I recently attended a training event for a direct sales company I represent in my very spare time. My upline was speaking about growing your business and he said, “You know how some folks sign up, tell their friends about the product, they try it and love it and tell their friends, and the next thing you know that new rep is hitting platinum level? Well, that’s not how it happened for us.”
Well, that’s not how it happened for me, either, in my freelance writing. I started off very part-time. I was homeschooling the older of my six kids and my baby was only 4. We also lived a homesteading lifestyle which required many hours of gardening, animal tending, harvesting, food preservation, and property management. But I would write stories in my head while squishing cabbage worms on my broccoli and then rush into the house to write everything down.
In those days, I didn’t even have internet access. I would save all my work on a thumb drive and then go to a library once a week to submit it. I started with writing devotionals for Sunday school material. That branched into writing for periodicals, and then blogs and websites—all for pay.
After 10 years of freelancing, I’ve learned a few lessons. Some lessons I learned the hard way; some I learned by observing others and avoiding them altogether. If you could avoid these pitfalls, you could possibly hit platinum lightning fast.
5 Pitfalls to Avoid in Your Freelance Writing Business
Do not write for exposure.
Early in my career, I read Writer for Hire by Kelly James-Enger. In her chapter on marketing, she says,
If you want to make money writing for the Web, forget the sites that pay pennies or offer you ‘exposure’ for your articles. (Why would you want exposure? People die from exposure.)
I never wrote for exposure. In fact, I got my first national gig with a clip from a regional sales sheet that paid $5. But that $5 was money in my pocket and gave me the morale boost I needed to keep going.
Stay away from the content mills.
As a professional, you deserve to be paid a reasonable amount for your work. Content mills pay pennies on the dollar compared to other outlets and entice you with “bonus” money based on views, clicks, or shares. I’ve never succumbed to writing for the mills but this post from Make A Living Writing tells the true experiences of 14 different writers.
This is how I see it. If you think your writing deserves no more than bonus money based on traffic, think about this. You go to the doctor for bronchitis. He looks you over, prescribes meds, and hands you a bill for $250. But you say, “Hey doc. How about I pay you $50. Then I go home and write a nice post on Facebook about how well you treated me. For every “like” that post gets, I’ll pay you another $1.”
No, I don’t think the doctor would go for it, either. So, why should you?
This is one pitfall I have learned the hard way. Have you seen the movie Up? (If you haven’t, I highly recommend it.) In the movie, the guard dogs are constantly distracted by squirrels. In fact, the word “squirrel” is now an overused cliché. Well, I can tell you, I’ve chased a lot of squirrels. Here are some of the squirrels in my life:
- Social media
As you can see from my list, not all squirrels are bad. But if you are going to earn more money with your writing, you will need to put the squirrels in their proper place. Turn off social media and email and only check it three times a day. Limit yourself to the number of webinars or courses you will take in a year. Listen to podcasts while you drive or exercise, not while you work. And finally, the best thing I did for my writing career was to establish office hours and stick to them as though I have to go to work, outside the home, for someone else.
Sticking to my office hours has been the hardest distraction fix to conquer. As much as I want to help the family in my church move, have lunch with my girlfriends, or nurse my husband when he’s home sick, I have to go to work. And I’ve had to tell people that just like my husband does.
Have a servant’s heart.
Working as an editor for both a regional lifestyle magazine and a niche food blog, I’ve witnessed other writers fall into this pit. Freelance writing is a service profession. And it’s hard to be a servant when you think that your work is perfect. In fact, repeat these words to out loud:
My words are not sacred.
When an editor asks me to make revisions, I have one response: “Absolutely, not a problem.” And then I turn the work around within hours. I don’t care if it’s the first revision or the 17th revision, my answer is always the same. Do not fall into the pit of thinking your words are sacred, that you are the indispensable-queen-of-all-that-is-written, or that, as my dad would say, “your poop don’t stink.” As an editor, I would much rather fix someone’s less-than-stellar prose than put up with a bad disposition. Bad dispositions are not given repeat assignments.
Put it in writing.
My first regular writing gig was a natural health blog. Then next, I started writing for a personal finance blog. Several posts a month paid promptly via PayPal quickly became the grocery money my family needed.
Then one holiday season, (Why do financial crises always seem to happen at Christmas time?) the blog owner emailed the writers and said that he was working on a special project and wouldn’t need any posts until January. I wanted to shout,
Hey, buddy! That’s my kids’ Christmas present money you’re messing with!
But what could I do? I didn’t have a contract. I didn’t even have any kind of a commitment from this guy. What was I doing? I committed to providing regular content for him, but I never thought to ask him for a commitment in return.
Learn from me. Get a contract, or at least an email exchange with the details spelled out for every little teensy thing. You will eventually be glad you did.