When you start a business as a freelance writer, you’re bound to make some mistakes. No matter how many advice columns and guides to freelancing you read, some lessons can only be learned in the trenches.
I’ve made many blunders since launching my side gig as a freelancer: letting a pitch sit so long without followup that it’s gotten cold; not keeping my social media voice consistent; not making myself stick to a writing schedule; and more.
Here are a few of the big mistakes new freelancers tend to make, errors that keep writers from landing the best freelance gigs — so you’ll have a better chance of avoiding them before they bite you.
1. Scattered, inconsistent presentation
Every foothold you have on social media must be consistent. How confusing would it be if you liked a brand and decided to find out more about it online, only to discover all of its profiles were different? Its website was recently rebranded under a new name; one of its social media accounts was full of misspellings; and another account’s latest post was in 2011.
A lot of freelancers treat their personal brands in this haphazard way, rather than making every platform work together to attract clients. The fact is that if you don’t make yourself easy to find, customers won’t take the trouble to hunt you down. And if your offerings aren’t clear, they won’t hire you. Making the message on all your profiles match eliminates confusion and helps you turn inquires into solid leads.
If your online persona is so fragmented that every account looks like a different person, remedy this by choosing the same professional profile picture and pithy bio for every site. Narrow your social presence to just a few sites, like your personal website or blog, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Lastly, choose a brand voice and stick with it. Kristi Hines (known on Twitter as @kikolani), has this down pat with her professional presentation and focus on content marketing. Sports writer Nick McCarvel (@NickMcCarvel) is another good example of consistency; he injects some personal observations and colloquialisms into his Twitter commentary while keeping it businesslike in his commentary articles.
2. Random posts and self-promotions
Posting and sharing without any sort of master plan lessens your chance of attracting good work. If you miss direct messages, share little about your industry (other than pleas for someone to hire you), and frequently pop off with curses or squabbles, you’ll alienate potential followers.
For a more tactical approach to social media, start by figuring out when your followers are most active online, and how wide your reach already is. Free monitoring tools can help with this part. You’ll want to schedule most of your updates for those windows when your followers tend to be online.
If you don’t think you can come up with something to say every time, start a backlog of drafts that you can release when traffic is high. The frequency with which you post will depend mainly on how often you feel you can say something substantial and relevant. It’s better to have a few consistent, quality posts than a full timeline that just sounds like you’re making things up as you go.
Once you have a basic posting schedule arranged for maximum engagement and an understanding of the tactics of each platform, you should decide exactly what your take on the market should be. Will you position yourself as an expert, here to inform? A learner, posting about your journey as you gain familiarity with the industry? A skeptic, scrutinizing everything you see and sharing how it could have been better? Whatever angle you choose, keep it in mind when selecting your brand voice.
The only thing worse than tacky self-promotion is no self-promotion. Don’t be so falsely humble that you never actually say how good you are at writing, and what you can offer to others. Check out Graphic Design Blender’s guide to promoting yourself without tearing others down, being outdone by bigger competitors, or overlooking valuable opportunities. Some of their suggestions include promoting yourself offline through strategic relationships and impressive print pieces, and being specific about what you bring to your market niche.
3. Irregular networking
Networking is tough. Whether you’re a designer, a writer or an editor, we all experience similar struggles. But these few tricks can make networking easier:
- First of all, be bold. Go for the clients you want; don’t just send up little online flares and hope your dream collaborator sees one. A short email introducing yourself and explaining that you’d love to help with any work they have in your field is entirely appropriate. Here’s how to write a tasteful pitch.
- Don’t assume your family and friends can’t help you just because they aren’t familiar with freelancing. Take time to explain what exactly you do, and they may just know someone who needs your help. “Freelancing” may come across as a lofty concept; they might understand it better as “working with whoever needs you for a one-time job.”
- Don’t overlook your local market. Dozens of businesses nearby may need you to write copy for them, but they can’t hire you if they don’t know who you are. Chamber of Commerce and similar memberships can offer valuable local connections.
- Stay humble. Don’t strike out on your own so confident in your previous experience and market knowledge that you don’t think you’ll need help from an old coworker or industry expert. Seek out advice from former connections to show that you still value your relationships with them.
When networking, the number of inquiries you get will be directly related to the effort you put into making people see you.
4. Unfamiliarity with competitors’ strategies
In any business, you’ll have competitors. This isn’t much of a concern when you’re a nine-to-fiver, particularly at a national company where your salary is mostly safe. As a freelancer, though, you are the company, and your salary is directly tied to how well you outdistance your competitors. If you’re unaware of current trends, the myriad of other writers who do exactly the same thing as you will snap up available jobs because of their greater savvy.
One of the most effective strategies is to study the competition. See how they weave their voice into their posts, both on their own platforms and in the work they’re hired to do. Take note of any mistakes they make, and identify how you could do better.
Going even farther than that, you could try befriending other freelancers in your space. Send them a message offering to meet up (if they’re in your area) or chat online to share ideas and talk about potential collaboration. Guest posting for each other’s blogs could help both of you, so that’s an option, too. Other freelancers are sometimes the only ones who understand your struggles, so you may end up with some true friends after working together, or at least some insight into how other freelancers in your space do business.
What other mistakes should freelancers avoid? Let us know what you’ve learned the hard way during your time flying solo. You may even make some friends in the comments!