Why I (Finally!) Broke Up With My First Freelance Writing Client

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Why I (Finally!) Broke Up With My First Freelance Writing ClientThere’s nothing quite as exciting as landing your first freelance writing client. At last — someone who wants to pay you for your writing services!

Some writers are lucky enough to find clients who pay reasonably well from the get-go, and can give them ongoing work.

I was not one of those lucky ones.

I know I’m not the only freelance writer whose first clients paid peanuts. Despite that, it can be hard to let them go. You can feel sort of loyal to that first client, who helped you break into freelancing, and the security of that client you know can make you complacent.

But sooner or later, it’s time to let that low-paying first client go and move on to better gigs.

Here’s the story of my first freelance writing client — and why I dropped him.

My initial excitement

I’m going to be honest here: I was absolutely terrified when I first started out on my own.

I probably went about things the wrong way, when I quit my job before finding even one client. So when someone offered to pay me to write, I absolutely jumped at the chance.

You know the feeling, right? Overwhelming excitement when someone finally offers you money for your precious words.

Yes, the offer ended up being less than 2 cents a word — but come on! I was getting paid to do what I love.

The honeymoon period

Everything was going great. I was getting a ton of work. And I was really enjoying myself.

It soon became clear that I’d have to work from 7 a.m. – 10 p.m. to make enough to cover my rent this way, but I figured my hard work would pay off, and soon I would start making the big bucks.

A reality check

After eight months working for my first client, the cracks in our relationship started to show.

My grammar was deteriorating from my rushed work. And I was extremely unhappy.

I was writing Web articles that took me a matter of minutes (many, many of those). Then one day, my client offered me a job writing copy for an entire website. Hurrah!

I had recently joined the Freelance Writers Den and discovered the pricing guidance in there. I knew Web copy paid a whole heap more than I was currently earning. Finally, this was my chance to earn decent money!

Well, not so fast. My client offered me $36. For the whole website.

Suddenly, a lightbulb went on. This wasn’t a good client!

I spoke up about the pay. He said if I was unwilling to work for that amount, there were hundreds of other people who would. So I thanked him for all the work he had given me, and that was it. He never contacted me again.

How I made it work

The first week or so after I dumped my client was pretty nerve-wracking. I definitely went through moments of panic.

But dropping this gig gave me something much more valuable than a pitifully small paycheck: time.

I started going through the bootcamps in the Den. I created a website, marketed myself to potential clients, and gained a ton of confidence.

It took a while, but I’m happy to say that I recently signed a contract with a client who is paying me eight times what my first client did. I found this client almost my chance in a coffee house. He was talking to one of my friends about needing an e-book done, and I jumped in and told him I was a writer.

I look back, and I’m shocked at how long I stuck with that first client.

But that’s the thing with freelance writing. You’ll make mistakes with pricing, vetting clients, and building your business. The important thing is that you learn from your mistakes and keep looking for better work, higher paying clients, and a community where you can share your successes and learn from each other’s experiences.

What was your first paid freelance client experience like? Tell us in the comments below.

Laura Paterson is a freelance writer specialising in copywriting, blog posts, travel writing, and photography at Flamelily Writing.

Freelance Writers Den

32 Comments

  1. Sandra May

    Hello; my name is Sandra May. I’d like to start with telling you a bit about myself. I’m 53 years young (at times) lol. I used to be very active working 50 hrs a week, renovating a one and a half story house and being house-mother to three international students. I almost forgot to mention I am a mother of two adult children and owner of two Yorkie dogs. My marriage dissolved in 2012 and eventually I was divorced. I ended up flipping the house I was renovating when the home I live in now became available. During the renovations I didn’t realize it at the time but I was causing injury to my spine and spinal cord. Long story short I am now an ODSP recipient (Ontario Disability Support Program). I want to add that I have suffered periodically from an undiagnosed form of mental illness since I was 17 years old. This all has brought me to where I am today. I would like to start a blog to help people survive the loneliness, feelings of hopelessness, frustrations, uncertainty and fear associated with major health concerns both physical and mental. My blog would offer such people resources I have found that are useful along with my personal insight and experiences. I would want to stay with them on their journey to a better quality of life as I too continue my search.
    ODSP is a fixed income that does not allow for the financial necessities of maintaining my home so I am interested in starting this blog for income as well. Do you offer free help regarding getting started? I know next to nothing about blogging. I have never even been to a blog site that I know of. Lol. What I do know is that I am very articulate and have loved writing for most of my life. Friends that know me well often suggest I write a story of my life.
    If you think that this may be a good option not only for me; but for people going through similar trials and victories could you give me any advice on how to get started? I’d appreciate all feedback.
    Sincerely
    Sandra May

