11 Reasons You’ll Never Succeed as a Freelance Writer

Freelance writing is a career many would love to have, but relatively few manage to carve out successfully. In my opinion, almost all who fail at this career choice can find the cause in one of the 11 reasons discussed in this freelance writing industry report.

If you’re struggling to make a living as a freelance writer, the answer to your problem could be right here.

The Sins of Freelance Writing

I want to say up front that I’ve committed all of these “freelance writing sins.” This is why I can write on them so knowledgeably. While this missive may tickle some and perk up the ears of others, it may outright anger a few. And that’s good. It’s meant to be a wakeup call.

11 Freelance Writing Dream Snatchers

Anger is a visceral emotion that’s caused because a nerve has been hit. Whatever emotion you feel as you read this, just be aware that if you’re not where you want to be as a freelance writer, you’ll likely find the culprit on this list.

1. You Don’t Know How to Market

Most freelance writers don’t know how to market. And, they never take the time to learn. Instead, they give up, going back to, or sticking with, a full-time job rather than doing the one thing that could make them financially self-sufficient as a freelance writer.

I’ve been freelancing since 1993 and I can tell you firsthand, if you don’t learn how to market, you will never succeed as a freelance writer. It is the number one skill you need to cultivate. Believe it or not, it’s even more important than any writing skill you need to have.

Freelance Writing Marketing Tutorials

To get started, read Freelance Writers: How to Increase Your Business with a Simple One-Page Letter. FYI, there are also some great freelance writing marketing tutorials on the home page of this site.

2. You’re Lazy

I was going to use the nicer word — procrastinate — to describe this freelance writing dream snatcher. But I decided to just lay it out there as I see it. And the way I see it, many wannabe freelance writers are just plain lazy.

If you really, really want something, you get up off your butt and do it. For example, right now, it’s a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon. As I sit here at my computer –staring at it right out my window no less — I’m getting a jumpstart on next week’s work. But, there’s nothing more I want to be doing than hanging out right now.

But, I have a dream — I need to carve out more time to generate passive income with my ebooks. This means finding the time to write them. This means handling some marketing duties on the weekends (eg, writing articles for my article marketing campaigns and blog postings).

My point . . . I had to get up off my lazy butt and realize that if I was ever going to reach my goal of writing 72 ebooks and reports over the next year, I need to stop being lazy, wasting time and start doing something about it. Hence, I’m cranking out a week’s worth of blog posts and articles for the upcoming week, so I can devote more time to ebook writing.

3. You Spend Too Much Time Surfing the Internet

Many freelance writers spend so much time in forums, on social bookmarking sites and on the blogs of other freelance writers, that they easily waste a few hours a day that can be better used marketing for work.

I’m probably more guilty of this freelance writing sin than any other on the list. But, you have to limit this. One of the best tricks that’s worked for me is building surfing time into my day. I used to berate myself all the time for surfing. But, once I realized my “freelance writing personality,” I started to allow myself 30 minutes of surf time when I first log on in the morning. After that, I get down to business.

And, when I find myself wandering off track during the day, I immediately think of my goal – creating passive income. This usually refocuses me and makes me get back to the task at hand. FYI, I also keep a list of everything I want to accomplish on any given day. That way, if I ever stray, I can easily get back on track.

4. You Don’t Stick with It Long Enough

Many freelance writers quit when the assignments don’t come as quickly as they need them to. If you’re a regular reader of my blog and website, then you’ve probably read the story of a business mentor who gave me the following advice.

He said: “The first few years, you’re just greasing the pipes. After that, business gets easier to come by.” Notice he didn’t say “easy” to come by, but easier.

Many aspiring freelance writers don’t hang in their long enough. And, this is true of many who start small businesses – which is what a freelance writer is. Marketing on a continual basis – and hanging in there until those efforts start to bear fruit will bring you rewards beyond your wildest dreams.

5. Your Writing Sucks

I didn’t even want to go here, but face it, not everyone has enough natural ability to be a freelance writer.

But, it’s not something that can’t be learned. All you have to do is look at any number of sites on the web to see this. Someone wrote – and got paid for – some of those crappy sites. A recent purchaser of my ebook on SEO writing wrote me the following:

. . . I recently purchased your SEO Content book around three weeks ago.  I tried my hand at an article and asked my mom to proof it for me. She said she loved me, but that it was a terrible article. So I tried again, and she said my second attempt was an excellent piece and she couldn’t have done better (she writes for the government as a career).

Sometimes all it takes is “getting the hang of it”, not necessarily that you’re a terrible writer. In this case, the writer’s persistence proved that he had the talent, it just needed a little polishing.

6. You Don’t Have a Website

In my opinion, if you’re serious about making money as a freelance writer, you need a website. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just clean, simple and professional. Include an About Me page and some samples, and you’re good to go.

The best thing about getting a website nowadays is that technology has progressed to the point where it’s easy to build one yourself, even with no skill. I use FrontPage, an almost obsolete software now, to maintain mine (the new one I’m having built is a WordPress design).

But, it took me a few web designers and a few thousand dollars back in 1999 before I learned that doing it myself was not only the best way to go, it was the most cost effective.

7. You Don’t Know How to Negotiate

Like marketing, negotiating is a skill. Where many freelance writers shoot themselves in the foot with this is that they’re so afraid of losing a client that they’ll take on almost any assignment, without realizing the long-term ramifications.

