Do you ever feel like your freelance writing career is going nowhere fast? Do you try to take things up a notch, but they never seem to improve, or at least not by much? You might be making one of these common mistakes that freelance writers mistake.
Here are five reasons why your writing career might be going absolutely nowhere:
1. You're not improving your craft.
Writers must constantly improve their writing. If your writing career doesn't seem to be going anywhere, start by looking at what you're publishing. If you write low quality pieces (and you'll need to get an objective opinion on that), you can't expect to move up the freelance writing ladder very far. Make sure your formality is appropriate for your audience. If you're an ESL writer, read as much as you can and keep improving until that isn't obvious in your writing. Focus on improving your self-editing process, or consider hiring an editor. The little things you do to improve your writing now can pay off significantly by attracting a better breed of clients in the future.
2. No one knows who you are.
Being able to write doesn't make you a successful freelance writer. If you want a real career in this industry, you're going to have to wear several hats: that of writer, entrepreneur, salesman, marketer, and more. If you can't market your work and sell your style and your rates to potential clients, your career won't go anywhere. Brush up on your marketing skills, and keep doing that, no matter how much you think you know. Another way to get your name out there to potential clients is to network with other writers and industry professionals. Never neglect professional networking, especially in the freelance world.
3. People know who you are, but they just don't like you.
How do you portray yourself publicly around your target market? Do you ever have anything useful to say, or do you only surface to practically beg for work and advertise your services like crazy? You don't have to act all warm and fuzzy to get respect from clients and drive interest in your work. However, how you communicate and what you contribute to others (whether it be in forums, on blogs, articles, etc.) will play a role in whether or not your freelance writing career advances, and how quickly. It's good to be yourself. But it's even better to contribute.
4. Your customers aren't that happy with your past work.
Just because a client doesn't complain, it doesn't mean they're thrilled with your work. You'll know when your clients are really happy when they start referring your services to others to the point where you don't have to spend as much time marketing on your own time. This will also depend on the kinds of clients you work for. Clients paying peanuts for work are far less likely to go out of their way to do a writer a favor (they sometimes worry that giving you referrals will cause you to leave them or charge them more as demand increases). Clients who are willing to pay professional rates for higher quality work will have more invested in that quality, and they tend to lead to referrals to more higher quality clients.
5. Your rates are all wrong.
A lot of freelance writers underprice their services so much early in the game that they cap their own earnings potential. If you do that, there's nowhere to go with your career without changing your rate structure down the line, which can be incredibly difficult to do.
Let's look at an example, saying you've calculated your costs, and you need to make $2000 per month from your writing. If you're a writer charging $.01 per word, you would have to write 200,000 words per month (that's the equivalent of writing at least two average-length books per month). If you're a writer charging $.10 per word, you would have to write 20,000 words per month (which amounts to 1000 words per day assuming you have five working days per week and four weeks per month). That's much more doable. Even better, let's say you charge $.50 per word. To earn that $2000, you would only have to write 4000 words (which comes to an average of 200 words per day assuming that same five-day work week). Crunch the numbers with your own target per word rate, and see how the workload varies.
If a penny-per-word writer is cramming over 6000 words of writing into each day (and that's all 30 days in a month) to reach their income goal, they won't be able to take on more work without sacrificing the quality of their existing work further (which will hurt their reputation and chances of getting better clients -- not to mention risking a burn out). The $.10 per word writer, on the other hand, can reach that goal with a reasonable amount of writing each day (around one or two articles), and still have time left over to not only market themselves more effectively, but work additional clients into their schedule, therefore leaving room to grow their income without having to alter their rates. The $.50 per word writer has the ability to write fewer days during the month, giving them even more time to market their services to other clients, take on work beyond their intended goal, or work on personal projects.
Let's focus more on those $.50 per word (or higher rate) writers. They only have to write 4000 words per month to earn their income goal. Will they get as many clients at that rate as the penny-per-word writer? Of course not. But they have much more time to market themselves to find the clients willing to pay their rates, they have more time to take on additional clients (even at lower rates), they have more time to pursue their own writing projects like a blog or a book, and they'll have more time to network.
Here's the underlying point. When you launch a freelance writing business, know what you need to make each month to cover your expenses and then increase your estimate by at least 10% (because you'll almost certainly forget to account for something or need money for unexpected expenses that spring up from time to time). Once you know what you need to earn, think about how much you can realistically, and consistently, write each day (based on how many days per week you want to work on your writing). Don't overestimate this, or you'll burn out early.
Set your rates a little bit higher than what you actually think you need, so you can A) reach your goals with fewer clients, B) not risk having to raise your rates in the near future, and C) leave yourself room to grow in the future by adding more clients into the mix without overwhelming your schedule. Of course, there are some assumptions that you'll have to make, such as that your writing is actually worth the price you come up with when setting your rates, and that you actually have the marketing ability to pull in clients at those rates. If not, see the points above about those issues.
Note: This post was originally published on July 17, 2007. It was updated and re-published on the currently-listed publication date.