifically conversion copywriting) and it’s helped me land my first copywriting client, write my sales page for my course and improve my copy on my professional website.

I’ve also learned about online tools like Trello, Google Hangouts, Skype, GoToMeeting, Grammarly, PayPal and more.

I want to learn more about digital marketing in general and email marketing and social media marketing in particular. Learning as you’re growing will help you gain success much quicker than if you decided you were above all this.

3. Unwilling to Give it Your All

Sure, I understand.

You only want to dip your toes into freelance writing – make sure this is really what you want. Well, if you’ve been dipping and splashing your way around for six months, you’re gonna fail.

Then you’re going to hate freelance writing and decide never to try it again.

It’s okay to dip your toes to see if freelance writing is for you. If you’re working full-time hours, you can’t dedicate a full day to this.

But, if you don’t give it your absolute all when you are focused and immersed in your freelance writing business, you’re going to drown – feeling it’s too much and feeling like you’re doing this alone.

One thing I quickly learned is, I can tell which freelance writer will succeed and which ones won’t. It’s the can-do attitude.

These freelance writers:

  • Have a plan – They know in a year’s time where they want to be.
  • Set goals – They set SMART goals with a definite timeline and measurement.
  • Stick to it – Even when times are rough, they still hustle, still pitch, and still get out there.
  • Set high standards – Instead of pitching once a day, they pitch 3x a day. Instead of meeting deadlines, they exceed deadlines.
  • Get help – They know that talking to someone more experienced will help them achieve their goals a lot quicker and keep them focused on their plan.

The extra work you do in the beginning will pay off in the long run. I started freelance writing doing this part-time (I still do, although on some days I work a bit more).

When my children napped, I didn’t toot around social media. I wrote. Nap time meant billable hours for me (because this is the only time I can write).

4. You Quit Too Early in the Game

When things just aren’t happening for you and you don’t know how to turn it around, you just give up. You felt you’ve tried pitching a few times, wrote a guest post once and started a Twitter account (but haven’t tweeted yet), and think that’s enough – you’ve done all you could to land a gig.

To succeed you gotta take action.

You have to put yourself out there.

You have to claim your spot.

You won’t land any clients if you just sit there and wait for them to come to you. This won’t happen right off the bat and actually takes time to build your reputation before that ever happens.

When you realize this, you won’t be deterred when nothing goes your way. You won’t give up when you’ve pitched 20 times and you hear nothing back.

You won’t throw in the towel when a client cuts your content and now you have to start looking for more writing gigs.

No, because you’ll know that some months you’ll have more work than you can handle while other months you need to hit the pavement and pitch.

Don’t Ever Second Guess Yourself

If you’ve thought about it long and hard and made the decision to freelance write, then don’t second guess yourself when times get rough.

You might feel like an impostor when you’re writing, but if it’s one thing I’ve learned, to succeed you have to fake it ’till you make it.

I was told by a client that he thought I’ve been a freelance writer for years based off my blog and online presence. It works!

So, dust yourself off and form a plan. Take action and keep on pitching!

Over to you – why do you think freelance writers fail?

Hi I'm Elna and I'm a freelance writer and mom blogger. I help people just like you become a profitable freelance writer. Within 6 months of starting my freelance writing business from scratch I was able to earn a full-time living as a part-time freelance writer while taking care of my twin toddlers. Check out my free email course Get Paid to Write Online and learn the steps you need to take to be a freelance writer.

