desktop flatlay with laptop - Freelance writing business

As a freelancer, there may be times when you find yourself in a position where your brand makes a promise which, for whatever reason, you are unable to keep. It happens. Computers crash, the kids get sick, a polar vortex causes your house to lose power. How you handle the fallout from your failure to deliver can make the difference between running a successful freelance writing business and running your freelance business into the ground.

Your Reputation IS Your Money

Your reputation directly affects your freelance writing income. When working on platforms like Upwork and Guru, customers are encouraged to leave feedback and performance ratings after you complete work for them. Several lukewarm reviews that peg you as mediocre or incompetent and your opportunities to win jobs on these platforms dry up.

Few employers are looking to hire writers with B-grade or C-grade feedback. On Upwork, a provider with a cumulative performance score of anything less than 4.7 out of 5 stars is well on her way to being unhireable (same with Uber, I think). Some job postings require bidders to have minimum ratings before they can even be considered for a writing job. There’s no question about it – a good reputation will translate into more money.

Common Freelance Fails That Will Cost You Clients and Money

We’re not talking about anything as lousy as taking someone’s money then not delivering on a job. We’re talking about everyday missteps on your road to success. These are the actions, inactions, and habits that can foil the success of even the most talented freelance writer.

#1 Underbidding a Job

You want the job, so you scan the job posting or breeze through the initial consultation with the client, only to find out once you’ve taken the job that it requires far more work than what you’ve billed the client for and far more work that you’ve carved out time in your schedule to do.

A few years ago, I was offered the chance to head up my first digital project. I was so excited to get the job (and keep it), I underbid the project by $10k. I got the gig with a contract of $28k for a launch project that would last from May to December, but I spent all summer trying to do it myself because I couldn’t afford to hire as many people as I needed to hire to make everything work.

Eventually, the client canceled the contract at the $17k mark (I was taking entirely too long to get everything done). All my hard work disappeared off the internet when the client let the website housing this magazine expire, and I had spent the entire summer working and bringing home only about $1,000 a month… working full-time. Worst part? The experience ruined my reputation with that client.

#2 Missing Deadlines

It happens. You get a job and for whatever reason, you miss the project deadline. This is not uncommon in the writing business, but make it uncommon for you. If you are going to miss the deadline, be sure to notify your client ahead of time. Don’t wait until 11:59 PM on the night of the deadline to say, “It ain’t gonna happen.”

#3 Going silent

This horrible business habit will strike fear in the heart of most any employer. Extend the professional courtesy of keeping your clients in the loop at all times. This is particularly true if you miss a deadline or run into other trouble. Never ever go silent on a client.

#4 Being in breach of a Non-Disclosure Agreement

Sometimes in an effort to protect themselves and their trade secrets, clients will draft Non-Disclosure Agreements and ask you to sign them. READ THE AGREEMENT. Some NDAs ask you to make commitments that may hurt your business in the long run. If you cannot keep a clause in the agreement, ask the employer to modify or remove the clause. If he or she will not, move on to the next job.

#5 Free Work

Remember that digital project I referenced before? Well, I was also hellbent on documenting wins so I could build my portfolio, so when the client told me he had reservations about his other writers, I understood. They did suck. He ditched the writers and I took over the work.

Then he needed help with social media. I added social media management to my to-do list but not the contract and not my income.

Then he wasn’t a little turned off by his SEO guys, so I took over the SEO, too. Again, with no additional income coming in. I virtually doubled my workload without adding a single penny to the original contract value.

It was a mess. More, I ended up being a stressed-out mess. Haha. Lesson learned. The takeaway I want you to get from this is even if you are struggling with your own personal value, you can always quantify your professional value with a quick search. Check Glassdoor or Upwork to find out what the going rate is for the services a client is asking you to perform.

I’m not against cutting a deal to get a foot in the door but make sure it’s a deal for both you and the client, not just the client. This is especially true when you’re the one doing most of the work.

#6 Outsourcing to Subpar Writers

We all want to be able to say we’re operating with a team of writers. But if a client has hired you for your unique talent, style, and voice, it will immediately be apparent if you outsource the work to a writer who is not as good a writer as you are. Make it clear at the onset that you work with a team. If the employer wants you to do the writing personally, price the job accordingly and DO THE WRITING.


As a freelance writer, your livelihood completely hinges on your reputation – your ability to build a brand that makes and consistently delivers on a promise. The more you adhere to that truth, the more profitable your business will be.