When you’re just starting out as a freelance writer, the road can be a little tumultuous.
It takes a while to figure out what works, what doesn’t work and how to be the absolute best writer you can be.
Sadly, that doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a few bumps in the road, some trial and error and, frustrating as it is, plenty of mistakes.
To save you the hassle and heartache though, I want to share with you some of those mistakes I experienced when I was starting out. Read them, study them and learn from them. Let my mistakes guide your way!
1. Taking on every job that comes your way
When you’re just starting out, it can be a little scary. You’re not sure if you made the right decision, you are wondering if you are a good writer and you’re worried about how you’ll pay for groceries, your bills and maybe even your rent.
It’s totally understandable.
As normal as it is, though, this fear also makes us vulnerable. We constantly look for validation that we made a good choice – that we’ll be able to make money, manage our careers and survive on our own.
Sadly, this sometimes leads us to take on jobs we shouldn’t. Every client and offer we get makes it a little less scary. It validates us, and lets us know that we made the right decision (and that we will have some cash flow coming in!) It makes us feel safe and wanted.
But let me tell you a secret: Not every job is worth it. Not even at the beginning.
If a job is not in your wheelhouse, it’s not teaching you something, or you’re not making a fair, profitable rate, it’s not worth your time. You’re better off spending those hours marketing yourself, creating a killer online portfolio or networking with business owners than you are typing away at a penny per word.
Don’t accept bargain-basement rates just to fill the time. Always know your worth, work hard, and the right job will come around.
And if you have any concern or worry about your writing performance and you feel any bit of fear, you will want to read my Free report, “Freelance Writing Fear Smashers.” Learn how I overcame the same fear and built confidence to become the well-paid freelance writer I am today.
2. Not considering the business aspects of the job
As a newbie freelance writer, I had fooled myself into thinking I’d be writing all day, every day and just living it up.
Boy, was I wrong.
Yes, by trade, we’re all writers. But never forget: Your writing is a business, too.
There is so much more to the job than just researching, brainstorming and churning out content. You have to budget. You have to create invoices and follow up on payments. You have to pay quarterly taxes, track your expenses and maintain your portfolio.
There are dozens of moving parts, and they all need to be tended to, managed and perfected. If they’re not, you will likely fall off track somewhere.
Reserve time each week for the business related tasks. I know, they’re not fun, but they play a crucial role in your success. When in doubt, try a business course at Udemy. Many of them are free and can give you a great primer in managing your career.
3. Getting chaotic with scheduling
Another misconception I had about my freelance writing career? That I’d have all the time in the world.
I dreamed of sleeping until 11, leisurely sipping my coffee on the patio, and getting around to work when I could. I thought about regular breaks to walk my dog, grab lunch with a friend or go for a run on a sunny afternoon.
In only took a few weeks before those dreams were shattered.
Sure, as freelancers, we have a certain amount of leeway with our schedules. We don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn, brave a long commute or clock in for a traditional 9-to-5.
We do, however, need to keep a regular schedule. It might not be one that most people would keep (you can start at 3 a.m. or 3 p.m. for all I care!), but it needs to be one your clients can rely on – a time when they know they can reach you and get in contact if needed.
A regular schedule also keeps us on track work-wise. We know how much time we have in a day, and that helps us properly allocate hours for existing projects, business tasks and any new or potential clients we may have in the pipeline.
It may not be as “fun” as you hoped for starting out, but keeping some sort of schedule – no matter how off-kilter it is – will be a vital part of your success as a writer.
4. Letting distractions get the best of you
Branching out on your own can be freeing. You no longer have a boss or manager to report to, and you have the amazing benefit of working from home, in your pajamas, at any hour of the day.
This is both a blessing and a curse though.
Without someone to watch over us, not to mention the countless distractions around the house, it can be hard to stay on track.
Your favorite shows are sitting on the DVR, your dog is waiting to be walked, and your friends want to meet up for an early happy hour. Why would you ever want to buckle down and write that blog post that’s overdue?
The truth is that being a freelance writer take a lot of discipline. You have to learn to tune out the distractions, put your head down and get to work.
That’s not to say you can’t take breaks or have fun once in a while, but make sure when it’s time to work, that’s exactly what you’re doing.
Often, I’ve found that some of the biggest distractions aren’t even around the house – they’re on my computer. I want to read blogs, check Facebook and get on Gchat to talk to friends. When this happens? Try one of these tools: Ommwriter or Write or Die.
Both of these give you a clean, clutter-free dashboard on which to write, and Write or Die even turns your tasks into a competitive sport. It can improve your efficiency and help you plow through that workload.
5. Not having the right equipment
When I first started, I was using my old, run-down laptop. While it certainly cut it for my leisurely internet browsing and Netflix-binging, I quickly learned it wasn’t going to last long in my newfound career.
It started to run slow, freeze up and go haywire. Keyboard keys were lost, and viruses wiped out hours of work. It was a downright disaster.
I can’t tell you how much easier my first year would have been with a better, faster and more agile computer. I would have made more money, been more efficient and, probably enjoyed the job a bit more. (Computer problems can be so frustrating!)
So if there’s one piece of advice I can give you…invest in a great computer system. Whether it’s Mac or PC is your choice, but don’t go for the bargain, sale-price models. Choose one with plenty of memory and power, and opt for lighter-weight models so you can take them on the go.
Also be sure to stock up on any programs you may need. Some of my most used ones? Word, Excel, Outlook, Acrobat and Dropbox. For more tips, make sure you check out my previous blog post, How to Create a Productive Freelance Writer’s Workspace.
Making mistakes are a natural part of life. They help you learn, grow and get better. I hope my mistakes can help you do just that!
Were there any beginner mistakes you experienced that I didn’t mention? Be sure to share them in the comments.
Need more advice? Here is my Step-by-Step Guide on How to Get Started and Become a Freelance Writer.