When you first start freelance writing, you will be hyper-focused on finding paying gigs that allow you to write about your passions and showcase your amazing talents. A common mistake when looking for writing jobs is expecting to find these great paying assignments and awesome clients right away on outsourcing sites like oDesk, Elance or Freelancer.
This mistaken belief can prove to be costly — especially when it leads to new freelance writers throwing in the towel. Outsourcing sites, if not approached correctly, can leave you feeling like it’s the morning after a one night stand: confused, embarrassed and looking for a quick escape!
There is nothing wrong with using outsourcing sites to get jobs — it’s how I got started as a freelance writer myself, and it’s still where 90 percent of my clients first find my services. However, my first experiences on oDesk included some costly mistakes; one in particular cost me $1,000!
As a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed new freelance writer, you need to know and understand the lay of the outsourcing land. Here’s how to avoid six common mistakes when working on outsourcing sites.
Mistake 1: Charging too little for your work
It’s easy to make this mistake, particularly when you’re just starting out and not sure what to charge.
If you’re just breaking into the freelance writing scene, it’s a good strategy to start with a low rate — but only for the first month. After that, you’ll want to increase your rate, because you’ve developed your skills during that month, right?
Figure out what you feel is a good hourly rate to start, and go from there. I aimed to make the same amount I was earning in my full-time day job, which was $35/hour. Don’t sell yourself short, or you could find yourself stuck with clients who are underpaying you for what you’re providing. I found it extremely challenging to increase my rates on existing clients, but when a client knows your rate from the start, they’ll value your work.
Mistake 2: Picking the wrong clients
Not all clients are created equal, and you want to keep an eye out for red flags, particularly on outsourcing sites. Check for these signs of a solid prospect:
Is the client payment verified? On oDesk, look in the right sidebar under “About the Client.” You’ll see “Payment Method Verified” in green text. On Elance, you’ll see four small circles next to the client’s name. If they’re verified, you’ll see $ in the first circle, and the more green circles you see, the more projects a client has filled on the site.
Does the client have positive feedback? On Elance, clicking on “Client Info” takes you to a profile page with the client’s projects, including feedback from previous contractors. On oDesk, you’ll see a star rating under “About the Client” on each job page.
Does the client include company information? Have they shared a description of their company, location and work? Can you find them in a Google search?
Ensuring these three criteria are met makes it more likely that you’re choosing a legitimate client and protects you from falling for a scam. Learning this lesson the hard way cost me $1,000 in unpaid work.
Mistake 3: Not asking enough questions
Communication is key in any relationship — and even more so in a business relationship where you may never meet your clients.
Make sure you understand each project fully before commencing. It’s crucial to ask as many questions as you can up front so that you understand exactly what the client is looking for.
If you don’t ask these questions initially, you run the risk of delivering something completely different from the client’s needs. You might also find that the client doesn’t know exactly what they want — which can be a red flag — and you need to know that before you start working.
Mistake 4: Not providing follow-up ideas
As a new freelancer, it’s important to build your client base. This is where outsourcing sites are great: you can use them as a place to find leads and convert one-time projects into an ongoing relationship with a client.
Overdeliver on your work for each client: finish before the agreed-upon deadline, introduce them to a new tool that makes their life easier, or wow them with a perfectly-finished project. Then suggest ways you could help them further, or simply let them know you’re available for ongoing work. (Click to tweet this idea.)
This one strategy has helped me build my client base by 80%, because once clients know that I do great work, they’re willing to hire me for additional projects. Many of my current clients originally found me on oDesk and now work with me outside of the site.
Mistake 5: Keeping all your eggs in one basket
Especially when you’re just starting out, you don’t want to rely on one or two clients for all your income. You need to diversify to protect yourself in case that work dries up.
Early in my freelance career, I fell into a false sense of security with one client who was providing me with 90% of my earnings. When that work suddenly fell through, I was left trying to figure out how I was going to make ends meet!
You may even want to take it one step further and also diversify your skill set so you have multiple income streams. Could you focus on an additional niche or writing style? If you need inspiration, browse the list of jobs offered on your favorite outsourcing site to find opportunities that may be a good fit.
Mistake 6: Doing work you don’t like
When you’re new to the freelance writing game, you tend to say yes to everything. Even if it’s work that you don’t particularly like, you accept the project just because you can do it and it’s available.
Don’t do this. No matter how much you’re being paid, you will quickly lose motivation and run the risk of damaging your ratings and client feedback.
Only take on work that makes sense to your business and that you actually enjoy doing. There are so many projects available on outsourcing sites; you’re sure to find more than enough that engage, interest and challenge you. Find a balance: sometimes you may have to do projects that aren’t your favorite, but make sure most of your work fits with your interests and business.
What mistakes have you made on outsourcing sites?