The Telltale Signs You’re Too Scared to be a Freelance Writer

Carol Tice

Scared writer peeks from blindsHave you been wondering if the freelance writing life is really for you?

Maybe you haven’t been able to get started, despite numerous attempts.

Maybe you’ve been freelancing, but not earning much.

Recently, I’ve noticed a “tell” for writers that indicates you are not cut out to make a living writing.

You are simply too scared to put yourself out there. This is probably not going to be a way you can earn a living.

It has to do with how you’re marketing yourself.

You don’t want to. And it shows.

3 Signs you’re hiding

To be a successful freelance writer, you have to be willing to put yourself out there. You have to tell people you want freelance gigs.

This is not like writing a novel — you can’t hide in a garrett and hope people will find your work when you die. You’re trying to pay the bills with your writing here.

Many writers say they’re willing to try marketing themselves, but lots really won’t do it when it comes down to the nitty gritty. Here is how I can tell if a writer isn’t going to make freelancing happen:

The first sign: You don’t have a writer website.

That’s like being invisible today. You’re staying hidden because you don’t really want gigs.

The next sign: You get a site up, but you’re not on it. It refers to you indirectly, as in “We write blog posts” or “Our services include web content…”

On your About page, there’s no picture of you, and we don’t see your name. You’ve got a site up, but you’re still hiding you, in an era when being your authentic self is what’s valued, especially online.

Final “tell”: Your website has no email address. Just that form no one will fill out. Or you’re writing it:

myemail (a) emailhost . com. And there’s no link.

You’re expecting prospects to go hand-type out your email address. Except they won’t bother.

These hidden-email moves are another way of saying, “I don’t really want to get hired.”

When I ask about it, writers tell me, “I’m scared to put my email on there, because I’m worried about scrapers.”

The key to freelance success

Here is the problem with that: The meek do not inherit the freelance earth.

I don’t like to be the one to stick a pin in anyone’s freelance writing dream balloon, but that is the reality.

If you’re too scared to risk something like maybe (but likely never) having to contact your email host about an email hack problem, you’re probably too scared to do a lot of other things you need to do as a freelancer, too.

Freelancing favors the bold

The writers willing to put it out there and tell everyone with a pulse they want gigs are the ones who can build a successful freelance business.

So bust a move. Tell a friend you want a gig.

Dare to write out your email address and link on your writer website.

Otherwise, it might be time to look for a day job.

What bold move have you made to pursue freelancing? Leave a comment and tell us about it.






  1. Julie Luek

    A big sign for me is when I let insecurity dictate which jobs I pursue. I sometimes convince myself I need to know everything about the assignment in order to throw my hat in the ring. I know, by experience, this isn’t true. Know enough, know how to write and know how to research or find experts and honestly, know how to fake it a bit. But I still balk every time I see a potential topic I think is “beyond” me.

    • Carol Tice

      This is a very common problem among new writers, especially if they come out of blogging or mills and are used to writing off their own knowledge, Julie. I hear about it a LOT.

      But think about this – I’ve written extensively about real estate, surety bonds, insurance, legal issues..and I’ve written a traditional print book on cheap business startups…think I’m an expert in any of those? No way. My motto is, “Give me 3 days and I’ll BE your expert…” after I talk to experts in the field. 😉

      Strong writing and research skills ARE what we bring to the table…and they’re all you need. If you have a passing acquaintance with your topic so that you’d at least know what questions to ask those experts, you’re good. Really.

  2. Jennifer Gregory

    I totally agree with you on the website. I had been freelancing for four years without a website and had been pretty successful, so I though that it wasn’t really needed. Then the end of last year, I put up a website and my business DOUBLED this year. While that’s not the only reason, I am positive it played a huge role in my increase.

    The other bold move I made in the past year was investing in my business. I signed up for the den, I went to 2 writers conference and joined a professional society (ASJA). Going to the conferences was a great investment because I made contact with other writers, got ideas for new markets and at the last one met editors who have already given me work. For years, I was scared to spend money on my business, but honestly that has made a huge difference in my income.

