Three Easy Ways to Kill Your Freelance Writing Career

Some recent personal discussions with a few colleagues got me thinking about ethics a little bit, and how they apply to all of us as freelance writers. We talk a lot here at All Freelance Writing about how to be a successful freelance writer. Now let's talk about some ethics-related (and just common sense) issues, and how poor judgment can actually kill your career as a freelance writer. Here are three things you can do right now if you really don't want to be a freelance writer tomorrow:

Lie to Clients

Don't do it. Should I even have to say that? Don't tell them someone died, so you won't be able to finish their project on time just to buy some time. Don't tell them you're in the middle of working on the project this very minute when they get in touch if you're really not. Don't tell them that you're doing the writing yourself if you're really subcontracting it to other writers (it's one thing to outsource... it's another thing to be sneaky about it). Don't tell them your computer crashed if it didn't. Don't tell them... do I really have to say anymore?

No matter how clever you think you're being, you're a total moron if you think lying to clients is OK. You'll be found out... maybe not right away, but you will be. I've seen my fair share of writers exposed for liars publicly. It's not a pretty sight. The fact is that if someone finds out you're a liar in this day and age, it's incredibly easy to broadcast that fact, and clients really will do it. That's especially true if you're getting most of your writing gigs through public outlets like forums and freelance bidding sites.

Alienate Your Colleagues

I know a couple of writers who completely suck at building relationships with colleagues. A lot of the time, they don't even realize other freelance writers despise them. Why does this matter? Because most of the best freelance writing gigs are never advertised publicly. Having a strong network of other freelance writers who trust and respect you is your key to finding out about these potential clients.

I refer work to other writers nearly every day. I get contacted about projects outside of my specialty, so I refer the client to someone I know specializing in their area. I also sometimes simply have too much work scheduled to take on any more. In that case, I refer the client to my best competition that I'm aware of.

Did I just say that? I refer clients to my competition?? Damn straight. I've done it for years, and I've never had the client not come back to me afterwards (if they were my client to begin with). Why? Because I've shown them that I'm about more than a paycheck... that I have their best interests at heart, even when I'm not available to fulfill their needs.

At the same time, I very regularly receive referrals from other writers in my network. Sometimes I take on the clients, and sometimes I refer them to someone else. It's the nature of the beast. There are writers I refer a LOT of work to. There are other writers I wouldn't refer a client to no matter how desperate they are.

Having a handful of colleagues disliking you is nothing to get upset about. But if you find yourself alienating them in large groups, or if you have to constantly troll for work even though you have a big network because other writers just aren't sending work your way, take a look in the mirror and give yourself a professional makeover before you cost yourself your career.

Act Desperate

No matter how desperately you may want that next gig, never act that way. The fact that you likely work at home doesn't excuse you from acting professionally. Begging for gigs won't sustain your career for long. All it does is tell the client that you don't know enough about managing a freelance career to effectively market yourself. That tells them you're a prime sucker for things like cheap rates, unrealistic deadlines, and more. If you put the ball completely in their court, you won't be respected, and you won't likely be paid well.

I don't know about you, but I've built my business (PR firm and freelance writing career) on my honesty... my very blunt honesty actually. I can come across as a bitch at times, and I'm OK with that. My clients know I'll never be a "yes man," just telling them what they want to hear. They know I'll only give them advice if it's truly good for their business (and that often enough includes advice that costs me immediate gigs - but it lands me much longer term business relationships overall). As surprising as it may seem to some, clients really do respect that. They love it so much, they even go out of their way to spread the word. Being blunt isn't for everyone... being honest however is.

Act like a pushover now, and you'll always be a pushover. Speak with authority in what you know, understand your value to your clients, and you'll get the respect and successful career you deserve. I'm not saying you should act like an ass here... just that you need to be firm in what you know, what you believe, and what is and isn't acceptable in your freelance writing career.

Respect yourself. Respect your clients. Respect your colleagues. It may just lead you to more work than you can handle.

Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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7 thoughts on “Three Easy Ways to Kill Your Freelance Writing Career”

  1. Very good post. Very true, and very well said.

    Funny, but honesty seems to be what most clients appreciate above all. I’ve had times where I’ve had to say that I can’t make a deadline because I estimated the time it would take to do the project poorly. Not a problem. I’ve had to say that I’m just having trouble writing what the client wants. No issues – and they give me more work. Kind of ironic.

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  2. @James – That’s definitely the truth! Most clients really don’t want you to just sit back, shut up, and do what they say. If you’re a specialist, they’re coming to you because you have skills they don’t have themselves. There’s more to being a freelance writer than just writing. You need to have your clients’ interests at heart, and let them see that. That rarely means always telling them what they want to hear… that’s just a case of poor communication.

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  3. Way to go girl! You’ve hit the nail on the head with this post. I’m especially in agreement with your second item of note; alienating colleagues. One of the quickest ways to ruin your reputation in the writing world is to make other writers hate you!

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  4. That was a great article. I am a recent college graduate with an English degree and I’m looking at freelance writing as a career option. You mentioned that networking is a very important part of finding writing gigs, how would you suggest a newbie go about finding those relationships? Thanks in advance for any suggestions/advice.

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  5. Excellent tips! I’ve found that clients prefer honesty, too – as long as you deliver it in a tactful package.

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