10 early career mistakes every freelancer makes

Jun 15, 2016

When people find out that I’m a self-employed professional writer, I can see their faces light up. People love the idea of working from home and setting their own hours – probably because they’re tied up in a job that they don’t like.

The advantage of being a freelancer is the flexibility, which means that you have the ability to drive your own income. But don’t think that being self-employed is always peaches and cream, because it’s not.

You won’t always have the guidance to keep you from making costly mistakes, and I have made some fine ones in the early days of my career. I would like to talk about some of the common mistakes that freelancers make when they first start out, and I hope this article will serve as a guide in helping you make smarter decisions about your business and your career.

1: Not knowing what you're worth

I’m surprised by how many freelancers fall into the trap of accepting low pay for high feedback. Not a day goes by when I don’t see these jokers asking for 10 articles for $20 (or some other crazy-low figure). I can think of a few “choice phrases” that I can say to those people, but I won’t indulge myself.

To be honest, I made this mistake twice, and both of them ended in disaster. From then on, I decided not to accept these jobs, and neither should you. It’s important to know what you’re worth, and your price should reflect that. Find out what the going rate is, and stick to it like a fly on flypaper.

I know it’s tempting to accept those low-paying jobs (especially when you have to pay rent and buy food), but the reason why these jobs never work is because they don’t see the value in the product. That’s why they want such a low price tag.

By sticking to your guns, you can weed out the “bad eggs,” which can help you to focus on clients that value your work and your time. You want to be selective on which jobs you take on, and you want to be confident in what you can offer.

Remember that it’s not so much about price as it is about value, and the ones that see you as a skilled professional won’t mind paying more.

2: Being afraid to negotiate

No price is ever etched in stone, and there’s always room for negotiation. Your business will change as it continues to grow, and sometimes you’ll need to charge a higher rate to keep your cash flow healthy.

However, many people are afraid to re-negotiate because they’re afraid of losing the business. There are some who will refuse to give you that higher paycheck, but there are others who will be happy to give you more – that is, if you have a reputation of producing quality work.

3: Signing contracts without reading them

It’s always a good business practice to read a contract carefully before you sign it, as failing to do so is a recipe for disaster. Contracts are legally binding documents, so you need to know exactly what’s in it before you sign on the proverbial dotted line.

Be sure to pay attention to things like:

  • Publishing rights
  • Number of free revisions
  • Kill fees

Articles get killed all the time, so you want to know how these types of situations will get handled. That way, your work won’t go to waste. And if you don’t like what’s in the contract, you can always ask for changes.

4: Not checking facts (or even plagiarizing)

A sure-fire way to end a writing career is to plagiarize content, as it will destroy your reputation. That’s why you should consider using online plagiarism checkers (such as Unplag) to check your pieces for duplicate content.

It’s just as important to check your facts to make sure you’re giving people accurate information. Don’t rely on editors to verify anything, because many of them don’t have the time or the resources to do it.

5: Not setting clear goals

People often say that those who “fail to plan, plan to fail,” and I think that’s true. Don’t let your career dictate who you become. Set your goals and plan your career in a way that will help you achieve them. Knowing where you want to go will not only help you find jobs that will help you get there, but it will also make you more satisfied in your career.

6: Not standing up for yourself

Many freelancers are afraid to stand up for themselves because they don’t want to start a confrontation with the client. People are hiring you for your expertise, so don’t be afraid to tell them what needs to be done.

Be confident in what you’ve produced, and be sure to give them a reason why. You may find that they will change their mind once you take the time to explain yourself.

7: Spending too much time looking for work

I’m sure some of you think I’ve taken a ride on the crazy train (with apologies to Ozzy Osbourne), but there is a method to my proverbial madness. This may seem counter-productive, but work will come and go. And sometimes you need to find a way to create work.

You can spend some time working on the business when you’re not working in the business. When the amount of client work slows down, I see it as an opportunity to work on my fiction (or some other project).

8: Not taking the time to develop their skills

The world is constantly changing, especially with the recent technological explosion. Not staying up-to-date on any new methods can leave you behind.

Try reading blogs and other online sources for more information about the latest concepts and ideas that are related to your field, and there are some online courses you can take if you’re willing to pay a small fee.

9: Taking more work that they can handle

It may be tempting to say “yes” to everything and sort things out later, but taking on too much work can lead to disastrous results.

Don’t be afraid to tell clients that you won’t be available right away. Most of them will gladly wait if they have a firm belief in what you can do. You can also use certain project management tools to help you keep track of your workflow.

Trello is a great tool, and it’s what I use to keep things straight when things get too overwhelming.

10: Not getting rid of bad clients

You can’t please everyone, so it’s best not to try. Some clients will ask you for more than what they have in their budget, and some may tell you what to do without listening to you telling them what needs to be done.

I have found that people who think they know everything really don’t know anything. So, don’t waste your time trying to please them, because you can’t. And don’t be afraid to get rid of clients who won’t let you do your job.

Final Thoughts

Having your own business can be one of the most rewarding things you could ever do, but it can also be one of most challenging things you will ever pursue. If you work your business the right way, it could be very lucrative. But it requires careful planning and patience. If you make smart decisions, being a freelancer can give you a platform for success.

Please, don’t hesitate to tell stories about your early career mistakes in the comment section!

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.

Nancy Lin

Nancy Lin is an enthusiastic freelance writer from Kansas City. When she is not writing, Nancy likes to go to rock concerts with her friends.