    The other move is networking with other writers. I have gotten more leads (and also given more leads) to other writers than any other source of jobs. I used to think of writers as the competition, but honestly we are all in this together.

  3. Rob

    I don’t know, maybe I’m just old and grumpy, but why even write a post like this? Either you do it or you don’t. If you’re hungry enough, you’ll do what you have to do. If you’re not, you’ll fart around until you get a “real” job. I’ve never made any bold moves. Before freelancing became a necessity, I’d submit ideas or even full articles whenever the spirit moved me. After there were no other job options, I took what I could get on Elance because I couldn’t afford to wait for payments and steadily got offered better paying jobs. It could all fall apart tomorrow, though, and I’d have to start hustling again because if I don’t write I don’t eat. Lucky I like to write.

    • Carol Tice

      Well…because I think a lot of writers do this stuff but don’t realize what it SAYS about how serious they are about this whole gig. Want writers to think about how they’re putting themselves out there, and about maybe whether they really want to do this. If so, they need to stop the hiding.

      • rob

        got me on a bad day. a little encouragement can tip the scales.

        • Carol Tice

          Do you need a hug, Rob? Sending one. You can do this…

  4. Cheryl Rhodes

    The 3 signs were all website related, but all good points and very informative. The type of advice to give writers a push to get it done. There are other telltale signs too, many you’ve already covered in prior posts.

    • Carol Tice

      True — I think you could extrapolate these to things like, “I don’t bother to create a ‘me’ speech to quickly tell people what I do before I go to networking meetings,” or “I don’t bother to learn how to write query letters when mine don’t get any response…” You can certainly extend this to proactive marketing.

      But I’ve just seen these 3 signs so much that for me they became symbolic of the scaredy-cat mindset. I THINK I want to freelancing, but really I don’t. I’m conflicted. I’m not really committed…and it shows in how you market.

      I just recently had an experience with a Den member who turned out to have a stalker ex…so there can be other reasons writers aren’t being themselves online. But if you want this career, you have to find a way, even if it’s changing your name legally and masking your WhoIs for your writer site…you have to be able to present yourself as a person, and make it easy for people to contact you, or you just don’t get the calls.

  5. Deidre M. Simpson

    I have revamped my online representation to reflect my writer status. My blog is becoming more of a portfolio now, a good thing since the links to my web articles have moved.

    My email address is on the website but not the link. I’m working on consistent branding. I also closed my oDesk and Elance accounts. Last week, I attended a small business expo, my second one in a year. A few months ago, I stopped marketing myself at small business seminars and courses. The right clients weren’t there.

    • Carol Tice

      I find writers underestimate how you need to shop around in your marketing until you find where the clients are. I went to probably a half-dozen different types of in-person networking groups before finding the one that was a great source of leads.

      Make that email link live and go for it, Deirdre!

  6. Rhonda

    I absolutely hate cold calls. Despise, detest, abhor – you get the picture. But I’ve started sending out emails to businesses.

    I also don’t like it when things aren’t just right. But, I took the maintenance mode off my writer website anyways – I have the basics and can continue to build it while it is live.

    Guest posts, article pitches, book outlines, etc are all getting done.

    Here’s the thing though. All of that is the RESULT of the hardest thing. If I hadn’t started online and in-person networking, participating in forums, and putting myself ‘out there’, I couldn’t have taken any of these steps. As an introvert, this was the hardest part of freelancing. Learning that I can do this means I can do anything else that is required of me!

    • Carol Tice

      Good for you, Rhonda!

      You know, I don’t do cold calls either. Just not my speed. We all don’t have to do every type of marketing there is.

      But you brought up another sign I should have included — writers who create a site but then won’t make it public! I’ve heard from dozens of writers in that boat.

      What is up with that? Nobody’s looking when you first push it live anyway, it takes a while for Google to notice. Press “publish” already and just keep improving.

      • Rhonda

        No, they aren’t looking!! But, of course, we all like to believe that we’ll hit the big time as soon as we start, our website will get so much traffic that we crash the server, and our phone won’t stop ringing 🙂

        Too bad the reality isn’t quite like that!

