Congratulations! You landed your first client.
Getting a positive response to a pitch or application can give you a writing high that lasts all week…that is, until you start working with the client and things start going wrong.
As a new freelancer, getting any job may be so exciting we’re willing to accept jobs that aren’t always the best fit. I certainly made some mistakes (and continue to make new ones) that ate up a lot of my time and energy at the beginning of my freelancing career.
The good news is I kept track of my rookie freelancing mistakes when landing a new gig, so you don’t make the same mistakes!
1. Not clarifying if you get a byline
The job ad said “writer”, not “ghostwriter”, so I assumed I would have a byline…wrong.
When landing a new client or gig, this is one of the most important things you can ask, especially if you’re working to build your portfolio. Having a byline helps build your brand and can even draw inbound leads — a dream for all new freelancers!
Clarify up front if you’ll be able to have a byline. If the answer is no, ask if you’ll be able to link to the writing in pitches, or if you can get a testimonial. If the answer is still no, think carefully about if the time is worth it. You may want to raise your rates if you’re not getting any exposure.
There’s nothing as disappointing as spending a lot of time writing a perfect article, only to not get the recognition for it you thought you would.
2. Writing about a topic you don’t believe in
You’ve responded to an ad or cold pitched, and they’ve responded. You’ve talked about average word count, if you’ll have a byline and how to submit. You’ve even agreed on cost per word and how you’ll get paid.
It’s finally time to write.
Then they send you the topic and your heart drops. Not only is it something you’re completely uninterested in, it’s also something you don’t believe in or agree with.
There are certain niches where this happens more than others, but it can happen to anyone. In my case (health niche), I was being asked to write about a specific supplement. I don’t really believe in supplements and diet pills, and I hadn’t used this one myself, so I felt really uncomfortable with the post.
I wrote it anyway, but I wish I hadn’t. Not only did it take forever (since I wasn’t familiar with it), but I hated every second of it. Freelance writing isn’t all fun and games, but the writing part is still supposed to be enjoyable!
Plus, my name was now attached to a piece I didn’t believe in.
When the client asked me to do another piece reviewing and recommending a very specific diet pill, I declined. I wish I had declined the first offer, too. Not only did I spend a lot of time on the writing, it actually made me dread writing. And even though it was bylined, I don’t like to use it in my portfolio. I did make some money, but I wish I’d spent my time on more positive work.
3. Not adjusting rates for word count/research
You may have a standard rate per word or per project you charge, and if the client is willing to pay, you’ll accept.
Especially starting out, the rates you’ll accept are probably pretty low. You’re just trying to build your portfolio, connections and skill set.
But just because the rate is the same as other work you do, doesn’t mean you should accept it without knowing other parameters. Writing a 3,000 word article might take more than three times longer than a 1,000 word article, depending on the research or interviews involved. My cost per word was the same, but my effective hourly rate sank dramatically at this word count.
The same thing can happen if the article is research-intensive. I had another client that wanted an average of 25 sources for a 1,000 word article. While I’m happy to accomodate, I can’t accept the low end of my rates for that work.
If your time is your most valuable asset, you need to take on work that has a good effective hourly rate.
4. Not reading any legal documents or disclaimers
While this happens infrequently, sometimes clients will have you sign a non-disclosure or some other legal document. Make sure you read these documents before signing.
I once had a client put a 10-year non-compete in my non-disclosure agreement. Luckily, with a lawyer for a father, I always read any contracts before signing. As a freelancer, a non-compete is simply unacceptable. I recommend asking if they’ll remove that language.
If they won’t, don’t sign it.
Above all, always value yourself, your work, and your time.
Don’t take work just because you’re excited about finally getting a gig and making some money. Ask the right questions, read requirements carefully, and price accordingly.
And don’t be afraid to walk away if the opportunity just isn’t right.