Freelance writing seems like such a sexy and perfect job. You get to wake up whenever you want, wear your pajamas all day long, and write about whatever strikes your fancy.
Well, or not. Freelance writing is actually one of the most challenging (but rewarding) jobs I have ever held (and I’ve held a lot of jobs). I’ve often needed to work with people in time zones that are hours different than mine, so you can forget about always being able to make your own schedule – and I’ve never been able to exclusively write about whatever strikes my fancy, because that usually leads to unemployment, or at the very least, extremely low wages. As for the pajamas, I’ve found that wearing your pajamas all day long generally leads to low self-esteem, and slovenly ways. I try to avoid it at all costs. The mythology of enormous success for freelance writers has never been more prevalent in our culture than it is today, because the Internet has opened the doors for entrepreneurship of all kinds – including freelance writing. Unfortunately, mythology often leads to failure, because reality can be far different than the fantasy we’ve built up in our heads about our new and sexy freelance writing career. Here are five ways new freelance writers unintentionally sabotage themselves – but don’t worry, there are also five solutions to help you avoid rookie mistakes.
Five Rookie Mistakes that Freelancer Writers Make to Sabotage Themselves
Rookie Mistake: Bad grammar. As Matt Gartland of Ghostwriter Dad expounds, bad grammar leads to one of the Internet’s most feared adversaries: grammar trolls. If you do not know (or at least familiar with) the rules of grammar, please do not try to become a professional writer until you learn them. It makes the rest of us sigh with despair and embarrassment. While we understand that occasional mistakes do occur (and sometimes are necessary for the flow of the story), bad grammar really only does bad things for freelance writers who haven’t mastered the art: it makes them look unprofessional, and it makes them unqualififed for hire, except by the lowlife of the Internet who don’t pay competitive wages.
- Solution: Learn the damn rules. It’s not complicated, but it does take study and practice. And guess what you will find? Some rules are made to be broken, or at least bent. But like a skilled metallurgist, you must learn where to apply the heat in order for the bend to be correctly placed. I always start with the absolute basics: Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Yes, the reading is somewhat dry, but it is as basic as it gets, and when you boil it down to the essentials, there are only 14 pages of actual “rules”. The rest are merely guidelines. The book is older than most people alive (the first version of “Elements” was published in 1935), but it remains essentially relevant for writers in print or online. If you can’t stand tradition, Matt Gartland recommends Grammar Girl, a more modern and online version of grammatical nuance.
Rookie Mistake: Not taking care of the bottom line. Let’s not ever forget that we are freelance writers not merely for pleasure, but also to make money. Many new freelance writers are so anxious to get their first paid writing gig that they will work for pennies, or worse, for free. There are thousands of content mills out there, just waiting and ready to exploit freelance writers who aren’t looking out for the bottom line.
- Solution: Although it’s tempting to take any old job that comes along and pays a penny a word, it’s not worth it. Not even to build a portfolio. It’s far better to build portfolio pieces yourself and feature them on your writer website than to write 500-word articles for a $3 payment from a content mill. Trust me, you will end up hating your job and hating yourself. Take the advice of Carol Tice (hey, that rhymes!), and don’t write for content mills. Concentrate instead on building your personal brand. Remember, you may not be able to become a full-time freelance writer at first. You may have to start out writing on a part-time basis in order to save your sanity and your budget.
Rookie Mistake: Working without a contract. While this may seem like a no-brainer, you would be amazed at the number of people who get ripped off because they choose to begin work on a project before signing a contract. It’s a common happenstance, and it can destroy not only a person’s confidence, but also their desire to keep writing.
- Solution: I personally tell all of my potential clients that I never work without a contract, period. I’ve never had a bit of resistance from any of them, and in fact they are generally very happy that I can actually provide them with a clear and concise contract that spells out each of our responsibilities and expectations. On a side note: Although in the past I have signed contracts that have non-compete clauses, I no longer do. As a freelance writer, it’s imperative that I maintain the freedom to work in areas in which I have built up a level of expertise, and having a non-compete clause in place completely eradicates that freedom.
Rookie Mistake: Writing posts that have no relevant links. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you first start writing online. Just figuring out the blog platform that you’re using can be confusing enough, let alone trying to work in relevant links. However, back links are super important, especially when you are starting out. Since you probably won’t have much traffic when you first start blogging, (your Mom REALLY liked your first post, though), you’ve got to find ways to drive traffic to your site, besides your Facebook page.
- Solution: Do your research before you start writing. Try to find movers and shakers in the topic that you are writing about, and give credit (and links) where credit is due. Not only will it possibly let the movers and shakers see that you’re talking about them, it will also give Google an opportunity to see that you have quality back links (vs. low-ranking poor back links). It’s far better to have a few quality back links in your article than 42 crummy ones.
Rookie Mistake: Trying to build a massive Twitter following before you’ve really established yourself. It’s very tempting to follow a lot of people when you first get started with Twitter, because when you’re new to the service it makes you feel sad to have only your sister following you. *Tear* In fact, one of the prime tips for spotting a Twitter spammer is if they have very few tweets, and very few followers, yet they’re already following hundreds (or thousands) of others. Better than trying to amass a ridiculous following, is to start small and work your way up, according to the experts (and I do mean experts) at TMG Media.
- Solution: Work on strengthening relationships that you already have, slowly building up to new relationships on the Twitter format by re-Tweeting relevantly, on subjects and with people germane to your writing niche.
It’s true that when you working on a new endeavor, there is generally a steep learning curve. In today’s fast-paced world of communication, there’s little to no time for rookie mistakes. Do you have a rookie mistake to add to the list? Let us know in the comment section.
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