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30 Comments

I’m quite successful at freelance writing and still hate it 🙂 You don’t have to ‘fail’ to dislike what you do. Freelance writing isn’t something many people can do (just like being a lawyer, accountant, engineer, etc.), and it’s silly to suggest that you just need to pull yourself by your bootstraps and ‘not doubt yourself’ to succeed and love what you do.Reply to Brooke
Hi Brooke, Fair point for sure! What I tried to accomplish with this post was to speak to the mindset of being an entrepreneur. I believe anyone who enjoys writing can be a freelance writer. Of course, they have to learn what it is – you are working for yourself – to ultimately decide if this is for them. I never strived to work for myself. I loved working as a special education teacher. I loved going to work, but then I became pregnant with twins and had this pull to stay home. I had to find a way and it was basically freelance writing or being a virtual assistant. I chose writing because I’m creative! 🙂 If you dislike freelance writing have you thought of passive income projects like writing a book or creating a course?Reply to Elna
im a highschool freshman and i love writing. and i want to try out freelance writing, i want to give it a shot. will this really work out for me..Reply to Zaara
I want to be a freelance writer,but i dont know how to start out doing so,i like to write a lot.Reply to Alfred
Hi Alfred, Thanks for coming over to my freelance writing blog! Go ahead and enroll in my free email course to start freelance writing!Reply to Elna
Your post is incredibly insightful I have found priceless tips to improve my freelance writing career Thank you!Reply to Allan
Other people talk writers out of their dream. You have to keep writing and working even if you are taking on boring subjects. A writer must be willing to work even when no progress seems to be happening. Patience is a writer’s greatest strength. Some days it may feel like you are the only one who believes in you and that has to be enough. Know who you are and in the end, you will have lived a life you can be proud of. . .Reply to Erica
Excellent advice Elna! And it definitely sounds like, it’s time to face the music! While blogging and freelance writing, definitely has it differences, in a lot of ways, trying to consistently land major quest blogging opportunities, and successfully pitching, really aren’t all that different!LOL! My main takeaway from your excellent post is, no matter what, you’ve got to continually stay open to learning and constantly developing new s kills and, you’ve got to constantly remain active and constantly attempting to moving forward! Great advice!Thanks!Reply to Mark
Great topic for a post, Elna. Sharing this one now! I like your story about starting out at 4 cents / word. My first source of clients over a year ago was Fiverr. I’d do jobs for $5 (only receiving $4 of that for myself) and then hope to start a conversation with the buyer about my other services. It meant doing gigs primarily to score some new leads. And one of my best clients today, with a monthly invoice of $2,000+ USD, I first found by doing a gig for him on Fiverr for $5. A number of my clients originated that way, actually. When I suggest doing Fiverr and other low-paying jobs to new freelancers, they look at me like I have three heads. “Surely my time is worth more than $2-3/hour.” No, friend. It isn’t. If you’re making $0, your time is worth $0. Everyone has to start somewhere. And $1 is better than $0. And so I often find that freelancers fail before they even start, because of how much they think their time should be worth… blissfully unaware that it takes time to build and establish yourself in the online space. Chat soon, BrentReply to Brent
Hi Brent Thanks for sharing this. What you did was brilliant – very smart. People need to get out of their linear way of looking at things and think laterally for a change. They also need to expand their vision of what is possible and take a longer term view. It’s sad that most people always seem to overestimate what they can earn in the short term yet underestimate what they can achieve in the longer term. This is a classic example of what can happen given time, dedication and competence. Thanks a million! KimReply to Kim
Hi Kim, I’m so glad you found my comment helpful. I can’t believe the number of shortsighted people I’ve spoken with over the past year… when I tell them how I got started, they suddenly lose interest in freelancing. “I can’t give up my time for so little money…” Well, let’s get serious. Time is going to pass anyway, and I’d rather earn something than nothing. As Elna mentioned in her reply, as time went on, I would steadily increase my prices for new clients as they came on board. Before long, I had a very healthy income coming in, and many of my best clients today began from a small job that brought in very little. I thought of it as trading my time to generate leads. The amount I earned from those small jobs is irrelevant… I just wanted to talk to potential clients! Although, I must say, even in my first month on Fiverr, I brought in something like $600-800 in exchange for working 10-20 hours per week on Fiverr gigs… so all-in-all, it was nice to have something coming in when I didn’t have any other steady clients. Everyone has to start somewhere. It’s like trying to lose weight. “I can’t go to the gym an hour per day to only lose 1 lb. per week! It’ll take forever!” Fine. But that time is going to pass anyway, so might as well spend it taking incremental steps towards our goals, right? Chat soon Kim, BrentReply to Brent
Yeah you’re so right, Brent The time is going to pass anyway so they may as well use it productively. I bet if you followed up those people in 12 months they’d still be in the same situation, and still moaning. People are funny creatures sometimes Thanks Brent KimReply to Kim
Hi Brent, That’s a great story. Yea you have to build up your reputation and if that means writing for free (guest posting) and working for less than what you feel you’re worth, you have to. The thing to remember is, have a plan to move up from that. Sure take that $.4/word client, but the for the next client quote him $.5/word and so on and so on until you reach the rate you’re comfortable with. I’ve never used Fiverr so that’s great to hear you had success. I’ve heard the same thing with Elance too! Thanks for stopping by and I enjoy our little chats on my blog, on your blog, on Twitter and in email – all at the same time nonetheless 🙂Reply to Elna
