This is kind of embarrassing.
When I started freelancing, I did some things that, looking back, I wish I wouldn’t have.
But…you live and you learn. So, I’m gunna share this with you today so you can have some lols and hopefully learn from me too. Don’t lol too much, please.
Tying Up Time
Early in my freelancing career, I took quite a few in-person meetings with prospective clients. And most of the time, I didn’t do much research beforehand.
I got an inquiry through my website, set up the meeting, and was excited by the prospect of potential new work.
But the problem with this: One time, I found myself sitting on a pleather couch in a nightclub-like setting in the middle of the day surrounded by red floor lamps while the “potential client” spent an hour explaining his entire business model to me—all while it became more and more clear that he had no real grasp of the services I had to offer (nor a need for them.) Not to mention—his business made absolutely no sense for mine, as a client, either.
The lesson: Don’t start with in-person meetings. Conduct some initial background research on the client to see if they fit within your niche. Then, start with a preliminary phone call or email.
Having to Over-Educate
The very first time a large local business asked me to come make a formal presentation for them, I made a similar mistake. My partner and I spent hours putting together bound, yes, BOUND proposal booklets, a PowerPoint presentation, and a script.
I put on my red power blazer (I was super into blazers at the time), I presented, and I patiently answered about 45 minutes of questions—all while giving tons of free advice and consulting that I normally would have charged for.
And guess what? After all that time spent educating and providing value…they didn’t hire me. It was a complete time-suck. What really made me kick myself: They started using some of the advice I had given out for free in our meeting.
The lesson here is two-fold: 1) Don’t give out free tips in a prospect meeting. 2) Don’t invest your time in educating a mid-level lead that needs a ton of convincing to hire you. If they’re not already excited to work with you when they reach out, it’s probably not going to pan out.
Taking Anyone Willing To Pay Your Rates
Early on, I had a client come through my website who seemed like a good fit. He was willing to pay my current rates, and it seemed like a fairly low-maintenance project he wanted to work on together. He had a shower-related product and I was like, yeah, cool, I like showering.
But then he started texting my cellphone on a Saturday night, berating me for not accepting his proposal for the project (that he’d sent at 5 p.m. on Friday.) He started insulting not only my professionalism, but my intelligence, too—in a barrage of texts that didn’t stop until I declined the proposal and essentially fired him a few hours later (before the work even began.)
The lesson: Just because a client seems like a good fit and is willing to pay your rates—it doesn’t mean it’s always going to work out. You can’t always take any client who comes your way. Screen, screen, and do some more screening.
Taking Clients Who Aren’t In Your Niche
When I was getting started, I would take lots of different writing jobs because I felt that as a writer, it wasn’t the subject that mattered—it was that I could write. I could always research and figure stuff out.
Remember the best tip I ever got from a content manager? She said, “Find a niche, and write for it. You’ll build up a knowledge base and it’ll be a whole lot easier for you and your content manager.” So wise.
But, um…yeah. I didn’t do that for a long time. As a result, I wrote about healthcare, eLearning, technology—all things I had to do a ton of research on to write about effectively.
The lesson: If you take clients who aren’t in your niche, you’re going to spend hours wading through JSTOR trying to make sense of an industry you don’t understand. I’ve been there. It's hard. Find a niche, learn all you can about it, and the writing will be so much easier—and you’ll get the expertise your clients are after.
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