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- Now that I’m in my seventh year of freelance writing, I see how some of the mistakes I made when starting out cost me time and money, such as investing in a beautiful website and business cards.
- If you’re a new freelancer, make sure to focus on what will move the needle in your business and learn to negotiate, and don’t waste your time on superficial details.
- Separating your personal and business finances is such a simple step, but very important.
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It’s been a wild ride in my freelance writing career. As I cross over into my seventh year of freelancing and finally find my stride, it’s amazing to look back at how far I’ve come from the woman who was scared to write her first pitch email.
While I don’t have any regrets about my freelance writing career so far, looking back I do wish I had anticipated a few things when I first started. It would have made the journey much easier than it was.
1. I worried about the pretty stuff
Let’s be honest: When was the last time you heard a freelance writer say they landed multiple five-figure contracts because of their well-designed website?
Having nice business cards and a beautiful website are nice, but they don’t really move the needle in a freelance writing business — especially when you’re just starting out. I really wish I hadn’t spent so much time fiddling on my website or scrolling through websites for hours looking at pretty business cards.
What will help? Doing research on prospective clients and reaching out to them with a simple email or phone call. Or optimizing your profile on LinkedIn to network with industry professionals. It can even be as simple as getting more writing clips into your portfolio so you can showcase your expertise when pitching.
2. I didn’t learn to negotiate
Truth be told, I was terrified of negotiating when I first started out — I was grateful for the work and didn’t want to price myself too high for fear of losing any jobs. So I took any rate that anyone offered or purposely quoted a small rate to increase my chances of getting hired.
Sure, I had a full workload, but I wore myself thin and started resenting the work I was doing. Of course, this isn’t the client’s fault. It was mine for taking on such low-paying work.
Learning to negotiate well isn’t about taking the client for a ride. You’re providing a quality service and should be paid handsomely for it. As I got better at commanding my rates and slowly increasing ones with existing clients, I found that I did better work and my clients were more appreciative of what I did for them.
It’s not just about money. There are many other aspects of client work that you can negotiate as well — everything from deadlines, to how soon you’ll get paid and even how many articles you’ll write. It’s also about coming to a consensus where it’ll be a win-win situation for all.
3. I didn’t separate my personal and business finances
When I first started out, I didn’t see the need to separate my personal and business finances since I wasn’t yet making any money. I was able to figure out what was spent on my credit card that went towards my freelance writing business and which ACH transfers in my bank account were from clients.
As I got busier and my workload grew, I would often forget what was what when I would check my credit card and bank statements. Not only that, but all that confusion made it more time consuming to reconcile my books and work out how much I needed to pay for quarterly taxes.
Had I started separating my business and personal finances from the beginning, I could have made my bookkeeping process a lot easier. For one thing, I could have signed up for a cloud accounting software program that automatically populated my income and expenses. Now that I’m doing that, it saves me hours per month.
I’m using QuickBooks Self-Employed — I can sync up my bank and credit card accounts so I can see, at a glance, my expenses and income. It also helps me estimate my quarterly taxes so I know how much I need to pay, and gives me the ability to create invoices to send to clients. I’m paying $10 a month, but you can pay more if you want to file your annual taxes through TurboTax.
4. Take frequent breaks
While it’s true that it does take a lot of work to get any business off the ground, that doesn’t mean you need to work yourself to the bone. I started my freelance writing business while working a full-time job, like many people, and worked extremely long hours to build it to the point where I could be a full-time freelance writer.
However, I regret working through the night at times, or taking time away from my family to write just one more article. Yes, there needs to be some sacrifice when it comes to building something from scratch, but that doesn’t mean you need to work at all hours. It’s OK to take a break. In fact, it’s great for your mental, physical, and emotional health.
Looking back, those mistakes have made me a much better writer and business person. However, anticipating these challenges in advance would have helped me be a lot less frustrated and encouraged me even more to keep going.
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