Freelance writing beginners often have a tough time getting started.
If you’re a beginner who’s both excited by the idea of starting your own business and overwhelmed by everything you need to do in order to be successful, then you’re totally in the right place!
I have almost a decade of freelance writing experience behind me, but it feels like just yesterday that I was starting out.
I remember suffering from so much confusion, so much wasted time, and so many mistakes.
As a beginner without any real experience, there’s often a lot of guesswork involved in getting things rolling — not to mention the plethora of vague and outdated information circulating out there.
In fact, guess work and low-quality information is how far too many freelance writing beginners unknowingly buy into several myths that can put their businesses (and sanity) at risk.
Luckily, I’ve been around the freelance writing block a good few times now, so I’m here to help make you more aware of some of the myths that you may have been unknowingly led to believe.
Without further ado, here are my top 12 myths that freelance writing beginners should stop believing.
1. You can write about anything and everything! You just need to get started.
Okay, so let’s say that you’re interested in fitness, movies, dog training, veganism, and home organization.
You can write about all of those topics, right?
Not so fast.
Just because you can write about all those topics doesn’t mean you should.
Think about it.
Nobody wants to a hire a writer who can write about anything and everything.
Because that kind of writer doesn’t even exist!
Nobody can write about anything and everything, and any writer who claims that they can is surely providing low-quality, redundant content that doesn’t offer the client or the reader much value at all.
The highest paid writers are the ones that specialize in writing about very specific topics.
These writers position themselves as experts and are therefore more sought after and compensated well.
This is why you need to pick one niche (two at most) and focus on developing your writing experience there.
You might be eager to get started, but the sooner you can identify your primary niche, the better it will be for your long-term success.
2. You need to have a self-hosted writer website before you can start applying for jobs.
Any successful freelance writer who teaches the business to others will recommend setting up a writer website — with your own domain name and hosting.
I’m no exception to this trend.
At the same time, I know how intimidating it might seem to a beginner who’s never set up a website before.
It’s also very time consuming work that requires a bit of an investment upfront.
That’s why I usually recommend going with a free website provider or online portfolio platform when you’re first starting out.
It’s always best to start out simple and focus on the the most important thing in the beginning, which should be gaining writing experience and building your portfolio.
Potential clients don’t necessarily care that you have your own domain name and a fancy looking WordPress theme.
They care that your portfolio samples demonstrate your expertise and that you can provide them with real value through your writing.
3. You have to write for free to build up a portfolio.
I don’t believe that any freelance writing beginner should have to create more than 2 to 3 samples for free — and that’s only if you have absolutely no written work to serve as samples for you.
Anyone who wants you to write for free — especially by participating in a unpaid trial gig — is going to be hard to convince of the value you’re providing them.
These types of clients typically aren’t worth your time or energy.
If you have real knowledge/expertise in your niche and are able to connect with the right clients in the right way (typically through networking or referrals), more often than not, they’ll be happy to pay you to write for them — even if you have no samples.
You can even pitch someone you don’t know with no samples and still get hired, so long as your pitch is cleverly crafted to communicate your professionalism and value.
The moral of the story is that if you think you have to write for free, then you’re not thinking or communicating quite right about your business and the service you’re providing.
Either that, or the clients you’re targeting just see you as a content factory and nothing more than that.
4. You need to look for gigs on job sites.
Freelancer job sites can be great tools, but it can be far too easy to get sucked into relying on them entirely.
The truth is, you don’t necessarily need to look at a single job site in order to be a successful freelance writer, and the most successful writers definitely don’t.
The best writing jobs come from networking, referrals, and pitching directly to whoever you want to write for.
Job sites can be used in the beginning stages of your business to help build your portfolio and your confidence as a writer, but nothing more than that.
Just remember that the more time you spend looking at job sites, the less time you’ll have to spend on the networking, marketing, and pitching activities that will eventually result in people coming to you to offer you those higher paying gigs.
5. The initial budget or rate given by the client is set in stone.
Unless a client is working with a very strict budget that’s totally out of their control to increase even if they wanted to (which is pretty rare), the first number they give you to work with doesn’t mean it’s not open to negotiation.
If it falls below your rates, then you need to explore how you can agree on something that satisfies the both of you.
In fact, freelance writers should always aim to get the highest rate they can get.
This of course requires smart and professional negotiation skills, which might seem terrifying to you now as a beginner — but as long as you’re willing to learn and develop those skills, it eventually becomes natural and standard practice over time.
You can almost get always clients to agree to pay you a higher rate if you can communicate and show them the real value you’ll be providing for them.
Just remember not to give up when they tell you their initial budget or rate.
This is your opportunity to prove just how valuable you can be to them.
6. You have to set your rates low when you’re just starting out.
On job board sites, it’s not uncommon to see jobs posted at rates of $0.05 per word.
That’s $25 per 500-word article and considered pretty low in the world of freelance writing.