        • Carol Tice

          No, I think it’s GOOD the reality isn’t like that. It gives us time to rewrite our content before the site gets too much attention. 😉

          Also, the reality is most writer websites will not get nor do they need big traffic. They just need a small amount of the RIGHT traffic.

  7. Lynn Silva

    Being rejection has taught me ‘gut instinct.’ What I’ve discovered is that being rejected is a HUGE help. Not everyone has time to respond to my queries, but silence still teaches me. The ones who haven’t responded…I go back and look at the query. I refer to all of things you, Linda, Jon, Tommy have drilled in my head…and ALWAYS…there’s something in that query I didn’t do or that I left out. I’ve done this for weeks now. The last query I did, right before I sent it, I had this feeling that it wasn’t right but couldn’t figure out why. So…I poured back over my notes. This time, I found the mistake BEFORE sending it and fixed it. A few weeks ago, I was so scared of even sending queries that I wasn’t familiar with this ‘feeling.’ So, as ridiculous as it sounds, if I want to be a writer/blogger…I have to act like one and send queries. In a nutshell, being rejected is the most powerful tool that I’ve come across…but you can’t use that tool until you start being rejected. I hope this makes sense and helps someone. : )

    • Carol Tice

      I know it’s a Freudian slip but it says “Being rejection.” Which really, all freelancers ARE.

      And yes, people keep asking me, “When will I feel more confident so I can get out there?”

      But it works in reverse in freelancing — you feel more confident the more you get out there and do it. The more you sit around and obsess about whether you’re doing it right, the more worried you are, and so on. But more on this topic is coming next Sunday… 😉

  8. Lorraine Reguly

    Being afraid is definitely part of the freelance mindset. As a new freelancer, I don’t have all the answers I need.

  9. Betti Patterson

    This is my present website for copyediting. As you can see I have all of the “tells” that you mentioned. I am moving on to copywriting and will be reformatting the content and the website to include everything that you have mentioned.
    I want business. I need business!

    Thank you for this. I would have continued on this way. You are a treasure trove of information.

    • Carol Tice

      You actually didn’t include your website URL so we can’t see…but glad I was able to help you fix these problems!

      I know that sometimes it’s just technical ignorance and people don’t realize how it comes off. Luckily, if that’s all it is then it’s easily fixed.

  10. J. Delancy

    I’ve been hiding like a three-legged cat at a pitbull farm. The strangest part is that I spent a year making money on Elance. I learnt how to write proposals, place bids and deliver work on time. Now that I have a website, I don’t have the guts to do exactly what I’d been doing before.
    Even with a lousy website I can still practice marketing by sending out query letters, which is what I intend to do.

    • Carol Tice

      Isn’t that weird? I hear from a lot of writers who’ve been bidding away on Elance, but feel “not ready” to pitch their own targeted clients. What’s the difference, except that you could earn a lot more?

  11. Samantha

    Maybe part of the reason for these digital slip-ups isn’t so much fear of freelancing as fear of technology. Many people don’t have the faintest idea of how to set up a website (really!), and they’ve heard that it costs several thousand to get someone to design a site for you – if you know how to choose a good designer in the first place. The various “dummies” guides aren’t as simple as they purport to be (they give too may options for one) and even the simplest options like the free hosted templates are scary for many and aren’t conducive to various writerly aims.

    A really really explicit step-by-step guide to achieving the stuff you mention on specific platforms would be gold for these people. I haven’t looked around for one aimed at writers – maybe it’s out there. I know, I know, it’s hard to imagine today’s freelancers being intimated by putting up a website when they must be dealing with the internet all the time. Still, technophobia – or maybe websitebuilding-phobia – is common in my experience. (I’m a librarian.)

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Samantha —

      For questions like “how do I make my email a live link?” there’s always W3Schools. Or the WordPress site’s tutorials.

      Yes, I could just tell you the code now, but I’d prefer to get writers in the habit of going and finding the information they need — it’s a useful skill you’ll need for lots of other parts of your freelance writing career.

