Top 10 Mistakes Made by New and Not-So-New Freelance Writers

As a writing coach, I meet many new and not-so-new freelance writers who are struggling to make a living.

While the exact cause for each writer's struggle is not the same, there are some common mistakes I see most of these writers make.

Here's my list of the top ten mistakes made by new and not-so-new freelance writers.

1. No Real Career Plan

A plan is like a roadmap.

When you're just starting out, if you don't know where you're trying to go, how will you know when you get there?

Take the time to make a career plan, so you know exactly what the freelance writing career you're trying to build should look like.

Then, make sure your plan includes consistent, planned actions to take to build that career.

2. No Real Focus

This goes along with not having a career plan.

Many writers never take the time to figure out the kinds of writing they really enjoy.

Instead, they leap into freelance writing, figuring they'll simply take whatever work they can get.

Usually, the work that comes their way is not the kind of work they enjoy, so they give up before they ever really get started.

Plus, there are thousands of writers out there who will take whatever work comes their way.

It's much better to focus on a particular niche and become a recognized expert in that area.

3. Little or No Training

If you want to become one of the top earning copywriters, for example, you need to spend time (and money) learning how to write GREAT copy.

If you want to become a children's book author, then take some courses that will train you to write specifically FOR children.

Don't just assume that if you like to write you can write anything and people will be glad to pay you for it.

4. No Understanding of winning queries and cover letters

Many beginning freelance writers never take the time to learn how to craft a winning query or cover letter.

The ones who stick with freelance writing eventually get the hang of it, but when they're just starting out, they waste a LOT of time writing queries and cover letters that couldn't sell drinking water to a man dying of thirst!

5. A Weak Professional Resume

Too many freelance writers use the same all-purpose resume they've used for years instead of creating a professional resume specifically to attract writing clients and land well-paying assignments.

6. No website, blog, or online portfolio

Any freelance writer today needs some sort of online presence, whether that be through a website or blog.

Part of that site should be an online portfolio of the writer's work, plus a list of available writing services.

Also, the site needs to look professional.

If you aren't a web designer, hire a professional to help you develop your site.

7. Under-charging for their services

This is probably the biggest mistake made by freelance writers.

They also tend to accept jobs that pay too little.

One of the reasons they under-charge is because they underestimate how much time and work a particular job will take.

Right at the start, they should add 10% to any estimate they give a potential client because the job will probably end up taking more time and effort than they thought.

8. Fear of Taking On Well-Paying Assignments

Many beginning freelancers are afraid to even apply for jobs that pay well.

As a result, they stay stuck working for peanuts for months, sometimes even years.

You won't land well-paying assignments unless you go after them.

Don't be afraid to do just that - go AFTER jobs that pay well.

If you've trained and worked hard to become a good writer, then you're worth the money!

9. No marketing plan

Many freelance writers are weak at self-promotion, so they have no real plan for marketing their writing services.

Freelancers need to be promoting their writing products and services all the time and they need some sort of specific strategy for doing so.

10. Little or No follow-up

Most people won't hire you just from seeing your website, blog, or business card.

They'll need to get to know, like, and trust you.

In other words, you need some method for following up with people who call you, email you, or visit your website to find out about your writing services.

If you get good at follow up, you'll have a steady stream of clients to write for!

And, if you avoid all 10 of these mistakes, you'll build a successful freelance writing career before you know it.

Try it!

Suzanne Lieurance is a freelance writer, the author of 35 published books, and a writing coach.

She publishes The Morning Nudge, a free e-mail with tips and resources for writers every weekday morning.

Visit her online at


Wanda Luthman said...

Great advice! I am a freelance writer and have lucked into a couple of paying jobs but at first, I worked for free to build my resume. I am afraid to go after those big clients but also because I don't really have the time. I am trying to launch my children's books and that takes a lot of time. But, freelance writing pays well so it keeps me afloat. Plus, I work full time, so I'm not sure I can handle anymore. But, I love the advice about a Career Plan. I have an over-arching career plan with some small steps in mind and I execute them, but I'm not actually getting to where I want to go. I love the follow up advice. I'm trying to get better at that. Thank you for posting these!

Suzanne Lieurance said...

You bring up a good point. Often people who freelance also work full time at another job. So, in order to get where they want to go they really need to create an action plan that helps them make the best use of their time. Something else to consider is that often the "big" jobs don't necessarily take a lot more time. They just might require more expertise in a certain area. If you specialize in a few freelance areas, you can set higher prices for your work and actually work fewer hours than you did when you were doing more generalized work.
Good luck with your plan!

Karen Cioffi said...

Suzanne, great list of mistakes to avoid as a freelance writer. I'm still struggling with #10.
It's funny that the 'BIG' jobs create fear in some freelance writers, whether work load or other. I don't know if many of us still feel we're just not good enough.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

I used to do a lot of freelance work. As my writing career developed, I found I was getting jobs that did not fit with my new goals--my new direction if you will. That may be especially pertinent for authors who are now writing creatively. I'm suggesting that they add that bullet point to their list of considerations before accepting freelance work--especially if time is an issue.

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