A freelance writing business has the potential to bring you the freedom and flexibility you've dreamed of. But it's not always as easy as it looks. There will be challenges. And you will make mistakes.
But don't let that discourage you. To help you prepare, I've put together a post on 5 common mistakes that freelance writers make. By the time you're done reading, hopefully you'll have a better understanding of some of the challenges ahead... and how to avoid them!
Ready to dive in? Here we go.
1. Not having a clear path forward.
One of the very first things you should do when you start your business is set goals for yourself.
Setting goals will help keep you on track. It will keep you motivated. And you'll have the confidence to move forward in your business.
Ever hear of SMART goals? SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Sensitive.
These aren't just some vague ideas that you pull out of nowhere.
"I want to be a writer."
"I want to make a bunch of money!"
"I want to be successful."
Nope. Not good enough. Those kinds of thoughts are all fine and dandy... but they won't help you get to where you want to be. Here's what you should do instead: Set SMART goals.
Specific. Use dates and dollars. "I will make x amount by ____ date."
Measurable. How will you know that you've achieved your goal? Quantifying them helps. "I will send 30 prospecting emails by Friday."
Achievable. Push yourself. Your goals should be challenging, but also realistic. "I will get my first client within 30 days."
Relevant. Obviously, your goals need to be relevant to your business. "I will create 2 writing samples by ____ date."
Time-Sensitive. Notice how all of the above goals have deadlines? Time-Sensitive goals keep you motivated and accountable.
See the difference?
Don't make the mistake of not having a clear path forward. Set yourself some goals. Challenge yourself, but be realistic with what you can accomplish in the timeframe you've given yourself. It's going to feel so rewarding when you do. And that little boost of confidence will motivate you to keep moving forward.
2. Not choosing a niche.
Freelance writers who specialize in a particular niche are more likely to be successful.
Think about it from the perspective of the person hiring you. If they have two writers reach out to them and offer their services, they are going to hire the one who is more aligned with their business.
So imagine if you reach out and say, "Hey, you should hire me because I'm a really good writer!" and the other person reaches out and says, "Hey, is there anything I can help you with? I worked in XYZ industry for several years, so I'm familiar with the lingo, the work environment, and the needs of your buyers."
Who do you think the client is going to hire?
Now, you don't have to choose a niche based on your prior work experience. But it's a good option. You could also go with a hobby, a passion, volunteer experience, or even base your niche on a writing medium instead of an industry. Which means you only write blog posts. Or case studies. Or white papers. Whatever you choose!
Just make sure you specialize in something.
Here are 5 more reasons why you should specialize in a niche:
It's easier to get clients. Optimize your website, LinkedIn profile, social media handles, etc. Make it clear that your write for a specific niche. When clients seek out freelance writers, they're going to search for things like "financial copywriter" rather than just "freelance writer." You'll be a lot easier to find when you have a niche.
It streamlines the prospecting process. When you start to build a list of potential clients, having a niche makes prospecting a lot easier. If you specialize in financial, then you're going to search for businesses in that industry. You'll search for banks, credit card companies, financial planning institutes, etc. Much more effective than going to google and staring at the search bar wondering where the heck to begin!
You'll make more money. Being an expert or niche specialist means that you can demand higher fees for your writing projects. Most clients understand that if they want quality work, they are going to have to pay for it. They'll be happy to pay you a higher fee because they know you can deliver great content.
You'll work faster. Again, the more you understand your niche industry, the faster you'll write. You won't have to spend as much time researching topics or looking up the terms and lingo of your industry. Because you already understand it. Working faster means that you can take on more projects and make more money. Or, take it as extra free time with your family.
It's easier to get referrals. It's a small world out there. It's likely that some of your clients know of other businesses who could use your writing services. A lot of them attend the same conferences and are in the same trade associations. You never know when your name might come up.
Don't make the mistake of thinking it's better to be a "generalist" and just go after every job posting you see. Instead, streamline. Choose a niche. Specialize in something that makes you stand out from the crowd.
3. Thinking they don't need a website.
Do you have a website for your freelance writing business?
Hopefully you said yes! If not, then that's okay... as long as you plan on building a website soon! ;)
Because here's the thing: Websites are one of the biggest reasons that new and aspiring freelance writers to give up on their dreams.
Don't let a little technology scare you away from what could be an incredible career and future.
So why is it so important to have a website?
Because it's a major asset in helping you get clients. A website is visual proof that you're a professional. That you take your business seriously. And that you can help clients with their writing needs.
