I’ve been a freelancer for nearly 20 years now and have come across many myths and preconceptions about freelance writing that I know catch us all out from time to time.
In this article you’ll find some of the worst, along with some tips on how to bust them.
1. Work for Free Now – You’ll Get Paid Later!
To start with I’ll look at the old, “We have millions of readers and working for us will be great exposure” myth.
I’m not saying that sometimes when you’re starting out exposure isn’t a good thing or even an alternative to great pay – it can really help with your portfolio. But think about it – if a site is really that popular, why aren’t they paying you?
The answer is, most likely, because there are plenty of people out there who are desperate to write and easy to exploit. That way they get to keep their profits. They’re not helping you, they’re helping themselves.
Volunteer to write for a local non-profit organisation. If you are just starting out, this is a great way to get some experience under your belt that you can use as leverage for paid work in future, and it won’t leave you feeling dirty afterwards.
2. You Need Perfect Grammar and Spelling
I’ve been an editor, and plenty of the writers who submitted copy to me didn’t produce flawless prose. But if you’re worried about shaky English, how much it matters very much depends on your client.
If you’re writing a blog, newspaper or magazine article, you’ll find that editors will often want to make the odd change anyway. Providing your copy is well-researched, well structured, engaging and interesting, they will likely just pass it over to the copy editor for the odd mistake to be ironed out.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check and do your best to pick up mistakes because you’re trying to create a good impression. But the odd spelling or grammar weakness will be forgiven if you turn in great copy)
If you’re writing a blog or press releases for a company, the standard of writing matters much more because they may not have the resources in-house to check your work. Bad spelling or grammar on a corporate website would be a major issue.
One face-saver is a program called PerfectIt. This catches all sorts of inconsistencies such as spelling and grammar mistakes, and checks for inconsistency and missing punctuation. It can be set for US, UK, Canadian and Australian spelling preferences.
I wouldn’t say it’s the complete substitute for a really good proofreader, but it’s impressive. Unfortunately, it’s not available for Macs – the only workaround would be to install a program like VMWare Fusion that lets the Mac run Windows applications.
The drawback is that PerfectIt is $99 and the Mac software is a fraction under €80, but if you have good contracts that you fear you might lose because of weak spelling or grammar, they could be a worthwhile investment.
If total perfection is not such a pressing issue, you could also try a freemium online tool like Grammarly (which works in your browser and picks up mistakes posted online) or Reverso, which enables you to paste copy in a box to check spelling and grammar.
3. You Need Years of Experience to Write Freelance
This myth is more far-fetched than most. After all, everyone has to start somewhere! Particularly in the world of blogging, where your personality and ideas can count for as much as a reputation, it’s possible to get a guest blog post spot with nothing more than a solid idea and a strong pitch.
Research pitching (here, here and here) – which is the experience you really need – and target magazines, newspapers and blogs that use writers whose style is similar to your own, and which match your interests. Learn from how these writers and bloggers structure their articles and posts.
4. You Need Journalism Qualifications
I don’t have journalism qualifications. Tom doesn’t either. I have never once – not ever – been asked by an editor if I have such a qualification, yet I’ve seen plenty of full-time job adverts where these are classed as a ‘must have’ (which is probably why the myth exists).
A dose of reality. What blogs, newspapers and magazines are really interested in from a freelancer is whether you have good ideas for articles and can turn in great copy to deadline. If you happen to also be a green slime monster from Mars, most editors won’t care as long as you’ve got fresh ideas in your two heads and can write well with those tentacles.
5. You Need to Know All About SEO
This myth is particularly relevant to online work such as blogging and website copy. It’s become a ‘given’ that if you’re working on a website, ‘you have to know SEO inside out’. You don’t.
If you’re working on a company website, talk to your client in depth about their products or services and use that conversation to work out the main keywords for their particular line of work. If you weave these carefully into the copy that you write, and the copy is good in itself, that’s most of what you need to succeed.
You don’t need to splatter the copy with keywords in every sentence – that will look awful and read badly, and (even worse) Google penalises such obvious ‘click bait’.
For any type of writing, you can work out the basics of SEO with a little online research. While there are experts who charge serious money to optimise websites and promise a great deal, if you can write copy that attracts sales or readers, that will do nicely for most clients.
6. You Need to Be Available Round the Clock
This is a pernicious myth and one I’ve fallen for myself. My first client, when I went freelance, used to travel frequently to Taiwan and used to fax copies of proofs from there at 3am. She would expect me to respond to comments immediately.
I went as far as to move the fax machine to the bedroom – I will leave you to imagine how well this went down with my other half. It was exhausting, and my client was most definitely not getting my best work at that hour. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that contract didn’t end well.
Set your own limits. Maybe you’re an insomniac – maybe you love working at 3am – but if you don’t, then set what you believe are reasonable work hours for yourself and keep to them unless there’s some major overriding reason why you can’t.
Anyone that takes the attitude that you’re always on call is not necessarily a great client, and more than likely, other conflicts will arise. If a client persistently asks you to work unreasonable hours, take it as a serious warning sign that things are wrong and look elsewhere for work.
7. If a Client Doesn’t Like Your Idea, Just Give Up
Sometimes, a client just won’t like something you thought was a really great topic for an article. It happens. The important thing to realize is that it’s not the end of the world – or even the end of that potential article.
Persistence pays. Just because one client didn’t like your idea doesn’t mean that another won’t, or that you can’t work on the idea a bit more to make it more attractive.
Ask for feedback – not all clients will give it, but those that do are invaluable. You need to know why your idea didn’t fly. Was it a subject they had already covered recently? Was it something that they’re not interested in? That would mean you needed to do more research into their publication. Was your pitch just not good enough?
Hard though it might be to hear, everything you find out will help you to succeed in future.
8. Always Say “Yes” to the Client
The client is always right, right? Wrong. Sometimes clients have ideas that you know won’t work. Sometimes they will ask you to take on a complex assignment with too little notice. Some clients are just downright unreasonable.
The truth. Be prepared to argue your case – mentally prepare a clear argument for why something isn’t a good idea, or why you can’t fulfil a request. Make sure you have the facts you need to back your case up or you’ll sound unconvincing: “I just don’t think it will work” is a weak response. That exercise will also help you to work out why your instincts tell you to disagree – whether there’s a genuine difficulty or some personal reluctance.
As with my Taiwan client, sometimes you just have to be prepared to say no (politely!). I didn’t, and I regret it. And yes, you may lose that client – if you can’t afford to, then you need to look hard at your client mix and try to make that work better for you.
There are all sorts of myths about freelance writing, most of which are easy to bust. You don’t need:
- to work for nothing for a wealthy client
- perfect spelling and grammar
- journalism qualifications
- to be an SEO expert
- to work 24/7
- to give up on a good idea
- to always say ‘yes’ to your clients.
Busting myths can set you free. Happy writing!
Do you know of any freelancing myths or advice on how to “fix” them? Let us know in the comments section below!