A straightforward list of tips and advice to build your brand fast.

I saw this question on Quora and wrote up a nice long answer. I realized it would be useful to you as well! So here is my answer to “What should I avoid when I am a freelance writer?” originally asked on Quora with some more information for you.

There were some other excellent answers, but here are the 17 mistakes that I came up with and some details as to why.

The top things to avoid as a freelance writer are:

  • Working for free for any reason — you do not need a portfolio of published pieces or free work to get started. Anyone with any level of experience can pitch to clients and use PDFs or Google docs of written pieces as writing samples. Never work for free. 
  • Self-doubt — Insecurity, imposter syndrome, and self-doubt are extremely common, especially among new or inexperienced freelancers. The reality is that if people are willing to pay for your work, then it is valuable. You have to value yourself and your skills and be confident in your pitches to succeed. Entrepreneurship is hard enough without self-sabotage.
  • Working for very low pay — If a site or agency or client is offering 2 or 4 cents per word, no matter how fast you write, it is too low and unreasonable. Value your skills and time. If you are making at or below even minimum wage, it’s WAY TOO LOW. Freelance writing is a specialized skill, especially if you have a specific highly specialized niche. Charge more and say NO to too-low wages. Use that time looking for higher-paying projects.
  • Writing free “samples” — If a company or client asks for free writing, it’s a scam to get free posts. Even if they are a legitimate company, they are still scamming you. Reputable good companies will pay for any samples or tests they ask you to do in the interview process.
  • Bad clients — Clients who try to scope creep (asking for more than you agreed to and are being paid for), demanding, late with payments, nickel-and-diming you, and who are unresponsive are simply not worth your time and frustration. Spend that time looking for better clients. Trust me, this one is huge. Here’s a post about how to identify these types of bad clients.
  • Freelance content mills — I personally am not a fan of Upwork and similar sites, simply because it always feels like a race to the bottom. Value quantity over quality. Marketing yourself can sound overwhelming but if you pick a few companies that look like good fits and reach out directly, you are far more likely to get a response and start building a relationship.
  • Overbooking yourself — If you overload yourself with work, you risk missing deadlines, stressing yourself out, and making mistakes. Know your limits of how much you can do in a day, a week, and a month. It is ok to say “I am not able to take that on this week but I could start on it next Tuesday with a deadline of Friday if that works for you.” Give yourself permission to take a break, a nap, a walk, and have some free time. Freelancing doesn’t mean being busy every second, it’s about working smarter and building relationships, and working on the types of things you WANT to be doing.
  • Missing deadlines — Don’t do it. If you make a commitment, make it happen. If you overbooked yourself or didn’t allow enough time for it, then grind it out and do it this time and learn the lesson of how long things take you and how to estimate deadlines. When creating your deadlines, build in some wiggle room.
  • Working without a contract — This is a huge no-no. Don’t do it. Even if it is a simple, relatively inexpensive project, contracts are hugely important. Your contract should dictate payments, deadlines, deliverables, and anything else having to do with the client/freelancer relationship. Contracts are put in place to protect ALL parties, not just the freelancer. The client is getting a guarantee of the work and deliverables they can expect, as well as timelines and payment schedules.
  • Not asking for referrals and reviews/testimonials — This is a mistake many freelancers make. They either “feel weird asking” or forget to ask for referrals and testimonials. Not me! I assume that every client I work with had a good experience — because I put a lot of effort into making sure I am easy to work with and give them what they ask for. After our project is complete, I let them know I enjoyed working with them and ask if they or anyone they know needs any writing and editing services. If they write back a good review, I ask if it’s ok to put it up on my website.
  • Not looking for long-term or retainer clients — This is one many freelancers learn as they go. Projects are great and especially good for filling gaps and making faster money, but longer-term projects and monthly retainer clients are the best way to build stability into your paycheck and work. I have retainer clients that pay a flat fee per month and get X number of hours or work or X number of posts per month from me. I invoice them monthly and build a solid relationship. I also tend to get more referrals from this type of client.
  • Not asking for more money/negotiating — If a project or client seems interesting and you want to work with them but they are offering too low of pay rates, try simply asking for and negotiating for more money. It never hurts to ask. I often will take a little time to educate them on “average” rates and why they often get what they pay for. I show them my value and the benefits they will get from working with me. This works more often than not.
  • Not be proactive about pitching/marketing yourself — Many new (and seasoned!) freelancers join sites like Upwork and write for their own blogs and just wait for clients to come to them. This is the worst possible strategy. Being successful faster requires you to go out and identify ideal clients and actively reach out to them and introduce yourself. No one knows who I am. They are not searching for ME, they are searching for a random writer to fit with what they need. Being proactive is extremely effective and often results in better clients, better work, and better pay.
  • Not having their own blog — Having your own blog that you update regularly is a huge boon. People can find you organically and you can also use it as your writing samples. It is a great way to get your name out there and build an audience. Some clients will reach out to you simply because they found your blog and it was a great resource for them.
  • Not diversifying their income — You do NOT have to stick to one thing. Maybe you started out ghostwriting blog posts, but that doesn’t mean that is the only thing you can do. There are tons of other ways to make money, some more passive than others. For example, you can write a book and get royalties from sales, you can do some affiliate marketing if it makes sense on your blog, you can start a podcast or a Youtube channel, you could create a short webinar or online course that can be sold in perpetuity.
  • Not starting an email list early — I didn’t start my email list until I was ready to publish my first book and I was definitely missing out. Newsletters can make you money, make you a thought leader, let you give valuable information to your readers, and is a great place to announce new things happening with you — book releases, a new service offering, and more.
  • Not double-checking the details — When writing or editing something for anyone, make sure you not only reread your work several times but also that you reread the brief or outline to make sure it is what the client wants. Also, run your work through editing software like Grammarly as a final step, just to make sure you didn’t miss anything. We all make mistakes and typos, it’s human nature. So, just do whatever you can to avoid them in the final product.

I hope you find this helpful and can avoid making these mistakes as you build your freelancing empire!


Check out my book Concept to Conclusion: How to Write a Book and learn everything you need to know to conceive of, outline, write, publish, and market a book! Or check out my first-ever beautifully illustrated kid’s book I Love You Bigger Than All The Stars In The Sky.

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