Mistakes I’ve Made As A Freelancer

Freelancing is a tricky career to crack - here are some mistakes I've made along the way, so you don't need to.

I’ve been running a freelance hustle for seven years. I’m pretty sure I could have done it better.

The thing with freelancing is that you have to sell yourself. I’m good at telling businesses what their marketing needs, how to shape a tone of voice, and how to position their brand. I’m great at writing sales copy that converts leads.

So why can I not sell myself just the same?

Freelancing is a lonely gig, and we all think we’re the only ones who’ve been through a situation before. Whether that’s a non-paying client, realising you could’ve charged three times as much, or taking the low-paid work just ‘for the portfolio’. We’ve all had nights where the self-doubt became crippling, the social life suffered, and we wanted to jack it all in and go back to working for The Man.

I made a lot of mistakes when I was starting out. If I hadn’t made these mistakes, maybe I would have been far more successful by now.

Therein lies mistake one:

I Misjudged What Success As A Freelancer Meant To Me

Freelancing is all about the money and the flexible lifestyle, right?

Apparently, it isn’t.

My biggest mistake when starting out was trying to focus on where to make the big bucks, fast. I spent more time researching niches that could make me money than finding something I enjoyed and was interested in writing about.

It turns out that, for me, success is seeing a solid portfolio with regular work across a range of industries. That shows off my skill as a generalist: master of all trades, but only for the time in which I need to write about them.

If I’d realised this years ago, I’d be in a position to sell my services with more confidence. I might not know what your industry is about – yet – but I’m the fastest learner around in this town, and my super power is turning complex terms and jargon into read-easy copy.

I Never Charged For Research Time

I used to only charge my clients for the time it would take to write and edit their copy. Seriously. I never charged for research.

I didn’t want clients to think I knew nothing, or that I wasn’t good enough in their field to write for them, so I did the research on my own time.

Recently, I estimated that I’ve lost around 3000 hours in the last seven years, because I felt bad for charging to research. When you work that out at an hourly rate… I lost about three years’ full-time salary.

Now, I charge for research – and my clients respect me for it.

I Got Swept Up In The ‘Make Money Blogging’ Craze 

I’ve been writing, and blogging, in various forms, since before it was cool. It’s in my nature to write.

I should have known that I don’t need to learn how to make money from blogging, because I already DO make money from blogging – in my own way.

I spent countless hours trying to work out how to get into affiliate programs, learning the Secret Sauce that these bloggers with huge income reports seem to have access to, and figuring out how to monetise my site.

I’m not saying these are things I’ll ignore for the future, but I do know that, as my site stands now, and as my experience tells me: I make money blogging. However, I don’t do it by telling other people how to make money blogging (which, to be honest, seems to be the only way to make big cash – and that feels unethical to me).

I make money blogging because I send my portfolio, and my blog, to potential clients. I use old-school networking. I use new-school social media networking. I find clients, rather than potential bloggers who also want to make money.

I Felt Guilty Asking To Be Paid

Possibly the most common thread between all freelancers is the payment issue. When do you charge clients? How much? Is it OK to request payment before work begins? How do you deal with a non-paying customer?

Every time I sent an invoice, I’d feel a pang of guilt. Maybe I was charging too much. Maybe they weren’t happy with my work.

The terms of my invoices used to be a long 30 days, and clients would almost always miss that deadline. I’d wait another 30 days before daring to send a reminder email.

As my confidence has grown, so has my determination to be paid just like any other supplier. My terms are now split between an immediate upfront and a balance paid upon submission of the writing. Paid immediately. That’s it. There’s no wiggle room.

I learned that if you treat yourself like a business, clients will respect you more as a business, too. An insider once told me about a new manager going nuts at a reminder email I’d sent, for an invoice that was 6 weeks overdue (which I happened to know had been signed off for payment 5 weeks prior). They were, at the time, my biggest client. When I heard this had happened, I dropped them.

Two weeks later they were back in my inbox, offering to pay upfront and for a large project. I still said no. Suddenly, I had more time for new clients, and more confidence to charge the rate I was due instead of the rate I thought they would pay.

