Diana Kelly Levey

Top Freelance Mistakes Beginner Freelancers Make

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September 26, 2022

These freelancing mistakes could be holding you back from achieving freelance success, growing into a six-figure freelance business, and thwart motivation. I’m an experienced freelancer and I still occasionally fall prey to these top freelance mistakes. I’m outlining some mistakes and missteps even smart freelancers make to help you avoid some of these costly blunders.

Avoid These Biggest Freelancer Mistakes Beginners Often Make

I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my 15-plus years as a freelancer. Here are freelance mistakes I made or ones that others tend to make in their freelance business, particularly if they are beginner freelancers. Here are some of the biggest freelancer mistakes to avoid.

You’re letting perfection get in the way of launching.

You told yourself you’re ready to start a freelance business. But first you have to choose a name for your business and buy the domain name for your website, and you feel stuck. Then once you have that live, you need to hire a great web designer. Or you need to start a blog on the website and you feel fear around writing. Or, you need a professional-looking photo and you are waiting until you lose a few pounds before you share that photo with the world.

There are tons of excuses freelancers come up with to avoid “launching” their business. And unfortunately, it can result in a delay that costs you a lot of time and money. Learn how to build a freelance writer website and send your first pitch within a few days.

You aren’t carving out time in your calendar for freelancing.

Whether you work a full-time job and want to freelance as a side hustle, are a stay-at-home parent who wants to earn freelance money while your kids are in school or sleep, are a college student, or are unemployed and looking to give a freelance career a go, you won’t succeed if you don’t plan out time to freelance in your calendar.

I suggest blocking out time in your calendar, setting alarms on your phone to wake up earlier, or reminders on your calendar to go off to tell you to get your butt in the chair. Believe it or not, most freelance work and freelance clients won’t simply show up in your inbox with assignments without some effort. You need to look for freelance writing jobs for beginners, spend time each week marketing yourself, connect with editors on social media, use LinkedIn tips for freelancers to find jobs, and work on writing sample clips if you don’t have them.

You aren’t working your network.

I tell freelance coaching clients and students in  my freelance writing online courses to “let everyone know you’re freelancing.”

  • Post it on your social media channels.
  • Email former colleagues and let them know the skills you offer. Include any writing samples if you have them.
  • Reach out to family members and close friends and suggest they start blogs and newsletters for their small businesses. (And yes, charge them!  Just because they are friends and family doesn’t mean you should work for free. Unless maybe if it’s your parents or partner.)

This freelance mistake is one I see people making when they decide to “go freelance” and simply start sending cold email pitches and applying to jobs on content mill websites. You’ll have a much better chance of getting some work—particularly in that first year of freelancing—if you start trying to work for people who know you.

You’re only applying to jobs online.

This is a follow-up on the tip above but I suggest freelancers send out letters of introduction to businesses they are interested in working with. Check out this content marketing exercise as a way of finding potential freelance clients right in front of you. Need an example of a freelance pitch? Look at all of the products right in front of your face right now. These brands need content marketing writers. You write content! You’re already a customer who knows their product. See if they have a blog. If they do, reach out to a marketing manager and ask if they use freelancers. If they don’t have a blog or newsletter or good social media presence, offer your freelance services.

You aren’t tracking your time.

Anyone who’s been reading some of my blog posts knows that I’m a big promoter of using time-tracking software. A time-tracking tool is one of my best apps for writers. If you don’t know how long a project took you from start to finish, how will you know whether you earned a good hourly rate? I’ve been doing this for 15 years and I still overestimate and underestimate the time it takes me to do certain freelance tasks as well as how long it takes me to write an article or work on a freelance article assignment.

Time tracking showed me that I could earn $600 an hour for a content marketing client. You know what that told me? I’m going to prioritize their work and keep feeding them content ideas so I can maximize my time and hourly rate. 

You are saying yes to every client.

Beginner freelancers find themselves hungry for work, yes money, and getting samples to showcase their freelance work to other potential clients. I get it and think it’s a good idea to say yes to a lot of freelance work from a variety of clients in different industries while you’re getting your feet wet. But you don’t need to work for a very low rate. There’s a lot more freelance work out there than you think and ways to find high-paying freelance clients.

Remember, you don’t need to work with clients you don’t like, particularly if they don’t treat you well.  Also, know that onboarding new clients take a lot of time and energy that isn’t paid work. It’s why I don’t recommend working on a lot of one-off assignments and instead trying to focus on repeat work with freelance anchor clients if you can.

You’re working too much and feeling burnt out.

Another mistake new freelancers—and experienced freelance writers—make is that they work too many hours, never leave their desks, check email around the clock and don’t give themselves downtime. In order to have a lasting, successful freelance business, you need to take breaks throughout the day, have a few days off a week, schedule in vacation time (even if it’s a staycation) and build in some time for “sick days”—you’re going to need them.

If you think you can’t slow down the volume of work in order to pay your bills, you probably need to raise your rates. Freelance burnout zaps creativity, makes you feel unmotivated, and you’re going to be tempted to go back to conventional full-time employment. BTW, how many hours do freelancers work?

You’re focused on a very small niche.