A freelancer's website is like their digital storefront.
Here are some steps to help you get started:
Choose your site name
Buy a domain
Build your site using a website service provider
Let's break it down and go through each of these steps.
1. Choose Your Site Name
Have some fun with this. Play around with different ideas, and see what's available. One free tool you can use to find out if a domain name is available is BustAName.com. Just type in the name you want to use and it'll tell you whether or not it's already been taken.
You want your site name to be professional and to clearly convey what it is that you do.
Some writers will simply use their name. Others will add in something like "writing services" to the end of their name.
My freelance writing website is www.ginagouldcopy.com. The name of my writing business is 'Gina Gould Copy." So it makes perfect sense.
Choose whatever makes sense for you and your business. Do a google search to see what other freelance writers are using. Get some inspiration from them, but try to come up with something unique and different if you can.
2. Buy A Domain
Once you've decided on a site name, you have to buy the domain for it. A domain is the URL for your website. The domain is also the "host" for your website. I use Hover to host and manage my domain.
Hover is a popular host option. They're affordable, and have great tutorials and customer service if you ever need it.
A domain only costs about $10 - $15 per year, depending on which provider you choose to go with. Basically that investment ensures that nobody else will be able to use the same name. There's also built-in security, privacy, and protection features, too.
3. Build Your Site Using A Website Service Provider
Now we get to the fun stuff :)
In this step, you actually get to build your website. Don't let that intimidate you. You don't need to be tech savvy or have coding knowledge or anything like that. These days, it's actually quite a simple process.
Especially if you use SquareSpace.
SquareSpace is one of the most popular website service providers on the internet. They make it super easy to customize and build your own website. The great thing about SquareSpace is that all of their customization tools are drag-and-drop, do-it-yourself building blocks. So you don't need to enter any codes or have to download special plug-ins.
When I first started out, I used BlueHost and WordPress. Wordpress is another popular website service provider. But there's a lot more coding and technical know-how required in order to get set up with Wordpress. They're slightly more affordable than SquareSpace, but in my opinion the cost savings isn't worth it. I wasted a lot of time and effort getting my Wordpress site to be professional and functional.
I only paid $108 for my first year of using SquareSpace. If you sign up using a University or College email account, you save 50% on your first year.
My advice is to take the easy route, and use SquareSpace for your website service provider.
4. Not charging enough for their services.
This is something that just about every freelance writer has struggled with.
It's tough! Especially for those of us who jumped into this thing without any prior experience as a business owner or consultant.
It's normal to feel "weird" about asking other people for money. We might even feel guilty! So we short ourselves. And waffle at our own prices.
But here's the thing. You're not really asking people for money. You're charging them for a high quality service.
The clients you pitch your services to are making all kinds of purchases... every day! Do you think they criticize the prices of every other business owner they deal with? I mean honestly, what's the worst that could happen... they come back at you and say your prices are too high for them? Fine. Negotiate. Or go somewhere else that can afford you.
To give you an idea of what you should be charging, I've included a link to an incredibly helpful resource. The AWAI Pricing Guide. AWAI is the American Writer's and Artists Institute. These guys are the experts. They can help you set your prices.
And even if you think these rates are too high for you to charge as a beginner... then simply lower them. That's the beauty of freelancing. You get to call the shots. Just make sure you don't lower them too much.
So check out the Pricing Guide. It's a good reference and will help you understand what other people in this industry are charging.
Don't sell yourself short. Be confident in your work, and charge accordingly.
5. Giving up too early!
Look, no one said this was going to be easy. After all, you're starting a business.
And even if freelance writing is something that just about anyone can do... it still takes time, effort, and a willingness to learn.
But let's be honest.
Setting up a business? Is hard.
Pitching your services? Is hard.
Getting clients? IS HARD.
The good news... it gets easier. You just have to stick with it! Don't give up too early. Because the rewards of running your very own, successful freelance writing business... are incredible. Your efforts and your sacrifices, WILL PAY OFF.
So keep moving. Keep pushing. Keep striving towards that next SMART goal of yours.
Focus on the quick wins.
Choosing a niche? Done. Picking a website name? Done. Sending that first cold email? Done.
You probably aren't going to experience instant success. But over time, all of those quick little wins will keep adding up. And if you're consistent about your marketing efforts, and are serious about succeeding as a freelance writer... the projects will come. The money will start rolling in. And you'll feel an enormous sense of accomplishment!