To a beginner, however, that might seem pretty okay — even good.
The problem with working for a rate this low is that it’s unsustainable and totally unnecessary even for complete freelance writing beginners.
The general guideline in the freelancing world is that every freelancer should aim to be working for a minimum hourly rate of $50 an hour.
So unless you can write 1,000 words per hour and work for eight hours every day, it’s likely you’ll burn out quickly by taking jobs that pay $0.05 per word.
Many freelance writing beginners have no problem starting out at rates of $50 to $75 an hour, with little to no experience.
You just have to know your worth, be able to communicate it to your potential clients, and not be willing to settle for less just because you need work.
7. You only have to sell yourself as a writer.
What is a freelance writer, really?
Is it someone who simply provides written content and that’s it?
Or is it something more?
If you want to get paid more, you can’t just sell your writing as a commodity.
If you do, then you’re no more valuable than the writers on Elance and Upwork charging pennies for their services.
You have to be able to sell the value clients get from your writing and from working with you.
As you gain more experience, your level of expertise and writer brand will help sell a big part of your value.
Until then, you’ll probably have to work a little harder to communicate and prove it when negotiating with potential clients.
A high-value writer who acts more along the lines of a consultant than a commodity provider is the kind of writer who can make $100+ an hour and pull in a six-figure income.
8. You have to have a phone meeting with every client before you decide to work together.
Meetings are often necessary, but they can also be huge time wasters.
For clients who haven’t hired you yet, the time-wasting potential can be massive.
Potential clients love to get on the phone for sometimes up to an hour and tell you all about their company and their project before asking you about your expertise and experience and all that jazz.
They’re usually getting paid a salary so the time spent on the phone isn’t a concern for them, but for you, it means less time to be spent on money-making activities.
So when the potential client doesn’t even end up going ahead for whatever reason — they’re not ready yet or it’s just not a good fit — you’re left with a big chunk of unpaid time that didn’t get you any further along in your business.
This is exactly why I always recommend screening potential clients first with a series of questions sent via email before getting on the phone with them.
Asking them about how they work with freelancers, their project, their deadline, their communication, their payment terms, and their budget is critical.
Don’t bother with potential clients who can’t take the time to answer your questions, because that just proves that they’re not very serious about working with you.
9. You can trust every client who seems professional and interested in working with you.
Anyone can seem friendly and professional in an email conversation or even over the phone, but the tables can turn in an instant.
As a beginner, you’re probably very open and eager to work with anyone who’s willing to hire you — putting you at a higher risk of being taken advantage of by scammy clients.
This is why you must be clear about how and when you’ll communicate, how and when you’ll get paid, and having a professionally drafted legal contract in place before you do anything.
I know that this can sound like a lot of extra stuff to bombard a nice new client with when all you want to do is write and get paid as quickly as possible, but it’s necessary to protect yourself and your business.
If a client disappears on you or just decides not to pay you what you agreed on in the beginning, and you didn’t have a contract, then it’s your loss.
10. You can count on your clients to pay you on time.
Listen, clients are busy running their own businesses.
Even the ones with the best intentions will sometimes take over a week to get back to your email or forget about your invoice that needs to be paid.
Knowing whether they’ve worked with freelancers before and how they pay them can help give you some security in knowing that you’ll be paid, and paid on time.
However, if you really want to make certain you’re paid on time, you can specify that invoiced payments are due upon receipt (rather than within 30 days) or charge a late fee (such as an extra 5% after the payment due date).
Make sure the client is aware of this before you decide to work together.
11. You’ll spend most of your time writing.
As a freelance writer, you’re not just a writer — you’re a business owner.
That means that you’re also a bookkeeper, a marketer, a consultant, a sales rep, an administrative assistant, a customer service rep, and even a website manager.
As a business owner, you’ll wear many hats, and the least of what you’ll be doing (especially in the beginning) is writing.
In fact, as a freelance writing beginner, it’s not totally unrealistic to be spending just one or two hours a day writing and four to six hours a day doing everything else.
Welcome to the wonderful world of running your own business!
The good news is that as your business grows, clients will start coming to you so you won’t have to seek them out and you’ll have more income to use to outsource certain activities (like marketing or bookkeeping) so you can spend more time writing.
12. Other freelance writers are your competition.
You might be competing against other writers for the same gig that you applied to through a job posting, but smart and successful writers know that their fellow writers aren’t their enemies.
Other writers are your friends, mentors, coaches, and teachers.
They’re not looking to steal jobs away from you — they’re looking to learn and grow just as much as everyone else.
A fellow writer might even pass off a great gig to you that they’re too busy to take on themselves, which is a huge bonus that could really help your business.
I’ve always believed that one of the smartest things you can do as a freelance writer is network with other writers.
You might be surprised by just how much you can benefit from it.
Which freelance writing myths did you fall for?
Let me know in the comments.
And if there are any other myths you think need to be busted, feel free to chime in!