The Worst Things Freelance Writers Are Doing to Lose Business

Ahh, you searched on Google for freelance writer and after reading hours upon hours of blog posts, you decide this is the freelance service for you.

I’m so happy you decided to become a freelance writer, but I don’t want you to get the false impression that it’s easy to land clients or make a ton of money.

In truth, like any other new business venture, it takes time and investment to see any success.

The Worst Things Freelance Writers Are Doing to Lose Business

But, for many of us – ahem, *raises hand – we try the DIY approach to freelance writing.

This is exactly what I did and I made terrible mistakes – that costed me clients and cash. From pitching mistakes to writing mistakes, I’ve done them all.

I had to learn the hard way on how to succeed as a freelance writer and you know what? I don’t want you to go through the same things as I did.

So, to help you, I’ve rounded up common freelance writer mistakes that you might be doing right now!

Are you guilty of these freelance writer mistakes? The sooner you identify these critical errors in your business, the sooner you can fix them.

Are You Doing These Things to Hurt Your Business?

1. You Don’t Believe This is Your Business

I get it –

It’s hard to feel confident in your role as an online writer when you’re brand new to the scene.

However, freelance writing isn’t a hobby.

This is your new business, so act like it is. You’re the one responsible for finding writing jobs, negotiating with prospects, networking and more.

As an online writer, you have to manage your projects and send invoices and all of that signals this is a legit business!

Also, know that it might take time to hone your writing skills and get to the point that you have the confidence to make cold pitches or take on bigger clients.

2. You’re Trying to Be an Expert at Everything

Just because you are a great writer doesn’t mean you’re a good fit for every type of company out there.

Don’t apply for writing jobs saying that you can write about anything with enough research. This can open the doors to anxiety when writing for clients and imposter syndrome (you know, other people thinking you are the expert when you really aren’t).

Also, don’t tell potential clients that you have always had an interest in X topic and then provide writing specs or samples of writing in a different niche topic. This can confuse potential clients and hinder landing that job.

Business owners are simple – if you say you’re a health writer they expect you to provide health related writing samples!

But, sometimes “faking it” until you make it does have its place.

When I first started out as a freelance writer I pitched to anything and everything that I was remotely interested in. A newspaper in the automotive industry responded to my pitch and they ended up hiring me.

While I didn’t know much about oil prices or race car drivers, I was confident that I could research and find credible sources to write my articles.

3. You Appear as the Desperate Freelance Writer

Even though you might actually be desperate for writing clients, you cannot ooze that persona when pitching or replying to job ads.

If a potential client wants you to do unpaid test articles or wants a lower rate, don’t give in because you just want any money. This move can earn you a few dollars now, but it ultimately hurts your career progress.

Plus, it won’t push you ahead as a freelance writer. The only time this would be acceptable is if you haven’t landed your first client and all you’re doing is guest blogging or writing samples.

If that first gig is a lower paying gig than what you determined to be your rates, I say take it! That’s what I did and then whenever I applied to new online jobs or companies contacted me, I upped my rate.

Not every prospect agreed to my rate, but once one did, the next time I pitched I pitched a higher rate. I did this until I was comfortable at what I’m earning per 500 words.

But, drop that lower paying client once you land a better client or negotiate a better rate with them. You don’t want to spend most of your precious time with a lower paying client. Instead, spend the bulk of your time pitching to better freelance gigs.

4. Your Grammar Stinks

Too many typos, run-on sentences, and fragments can irritate editors and clients alike.

I try to read Strunk’s The Elements of Style yearly as a refresher, and I have a copy of the AP Stylebook for quick reference for my formal projects.

For my blogging clients, using Grammarly is sufficient to catch grammar errors.

We are all human and prone to mistakes, especially when we are sleep deprived or pregnant/postpartum. Don’t expect yourself to be perfect, but also equip yourself with the right tools to avoid common errors.

5. You Miss Deadlines

Clients prefer a reliable writer over a perfect one.

Remember that when you start landing clients and trying to manage your workload.

Editors can fix minor issues with your copy quickly, but they can’t edit an article that isn’t in their hands. If you struggle with deadlines, try breaking down your assignment into smaller sections and assign yourself a deadline two to three days before it is actually due.

This is what I do and it ensures that I always exceed my deadlines, wowing clients to hire me for more projects!

6. You Bug Your Client Too Much

Clarifying an assignment is one thing, but continually asking your client questions or for checks will get to them quickly.

This was one of the biggest mistakes I did when I landed freelance writing jobs I wasn’t too sure about.

But I had to remember that many clients are busy, which is why they hired me! If you can prove that you are a stress-relieving, essential part of their business, you will be their go-to writer for everything.

Plus, they look to us – freelance writers – professional writers – as the expert here.

WE ARE THE EXPERTS in writing and the business side of writing. So, they should look to us with the on-boarding process or delivering the product.

7. You Don’t Follow Instructions

Some freelance writing assignments will come with specific guidelines for SEO or word count.

For these clients, these aren’t just recommendations. Don’t think if your client asked for 500 words that they will be just as happy with 900. There have been times I was assigned a big topic, like “Plan Out Your School Year Month by Month”with a 500-word maximum.

So basically, with an intro, conclusion, and 12points, each section would have to be 35 words.

I let them know it would be hard to give concrete advice in a piece with a limited word count. This then helped them see that it would be better to break up the piece by seasons. Still not the length I desire but more realistic.

For my other clients, the more words the better.