Hi Elna, I’m really pleased we’ve connected, and I look forward to finding new ways to help one another grow in 2016. Yes, my main source of clients when I first started was Fiverr, Elance (now Upwork), and People Per Hour. Heck, I still use those platforms sometimes to find new clients. It’s a TOS violation to ask clients to work with you outside of each platform, but hey… you gotta do what you gotta do. 😉 I knew I wanted to offer services with a monthly recurring invoice, such as social media management. So I’d offer Fiverr gigs like, “I’ll write 5 tweets for $5, or 30 tweets for $25.” When I’d deliver the tweets, I already knew I was talking to someone that needed social media help, and was willing to pay for it. It was an easy transition to ask that person, “Do you need help posting these? How about responding to comments? What about starting conversations with other targeted users?” Soon, I’d have a call set up and the rest, as they say, is history. 🙂 I used to also offer, “I’ll write a 100-word product description for $5.” As you can imagine, that started conversations, too. Give it a try sometime if you’re looking for new clients. Chat soon, BrentReply to Brent
Great tips Elna! I know some people who are awesome writers but they give up too soon for one reason or another. If they were to hold on a little longer I think they could have done great things with their talent. My problem is second guessing myself. I’m working on it but I do get this “stage fright” feel when I’m approaching clients or a project. I take a moment to validate that feeling and talk myself out of it. 🙂 Great tips as always lady! Thanks for sharing. CoriReply to Corina
Corina, Second guessing is a big thing for any freelance writer – new or established. For me, it’s breaking into a new niche or service. That was copywriting for me. I have no proof I can copywrite, but I want to break into this lucrative niche. But, I finally landed a copywriting client and am exciting to see the final product! I like your approach on validating your feeling and then rationalizing it and talking yourself out of it. Great tip!Reply to Elna
Thanks so much for the encouraging words, Elna!Reply to Cheri
And some of us take a little bit longer than others to find the courage to jump in with both feet! 😉 Thanks for another great post, Elna!Reply to Cheri
Hey Cheri, Thanks for stopping by. Yes, for some it might take a bit of time to really get the courage to put themselves out there! But I know you can do it! You’re an amazing writer!Reply to Elna
Great post, Elna! Might I add one? One thing I see too often is freelance writers starting with the wrong mindset, which leaves them to give up too soon. Typically this is the idea that they’re looking for “employment” rather than running their own business. I started out thinking that way, and it’s like a poison.Reply to Alicia
Hi Alicia, Great point to add. Having the wrong mindset about freelance writing can ruin your chances at every succeeding. Thinking like this is a business is definitely the right viewpoint!Reply to Elna
Great piece Elna again ,i find myself relating to your story each and every time.Am to stay here longer and learn more.Thankyou.Reply to Melchyy
”Fake it, ’till you make it” has always been what I tell myself as a freelance writer, Elna.Reply to Mercy
Hey Mercy, You got it right girl! That’s what you have to tell yourself. I do all the time and it’s totally paid off!Reply to Elna
Hi Elna I love reading your posts. Even after two years of ghost writing and going through various bouts of self doubt I am confident of making a living with content writing. I have not started blogging as yet as I am confused about what it should contain. Looking forward to more informative messages from you. Keep up the good work. RitaReply to Rita
Hey Rita, So happy to hear you enjoy my posts! Good to know that you battled your self-doubt and are confident about making a living from writing. If you’re interested in learning the ins and outs of blogging, my course Write Your Way to Your First $1k talks in depth about creating a blog post (for your client…and for your own blog). It’s a great skill to learn for online writing!Reply to Elna
Hi Elna, Hard talking yes, but sometimes people need to be told in a direct, no-nonsense manner. A little bit of tough love never hurt anyone! I’m not a freelance writer, but I do want to improve my writing skills. That’s why I use tools like Grammarly and read posts like this one. It all helps, and I love the fact that by diligently applying myself over the last few months I am now a little bit better than I was back then. May it continue! One of your standout points was that people are not willing to give their all to their writing careers. It’s a sad fact that most people lack commitment, and without it, they can never succeed. This point, of course, applies to all fields of human endeavour, and the reality is that most people are looking for easy ways to become successful. Rewards flow to committed people who pay their dues! Thanks again Elna, KimReply to Kim
Kim! It’s great that you want to improve your writing. A lot of small businesses and entrepreneurs have blogs on their business site and one way to improve engagement is to learn how to write better for an online audience. You know, I find BoostBlogTraffic to be a great resource to learn about headlines, introductions and style (but thanks to coming to my blog to learn about writing!). It’s true, many new writers don’t put their all in, or they don’t understand how to run a business. It’s true being a freelancer means you can set your own schedule, but if you’re a new writer, expect to pay your dues. This means being available, exceeding deadlines and having professionalism at all times. I have twins to take care of, a house to clean and meals to prepare. On top of all this I have a full list of clients that need my content. I’m busy, but I do everything I can to balance both parts of my life. I’ve reached a point in my business that I can actually take a day off here and there. I still have the flexibility, but I know my priorities if I want to succeed. Thanks for stopping by!Reply to Elna