#FreelancerFriday: 10 Common Rookie Freelancing Mistakes and How to Overcome Them

November 2nd, 2018 by Chris Henson

In his rookie season, Peyton Manning threw a league-high 28 interceptions as his team struggled to a 3–13 record. As a rookie, Tom Brady was third string and only managed 1 completion for six yards.

Even a pair of all-time greats had to start somewhere as newcomers in the league. The point is, they got better—much better—but not without first learning from their rookie mistakes.

Freelancing is not professional football, but like most things, it requires a set of skills that are built up through time, practice, continued education—and most importantly—learning from your past mistakes.

No matter if you are freelancing your way through college or retirement, there will always be a few bumps in the road. Here are the most common rookie freelancing mistakes and tips on how to overcome them:

1. Using an unprofessional email address

This is the most common and frustrating, yet easiest-to-fix mistake a rookie freelancer can make. Avoid anything that is immature, ambiguous, cutesy, or just unnecessary to your freelance business. This includes nicknames and writer-based names like “SEOwriter” or “MommyBlogger.” To keep things simple, your email address should be your actual name and little else.

2. Exaggerating your experience

Just like a resume for any job, it is not acceptable to lie about your writing and freelancing experience. Don’t say you wrote for a publication when you didn’t. Don’t say you are an expert in technical writing when all you’ve written are lifestyle blogs. It will always catch up to you, and it will ultimately cost you jobs and payment when the truth is discovered.

3. Not marketing yourself or building your brand

As a freelancer or contract worker, you are essentially setting up a business for yourself. And just like any business, marketing is very important. Without marketing, you are leaving a lot of business out there. Craft your own unique selling proposition on how you are different from other freelancers. Next, create a comprehensive marketing plan through various channels, including email and social media. Daily activities focused on brand building and business development will help increase your visibility and build interest in your services.

4. Never turning down work

I know, it seems counterproductive to turn down work, but accepting every job only creates problems, including poor time management. Not all jobs are created equally. You have to learn to identify and turn down the bad ones, or you’ll just end up wasting your time, often with more stress and less money. You can’t just accept work for work’s sake; it’s not the best path to earning more.

5. Missing deadlines

Lots of people miss deadlines, not just newcomers. But since rookies are more prone to mistakes, this is especially important when you are first starting out and are trying to establish a positive professional reputation. If missing the deadline is unavoidable, tell your editor as soon as possible. Don’t pile on the excuses—just apologize and accept responsibility. The next step is to confirm when it will be completed or ask for an extension.

6. Ineffectively balancing your workload

It is common to underestimate how long and how much effort a certain project will take, especially if you are a new freelancer or fighting others to land the gig. Be honest with yourself, and remember, it is usually better to under-promise and over-deliver. Avoid taking on a lot of new work all at once, or before you fully complete a big project. Find and take advantage of your most productive time of the day, make and stick to a schedule, stay organized, and know your limits.

7. Being afraid to ask your editor questions

The writer-editor relationship is a special one that needs to be nurtured over time. When a writer is just starting out, there is a lot of uncertainty on both sides of the table about one another. Undoubtedly, questions will arise for new writers working for a new client. You cannot be afraid to ask these questions. Experienced editors should be expecting questions from freelancers and always be eager to answer them. Asking editors questions is the best way to avoid simple misunderstandings and ensure the project is completed exactly as they wanted.

8. Not accepting criticism & refusing to learn new things

As a freelancer, feedback is just part of the job—it’s unavoidable. You must learn to accept criticism gracefully, or better yet, use the feedback to improve your work. Of course, not all criticism is justified, but more often that not, it is. Don’t be argumentative. Make your case politely if needed, or accept the feedback, thank them, and make the changes.

Another stubborn trait that many new freelancers possess is the refusal to learn new things or even adapt their skillset—whether it is their style, habits, equipment/applications, etc. Nothing reveals amateur status more than a stubborn refusal to adapt. Freelancers should always be working to improve themselves, which includes additional training, earning certifications, and keeping up with current market trends.

9. Not standing up for yourself or reading your contract

As a contracted worker, not an employee, it should go without saying that, eventually, someone is going to try and take advantage of you and your work. This can include deadline changes, endless rounds of edits, pay discrepancies and delays, or any additional countless ways freelancers can be unfairly treated.

This goes hand-in-hand with contract negotiations. Unfortunately, many freelancers do not even read their contract upfront before signing, which only opens you up to unfair treatment and/or legal issues down the line.

10. Poor Communication

Freelancing these days is rarely a face-to-face thing. Communication is largely done via email, phone and video calls, or text and instant messaging. Because you are not an in-office employee, maintaining communication is very important. Equally important is the tone, clarity, and detail in your communication. You likely will not talk to your editor or project manager on a daily basis, so you want to be sure both parties are always on the same page to avoid delays and mistakes.

Mistakes are going to happen when you’re first starting out in the freelancing game. But, with practice, some patience, and by following these pointers, you can be a freelancing pro in no time.


Tom Brady

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