Living as a freelancer: 5 mistakes to avoid if you want to get paid

Angry copywriter screaming

When I first started out as a freelance writer, I would be lying if I said I did everything I could to make a name for myself.  There was a lot that I didn’t know and I didn’t fully understand the business side of freelancing – at first.

Freelance work, whether it be writing, programming, web development or some other web-friendly task, usually starts out as a side-job and that was the case with me. I didn’t take it terribly seriously, which made it that much more difficult for me to get started.

Building a reputation as being reliable and trustworthy wasn’t easy. In fact, at one point, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make it at all. After all, there is so much competition now and I am competing with hundreds of thousands of writers in my niche.

Simply casting a line and waiting for the fish to bite wasn’t an option. But look at me now– I’m writing guest posts all over the place, sharing my knowledge and experiences with the entire world.

So, how did I get here?

To be honest, I had to make a lot of mistakes first. I had a passion for writing, but I had to learn about the business side of freelancing.

Avoiding these mistakes requires not only that you know what they are, but also that you understand your freelancing work in the context of what it truly is: A business.

If you take shortcuts and don’t get the business side of your work organised, you will be ill-prepared to handle your business when it becomes bigger and more widespread. If you’re good at what you do as a freelancer, you can almost be assured that it will grow.

So when that happens, you can maintain your success by avoiding the following common mistakes:

1. Working without a contract

Even in the early going, a contract can be helpful when dealing with any client because it sets the terms of agreement and gets your payment and expectations in writing. Make no mistake; there will be clients that will stiff you and won’t pay you. A good way to prevent wasting your time is to get everything in writing before any work is assigned.

2. Working with any client

While it all depends on your field, some clients simply aren’t worth your time. If you notice red flags popping up or if you just have a “bad feeling” about someone, you might want to consider politely declining their offer. This is especially true when dealing with online contacts, as you may not always have the opportunity to meet them in person before any assignments are created.

Respect goes both ways. If you are punctual about getting your work in on time and respond to your clients’ notes/emails in a timely fashion, it would make sense to expect the same from them. On the other hand, if they don’t, working with that particular client may ultimately end up frustrating, particularly when they make promised they don’t intend to keep.

3. Taking on too much work

It’s a simple thought, but this is a major issue when it comes to freelancing, especially when you’re taking on freelancing as a side job. Never sacrifice quality for quantity and only take jobs that you’re certain you can devote the appropriate amount of time to.

On one hand, the more money you can make as a freelancer, the better. However, keep in mind that once the quality of the work you turn in begins to suffer, that client will take that as a note that you can’t handle the workload, which, in turn, will damage your reputation.

4. Missing deadlines/appointments

Part of preventing this is adhering to the previous mistake, but even with enough time, freelancing can make it oddly easy to fudge on timing and schedules. After all, you’re not an employee and you can’t be fired, so why not slack on the deadlines?

Sure you can’t be fired, but you can develop a poor reputation and people may stop contacting you altogether.

Take deadlines seriously and make sure you’re not falling behind without a good reason. Your clients are counting on you to submit your work in on time. They’re professionals, after all, and they may just let you go if it becomes too much of a problem.

5. Not up-selling clients and charging too little

You’ve got to have enough confidence in your work to not sell yourself short. If you truly believe you bring something of value to a client, charge them what is fair to both them and you. Often times, freelancing can feel like a bit of a junk-drawer type of work classification, so it can feel like you’re not worth that much.

Additionally, a great way to make a memorable first impression is to create an impressive resume that showcases your past work. This could include anything from having your own website to building a professional blog that exhibits your passion in your niche. Doing either of these things can give you a tremendous advantage over other freelancers applying for the same job as you. It might even open up more doors of opportunity for you.

Going all in

If you really want to make money as a freelancer, it helps to go all in on what you’re doing and actually believe in your freelance work as a business and not just a cheap out-of-high-school job. The fact is, freelancers are a valuable part of the workforce, particularly in our internet-driven age. All that to say, it’s worth taking seriously– at least enough to avoid these mistakes.

Now it’s over to you. Did you made any mistakes when you started freelancing? What happened and how do you avoid it happening again? Share your experience!

A little bit of magic from Camille McClane
As a freelance writer herself, Camille McClane often finds herself helping other freelancers in building their reputation on sites like Writing is only one of her many passions in life, and she truly believes that if you play your cards right, it can really open many doors.

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  • Gidget Media

    Great advice! I’ve been freelancing full time since September, so this is very timely! Would love to know more about what kind of ‘contract’ you would recommend. Are there any templates worth using? Or simply areas you would recommend get covered?

    • Belinda Weaver

      They aren’t legally binding as such but I have some terms and conditions that I consider “the rules of play”.

      How have you found the freelancing life so far?

      • Gidget Media

        Thanks, they look good. I’m loving freelancing life! Only thing is a lack of people contact when working from home. Do you do much coworking?

        • Belinda Weaver

          I don’t. I have done a little but I found it too distracting. I loved hanging out with people… a little too much!

          To stay connected with people and practise real conversation, I attend regular networking events. I find, I can be social but in a businessy setting. The best of both worlds!

          • Gidget Media

            I’d love to know some of your favourite networking events! You’re in the Melbourne area too?

          • Belinda Weaver

            I’m not local anymore, unfortunately, but two events I went to each month were:

   (morning coffee)
   (evening drinks)

            Very friendly people and no pitches, which is what I like :)

  • Jennifer Morton

    Thanks – I really needed this right NOW! Happy Holidays.

The Copy Detective also writes for…
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