Mistakes that will Kill Your Freelance Career

Freelancing is a business. It must be treated like a business in order to succeed. Writers sometimes dive in without being prepared or knowing what to expect. The last thing you want is to ruin your reputation as a writer. Here is a list of things that will kill your freelancing career before it starts.

1.) Not editing enough before submitting

A writer’s life is 90% editing. In the words of Stephan King, “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

As a writer, we have to frequently “kill our darlings” meaning we need to cut unnecessary words, descriptions and for the creative writers, even dialogue and characters. Find what’s wrong with your work before someone else does because that is a hard thing to live down.

2.) Not responding to emails or calls within a reasonable amount of time

If the person paying you to do work can’t get a hold of you, chances are they will think you are a flake or no serious about your work. I’m not saying check your phone and email obsessively every ten minutes but a few times a day (I’d schedule it so checking and distraction doesn’t get out of hand). If the customer changes their mind about something and you don’t realize until two days later, you may have spent two days working on the wrong project or perspective. It will not only hurt you and your business but the relationship with the company that hired you.

3.) Giving in to your fear

Starting out as a freelancer can be a very scary prospect. Many people, myself included, tense up when pitching to strangers or interviewing people. Don’t let fear take over! Write out everything you need to do for a pitch, interview, article, etc. and then break them up into small tasks. I like to highlight the tasks I finish. I feel like I’ve accomplished something and my planner ends up looking like a rainbow!

4.) Being unprofessional

Never, ever cop an attitude with someone who is paying you. Even if they are asking for free work, politely say ‘I can’t work for free, I’m sorry. Maybe we can work something else out.’ Always return correspondence. Always do what you say you are going to do. Never get angry with someone you are working for or at least don’t let it show. You never know who they will tell and how that will hurt your business.

5.) Working for free

It may seem tempting to write for free, thinking ‘they will surely hire me in the future if I do this for them.’ That’s not the case. There are a lot of scammers out there who will ask for free work and then you never hear from them again or once you tell them your rates they never respond. If someone wants or needs the work done, they will pay for it and they will pay a reasonable wage for it.

6.) Missing deadlines

Deadlines are set for a reason. When the assignment is first issued, write out each step to ultimate success and then break them down on your calendar in small parts. If you do this, there is no excuse (barring death or severe illness) to miss a deadline. If you are going to miss a deadline, or need an extension, tell your contact person immediately so they can adjust their plans.

7.) Not keeping track of your submissions

There is nothing more embarrassing than submitting a query letter to the same company or magazine more than once. They will surely think you can’t take a hint and are more likely to remember that you were rejected for the same idea not once but twice! Most likely you will not get work from them after that happens.

8.) Overloading yourself with work

It may seem like a good idea to send out a lot of queries at once or take on a lot of work at once. It’s not. There are only so many hours in a day and unfortunately, you will have to sleep at some point. Schedule jobs according to what your schedule realistically allows. Don’t book twenty 1000 word articles in a week if you work part-time outside of the home and have quadruplets. It’s not going to happen. Leave time for life to happen.

9.) Not doing the research

Not doing the research will kick you in the ass immediately. If you put the wrong information in an article or blog post, someone will point it out and frequently not in the nicest of ways. If it’s wrong information in your blog post, someone will surely comment and say something that isn’t so nice. For example, “Polar Bears aren’t blue you, moron!” Trolls are everywhere but making an error in your blog, while embarrassing isn’t career crushing. However, if you make an error in a piece of work you are getting paid to write, that can be a crushing blow to your freelance work.

This includes sourcing photos. While photos posted to the internet are technically free for use it is not only appropriate but necessary to give credit where it is due. Different companies source different ways. Make sure to ask for an example of how they format sources.


10.) Not finding reputable sources

Wikipedia is not a reputable source of information. I know the word “Wikipedia” sounds like an encyclopedia but it is not. It is gathered and submitted information by the everyday person that is not researched for accuracy before posted online. Never, ever use Wikipedia as a source.

How do you find a solid source for information? Go to the library. If you are looking for online sources only, if you search for something like “what color are Polar Bears?” and more than two sources state that Polar Bears are white, since they concur on the information, chances are that they are good sources.

Overwhelming, right? There is so much to steer clear of in order to have a successful freelance career but if you love writing and want to be your own boss, it is worth it. Keep writing and editing. Keep your chin up and eyes on the goal. You will get there and if you follow the tips above, you will be in good shape as a freelance writer.


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