Today’s guest post comes from Halina of Haelix Communications.  Help me give her a warm “Write Your Revolution” welcome!

Whether you’re just starting out in the world of freelance writing or you’ve been a freelance writer for several years (even decades), there are some things that can totally sabotage your writing career.  Some of these dangers are obvious (e.g., playing Angry Birds for hours on end and ignoring deadlines), but others are far less so. Here is my list of the top 5 things that can really throw a wrench into your freelance writing ambitions:

Content mills

There is widespread debate about whether so-called “content mills” help or harm aspiring freelance writers. Writing sites such as HubPages, Squidoo, Infobarrel and Yahoo! Voices are often termed content mills because they operate on a low pay and/or revenue-share model and aggregate content from hundreds or even thousands of writers. As a result of being paid slave labor wages, content mill writers produce high-volume and low-quality work in order to make some sort of “living” wage.

Online tutorials abound about how such-and-such a freelance writer is earning $1,000/month by writing for a given content mill; however, if you look really close at just how much content that writer is churning out, it could be anywhere from 20-30 articles a day. At such a high production rate, one can only assume that article quality is going to be pretty low. This low quality content affects the writer’s reputation and makes it harder for him/her to find employment.

Personally, I myself started out writing for content mills because I had no idea that I could do better. Sure, I knew that some writers were submitting content to magazines, newspapers and corporate websites, but because I didn’t have a journalism degree I assumed that those ivy towers were out of my range. Looking back on all the years I spent writing for low (or non) paying content mills, I could just kick myself.

Solution: Don’t write for content mills or any website that pays you unreasonably low wages for your work. The biggest reason for steering clear of content mills is that you will be continuously tempted to pick the low-hanging fruit that these writing sites offer and never try for better paying assignments. You’ll lag behind in query and pitch-generating skills and it will take longer for you to become established as a serious (i.e., money-earning) freelance writer. And that’s if you don’t first close up shop and go back to your old job; after all, you can’t make a living by earning $5-$10/article at content mills.

No contract

How many scenarios have you listened to that go like this: A freelance writer finds a great, high-paying client. The writer works like hell, completes the writing assignment and sends it to the client. The client is happy with the work so the writer sends an invoice. After waiting for a few weeks with no pay, the writer sends another invoice to the client, assuming he/she lost the initial bill. Another few weeks go by with no payment. When the writer attempts to contact the client, he/she receives no answer or a message that the client is out-of-office. What actually happened here is that the client has stiffed the writer.

Now, if this writer has a work agreement or contract in place with the client, that writer could take legal action. However, what if there is no legal document in place to protect the writer?

In the freelance writing world, not drafting and signing contracts is eventually called “a learning experience”. Sooner or later, if you and your client don’t have a legally binding agreement in place that can be substantiated in a court of law, you will get burned. Get burned often enough and you’ll be unable to continue your freelance writing business.

Solution: Sites like Freelancers Union and Docracy offer free work agreement forms and other valuable documents such as invoices, contracts, job offers, etc. Although these documents are more general than those you would obtain from your own personal lawyer, they are quite useful when you’re in a pinch. Furthermore, I have no reason to believe that a court of law would not uphold a printed agreement signed by both parties (personal disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer). When dealing with first-time clients, highly consider requiring a 50% down payment before any work begins. That way, even if you get stiffed and the amount is too small to bother with in small claims court, at least you’ll have some of your work covered.

Hard luck clients

“We’re just getting this company started.” “I’m taking out a second mortgage.” “I do it for the love- don’t you?” When I hear statements like these come out of my clients, my first impulse is to run. Why? Because if my clients sound like they can’t even pay their electric bill, it’s doubtful that they’ll be able to pay me. And quite frankly, the last time I inquired with my electric company, love hadn’t paid my electric bill.

I suspect that freelance writers often put up with hard luck clients because they sympathize with other freelancers trying to make it and don’t want to gouge them for their services. Likewise, I suspect that many freelance writers secretly don’t consider themselves to be professional writers (or even writers, for that matter), thus finding it difficult to demand actual payment for their services. This kind of thought process can start a dangerous downward spiral of working for free, working on barter (I once was paid in cheese curds) and/or putting off or reducing client invoices until those clients are “financially stable”. Keep this kind of charity up for too long and your business will become a charity…case.

Solution: If you don’t respect yourself and your work, no one else will either. The next time one of your hard luck clients asks if you’ve had a chance to look over his/her writing request, simply reply, “You know, I’ve been swamped with deadlines. I don’t know when I’ll find the time.” By emphasizing that your time is valuable in this non-confrontational way, you send a message to your client that he/she should start looking elsewhere for that free lunch. Leave it at that. If your client suddenly finds some money, you’ll probably find some time.

Your day job

When your friend or mother or whoever heard that you were freelance writing, he/she may have jokingly said, “Don’t quit your day job!” Well, you took it seriously and now your double shift life is killing you. Sure, the package deal of having more money as well as benefits and job security is admirable- but not doing your laundry for three weeks for fear of missing a client deadline isn’t good. Also, how long can you go without getting a decent night’s sleep?

Aside from these obvious problems, there is another, more worrisome, issue: You don’t have the opportunity to find bigger and better clients because all you’re doing is keeping your head above water at your jobs. You can’t go out and market your services without raising eyebrows at your day job. Some companies even have non-competition clauses in effect that limit how much you can hustle on the side. Also, working two full-time jobs is going to wear you down and you’ll eventually screw up with either your employer or your clients- or both. This will open up the possibility of you getting fired or, at the very least, losing some of your credibility and reputation.

Solution: Save up your pennies until you have at least a six months’ emergency stash of cash. Then, hand in your letter of resignation at your day job. Don’t try to get fired so you can collect unemployment; losing a valuable reference from your current workplace could cost you much more down the line, especially if you’ve worked there for many years and/or know a lot of people. Do it gracefully, do it with tact, but do quit your day job.


Many freelance writers that quit their day jobs must pay out-of-pocket for business expenses that were once (partly or fully) covered by their old employer. Cell phone, fax, printing, Internet and other expenses are now the responsibility of the freelancer- and oftentimes those expenses aren’t small.

However, many freelancers, instead of trying to minimize their business expenses, go all out and start buying the latest smartphones, iPads, laptops and other gadgets. Some even rent office space. In many cases, these electronic toys and other luxuries are not necessary to conducting a freelance business; rather, they are more for show. When the bills for these toys start coming in, many freelancers find themselves dipping into their savings. Over time, such luxuries can eat up the entire business.

Solution: Don’t buy anything, aside from a laptop computer, when you first start out as a freelance writer. Your clients can use Skype to call you and most one-on-one communication is conducted by email anyway. As for smartphones, they are just black holes in your pocket, sucking up your hard-earned cash. Even after all these years of being a freelance writer, I still own a “dumbphone”, and that dumbphone is quite sufficient my client calling needs. Anything else that I occasionally require, such as fax or notary services, I obtain at my local Staples or FedEx store. And my office is my home office, which I claim every year as a business expense.

Halina Zakowicz is a full-time freelance writer with Haelix Communications who specializes in biotechnology, financial and business writing. You can find some of her work posted at I’ve Tried That, an online work-at-home website and blog.