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3 Common Mistakes Made by Rookie Freelancers

Updated on November 4, 2017

I don't know about you, but I had never taken the thought of becoming a professional writer serious until I found myself jobless and broke. I looked at myself in the mirror and saw a 38-year-old man who felt washed-up and useless. The forty year mark was fast approaching and I really couldn't swallow working for a company of any kind, no matter what the pay was or the position offered. As a matter of fact, the mere thought of going to some office every day until I was too old to continue repulsed me.

There isn't really any fancy story that describes how I found myself working as a freelance copywriter. I think most of us just got tired of having punk bosses or working to help someone else's company making millions of dollars while we can barely pay our bills and fall further into debt.

I am happy living a nomadic lifestyle, traveling the globe, working when I want. At first, you may read this and think, "Wow! A nomadic freelance writer - traveling the world!? Cool!" It is cool. Really cool. But it is not for the faint of heart. Hanging over your head is that impending possibility that you'll wake up with no work, little to no money, and living off people's charitable contributions until you recover. This has actually happened to me, so I can attest to the fact that it is far from fun.

With that said, I can also attest to the fact that my ending up in that situation was 100 percent my fault. If I had followed certain rules of the freelancing game, there is a chance that, not only would that situation not have befallen me, but I might be far more successful at this point in my career than I am now.

Because the freelancing community is one huge family (and this covers all sorts of freelancers and their chosen skill set), I would like to share three mistakes rookie freelancers make and how to avoid them.

Connecting with clients doesn't mean you have to get personal in order to do so.
Connecting with clients doesn't mean you have to get personal in order to do so.

1. Never Treat Clients Like Buddies or Friends

I made this the first mistake to cover because it is the one mistake that caused me the most pain. The thing about clients is there is this fine line between them being like your boss and being a customer - it's this professional relationship that resides somewhere in limbo.

There are times you will have clients that are really friendly and fun to chat with, while others are colder than a penguin's butt cheeks in Antarctica. Nevertheless, most clients sit somewhere in the middle of those extremes.

For example, I landed a client I found through LinkedIn (we'll call him John) who I had actually been writing for through a content mill. How I found out who John was and how to contact him is still my highly guarded secret, but the point is, it can be done even though content mills try their best to keep clients and writers from knowing who the other is.

He seemed like a really cool client to chat it up with, share tidbits of personal life with and joke around with. I made John a deal: I charge this much (cheap price) if he connected me with other people in his industry for this much (more expensive price). He was more than glad to. He connected me with one of my highest paying clients to date (also his best friend - should have been a red flag).

This new client (we'll call Greg) slammed me with nearly 100 projects right off the bat (another mistake we'll cover later in this article). In the beginning, things were beautiful. I was making enough money that I had begun to make big plans for the future - it seemed like I had finally made the "Big Time." My confidence would soon become my downfall.

Greg wasn't as warm as John in terms of conversation, but neither was he cold or rude. Every once in a while, Greg would joke or ask about an aspect of my personal life, but he never really told me much of anything about himself. There were times we would even joke around about some of his SEO clients and how "stupid" they could be at times. In the back of my mind, I was questioning all of this interaction.

One day, John sends me some orders and, whether he slipped up or not, I'm not sure, tells me he was giving me some orders he got from Greg. At first thought, I was thinking, "Hey, if I am doing orders that Greg gives you, then I am getting paid less for them. Was this on purpose?" Nevertheless, I kept silent. As time went on, this became a weekly thing. Meanwhile, Greg's orders directly to me were becoming less. Maybe Greg found out John was paying less and they worked out some sort of arrangement.

Whatever the case with that was, in my own mind, I built a "buddy" relationship with these two guys that, in actuality, never existed in their minds. I became so confident in my "relationship" with them that I began to slack off on their work, took shortcuts if I was overloaded instead of telling them it was too much work and became way too familiar in my conversations with them. I shared personal thoughts and information that, to be quite honest, was none of their business. Eventually, this eroded their respect for me as a writer.

Once you ruin your relationship with a client, you can't really hope to ever recover from it. Clients, no matter how fun they seem to be, are not your friends, spouse, lover, or family member. A client's kindness and fun attitude is just a part of the whole client/writer business relationship. If you get too personal or familiar, you risk saying or revealing something about yourself that they don't like or appreciate.

When you get to that point in your career where you are landing your own clients, remember that this is about making a living. They don't need to know anything at all about your personal life, thoughts, religious views, political stance, or anything else that could become a distraction. A good example to keep in the back of your mind is the CEO of a company who has to keep a good image for the company he represents.

Take Guido Barilla, Chairman of Italian pasta producer, Barilla, who made these comments: “I would never make a spot with a homosexual family," Barilla said in an Italian radio show interview. He continued to make things worse by saying, "Not out of a lack of respect but because I do not see it like they do. [My idea of] family is a classic family where the woman has a fundamental role."

Somewhere along the way, maybe he realized he may have screwed up and, in an attempt to clean it up, said that he actually supported gay marriage, "but not adoption in gay families." This caused every known supporter of gay rights to call for a boycott of the Barilla brand.

