Rites of Passage for Freelancers

My friend’s 3-year-old granddaughter recently endured the painful (and wholly accidental) misfortune of getting her tiny hand caught in a car door as it closed. Fortunately, her fingers and all other connected parts recovered just fine without needing medical intervention.

I, too, got my hand slammed in a car door at a wee age. So did my brother. And at least one of my cousins. I know of other similarly unlucky people who also experienced that rite of passage in their younger years.

As I look back on my almost 14 years as a freelance content writer, I realize I’ve gone through various rites of passage professionally as well. Some expected and inevitable, some surprising. Fellow freelancers, has your initiation into your field included any of the following experiences?

Freelance Rite of Passage #1 — Getting Stiffed

Some people are crap. Hopefully, you will never encounter a client who stiffs you, but it can happen. It’s less likely if you have a contract or a written email confirming the scope of work and pricing. However, even then, it’s not unheard of.

My very first client didn’t pay me. Yep. Sad but true. Granted, the invoice rang in at just $60 for some brief sales letter copy, but still…ouch.

Freelance Rite of Passage #2 — Losing the Opportunity

Fantastic! A prospective client reaches out to you about an opportunity to take on a substantial amount of ongoing work for them. You put in over three hours preparing a detailed proposal. They seem thrilled with what they see and say they’ll get back to you soon. Days go by. Then a week. No word.

Finally, after two weeks have passed, you circle back to see if they’re ready to move forward. Their response: Thank you, but we decided to go in a different direction.


Freelance Rite of Passage #3 — Losing the Client

Agree or disagree? No freelancer is right for EVERY project or client.

I hope you agreed because you’re flat out wrong if you didn’t. No matter how talented or capable a freelancer is at their craft, something might not click. Whether a client isn’t happy with the freelancer’s work quality, creative vision, availability to take on rush assignments, or personality, they may decide to cut the working relationship short.

It happened to me when I couldn’t quite capture the voice of a client, a fine art consultancy, sufficiently. Yeah. It sucked. Well, sort of. Ultimately losing that gig was a win for me and them. After we parted ways, I felt much less stressed and could seek work that better fit my writing style. They went on to work with a writer who delivered exactly what they were looking for.

Freelance Rite of Passage #4 — Enduring a Losing Proposition

Inevitably, there will be at least one project in your freelance career for which you grossly underestimate the hours and work involved — even with a clear scope of work. If you’re billing by the hour, you’ll remain whole. However, if you’ve quoted and signed off on a project rate, you may cringe at where the math lands if you dare calculate your actual hourly rate when all is said and done.

Indeed, I have been there. I once took on a greeting card writing project and severely misjudged the degree of brainstorming required to develop concepts and flesh them out for the assignment. It wasn’t the client’s fault; their scope of work was accurate…no creeping. But I failed to recognize how much time and mental energy I would need to fulfill that scope and produce a worthy product.

Growing Pains Go With the Territory

Freelancing is a learning experience at every stage. The more I know, the more I realize there are things yet to know. What mishaps and mayhem have you faced as a freelancer?

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