4 Mistakes I Made When I Started Freelance Writing

Monday, July 31, 2017
Just last week, I booked a photographer to take a head shot for my professional Facebook page. I've been a full-time freelancer for quite awhile, but I still don't have an up-to-date, professional head shot for my website or social media pages. 

It is kind of embarrassing to admit, but I have done a lot of things out of order. Here's the thing: when I first started writing, I didn't know what to expect and I didn't know what I needed to do to do things "the right way." I made a lot of mistakes and I learned a lot of lessons through trial and error.

Lucky you, this is your chance to learn from my mistakes and to start off on the right foot. Avoid these mistakes I made early on, putting in the hard work now will save your time and headaches in the future. 

I didn't keep track of my income.

Early on, freelance blogging was just a side gig I used to make ends meet while I was having three babies in four years. I never really thought I would make much more than a few hundred a month, so I didn't think tracking my income mattered in the long run.

Well, you can probably guess how that turned out. My freelance writing work took off and I was making significantly more than a couple hundred a month. By the end of my first year, I had a mess to sort through before I could file my first tax return. I spent hours pouring through old bank statements and going back and forth with clients about what number should be printed on my 1099 form. It was a mess.

If I could go back in time and change things, I would  have created a spreadsheet as soon as I got my very first check as a freelance writer. I would have kept each and every payment in the spreadsheet so I didn't have to fix my records at tax time. 

I didn't keep an updated portfolio or resume.

Sometimes, when you're hustling, it is easy to push tasks to the side that don't seem to be directly making you money. As a new freelancer, I got so focused on landing that next gig and invoicing for my next paycheck, I let a lot of things slide. Until I launched this blog, I didn't have an updated portfolio or resume. At the time, I had more than enough work, so a portfolio seemed unnecessary. Of course, I eventually experienced a lull in my work and needed to provide a potential client with a clear picture of my experience. I ended up scrambling late at night to update my portfolio and resume before I could apply for the job.

If I could go back in time and change things, I would made keeping my portfolio and resume updated a weekly task on my checklist. When you devote just a few minutes to these type of tasks, you don't have to devote hours later on in your career. 

I wasn't bold enough to ask for more money.

As a brand new freelancer, I felt grateful for anything a publication was willing to pay me for my work. Any time an editor offered me a specific rate, I would quickly reply with a "Yes! Sounds perfect!" 

What I didn't know early on was that there is so much room for negotiation in freelancing. I didn't realize I could respond with a "Could you do better?" or counter their rate with something a bit higher. 

If I could go back in time and change things, I would have been more bold. I would have asked for more money on some of my earliest jobs and left them behind if the answer was no. 

I didn't take my writing seriously.

Early in my writing career, I lacked a lot of confidence in my writing skills. I remember telling a friend that I almost believed that the editors who hired me were doing me a favor, that they didn't really think I was a good writer. 

I didn't take my writing seriously and it cost me time and money. I took jobs that paid way less than what my work was worth and I didn't seek out certain jobs because I assumed I wasn't a good enough writer.

If I could go back in time and change things, I would have more confidence in my work. I would bravely pitch publications I saw as too good for me or my writing and I would avoid talking down my writing to others to save face.  

Take my advice.

Take your writing dreams seriously enough to avoid these mistakes. Plan to make money and track that income from day one. Treat your writing like the career you want it to become and keep an updated and professional portfolio and resume. Value your work enough to say no to low paying jobs and to ask clients for more money. Take your writing seriously enough and believe in your skills enough to put yourself out there, to ask for the work you want.


P.S. You can't avoid these mistakes if you don't know how to get started. I want to help you with that. Join my newsletter for more free advice on become a freelance writer and shoot me an email if you want to learn about the one-on-one career coaching I offer.


  1. Hey Mary,

    I LOVE this post - and I did the majority of these things myself. I remember putting together my first tax return and scrambling around trying to find out how much tax I actually owed (and the money I made!). It's definitely something I'd advise new freelancers to do :)

    Elise x

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