As a freelance writer, landing a job is just the first step. Once you have a job you must work to a high standard so that you (a) keep the job and (b) encourage the client to accept rates increases in the future and recommend you to others.
In my experience as both a freelance writer and someone who works with freelancers writers, the last thing on a client’s mind once they have hired you is the quality of your writing. The chances are that if you have got the job, the client already sees your writing ability as good enough — it is everything else about your service that is still alien to them.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’d rather work with an average writer who provides an excellent overall service than an excellent writer who is difficult to work with. With that in mind, in this post I want to expose you to a collection of foibles that seem to be common amongst freelance writers. If you can avoid these then you will be very well placed to succeed in the world of freelance writing.
1. Not Submitting On Deadline
The strength of the relationship that you have with your client is largely built upon trust. They trust that you will write quality content, they trust that you will provide the solution that they seek, and they trust that you will deliver that solution on time.
If you do not deliver on time then that the trust begins to break down. You take a step towards offering a problem to the client rather than a solution. That may not seem like a big deal (especially if you only go slightly over deadline) and your client may not even seem bothered by it, but that is no excuse to allow yourself to go over promised deadlines.
Submitting work on time is one of the most important things you should do as a freelance writer. I liken it to dieting — going over your deadline the first time is often the hardest step (it’s that first donut); after that time each subsequent time is easier (you’ve had one — why not have another?). Before long you’re treating deadlines like they’re nothing more than a suggestion.
I follow a simple rule of thumb when it comes to deadlines: always allow for contingencies. Or to put it another way: shit happens, so be prepared for it. If you think something is going to take you three days, give yourself five. If a client demands work by a certain date and you are pretty sure that the deadline isn’t possible, do not succumb to the temptation of agreeing anyway. Saying yes to such jobs only serves to piss that client off when the deadline comes and goes without you having finished the work.
2. Not Following Instructions
There are few things worse than not following a client’s instructions.
From the client’s perspective it demonstrates a variety of extremely unprofessional traits: ignorance, disrespect, laziness, arrogance, and so on. In short, you’re either not paying attention or you just don’t care; neither of which are good.
This is especially the case when you are handed editorial guidelines or something similar. If you are given such strictly worded instructions and still do not deliver to spec, how do you think the client will feel?
Remember that your job as a freelancer is to make the client’s life easier. You do not make the client’s life easier by forgetting or neglecting to follow their instructions. So make sure that you read all instructions you are given carefully; two or three times if necessary. If you are unclear on anything then be sure to ask for clarification — it is far better to be seen as pedantic than careless.
3. Making the Same Mistake More Than Once
You know I said above that there are few things worse than not following a client’s instructions? Well, not following a client’s instructions then repeating the same mistake in the future is worse — perhaps the worst mistake of all.
If you do make a mistake (and you will; you’re human) then you must make absolutely sure that the mistake does not repeat itself. When you discover your mistake you should immediately put a process or system in place that prevents you from repeating it. That process can be as simple as a post-it on your computer monitor or a reminder on your smart phone, but it must be reliable and foolproof.
Everyone makes mistakes — they’re unavoidable. But repeating the same mistake twice is more often avoidable than not. A client should not have to suffer the same mistake twice; make sure they never do.
4. Taking Criticism Poorly
As a freelance writer you will need to have thick skin at times. Although many clients will simply leave you to get on with things, you will occasionally come up against picky clients who have very particular ideas in their mind as to how your work should be conducted.
At these points you should remember two things:
- You are providing the service for the client and as such should be willing to adjust to their requirements
- Any criticism received represents an opportunity to learn
There is no such thing as useless criticism — even at worst it can demonstrate to you what not to do. If a client makes an unusual request then seek to understand the reasoning behind their request — you never know, you may be surprised and enlightened by the answer.
5. Making Clients Chase You
Being reliable as a freelancer is not just about submitting your work on deadline. In a perfect world you would deal with client correspondence (which for the most part will be in email format) immediately. That will of course not be possible but you should strive to have a system in place which enables you to respond to client correspondence in a timely manner.
There is a simple litmus test for knowing if you are doing particularly badly on this front — if clients are having to email you to remind you to respond to them, you’re in trouble. These reminders may be politely worded, but the client is likely to be far more unhappy than they let on.
I tend to respond to emails in bulk twice per day with one or two smaller bursts in-between. I have a “no email gets left behind” policy, which essentially means that I don’t ignore emails on the basis that they will take too long to respond to. I’m going to have to deal with them at some point, so it may as well be at that point.
The quality and timeliness of communication you have with clients is key — do not make them chase you.
6. Acting in an Unprofessional Manner
The great thing about freelance blogging in particular is that you don’t have to adhere to the corporate “rules.” You can sign off your email with “Cheers” rather than “Yours sincerely” and you can generally correspond in a manner that is friendly rather than formal.
However, do not confuse friendly with unprofessional. At the end of the day you are providing a service for a fee and you should act accordingly. While an overly formal style is not necessary (and could even come across as pretentious), you should remember your position in the client/contractor relationship and act accordingly.
7. Sitting On the Fence
When I hire someone I want them to be confident in their opinion — I don’t want them to act in an uncertain manner and/or defer to me on matters. I believe that this desire is felt by most clients.
Despite this, freelancers often project a model of uncertainty and timidness. They lack confidence in their abilities and experience which becomes only too apparent in their response to questions. This is a huge turn-off for a client — after all, why would you want to pay someone for a service when it seems that they do not consider themselves capable of delivering that service?
Don’t get me wrong — you’re not always going to have the answer. But saying “I don’t know” in a confident manner is a damn sight better than blundering. Don’t advertise your lack of experience; put your best foot forward.
Look Beyond the Core Service
As a freelance writer your core service is your writing ability. However, when a client hires you they are looking for more than just your skills as a wordsmith.
They want someone who can deliver a reliable service from beginning to end — from initial discussions, to planning, to execution and beyond. That relies on you being more than just a writer — it relies on you being a professional.
If you are a good writer and you can avoid making the mistakes above that have been made by so many in the past (and will be made by so many more in the future), you will be extremely well placed to command an excellent rate as your reputation grows over time.
I’m no master of the written word but I deliver a solid all-round package. Ultimately, I appreciate the many ways in which I deliver value that go beyond simply my writing ability and work to ensure that the quality of my overall service is tip top. Can you say the same thing?