Since my niche is digital marketing, for my clients to start ranking in Google, they know that long-form content is king. This is the type of content that Google finds highly valuable and rank on page one.

So blog posts longer than 2,200 words is only a guideline for my clients.

However, for new clients I always make sure to let them know that I went over the limit and to let me know if they want me to pare it down (as much as I possibly can!).

For example, my latest assignment was a 3,500 word article and I turned in 4,025 words. In the whole scheme of things, the extra 525 words isn’t anything to note.

8. You Make Repeated Mistakes

I’ve been picking up more big brand clients and these brands come with huge editorial guides, conference calls for pitching topics and pages upon pages of different buying personas.

With the addition of newer brand clients, I make mistakes like when I have to switch between different AP preferences. One client likes all numbers in numeral form, while others adhere to writing out anything less than 10.

Another client likes percent written out and another prefers the symbol for snappier writing and my Canadian client spells out percent like this “per cent.” Don’t even get me started on the Oxford comma.

It can be hard to keep track of all of these preferences or when an editor points out a mistake.

What I have to do now is fill out the client profile in my Productivity Planner for Freelance Writers for each client and quickly bullet point important style notes as well as an editor’s previous notes.

This then allows me to review the client’s note quickly without having to dig up old emails or their 10-page style guide.

9. You Get Defensive About Your Freelance Writing Work

When you receive critique from a blog post you submitted or are asked for edits, try not to take it personal. You’re not your writing.

Some edits might need to be done due to writer errors and others might be requested due to preference.

But, make sure to tell your clients during the negotiations of how many revisions you do for each project.

For me I do no more than two. And if a client asks for two revisions, I’ll most likely not work with them again.

I don’t have the time to try to fit my writing for that brand and it’s better for both parties to part ways so that they can find a writer for them.

This has only happened two times in the five years of being a freelance writer!

10. You Offer Everything and the Sun

Freelance writers have somehow become the go-to for everything in the realm of content marketing.

Some clients want their writers to do SEO research, interviews, edit, fact-check, create social media prompts, provide images, and promote the content.

If you can get the article featured on a big site too, “Great,” they say.

Your job as a writer is to write.

You are not a data scientist, social media manager, or PR rep. If your client wants you to do more than is typically expected in the realm of writing, then they need to pay you for the extra time required.

I know as a new writer, you want that gig and you will take it, but be careful.

As I mentioned previously, don’t let that one gig consume most of your hours. You didn’t sign up to be a freelance writer to be tied down to one job with a “boss” waiting for your work.

Personally, I never take gigs that require more than writing or replying to comments on my blog posts. If they want me to edit other people’s work, then they can hire me as an editor too.

11. Your Rates Are Too Low

Low rates can land you a few clients quickly, but they put you in a bad spot. With low rates, you attract lower quality clients (usually the needy or degrading ones).

You will have to focus on quantity of work rather than quality, which won’t allow you to scale your business.

It’s okay to start out with low-paying clients. The thing to remember is to have a plan to move up, don’t stay at $.05/word!

To be a successful freelance writer that makes a living out of this, you need to charge your worth.

Are You Making One of These Mistakes?

It’s okay if you are making one of these mistakes. Now that you know, you can change and move on!

Share in the comments any other mistakes you feel freelance writers are making that might be hurting their business! I want to help everyone out that not make the mistakes I did as a new freelance writer!

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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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Thank you for this post. One question, is it a mistake if you are submitting content to a site that accepts unpaid contributions for publishing and you use the same content and submit to different similar sites – for the purpose of promotion and visibility?Reply to Nena
Hi Nena! No, you can’t do that. To Google, that’s duplicate content. If a guest blog accepted your content and publishes it, you can’t submit that same content to another guest site or publish it on YOUR blog.Reply to Elna
OOOooo another good one! I’ve realized pretty quickly that owning a business means you’re in a constant cycle of learning and re-learning. Always love coming back to your blog for more advice! 🙂Reply to Emma
Hey Emma, Thanks again! Glad you liked this post too. I don’t publish many “agitation” types of posts as I like to write the benefits of being a freelance writer, but sometimes looking at it THAT way can motivate some! Thanks for stopping by!Reply to Elna
Hi Elna, As a new freelance writer trying to make it in the big old world of freelance writing this advice in invaluable! Thank youReply to Ben
Hi Ben, So glad you found this helpful! Sometimes knowing what NOT to do is just as important as what TO do! Good luck!Reply to Elna
Hi, Elna, my name is Derrick and I must say that your article is nothing short of brilliance. I like how you explained that writing—if a person is serious—should be considered a as business. I think that is very important. Having that perspective alone was the driving force that shifted my career in completely different direction.Reply to DERRICK
Hi Derrick, Thank you so much for your kind words! Yes, this is a business for sure and you need to have the confidence that your writing can help you make money!Reply to Elna
Thank you for this! I’m just starting out so these tips are helpful.Reply to Tiffany
Hi Tiffany! Good to hear! Glad you won’t be making these mistakes as a freelance writer!Reply to Elna
Great post as usual Elna. I have to admit I’m always hesitant when it comes to negotiate rates, but it is definitely important to grow your business and find the right clients.Reply to Andreia
Hi Andreia, So glad you found this post helpful! Yes, negotiating is scary, isn’t it? It was for me and I had to talk it over with my husband and other writers to gain that confidence. But, now, it’s easy for me to do and like you said, part of growing your business!Reply to Elna