      These days, Google can really find you the answer to any of these technical issues. There are also community college students in digital design and computer tech who can help. Really, there is no excuse…except that really, the writer doesn’t want to put it out there.

      • Samantha

        Thanks, Carol, for your reply. I’m fairly tech-savvy myself, but I run into a lot of people who aren’t in my line of work. Some of them are aspiring writers (from writers’ groups etc.). They come to the library for help with this kind of thing and that’s not something we have time to teach, at least individually.

        • Carol Tice

          My library does some free classes in tech stuff, and so does my local parks & rec. There are so many ways to GET this knowledge…and so many excuses to throw up your hands and not truly present yourself in a professional way. Because deep down, you don’t want to.

  12. Steve Maurer

    Great advice, Carol. as usual.

    I’ve even seen experienced copywriters have some of the “tells.”

    On my writer’s site I have my name, email address (clickable), office phone (clickable if they’re on Skype) all “above the fold.”

    If they scroll down a bit, they see my mailing address. And yes, I do have contact forms for those who want to use them.

    All of these indicate to the reader that I am, indeed, a real person and am ready to help them.

    For those concerned about spam, check into programs, such as Akismet, that filter out these spam messages, including those on contact forms and in blog comments.

    Someone above mentioned that her blog was becoming her portfolio. And yes, it is. For those with no “clips,” remember that blog posts and your entire website are part of your portfolio. Do a great job and make it count.

    Thanks again for the great article!

    • Carol Tice

      Right on — lots of writers use their blog as a source of samples. Though few create GREAT samples on their blog, which is the secret. Write every blog post like it’s a $1-a-word magazine article, and you’ll have a great portfolio off your blog!

  13. Mitch

    I think being afraid is good, in fact you should afraid with all the competition out there,
    i have seen sites where they sell you unique articles for less than 3$, at other sites you can get them for free if you like a couple of posts on Facebook and things like that.

    fear is part of our instinct and it is there for a good reason, if you are not getting a constant steady stable roll of freelance jobs and have developed a good list of friend loyal clients, then you have all the right to be scared and not walk the path of an independent freelance writer!
    that’s just my opinion but for me it is also common sense!
    Many thanks and Best wishes!

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Mitch —

      I disagree. I’ve mentored more than a thousand writers at this point, and my sense is that sitting around feeling scared because on some websites you can buy crappy $3 articles is completely nonproductive. Being afraid of “all the competition out there” in a general, faceless way, is also useless.

      Fear is useful in situations where lives are at risk. That’s why our bodies are wired for fear — to remind us to be scared of the place where the lions come to feed, and to remember to stay away from it so they won’t eat us. That’s productive fear.

      But that’s the not case in freelancing. It sounds like you’re just trying to discourage competition here so you’ll have less of it, if you ask me.

      Writers need to realize that this is a broad marketplace, and while some might buy $3 articles, others need $2000 articles. It’s just a question of going after the opportunities you want, and understanding the vast differences in the types of writing work available and the prices they command.

      If you’re too afraid to get out and find clients that pay a professional wage, then maybe you’re right, it’s time to realize you’re not cut out for freelancing.

  14. Padmashri

    I have been hiding in the burrow for a long time and I have come out into the sunlight and have started writing online. But I do not own a website and I am still a newbie to blogging. Any suggestions and help is appreciated.

    • Carol Tice

      If you don’t own a website, how are you blogging?

      Suggestion — get a website. It’s very hard to be taken seriously as a freelance writer today without one.

  15. Daryl

    Interesting article Carol.

    I think that a big part of the issue why people don’t do the things listed is because they simply can’t be bothered.

    They’re happy with their mediocre careers, and expending that extra bit of effort simply doesn’t appeal to them.

    I know lots of people whose ears perk up when I tell them that I’m making money at home, on my computer, in my shorts and nothing else, typing away for another client project.

    They’re always interested. They always mention how amazing it would be to make money on their own terms, dictate the people that they want to work with, and have fun doing something that they enjoy.

    But they just…never get around to it.

    They’ll twiddle their thumbs when you ask them about it, clear their throat, and announce that they’re working on it.