I Thought Full-Time Was The Only Way It Would Count

I went full-time once, and failed miserably. A combination of ill health and inexperience at self-marketing meant I simply couldn’t keep up with the balance of promotion to land clients and completing work for existing clients.

I went back into full-time office work as an agency copywriter. Four months later, I was redundant. The freelancing came back into play.

This time, I made it work. I learned my mistakes from my previous failures, and networked my booty off. It worked!

I was a full-time freelancer for a long time.

But I missed people.

I missed a steady pay cheque. I missed the routine of the 9-5. All of the things that I thought had driven me away from full-time office work actually ended up being the things which drove me back.

Now, I have a full-time job as a content marketer – and I freelance as a side hustle. I get to write about the things I enjoy, and am also more selective about my clients. My time is more valuable and, as such, I find clients who are willing to be patient for quality work rather than desperate for fast-and-cheap copy.

My employer knows I freelance, and doesn’t raise too much of an eyebrow when I clock in at 6am to do my own work until 9am. I’ve found the balance. I get the steady job, the steady pay, and the camaraderie of an office, but also follow a passion for writing on the side.

It’s entirely OK to realise that full-time freelancing isn’t for you.

15 comments

  1. Nice read. You have explained everything that a newbie freelancer makes.Not many realize the pain and uncertainty that a writer has to face while he/she starts writing. I have written something similar on my own blog under the titles https://thepotpourriofthoughts.com/2017/09/21/why-is-it-tough-to-be-a-freelance-writer-in-india/ and https://thepotpourriofthoughts.com/2017/10/23/how-to-succeed-as-a-freelance-writer-in-india/. Hope together we can build a world where the freelancers get equal respect and earn according to their talent, rather than their designations and tags.

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  2. This is such a good article! I know a lot of young aspiring freelancers who always felt guilty when asking for payments. What I found most interesting about your article was the mistake of not charging for research. I think that many freelancers are afraid of charging for research because of the perceived reflection of not knowing everything. Your article highlights all the things which are felt by those starting out in freelancing. Keep up the good work!

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    • Thanks so much! Yep, it took me ages to start charging for research, as I felt I was being hired for the skill to write rather than read… but you need one for the other! Thanks for stopping by and leaving such a lovely comment 🙂

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    • So much guilt! All the guilt. It is silly, really, when you realise that you’re a supplier just like anyone else – but for some reason it feels odd to ask for money, doesn’t it? I’m glad you enjoyed the article, and thanks for stopping by to comment 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I started having this very same thought about the “make money blogging” chorus just recently. Just as you put it so aptly, I’ve begun to realize that I can still make money blogging by not necessarily building a five-figure email list or descending into the trade of selling the overhyped “make money blogging” tips. I wonder often if these guys really made it first through blogging before selling their blogging success tips or it’s the sale of the tips, rather than actual blogging that makes the money for them. For me, producing ebooks, freelancing, and ecourses are just a few of the areas I’m considering to pursue over time as a blogger. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I’ll keep coming back for more.

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    • Thanks so much Ralph! I think that there are some genuine bloggers out there who have taken the time to build a good following, email list, and really do have the know-how to pass on, you’re right: many have skipped right to the ‘how Pinterest gave me 100k page views a month’ elements. For me personally, that feels unethical – but hey, if you want to make money you go where the cash is, right? I agree that ebooks and courses are a valuable part of being a blogger earning money – and these are elements I’m also working on myself – but they’re about the CRAFT rather than the SALES – and that’s where the difference lies.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is such a great article! Actionable tips for someone who wants to make it on their own, plus a reminder that work as a writer/creative has value. As someone working in the same area, I’ve heard too many “It takes just a couple of minutes, right?” or “I could do it on PowerPoint”. And the answer is just… nope. It’s really important to educate businesses on the fact that creating copy and design, which is both appealing and has all the important bits of information, is hard and valuable work that deserves to be paid accordingly. Great that you share that here!

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    • Thanks so much for your valuable comment! 🙂 I think it’s SO easy for non-creatives to not realise/choose to ignore/have zero understanding of the creative wage. Being able to stand up for yourself and say, well look: if I spent this time in your office doing the same thing, you’d pay me, right? – that’s so important. I’m so pleased you found this article interesting 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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