Consider this recent scenario I just had:

How I Lost a 30+ Blog Posting Gig – But Have No Regrets

I sent out an eblast to past contacts. One prospect got back to me who said that he had 30+ blogs that he wanted to have updated at least once a week.

I started to salivate – bulk, ongoing work – just the kind I like! He wanted to know if my rates were negotiable. I told him sure, as I like to develop ongoing relationships with clients, especially those who have continual projects.

I asked him for more detail before I could let him know how low I could go. Now, my blog posting rates at that thime were only $20 (this was back in 2008, when I’d only been doing SEO writing for about six months). Once he sent me the list, I saw that most of them were highly technical internet marketing blogs that required specialized knowledge of the industry.

A lot of this stuff I know off the top of my head. But I also know that when you’re updating a blog weekly, you have to come up with fresh, original content constantly and if you don’t have a deep knowledge on several levels it’s going to require some research to produce even a 150-350 word post – that drives traffic (which is the whole point).

I sent him my proposal based on the time I knew I would have to invest in each post. He said he couldn’t afford it, so I lost that potential account. But I didn’t feel bad about it at all because the time I would have spent on each post in comparison to what I would have been making just wasn’t worth it.

As a freelance writer, time is the commodity you trade – and there’s only so much of it; you can’t get it back or manufacture more of it. When you negotiate remember this: figure out what minimum hourly rate works for you. And, don’t go below that.

Pass on jobs if you have to and hold out for ones that pay you what you determine you need to make as a freelance writer.

Or, find another profession. After all, you’re not in this for the glory – you’re in it to be a self-supporting professional.

8. You Don’t Have the Energy

As you can see by all of the points mentioned above, freelance writing takes energy. You have to market for work (the biggest chunk of your time), do the work, do your billing, follow up with old clients, add new services, research, blog, update your website, etc.

My days are 8-10 hours usually. Some days, I may put in 12 or 16 hours (remember, I have personal projects I work on as well to create passive income). If you’re not a naturally energetic person, you may be better off with a job that you don’t “take home with you.” Because, especially in the beginning, you’re going to have to put in a lot of hours to start getting work.

9. You Don’t Keep Up with Technology

As I talked about in Freelance Writers Technology Month, technology is as important for freelance writing as any other profession. More and more companies need writers who are web savvy, because many of them are moving their marketing efforts (hence, ad dollars) online. This is why SEO writers are so in demand now.

In order to capitalize on this, you must keep up with technology. A good place to start doing this — especially as it relates to internet marketing — is to read WebProNews.

10. You Lack Confidence

Now, this is a concern that is completely understandable and can easily be overcome – with some guidance. Let’s look at a recent interaction I had with a participant in one of my freelance writing ecoures. She  wrote me the following:

“I’m reading Part 5. I liked Part 1; however between part 2-5, I’ve become a bit nervous. I’ve never written in any capacity… even articles. Where do I start? How do I know that my writing is good enough to do freelance writing?”

This participant is an RN looking for a career change. Following is a brief bit of what I wrote to assuage her fears:

You don’t have to be a genius or have some type of special writing ability. Simply the ability to write well (eg, structured, grammatically correct materials that flows and makes sense is all you need to know how to do). The fact that you were a nurse (advanced education) tells me that you’re used to analyzing material, writing papers and probably business correspondence as well.

You have a couple of interests that segue way nicely with your medical training, eg, organic food, tooth fitness/health, boxing training/exercise. You can write on these subjects from an experienced medical background. Use this to your advantage and query these types of website owners, trade publishers, advertising agencies, etc.

Many freelance writers start out with way fewer skills than you have, and go on to create successful careers. You’re actually in an enviable position in that you have marketable skills (ie, medical) in a niche where not many can complete. So, work through the fear and trust that what you have to offer is good enough – because it is.

FYI, lack of confidence is the number one reason I’ve seen cited over the years for freelancers/aspiring freelancers either giving up, or not pursuing this career at all.

11. You Whine Too Much

I was watching CNN one day and they were talking about the senator who made a “blunder” by saying that he thought the American public were a bunch of whiners. I actually agreed with him on a certain level.

Do I have my whiny days? For sure. Do I stay stuck there? Hell no! You see, I tend to be a doer and I have little patience with those who sit back and whine about why something can’t be done, as opposed to looking for ways that it can be done.

Many freelance writers (and experienced ones are way more guilty of this than inexperienced freelance writers) whine about rates, about other writers charging too much/little; about client expectations; about how things “used to be,” blah, blah, blah.

Enough already!

The beauty of freelance writing is that it is YOUR business. You decide the types of projects to take on, what deadlines you can make, what type of writing you want to do, the types of clients to deal with, what to charge, etc. It’s your baby.

Will you land every project? No. Will every client be a dream to work with? No. Will you have to negotiate rates on some projects? Yes. But, this is life. It’s all about compromises. Throughout history, whining never fixed anything. If anything, it just holds you back from doing what you need to do to get where you want to be.

What’s Left Off this List of Freelance Writing Sins

Notice what’s NOT on the list – eg, you’re not talented enough. I think that most who desire to be a freelance writer can. After all, you’ve probably been stringing two grammatically sentences together for a good number of year and you more than likely have some keen research skills (most interested in writing do). And, if what I read on the web on a daily basis is any indication, even these two skills are not necessary.

Address your weak area(s) – and come out swinging! Freelance writing is a career you can definitely have – if you avoid these freelance writing sins.

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