You read about the benefits of freelance niche writing and even explored some of the most profitable freelance niches, but if you get too niche too early in your freelance career, you might miss out on other fields that could be interesting to you. Or, your clients will only think of you for this “one specific topic” – which can be a good thing but you should also make sure they are aware that you can cover similar topics in the field. An example might be that you write about sleep apnea products. That could be a great niche and one that pays well. But you might want to branch out a little and address dental sleep medicine in general. Let your clients know that you are well versed in their customers’ problems, but that you can address content that broader audiences relate to.

You don’t have your finances in order.

One of the main reasons freelance writers fail is that they made the freelance mistake of not running their services as a business. Before you go full-time freelance, make sure you have a few months of living expenses set aside. In most situations, even if you get a freelance assignment today and turn it in within a week or two, by the time your paperwork is processed and the company pays you on a 30- to 45-day payment schedule (unfortunately quite standard in many companies), you have bills due and you probably needed to eat in that time period. Here, discover 7 times you should turn down freelance assignments.

You aren’t prepared for tax time.

Freelancers are often paid in gross revenue and will need to pay taxes (in the U.S.) quarterly or at the very least, every spring. While I’m not an accountant—you should consult with one—I’ve found it beneficial to set aside about 30 percent of every freelance assignment for taxes. It also helps to learn more about write-offs and business expenses that can help grow your business. This guide on taxes for freelance writers tips can help.

You don’t have an hourly rate in mind.

If you don’t know how much you want to earn per hour as a freelancer, it’s hard to know what type of rate to throw out to a client. I suggest freelancers work backward when establishing a freelance hourly rate. My marketing plan for freelancers breaks down how to calculate an hourly freelance rate by thinking about your annual salary goal, number of days you want to take off, hours you want to work each week, and a few other details.

Let’s say a client offers you $200 for a 500-word assignment. Once you know the details about the assignment, you might determine that it will take you about two hours to complete. That means you’d earn $100 an hour freelancing. That’s a fantastic rate. If your personal freelance hourly rate goal was in the $100 an hour range, you’d be hitting it.

But let’s say the client offers you that same amount of money for a similar assignment with a lot more work involved. You estimate it’ll take at least five hours or more to work on. That would leave you with an hourly rate of $40 an hour. If your goal is to earn $100 an hour or more, it wouldn’t be worth it to continue working on similar assignments for that client at that rate. Here’s an idea of how much to charge for 500-word article.

You aren’t prepared for the marketing and admin work.

Does writing all day and getting paid for the creative work you’re turning in sound fun? It is! But what I’ve realized in my freelance business is that writing for paying clients is only a small portion of the job.

I spend about 30 percent of my time in my freelance business writing, another 30 to 40 percent marketing (which involves pitching ideas and sending out cold email pitches introducing myself to clients) and the other 30 to 40 percent of the time doing administrative work.

In my business, I count marketing as writing blog posts, writing LinkedIn articles and posts, emailing previous clients, emailing current clients for more work, staying on top of social media, scheduling social media posts and seeing what competitors are doing, working on freelance online courses and digital products.

Admin work involves getting set up with new clients, chasing down invoices and payments,  looking at my business expenses, paying virtual assistants or independent contractors who help me and manage their work, updating my website and portfolio, as well as a bunch of other boring tasks.

Many freelancers aren’t prepared for this portion of the freelance job. Freelancers need to constantly be marketing—even when they’re busy. And the admin work isn’t sexy and can get complicated. If you aren’t organized, you can miss out on payments. Ignoring this portion of the freelance job is a big freelance mistake you can’t afford to make.

You feel lonely and don’t do anything about it.

Freelancing is a lonely business. Sometimes the only other people you talk to are the mailperson or a cashier during the day (I know I was super chatty with strangers when I lived by myself and ran my freelance business from home). You might find you’re missing out on community and bouncing ideas of other coworkers or just feel tired and bored of your same element day in and day out.

I suggest freelancers connect with online communities—Facebook groups, Reddit threads, Quora, alumni groups and slack groups—as well as try to find local communities of entrepreneurs who have meetups. I also find that leaving my home office and working in a coffee shop or library around other people who are working helps me feel “connected.”

The lonely freelance life isn’t for everyone and if you find you don’t like it—and aren’t satisfied with the socializing you’re doing outside the home outside of business hours—you might want to look into taking a part-time job.

You don’t like to toot your own horn.

One important aspect of becoming a successful freelancer is to ask for referrals and recommendations, promote your work, and let others know about your freelance achievements. For many of us freelance writers—especially those introverts—it can feel uncomfortable, salesy, and just downright icky to talk about ourselves and try to sell others on our skills so they will hire us. You’ll need to promote yourself and your skills on social media as a freelancer.

One strategy I use to get over those imposter syndrome feelings as a freelancer is to remind myself that I’m doing work that can help others. I didn’t get into freelancing just for the money. I wanted to work on meaningful assignments with interesting clients and share their messages to help others improve their lives. When I tell myself that selling my services and skills allows me to do more of that “good work” it helps me feel more confident.

If you’re concerned about some of the biggest freelance mistakes and need some help managing your business, reach out for freelance coaching services.

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