Don't think that because you shared some laughs with your client over a few chats, this now means you can tell them why you voted Trump for president. If a client asks a personal question (political, religious, or otherwise), the best answer to give is, "I really don't get into those sort of things."

As for those two clients, the relationship ended in such a bad way it's most likely not salvageable. But I don't kick myself too hard for it because it was a valuable learning experience.


2. Never Take On More Work Than You Can Reasonably Do

Most freelancers in most industries get paid per project versus by the hour. Mostly, this has to do with freelancers not knowing of or not using technology that can track their time spent on each individual project. For me, keeping track of time spent on content writing can be problematic. This is due to the fact that, depending on a number of unforeseen factors, you can end up spending more time on one project, and when it's time for the client to pay, there is a chance they will question the time you spent on it. Now you are stuck haggling with the client on the final price. Furthermore, when you two finally do reach an agreement, they might decide to use someone who offers a flat rate or price per word.

If you are like me and charge per the word or sometimes just charge a flat rate, you will find your imagination starts to get a tad bit out of hand - you're thinking, "Well, if I want to make x amount of money each month, all I have to do is write x amount of articles per day! I can do this!"

This thought process breaks rule 101 about becoming a writer: Don't think about money if you're serious about writing. I mean, yeah, no one, not even painters (the artistic kind), are doing what they do solely for the love of it. No sculptor would choose to live as a bum under a bridge just so they can pursue the love of sculpting. Every artist dreams of becoming the next big thing. And when you think about it, most people who do some artistic thing or another are thinking about the money. Nevertheless, writers, in particular, must focus on what's important: creating quality content.

When you create quality content, you can charge more for your work. But if you make it a habit of trying to finish as many projects in a day as possible, you're going to make big-time mistakes. At some point, those mistakes turn into deliberate acts of plagiarism and doing other half-assed tricks in order to increase your bottom dollar. Imagine a painter saying, "Screw it," and just splashing cans of paint on a canvas and calling it an "abstract" piece.

There was a time when I was so concerned about increasing productivity that I paid over $100 for software that promised to write articles for me. Needless to say, the software was a scam designed to scam foolish writers such as myself who forgot why I chose to become a writer in the first place: to share knowledge with others.

In the end, all you achieve is pissed off clients, lots of wasted time, and wasted money that could have been put to better use.

When accepting projects from clients, it is a great idea to know how many articles you can write well in a normal workday. This must include the estimated time it takes to research the topic of your content. I've read somewhere (exactly where eludes me at present) about a well-known content writer from Britain who said that the average time frame to write an article was around three hours. Of course, this includes his research and self-editing. That would mean roughly three a day, nine hours a day.

So, if you are writing 600-word articles for $20 a piece, it can be disheartening, to say the least. The answer to this dilemma is simple yet time-consuming: learn to write perfectly articulated content that follows the Associated Press' style of writing, with no spelling errors, no mistakes in grammar and that also follows the guidelines set by your clients.

It may take a couple of years maybe less, maybe more, but if you keep at it, sooner or later you will see people start offering you $40 for 600-words, or even $100 for 1,200-words. You only get there by created high-quality content, so don't take on too much at once and leave some time for learning the trade better. This is the best way to improve your bottom dollar.

3. Never Let Bad Stretches Detour You

Writing, like any creative or artistic endeavor, is something that not everyone can do. With that said, just because Shakespeare is considered a master by most who are into his style of writing, it doesn't mean other people can appreciate it or even grasp what his purpose was in creating those masterpieces. I will even admit that I am not too interested in laying down for a night Shakespeare reading.

Every writer, whether technically good or not, has their own style and flavor that makes them special. You best believe there are some bad authors out there who actually have a cult following. Look at how popular the book series Twilight became, even going as far as having television shows and movies made in its name. While some of the worst books in history were turned into films, there have been thousands of others that were awesome, but only sold a few thousand copies. Sometimes it can be as simple as a bad cover design that causes a perfectly good book to flop.

With that cleared up, there will be times you turn content over to clients, and the client will turn around and totally ream you. Maybe the content was just fine and it is the client who is illiterate. Could be the client had a bad day or just got served divorce papers. Thing is, you'll never know why they rejected your work and, frankly speaking, it shouldn't bother you that much.

I have had clients totally love my writing, while others absolutely hated it and made sure I was aware that my writing made no sense. This is because, same as music, painting, dancing, and most other creative arts, not everyone is going to dig what you're dishing. To bring my point home, if you were to ask me about some country music artist, I'd most likely tell you I ardently hate country music. Nevertheless, they might actually be a great singer. It's not the voice that rubs me the wrong way, it's the music and subject matter I don't like.

For new content writers, getting bashed by a client can be utterly devastating. Believe me, I've been there. One of the content mills I started writing for was Blogmutt. You take on a project and compete against other authors for the sale. In the end, the client must choose one and reject the rest. On top of that, the client is able to leave a comment as to why they rejected your content. Sometimes the reasons for rejection is, "Chose another article that was a better fit." Not too bad, right? Yeah, say that until you get some jerk who makes the reason they rejected your content because "It just didn't make any sense at all." When in actuality, it was well written, it just failed to cover some aspects that they expected it to cover, yet they either didn't put in the instructions or communicated it poorly.


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