4 Easy-to-Avoid Freelance-Writing Mistakes Every Rookie Makes

4 Easy-to-Avoid Freelance-Writing Mistakes Every Rookie Makes

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.

Filed Under: Freelancing


  • Corrine Walker says:

    Thank you for your tips I am working on finding my first client and that is good advice. Thank you for being the awesome person you are to share that with us!

  • good post and thought|Thanks for expressing your own write up I�d constantly stick to|Thank you almost all for the details. I willfor sure like your other websites. I truly appreciate your efforts and I am waiting for your next post.

  • Hi Kara,

    That was a great article. Bylines are most important. So are the other points which you discussed. I’m preparing to enter the freelance writing business as soon as I can and I will firmly apply your advice when I get started. Continue showing us the way!

  • Kate Griffin says:

    The “effective” hourly rate tip was especially valuable.

  • Andy Lamb says:

    Great article, thank you. Considering starting out on a freelance writing path as a means of supplementing income from a new career path that might suit me better but pay me less. So many “maybes” here but with a nostalgic trip coming up to a childhood holiday destination I have a load of ideas in my head already. This could be the catalyst! Let’s see how the “maybes” work out. Thanks again.

  • Nice Article kara all the Four mention point are very well explained but i specially like the 2nd point about”Writing about a topic you don’t believe in” thank you so much for the sharing

  • Elske Newman says:

    Great tips. It’s easy to get carried away when you’re so excited to get hired. Thanks!

  • I think the advice to walk away if something doesn’t seem right is the best, and often the hardest for new freelancers to take. In the desperation to build a new business, in can be tempting to take ANY work that comes your way.

    One of my pre-freelance careers was as a bank fraud analyst. I learned to make good use of my instincts, and saw the devastating effect of failure to do so on the lives of those who had fallen prey to standard scams. I ended up formulating this maxim: “Trust your negative instincts. Double-check your positive ones.”

    Sometimes, it’s not enough to “go with you gut,” because the excitement of an apparent opportunity can masquerade as an instinct that all will be well. When your entire being feels ready to leap at the chance you are being offered, pause long enough to take a deep breath and look at it more dispassionately.

    On the other hand, when something just feels wrong, don’t second-guess that instinct. Walk away, and don’t look back.

    I wish you all many legitimate opportunities!

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    Freelance Editorial Services and Writer’s Resources

    • Kara Vogel says:

      Thanks for reading! That’s a great way of putting it – “Trust your negative instincts. Double-check your positive ones.” I’ll definitely be using that as I continue in my freelance career.

  • Amanda says:

    These are great tips! There’s so much to keep track of when starting out…I’ll be referring back to this post again. Thanks!

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