    • Carol Tice

      There are many free posts about blogging here on the blog: https://makealivingwriting.com/tag/blogging

      Enjoy! I also have an ebook out about blogging, and another coming up — Small Blog, Big Income. Stay tuned for that!

  2. Danielle Sabrina

    This is the first time I’ve commented on a blog before lol. As someone who pays writers to produce content for my brand management clients pricing can be very difficult. I’ve come across so many writers that charge $75-$150 for 500 words but their work, despite how they view it is actually mediocre and then on top of that I end up having to pay my editor to fix it. I think people want to pay their writers what they’re worth but they struggle to find ones that are a good fit, or end up having to hire two writers for one article. I’m also curious why more writers don’t model their articles after ones that get a ton of buzz, shares or likes…after all that’s what business owners are hoping for when they pay for content. I think I need to start a writers group or something to coach writers on how to mesh creative with marketing copy so they can command top dollar and us clients can exactly what we need…..lol This is a great blog, and I appreciate reading the comments from other writers it helps me understand your perspective. Have a wonderful week!

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks for weighing in, Danielle!

      Writers who want to earn well definitely need to deliver more than mediocrity, and need to learn what gets traffic.

      When I started writing for Forbes, I actually asked for a meeting and asked them — what could get me more traffic? What do your readers love to read about? They gave me some GREAT tips that allowed me to really build my channel for them.

  3. Lindsay

    My first “client” – Textbroker. I saved up for six months writing one 300-500 word article a day for them and bought a plane ticket to take my baby to see my mom. I was so proud of myself for how hard I’d worked and what I’d managed to achieve by knuckling down and working hard at the beginning of my freelance business while my baby slept. That was two years ago. I look back now and appreciate what I learned and how I felt after that period, but it makes me depressed to think what I could have made if I’d done all that work for real rates! Thank you for a great post, Laura.

    • Laura

      Exactly Lindsay.

      It’s amazing how different things seem when we look back on them. The most important thing is that it was an absolutely essential lesson learnt- and one that I certainly won’t be making again. 🙂

  4. Charmaine

    My first client actually hired me to shoot pictures for his music publication. One night the writer I was supposed to meet didn’t show at the venue. So I wrote it up and left it on the editor’s desk in the middle of the night when I finished, then went home exhausted and went into a coma. When I woke up I had a message. A very nice message. From the editor. He was extremely complimentary about what I’d turned in, thrilled that I’d jumped in to cover the missing writer and wanted me to come in when I got up and moving. So I did, and over many years ended up getting paid for writing and shooting pictures of concerts I’d have paid to attend …. plus gained a great, glowing reference that helped build up my client list. Great experience and we’re still friends. 🙂

  5. Kaylin Tristano

    I was very fortunate that my first client was a good one (someone I still work with). Some great advice I got was to “fake it til you make it” and charge what you want to earn, not what you think a newbie deserves. I set my prices at a rate I could live with before I ever contacted my first client, and yes, it did take me a lot longer to complete projects in the beginning in order to get them up to par with the higher fees, but it was worth it because I didn’t have to ditch any starter clients after I got my feet wet.

    • Carol Tice

      I think that’s a TERRIFIC piece of advice, Kaylin — I meet too many writers who tell me, “I know this should pay $75 an hour, but since I’m a newbie I thought I would charge $20.” And then they’re trapped with a bunch of lowball clients and starving.

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