A freelancer’s journey: sometimes it’s not you


Freelancers in all industries can be careless and can lack a structure. That is, if they succumb to the stereotype people tend to have of us. Now, we will occasionally fail our clients, and they will fail us. In my five years of being a writer I’ve learned through trial and error, sometimes losing clients along the way but always trying to improve my system in order to avoid making the same mistakes. We’re only human, after all.

Along the way I’ve had some excellent editors and awesome clients. This meant hearing some harsh truths along the way, but also being exposed to people who are disorganized and can sometimes affect one’s sanity or bottom line. Freelance writing depends very much on relationships, and in my time I’ve learned that communication is key, relationships with clients can fade out just like with anyone else, and there are always two sides to a story. It may be tempting to lose focus or procrastinate, but sometimes you’ve done everything by the book.

Here are some scenarios I’ve faced so you can see that you’re not the only one, and sometimes it just wasn’t you.

  1. Disorganization and social media weirdness — Recently I was told I’d gotten a job writing for a new blog. Upon looking at it I could tell it had a low budget because the design wasn’t too remarkable, but I saw there were a lot of writers. And hey, work was low and I could’ve used the income. I was told I’d need WordPress experience, so I applied. The editor of this blog said we’d have to add each other on Facebook (red flag number one), and then added me to a secret group. I found it strange, but not too odd considering that the line between one’s professional and social media self can be blurred nowadays. I kept mentioning that I need more information (deadlines, style guide, guidelines, or other helpful information so I could start), but was never given so much as a login. I was told I’d get paid through direct debit, but was never asked to sign a form or fill out anything formal. As such, I just thought I’d wait. After all, they had my email and I had sent the editor a Facebook message pointing out that I don’t have this information. Fast forward to today when I was “fired” for not posting and told that I was lying about my WordPress experience (this website itself uses WordPress). I had never gotten login instructions to begin with. I sent messages asking for this information and it’s all on my Messenger. But hey, this happens.
  2. Extremely difficult spec assignments — In today’s remote job environment, some argue that spec assignments are a necessary evil. This can be true in some cases. Some fellowships or firms requiring freelance writers are so competitive that they prefer writers with the tenacity to complete challenging assignments at first. Luckily, some of these are paid, but they’re usually not. Whether or not you decide to complete them is up to you, and I’ve had both positive and negative experiences completing such assignments. The only thing I have to say about this is that you should research places that request such assignments and make sure you really want to work for them, or that they’ll be a good fit for you. Recently I did a spec assignment that didn’t go well. It was partially my fault because I knew I wasn’t too passionate about what the company does, but I thought it’d be easy, so I tried doing a spec assignment. In the end, it was a subject I wasn’t strong in and it involved a lot of research. Since it was a product review company and I wasn’t an employee yet, I had to rely on researching via endless blogs and customer sites and making it sound as if I had actually tried the products. Needless to say it didn’t go well, but the editor was quite gracious about it and gave me two tries.
  3. The client/firm doesn’t understand how difficult it may be to do the job — I’ve worked with all kinds of clients and one of my most challenging ones was a friend of a friend who needed content for his website. The product he sold required specific legal terms, and they were bound by law to not say certain things. The product sold was also bound by various laws depending on what state/country it was sold in. I was told a bit about this, but had to really check with a variety of organizations when editing. I also had to do a lot of statistical research that wasn’t always provided, and the client thought I’d “get” everything right away because we had many friends in common and he naturally expected me understand his industry right away. Over the course of a few projects I got the hang of it. Thankfully this worked out on both of our ends, as this was the first time this client had hired a content writer and didn’t know what to expect from us. We had to come up with a system that worked, and we still work together from time to time. The moral of this story is: if your client doesn’t understand how to work with writers, then see if you can help them and it could make all the difference.
  4. The client doesn’t pay — In order to avoid this, the best thing to do is to obtain a contract and establish terms. I’ve usually worked for clients who have established businesses, and many of them have contracts in place for freelance workers. The bigger the company or client, the more likely it is that they pay on time as long as you do the work. Still, sometimes you work for newly established businesses, blogs or websites that don’t have a process in place. Our first instinct when a client is late for payment is that they must be taking advantage of us. This does happen sometimes unfortunately. Other times, some gentle prodding is enough. Not getting paid can be especially stressful if your income solely comes from writing, if you have debt, just had an emergency, or are going through a famine period. Try the gentle approach first, and learn to look for clients that are reliable as well. If it makes you feel better, non-payment occurs in every business, and it’s happened to me (it sucks!).

Remember, there’s a lot you can do to prevent nightmare scenarios with preparation and experience. When you’ve done your homework, remember that it’s not always you.

If you’d like more tips on how to succeed as a freelance writer (or how not to be an epic failure at it like I am), check this out. Here’s also a list of resources for how to stay organized

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