According to Upwork, an estimated 59 million Americans have freelanced in the past year--almost 36 percent of the country’s entire workforce. The number of freelancers in the US is rapidly growing and is expected to exceed 90.1 million by 2028. As more and more workers look for flexible alternatives to the traditional 9-5, we can expect this trend to grow.
Freelancing can take many forms--from graphic design to online tutoring--but writing is one of the most popular types of freelance work. While every freelance writer faces challenges, certain obstacles are inevitable when you’re just starting out. Below, we’re outlining the eight challenges almost every freelance writer experiences in the beginning--and how you can overcome them.
1. Writing without a portfolio
Most beginner freelance writers don’t have a lot of experience, let alone a portfolio of work to show potential clients. But trying to secure work without a portfolio is like applying to a job without a resume: difficult and unprofessional. Prospective clients may not take you as seriously if you don’t have at least a few decent writing samples that showcase your skills.
Before you email editors or apply to writing jobs, establish some credibility. The good news is you just need a few strong samples of your work. Consider the type of writing and field you’re interested in. Do you have any writing samples that demonstrate your talents in that area? If not, it’s time to create some, even if it means working for free.
Ask your friend if you can write a series of emails for their weekly newsletter, or approach the owner of your local coffee shop with an offer to redo the “about” page on their website. Once you’ve gathered your samples, you can use a site like Squarespace or WordPress to make a simple online portfolio to send to editors and prospects.
2. Not having enough work
When you’re starting out as a freelance writer, one of the biggest challenges is getting enough work to make a living. Not only is it hard to land gigs and persuade people to hire you when you don’t have experience to fall back on, it can also be tough to find decent job opportunities when you’re still learning to navigate the freelance world.
Securing freelance writing assignments takes time and strategy, so embrace the fact that your new job as a freelance writer--at least at first--isn’t to write. It’s to look for work. Work on crafting the perfect cold pitch, compiling a list of viable prospects, and sending emails to businesses or editors.
3. Not understanding marketing
You may think the only skill a freelance writer needs is the ability to write well. Right? Not exactly. Becoming a freelance writer means running your own writing business--and that takes marketing savvy.
Marketing your services is key to early and long-term success as a freelance writer. A solid marketing plan will help you bring in steady work and score referrals from clients.
First, educate yourself on marketing basics by reading articles from sites like Hubspot and the Content Marketing Institute. Next, work on creating monthly and weekly marketing plans structured around action-based goals, like emailing 50 prospects a week or applying to five writing jobs a day.
Make sure to track your outcomes as you go. After a month or two, you might want to double down on a particular marketing strategy or experiment with a new one if you’re not getting results.
4. Scope creep
Scope creep is what happens when you agree to a specific amount of work prior to starting a project, and the amount of work then changes once the project begins.
Let’s say, for example, that a client assigns you a 500-word blog post for $100. After you turn in your first draft, they ask you to bump up the word count to 800 but don’t offer to compensate you for the additional work. That’s scope creep. Taking on projects where the scope changes can derail your work schedule and affect your freelance writing income.
Avoid scope creep by asking thoughtful, detailed questions upfront. Before you agree to a project, make sure you understand the amount of work involved, the timeline, your exact responsibilities as a writer, and your client’s expectations for conducting revisions.
Once you know what’s expected of you, draft a contract that spells out the details, including the rate you’re charging and how you’d like to be paid. Having a contract can help protect you from scope creep and keep your clients accountable.
5. Negotiating pay
Negotiating your rates is always a little bit daunting, but it’s especially difficult when you don’t have years of experience that help demonstrate your worth. Plus, when you’re new to freelancing, it can be tricky to figure out what to charge.
The more information you have, the easier it is to negotiate. Instead of setting your rates arbitrarily, research the standard market pay for the type of writing you do.
Once you know the market standard, you can adjust your rates depending on your level of experience. Setting your pay is personal, but it’s a good idea to aim for a number that’s fair and reasonable given the scope of work, but that still feels like a win to you.
6. Maintaining clients
So, you landed an assignment or two--great job!--but then never heard from your editor or client again. Maintaining professional connections can be challenging, but if you don’t take the time to build a relationship with your contacts, you’ll have to start from scratch every time you need new work. Not only is that strategy time consuming and exhausting, it’s also not very cost effective long term.
Establishing a connection with everyone you work with can lead to consistent assignments and referrals. The first step to building a positive working relationship is turning in exceptional work. Whether it’s your first or fifth time working with someone, go above and beyond to produce high-quality writing, take feedback with grace, and communicate with kindness.
From there, make a point of staying in touch. And remember: staying front of mind doesn’t mean you have to be a social butterfly. Most people just want reliable writers who turn in great work on time.
7. Imposter syndrome
Most new freelance writers suffer from imposter syndrome, the belief that you’re not as competent as other people think you are. Without a history of successful writing jobs, you might feel like you’re not worthy of calling yourself a freelance writer. And when you experience feelings of unworthiness, your confidence and motivation tends to wane.
The trick to beating imposter syndrome is to take action. After all, confidence comes from execution. By regularly applying to gigs, turning in work on time and sending email introductions, you’ll become more self-assured.
8. Getting paid on time
As a newcomer to freelance writing, you might have trouble getting your clients to pay you. There are a few possible reasons for this:
- If you don’t know how to distinguish between “good” and “bad” clients, you might end up working with someone who’s flaky or unreliable
- You might not know how to set up clear payment terms with clients
- You might have complicated payment options for your clients
Use a contract to state your fees and payment terms upfront, including how you handle late payments. Make sure you put your payment policies and information on your invoice as well.
At Wave, we’ve noticed that customers who accept digital payments get paid on average three times faster than those who don’t. Cash flow is key to your budding freelance business. Having an invoicing system in place that allows customers to pay via bank transfer or credit card with the click of button is essential to getting paid on time because it removes any friction (no checks lost in the mail!) Wave’s Invoicing tool is a great free option to check out.
There are some inevitable problems you’ll encounter as a beginner freelance writer, but by knowing what to expect, taking strides to prepare yourself, and staying persistent, you can overcome challenges and grow your business.