10 Stupid Business Mistakes Smart Writers Make

Are you struggling in your freelance writing business and you don’t know why?

Don't burn out. Make more money, instead.

Don’t burn out. Make more money, instead.

There’s nothing worse than working your butt off and feeling tired, burned out and poor at the end of the day. If you’re churning through clients and feeling like you’re making less than minimum wage, you know you have a problem.

Good news, if you’re in this position, you can easily fix it. Bad news, it may mean changing your process, how you spend your time – even how you communicate with clients.

Once you overcome what’s holding you back, you’ll be able to transform a business #FAIL into a fantastic (and profitable) way of life.

And that’s pretty cool.

Here are the ten most common business mistakes I see smart writers make:

Missing deadlines

Never, ever miss a deadline. Period. It makes you look flaky and puts your client in a very bad position. If you know up front that you can’t make a deadline, express your concern or don’t take the gig. I’ve seen writers get fired after missing one deadline. Don’t let this happen to you.

Oops, did I forget to invoice again?

Forgetting to invoice clients

How much would your cash flow improve if you collected everything that was owed you? It’s amazing how many solopreneurs forget to invoice their clients and end up in a cash crunch at the end of the month. Services like Paymo and FreshBooks can help, and they’re easy to use. If you need additional help (or you hate billing,) find a VA who can invoice for you. It’s that important.

P.S. Clients hate it when you send one invoice for three months of work and say, “Oops, I’m a bit behind. Please pay this immediately.” Doing this once could cause you to lose the client forever.

Asking if an invoice has been paid three days after sending it

Your personal finances are not your client’s problem. If you want your invoices to be paid up front or net 15, put that condition in your contract. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait for payment like everyone else.

Besides, if you do send a “please pay me” email, it screams “I’m desperate” – and you’ll turn off your client. Certainly, you should check in if it’s been over 30 days or if the check is late. Otherwise, makes sure you always have enough money in your account to help float any receivables.

Dropping the communication ball

Your clients will love you if you send them quick status report emails and answer their emails quickly. Good customer service is so rare that this one little thing will make your service shine. Waiting days to email because “You don’t know anything yet,” will drive your client nuts and cause them to think about you in cranky ways.

Talking about leads/clients on social networking sites

One of the best business pieces of advice my father gave me was, “Keep your mouth shut.” Congratulate yourself if a big fish comes your way, but don’t talk about it on Twitter or Facebook. I have seen writers kicked out of the running (or fired) because they said a little too much. If you treat everything as confidential, you never have to worry about saying the wrong thing. :)

Not having a well-optimized, compelling site

How can clients trust you to do a good job with their site if your is poorly designed, you aren’t positioning for anything, and the writing looks like an afterthought? Richard Hostler, Senior SEO copywriter from Brookstone, recommends new copywriters optimize their site for their name, as well as their other top keyphrases. When clients type your name into Google – voila – your name will pop up in the top spot, and they can read all about you.

This button says it all.

Being afraid to speak up

I’ve chatted with scads of copywriters who say, “The agency gave me a list of bad keyphrases, but I’m afraid to say anything to the client.” You know what happens after that – the page doesn’t position, and the writer gets blamed for sub-par work.

If something doesn’t work, speak your mind! Tell your client why. Back up what you say with data. Your client may choose to ignore you, and that’s their choice. If they come back to complain about their poorly performing page, you can remind them of your recommendations and see if you can steer them in the right direction.

Not keeping up-to-date with the latest SEO news because you “don’t have time.”

There is nothing more embarrassing than an informed client asking a question about the latest Google update – and you having no idea what they mean. Make sure that at least 10 percent of your day is spent educating yourself on the latest and greatest. Yes, it sounds like a lot of time. Yes, it’s that important.

