3 Freelancing Mistakes That Cost Me $1000+ (And How to Avoid Them)

#2 is where most new writers stumble.

3 Freelancing Mistakes That Cost Me $1000+ (And How to Avoid Them)
Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

#2 is where most new writers stumble.

As a freelancer, you are a one-person army.

You don’t have anyone to assist or guide you. You must forge your own path.

Most importantly, you have no one to warn you about potential pitfalls. You’re more likely to make lots of mistakes if you don’t have the supervision and mentorship that comes with a regular job.

I began my freelance writing career in December 2020. Since then, it’s been an incredible journey. I’ve earned more money, independence, and respect than I could have ever imagined.

But I’ve also made some terrible mistakes that have cost me thousands of dollars in a single year.

In this post, I’m highlighting the three greatest blunders I made as a newbie freelancer. If you’re just starting your freelance writing journey, read on for some valuable advice.

1. I Said Yes to One-Time Gigs

As a novice freelance writer, it’s difficult to generate a steady monthly income. In such a situation, it’s tempting to say yes to every high-paying gig that shows up, even if it holds little value for you in the future.

When was starting out as a freelancer, I used to say yes to every assignment that piqued my interest and paid well enough.

Then, after spending countless hours on the project and devoting myself to the topic the client wanted, I had zero follow-ups after the delivery. All the research I did and the knowledge I gained on the topic were rendered meaningless after the contract was complete.

One-time gigs are a great way to earn some quick cash, but when you look back on them, they’re just huge drains on your time and effort. They don’t even help you build your CV in any way (especially if they are ghostwriting gigs and no one is willing to endorse you after your work).

Such gigs barely qualify as a blip on the radar, despite their momentary monetary benefit.

I no longer accept one-time gigs unless the client promises me a recommendation. Sure, they pay well in terms of money, but they’re quite useless in terms of stability, security, and influence on my career.

Key takeaway

As a freelance writer, always look for projects that will benefit you in the long run. This may be in the form of recurring projects or it might as well be something that adds weight to your CV.

Don’t get deceived by one-time deals, no matter how tempting they appear or how much they pay. At the end of the day, spending so many hours researching a subject you’ll never write about again is barely worth your time.

2. I Let Clients Bargain

A few months ago, a customer requested that I draft a 2000-word essay for them. I quoted them my usual pricing, but they bargained and got it down to 70% of what I initially asked.

I didn’t like this mentality, but I was just beginning out in my career and I badly needed the money. I said yes, only to find out later that this customer was the worst I’d ever worked with.

Five times a day, he would beg for updates, even though the promised deadline was a week away.

After I submitted the project, he asked for me to get on a call, and then spent two hours suggesting trivial changes to the document that could have easily been emailed to me as comments. This was a colossal waste of my time, energy, and peace of mind. After finishing this assignment, I promised to never say yes to a customer who bargained a lower price than my first quote.

Key takeaway

When a client says you’re quoting too much, they would most probably end up micromanaging your work and behave as if they own your time.

It’s best to save yourself right when you spot the first red flag and run away as far away as you can. Clients who bargain and don’t see your value are never good news, no matter how much they pay.

3. I Onboarded Clients Who Paid Hourly Rates

I’ve heard horror stories from my friends who worked for clients who paid them hourly rates for the work they put in. A dear friend of mine told me about a time when she worked for 14 hours straight on a challenging project. But when she submitted the work, the client outright rejected it. He said there was no way this work can take 14 hours, and then only paid her for 4 hours worth of work.

Learning from this traumatizing experience, I never respond positively to clients who demanded hourly prices at the start.

The problem with hourly rates is that you have no way of knowing how long is the best time to spend on a task. Something that looks simple to you may be really complex for your customers, and vice versa.

This is especially relevant if it’s your first job with the customer and they’re unaware of your working pace. It’s usually better to charge on a project-by-project basis rather than on an hourly basis. Otherwise, clients might end up bargaining or believing you’re being too greedy and asking for more than you deserve.

The key takeaway

Hourly rates work well for some freelancers, but if you have never tried it before, I’d suggest always quoting your price on a project-wise basis. This will save you the unnecessary hassle of justifying why it took you so long to a client and avoiding any negative feelings that might arise.

What experienced freelancers say

As Olga Pope mentioned in the comments, the only trouble with charging a per-project rate, especially early on in your freelance career, is that

  1. It’s often impossible to estimate the exact scope and timespan of some projects, especially if you’re new to that particular type of deliverable.
  2. When you’re not mega-experienced and/or are working with a new client, you have no idea how much back and forth will be Involved. It’s pretty easy to underestimate how long it will actually take you to get sign-off. Overestimating sounds like a better option in theory, but that can border on BS.

Olga says that you can’t start charging project-based rates until you have done this particular type of project with at least three different clients. This way, you have enough data to make a more accurate estimate of the average time it takes you (and therefore not charge less than that or rip people off).

Closing Thoughts

Every freelancer’s journey is different and unique. There is no clear-cut blueprint (or one-size-fits-all approach) for being a successful freelance writer.

However, if you avoid these three mistakes that I’ve listed, your journey will be significantly easier:

  1. Don’t say yes to a project unless you see a prospect of longevity with the client or a way they could enhance your CV.
  2. Don’t work with clients who bargain.
  3. Charge on a per-project basis, rather than quoting hourly rates as this might later lead to unnecessary bitterness.

Do you resonate with any of these learnings? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Want to be a successful freelancer but struggling to find good clients? Check out my 90-day guide to finding your first high-paying freelance client here.

How I Grew My Newsletter to 1100+ Subscribers in Just One Month
Secrets I learned after hitting the “Publish” button.
5 Cool Business Insights I Learned From My First Product Launch
50% sold out in 3 days might sound like a dream, but the journey is not that easy.
5 Lessons I Learned From My 5-Day Writer Training Program
36 writers. 5 hours. 5 invaluable lessons about life, business, and writing.