I started freelance writing shortly after graduating from college in order to make some extra money while I looked for a full time job. Obviously, like with most first-time freelancers I had absolutely no idea what I was doing – in fact, I only made five bucks my first month (and it was the automatic sign up bonus).
Nearly two years down the road and I have learned some valuable lessons along the way. Lessons that I hope many of you won’t have to learn the hard way.
Forget Content Mills
When I first started freelancing I thought everyone started on content mills like Demand Media and Associated Content (currently known as Yahoo Contributor Network). As a result, I found myself spending a lot of time slaving away writing articles for very little pay.
While I did make some money, it was rather insulting in comparison to what people will actually pay you for your skills. Moral of the story? Avoid content mills at all costs. If you need something to put in your portfolio you are way better off starting a niche blog.
Avoid Job Boards
Massive freelancing job boards rarely ever get you anything good – and you can forget about Craig’s List!
Most of the writing gigs on these boards require a ridiculous amount of (sometimes very weird) work for very little pay. Or, the ads are posted by shady start-up companies that may not even pay you – one time I was even told I wouldn’t get paid with money, but with a tree planted in my name. It was at that moment I realized I needed to change my strategy if I ever wanted to make any real money.
Credible publications and businesses rarely put ads on these boards. Instead, they seek out their writers or freelancers pitch to them directly. As a result, marketing, blogging, and having a professional website is very important.
If you’d like to learn more about how to find good paying writing gigs check out Carol Tice’s Make a Living Writing blog.
Never Work Without a Contract
This is a big one. A written agreement between two parties not only makes you look more professional, it also draws the lines between you and the client. It dictates how much you will get paid, when you will get paid, and what each party is allowed to do.
I never work without a contract anymore simply because of two very important things. First, I would run the risk of not getting paid and not having anything in writing to back up my right to the money. Second, I may find myself doing a million revisions for a difficult without being able to charge anything extra.
In other words, a contract ensures I get paid for my time and services. It doesn’t have to be anything really fancy either. If you’re not sure what should go into a contract you can check out the template I use here. You can also check out the many resources provided by the Freelancer’s Union to ensure you get paid what you deserve.
Don’t Start Work Without a Down Payment
This is another big mistake that freelancing newbies make. Learn this now: don’t work without a downpayment. It shows you that your client is serious about paying you for your time. Simply put, you have bills to pay so you need to make sure your clients will actually pay you.
By following the aforementioned steps you’ll avoid a lot of freelancing heartache. However, this post only mentioned some of the most common mistakes I made on my journey, of course there many others. If you’d like to go more in depth about mistakes you should avoid check out Freelance Folder’s 13 Serious Mistakes No Freelancer Should Ever Make. You can also check out my video 3 Rookie Mistakes That Kept Me from Earning an Extra Grand.