By Kathy Widenhouse, award-winning nonprofit content writer, website publisher, and author of 9 books.
You're a freelancer - or want to be one. So far, you’ve avoided the usual freelance writer mistakes by getting plenty of advice and reading the plethora of how-to’s that are available. And you haven’t simply accumulated information. You’ve taken appropriate actions to get started.
Good job! But now that you’ve dipped your toe into the writing waters, what’s next? One of the biggest freelance writer mistakes is on the horizon. The mistake creeps into a freelancer’s radar in a subtle way.
It is the danger of thinking that all you need to do to succeed as a freelance writer is to write.
Don’t get me wrong. Successful freelancing, of course, involves writing.
But don’t make the mistake of putting all your proverbial eggs in one basket — the writing basket. Successful freelance writers invest in plenty of other activities, like getting clients and time management and marketing their services, to name a few. It’s tempting to give lip service to those non-billable tasks.
If you have doubts about your ability to succeed, please understand you’re not alone. The truth is that successful freelance writers spend up to 50% of their time in non-writing activities. Don’t sabotage yourself. Instead of cowering in your writing corner, you can take a proactive stance to face your doubts and build a solid, healthy writing business by avoiding these freelance writer mistakes.
Maybe until this point, you’ve acquired your clients through a good friend or another sole source. In other words, you have just a single funnel for referrals. But a well can dry up. One source of leads is one of the biggest freelance writer mistakes you can make, especially when you're starting out.
You need a more comprehensive client acquisition strategy in order to build a healthy, thriving freelance business. Try to …
At the latest count, two-thirds of small businesses have a website. But more than half of consumers learn about new brands (like you) from social media. Don't make one of the biggest freelance writer mistakes -- limiting your online exposure. If you want to build a strong freelance writing business, then you need to have more than one online home.
By all means, let your website be the hub of your online wheel. But go further.
You can post on social media and link to helpful content on your site. A social media account (or two or three) allows you to reach all kinds of users in your niche.
One of the biggest freelance writer mistakes: just one writing project in process. Do that and you leave opportunities on the table.
By “in process,” I mean various stages of writing, from getting ideas to creating a rough draft to editing and submission. And not every project needs to be one for which you’re getting paid by a client.
Yes, there are occasions when a deadline looms and you much focus on finishing an assignment. But I’ve found the best way to feed my writer’s spirit (and feed my bottom line) is to have several projects going at once. Maybe you have Client #1’s website content due next week. You also have a grant application for Client #2 in the works … plus your own blog post … plus an outline for your next book … plus a query out to a magazine editor. Many projects mean many opportunities for your creativity to flourish and for checks to roll in.
Just one client? Danger! Your writing eggs are most certainly in one basket. Don't make this freelance writer mistake.
What if the client hires a full-time writer? Or maybe your main contact leaves the business … or the client closes his doors and no longer needs your services … or the client simply chooses to move in another direction. In any of those scenarios, your main source of work (and income) goes kaput. “Many freelancers fail because when work comes in, they do not look for more,” says experienced content creator Susan Guillory. “The problem is, when those projects wrap up, these freelancers are left with nothing to do.”
The only time you should have just one client is when you get your first client.
And the same goes for having just one anchor client — a repeat customer that uses your services long-term. An anchor client provides steady, predictable work. Regular assignments mean stability to a freelancer. When you accumulate a handful of anchor clients, you have plenty of work … and plenty of paychecks.
Find ways to convert one-off clients into anchor clients. When you finish a project and the client is happy with your work, pose this question: “What else can I help you with?” You can even add, “I notice you haven’t updated your website (or posted on your blog) in a while. Is that something you’d like help with?” Keep in front of them via your newsletter, and they’ll remember you when another project pops up. You can also reach out to past clients and ask if they need help with any projects.
In your efforts to specialize, you may be making one of the biggest freelance writing mistakes. Don’t let all your writing income flow from just client work or from just one type of writing project. Doing so can lead to burnout.
For instance, when you churn out email campaigns day in, day out, you get really good at writing emails … but your content can become formulaic.
Please understand — work-for-hire is a wonderful thing. You produce content for a client and get paid. But if you diversify your income streams, then when you have an off month for client work, you can still see deposits into your bank account. Try adding different types of writing income to your mix, like …
If you’re a content writer in a particular niche, then consider dipping your toe into a different area — just for variety. Online publications, consumer magazines, trade publications, local periodicals, websites, newspapers, blogs, and journals need to fill their pages on regular publication schedules.
Someone needs to write all those articles for them. Why not you? You can delve into a topic that interests you, write about it, and get paid.
Build a niche website. As an online publisher, you choose a topic and write plenty of content about it. Soon, you own a nice piece of cyber real estate and create a following with readers in your niche.
That means other merchants that sell products and services in your niche want to piggyback on your traffic. That can be very good for both you and for the other merchant. Your site acts as a middleman between your specific group of readers and merchants who want to sell products to those particular readers. As such, you can become an affiliate marketer. Sell a merchant’s products on your site and each month, a bit of passive income flows into your bank account.
A niche website offers another income stream. You can sell advertising on your site directly to a merchant, rather than working through an affiliate network. If you have a niche audience, this can be a worthwhile option.
Whether you choose the traditional or self-publishing routes, you can earn a nice stream of income each month from your books — both print and electronic.
Teach a course. Provide a keynote address. Make a presentation at a gathering that is specific to your niche. Or, once you have a bit of writing experience, offer your services as a writing coach in your niche.
A client approached me about a writing project and sent me his draft. Once I reviewed his initial work, I picked up the phone and called. “You’ve got a good start here,” I explained. “I won’t need to invent the wheel. How about I rework what you’ve written?” That project — and subsequently others — allowed me to earn fees for editing the client’s original content.
Checklists, cheat sheets, templates, online courses — make and sell digital products as an extra income stream.
Among the biggest freelance writer mistakes you can make? Focusing on one activity only — writing. Or focusing on just one way to capture leads … one way for prospects to find you … one project in your pipeline … one client … one income stream.
The answer is more eggs and more baskets. Purposefully schedule time for other non-billable activities that build your writing business. Your creativity will flourish.
And so will your bottom line.
More Freelance Writing Tips
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Named to 2022 Writer's Digest list
BEST GENRE/NICHE WRITING WEBSITE
Grab your exclusive FREE guide, "5 Simple Writing Tips You Can Put to Use in 10 Minutes or Less"