    But they never do.

    Likewise, many freelancers just “can’t be bothered”.

    They’re too “busy” or “stressed” to learn how to put up a website, even though there are literally DOZENS of easy to follow guides on Youtube and other media.
    Heck, there are even some designers who’ll set the whole thing up for you for FREE if you only buy into their hosting plan.

    Of course, some complain that they don’t have enough time, when simply turning off the tv for ONE episode of your favorite show would result in huge benefits for them.

    Or my favorite – they “can’t afford it” even though there are many people in far worse situations who make the sacrifice because they understand that it’s an investment.

    The boldest move you can make to succeeding in freelancing is simply DOING.

    DO put up your website, even though it’s not perfect.
    DO apply for that awesome gig, even if you feel a bit inadequate
    DO sign up for training that will mean that you miss a meal out.

    Don’t wait, DO IT.

    • Carol Tice

      Right on to all that, Daryl.

      If freelancing were easy, then everyone would do it. It sounds exciting, until you start seeing what’s involved — getting up a pro website, doing proactive marketing…and then it suddenly doesn’t look so fun to a lot of folks.

  16. Joel Foster

    I had to cringe reading these because I’ve committed pretty much all of them. I just put up a picture recently and definitely need a sales page with a link to my email address. So true that editors will not be taking the time to type out the full address. I don’t even have the patience to do that, so why would a busy editor that wants to hire me.
    Thanks for the shaming, I needed it!

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Joel —

      Not trying to be shaming! Just to point out that these things make you fail, and if you’re doing them, it’s time to ask why.

      Maybe it is an oversight, in which case these will be fixed in a day. But in many cases, I find it’s no accident or oversight — it’s a deliberate way of holding back and hoping you don’t get any clients, because you’re too scared that you’d fail if you did get a gig.

  17. Lee

    Is anyone going to answer my query or is everyone in bed ha. Come on shall I go and find answers elsewhere. Can I self publish my own book using lots of comments from my own facebook group

    • Lee

      Well or has no one got any idea

      • Carol Tice

        Lee, I did respond above. None of us can give you legal copyright advice — you need to see a professional about it. I think you’re in a gray area, and I’d want to know I was in the clear before publishing and trying to earn from others’ comments.

  18. Michael

    Great piece Carol!
    I’d like to add one if I may.
    Give YOURSELF permission.
    I added this one because I’ve wanted to write for quite some time but was actively seeking permission from the people around me. I could say I’m a writer all I want but if friends and family didn’t take me seriously, how could I take myself seriously?

    Me being a writer had nothing to do with anyone else; it had to do with a self imposed limiting belief. Everything becomes so much easier once we break free of the limitations we put on ourselves.
    Just my 2 cents…

    • Carol Tice

      Right on, Michael…the signs I talk about in this post of course are entirely self-imposed. You’re creating your website.

      I’m always saying the biggest obstacle to freelance writing success is between your ears. 😉

  19. Gayle Glass

    Up for a question? My site currently opens to my blog page, and my bio is more personal that professional. I’m changing the bio, but should I also change the site to open to a static, bio page and have my followers click to the blog? I’ve noticed this on others, and it seems much more appropriate.

    • Carol Tice

      It’s sort of off topic here, but yes — if freelance writing services are your main focus, and your blog isn’t a huge happening thing with a big audience and you’re selling products and services from it — it’s not a business of its own — then put it under a tab so you can write a static home page.

      That is not a bio page, by the way. Not what you put on a Home page if you want to get clients.

      Inside my Freelance Writers Den community we’ve got a crack bootcamp about this — Build a Writer Website That Works. It would help you through a LOT of the issues around making your website get you clients. If you’re interested, get on the waiting list — I often only tell that list when we’re open.

  20. Jo

    Completely identify with the second point about hiding yourself. I’ve recently started a new blog and went through agonies about forcing myself to put up a photo and some personal information. Only a stern talking to from my coach made me do it! But now it’s there I can see what a difference it makes to the feel of things. Still don’t like seeing myself online too much though 😀

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