By Erika Gimbel
Iâ€™ve been a freelance writer for a little over a year now.
Looking back, the biggest missteps my first year had to do with money: offers, contracts and bids.
Luckily, Iâ€™m learning from my mistakes.
Here’s a rundown on my biggest blunders:
Mistake 1: Wrote free sample, didnâ€™t get paid
I wrote another blog post for Make a Living Writing about how I wrote a sample for free.
And while I vetted the client and eventually landed a long-term project, I did feel a little weird that the client posted the article on her website and I didnâ€™t get paid for it.
Next time: Make sure to set the terms for samples, if used.
Mistake 2: Bid too high
For a potential client, I turned in a high bid for work I would have done for less.
The client was interesting, the job was long-term and I would have liked working on it, but the client dismissed my proposal outright because of my bid price.
Next time: Ask for budget up front (and ask around).
Mistake 3: Didnâ€™t think I needed a contract
I work with marketing agencies regularly. When one of my former colleagues who started his own firm asked me to write copy for a website, I quickly agreed and got to work without a contract.
I figured, I knew the guy, and he knows a lot of people I know.
What could go wrong?
But my first client didnâ€™t like my copy at all and decided to write it on his own.
However, I still invoiced the agency my full fee. The agency should have paid it, but instead my colleague argued that since the client wasnâ€™t going to pay him for the copy,Â he couldn’t pay me.
Â I saw the final website and pointed out that there were shades of my copy there. The client hadnâ€™t started from scratch, but had taken my copy and edited it.
Luckily, my colleague eventually gave me half my fee. I didnâ€™t get completely stiffed, but I did have to bug him for four months before he agreed to pay me.
Next time: Get a contract, even if you think youâ€™re working with a â€œfriend.â€
What I did right
On the plus side, hereâ€™s what I did right:
- I didnâ€™t take on any projects that didnâ€™t pay enough.Â I told prospects my rates, and if they persisted with low offers, I just said that I probably wasnâ€™t the right writer for them.
- I negotiated for a retainer client with help from the Freelance Writerâ€™s Den. This has turned out to be steady income and an enjoyable relationship.
- I refined my own “story” forÂ prospective clients. I became a â€œB2B freelance writerâ€ who works with a wide variety of industries. I can quickly explain what I do and the kinds of clients I work with, and that helps me attract clients who are a great fit for me.
- I declined a full-time offer. While Iâ€™m glad I turned it down (this client was asking me to give up all my other clients without a regular income guarantee or benefits), it was a “full-time or nothing” offer so I won’t be getting any more work from this client. Â I still think about this decision because the work was in a high-paying, interesting niche, but I wasn’t ready to give up my freelancing lifestyle so soon after I started.
- I took a meeting with a potential client when I was incredibly busy. When a local marketing agency got in touch to add me to their freelancerâ€™s pool, I almost didnâ€™t take the meeting. I think my busyness made me look like a competent, in-demand writer, and just as I turned down the full-time offer above, I got hired to write a monthly corporate newsletter.
I made my share of mistakes my first year. While each mistake made me feel a little ill, Iâ€™ve learned from each one, and now I’m quicker to ask for help.
Even though Iâ€™m sure Iâ€™ll have slip-ups here and there, overall, Iâ€™m feeling incredibly positive about my future as a freelance writer.
Finally, I feel like Iâ€™m doing the job I was always supposed to be doing.
What mistakes have you made as a freelancer? Leave a comment and add your lesson learned.
Erika Gimbel is a Chicago freelance writerÂ who writes for businesses on topics ranging from health to industrial engineering. Her client work includes thought leadership articles, corporate newsletters, presentations, website copy, e-learning courses and video scripts.