Holding yourself back

Expanding your business is scary. So is taking on larger clients, asking for more money per page or taking a vacation when you know you really need it. Plan out what you want to do and do it. If you “fail” – so what? Pick yourself up and try again. This goes along with…

Not taking care of you

I’ve said it before – if you don’t take care of yourself, you put your entire business at risk. Play with different work/play schedules and see what works for your lifestyle. Laugh with your friends. Eat well. Exercise. Your energy levels will skyrocket if you do. Trust me.

What about you? What stupid business mistakes do you see new and established SEO writers make?

15 replies
  1. Adrian Maynard
    Adrian Maynard says:

    Thanks for the helpful tips! I especially loved the importance you put on having a well-optimized site. Many writers simply think about what they can do externally for other companies. However, no company will go near you if your website leaves something to be desired.

  2. Amy C. Teeple
    Amy C. Teeple says:

    Heather, I had to laugh at the second mistake. It sounds like something that only a crazy person would do – forget to invoice … so I guess I’m crazy.

    I am working on a better tracking system that better prompts me to send an invoice. Look at that – it’s May already. I guess I have some invoices to send! :-)

    Thanks for all of the tips!

    • Heather
      Heather says:

      Ha! I think we’ve all made the “Oops, I forgot to invoice” mistake from time to time. So you’re not crazy. Well, at least not around the invoicing stuff…. :)

      Thanks, Amy! :)

  3. Carolyn Frith
    Carolyn Frith says:

    I agree that you absolutely have to have a good website that demonstrates your natural copywriting style. Also, you can use your website as a test lab to experiment with search engine optimization. Prospects will take note if your website is perched on the top of the search engine rankings. Oh–and on the invoice thing — I love to invoice!

  4. Damien Elsing
    Damien Elsing says:

    Great post heather – thanks for tweeting about it for those of us who missed it first time round.

    Especially liked the part about communicating with the client. Oh, and invoicing – something I think most of us put off until the last possible minute!

    • Heather
      Heather says:

      It’s funny about invoicing, isn’t it? You think that we’d do that as soon as possible…but it’s amazing how that task gets pushed out…. 😉

      Thanks for your comment!

  5. Kevin Carlton
    Kevin Carlton says:

    Hi Heather

    One of the stupidest things I did when I first started was turn up at networking events and immediately get all salesy.

    I thought my copywriting skills were on trial. So I needed to constantly remind people how my services would be of such great use to them.

    No! No! No!

    I must’ve looked a complete idiot. And desperate too.

    Having said that, networking is still hard. But these days I guess I’m just making different mistakes.

    • Heather Lloyd-Martin
      Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      @Kevin, I think we’ve ALL made the mistake you mentioned. I remember sounding like a really bad car salesperson once upon a time (“What would it take to get you into this shiny new content contract today?”) :) Fortunately, with age comes wisdom…and a much more mellow sales pitch.

  6. Josue Valles
    Josue Valles says:

    Hello Heather,

    Amazing post as always! I identify myself with point two “forgetting to invoice clients”. It’s very stressing. Thanks for sharing such amazing tools to solve this problem.

    Have a great day!

  7. Geraldine
    Geraldine says:

    Great advice for beginners and useful reminders for the rest of us! I especially liked your advice to spend 10% of each day keeping abreast of industry developments; I shan’t feel so guilty now when I spend time reading blogs etc.

  8. Heather Lloyd-Martin
    Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

    Geraldine, there’s no reason to feel guilty! In fact, it sounds like you’re on the right track! Well done. :)

  9. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Thanks for sharing this post. I still work my day job and stay busy with my business. However, the result has been being stretched way too thin and not always feeling effective in either job. I don’t feel I’m at a place financially to leave my day job, but I also believe my business will ultimately fail if I don’t make that decision soon because the imbalance has been stressful.

    • Heather Lloyd-Martin
      Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      Jennifer, I hear you. That’s a tough place to be. If it’s helpful, some writers pick a “no matter what” quit date a few months (or more) in advance. That way, no matter how stressful things are, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel, you know that any pain is short-term and you can plan accordingly.

      Good luck!


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