Wrong way sign to illustrate Caroline Gibson's blog about common freelance copywriting mistakes

14 Mistakes To Avoid As A Freelance Copywriter

I don’t mind admitting that I’ve made plenty of freelance copywriting mistakes during my career. But to err is to be human and you sometimes have to take a wrong turn and learn by doing (or undoing, rather). 

Wrong way sign to illustrate Caroline Gibson's blog about common freelance copywriting mistakes

So, here are some easily-made-you’re-forgiven freelance copywriting mistakes and how to avoid them.

1. Not having Ts & Cs
Always draw up terms and conditions (plenty of templates online to download) and get them signed before starting that shiny new freelance copywriting project. Even better, request a PO. Make sure you’ve the correct address for invoicing – never assume that a company is a limited company, so always head over to the Companies House website to check. And always get the details of the person in accounts as your potential new BFF in case you have to chase an invoice while your day-to-day contact is on holiday/off sick/no longer there.

2. Invoicing only at the end of a project
Like flotsam, projects can have a habit of drifting on and on – no matter how screamingly urgent the deadline was when your client first approached you and cast iron-guaranteed yet had to be done next week or never.

Always ask for a downpayment and invoice in stages. Obviously, this second point depends on the size of the total fee but I usually ask for three or four staged payments with a final teeny 10% or 5% payable at the very end. That way, your cash flow stays fairly liquid – see My 11 Tips To Keep Your Freelance Cash Flow Flowing.

3. Giving an hourly or daily rate
I decided a long time ago never to work with clients who ask for a rate card. It’s impossible to compare apples with apples, or copywriters with copywriters, based on a price alone – and how do they know what that price covers?

Always charge by the project.  Let your client know that your copywriting fee is based on the amount of experience you offer, not just on the time required, and therefore your ability to do the job properly and really and truly add value. Plus, there’s all that time in research, discussion, emails, project management, rounds of revisions, etc etc. The added advantage for your client is that they can relax, knowing exactly what they’ll get and for what budget.

4. Charging by the word
Big, big freelance copywriting mistake (see the point above) and there’s a great article here on Pro Copywriters about why you should NOT do this.

Basically, journalists charge by the word. Copywriters don’t.


Because the art of copywriting is to say as much as possible in as few words as possible.

5. Not chasing up unpaid invoices
As you may know, this is a real bugbear of mine. Send out a politely reminding nudge the day before your copywriting invoice is due. And always chase up an invoice the second it’s late. I won’t dwell on this anymore as my blog The Secret To Getting Clients To Pay On Time (And What To Do If They Don’t covers this topic in reams …

6. Wasting time with meetings without discussing costs first
Don’t arrange a client meeting without having agreed costs or having an indication of budget beforehand. I made this oversight when agreeing to see a design agency about some work for a leading property developer that I’d worked with before. I therefore had an idea about their budgets, and knew that scrimping wasn’t in their vocabulary.

But, there was an awkward pause at the end of the meeting when the subject of money arose: the agency said they could only pay 1/3 of what I estimated.

I wasted half a day on a non-event meeting. Stupid, stupid me.

7. Turning down work because you’re waiting to hear about other projects
Sometimes, copywriting project enquiries pop up like buses. It doesn’t mean they’ll happen, however. Delays can be inevitable, and quite a few projects just drop off into the kerb. (Discover How To Deal With Freelance Copywriting Delays.)

Say ‘yes’ to everything. If you’re organised, you’ll always manage.

8. Delaying replying to enquiries
Always get back to clients the same day, even if it’s just a quick message to thank them and say you’ll be in touch later. I’ve often been awarded projects simply because I was quick off the mark to respond.

9. Reducing an estimate on the promise of future work to come
In all my years, I can only think of one occasion when this has happened. There are no guarantees. I now tell new clients that I’ve a minimum project fee for the first request but am happy to work on an ad hoc copywriting basis once that initial project is done and dusted.

If the project involves writing articles over, say, a six month period then ask to invoice on a decremental basis.

10. Paying overseas bank charges
I’m a minnow. I therefore always ask overseas clients to pay my invoices in £ sterling and cover all bank charges and currency conversion charges. Otherwise, you’re liable for a fee of £25 per payment you receive.

11. Sending a quote in an email
Don’t be lazy; be professional it increases your chances of success. Put together a proposal in a designed template with your branding and include your terms and conditions. Map out the work in stages showing exactly what you’ll be doing and how many revisions you’ll include.

12. Not querying a brief
The better the brief, the better the work. If a brief feels flabby or contains a list of USPs or the agency is too lazy to improve the client brief in the first place, then challenge it. (I always send my own client briefing form with my proposal, just in case.)

13. Enduring a miserable client relationship
If things aren’t working out, don’t prolong the agony. Have a conversation to see what’s gone wrong and if it’s fixable, or else part company. It isn’t easy if you’re already on your fifth attempt at a draft and have spent lots of time already (though, hopefully, you remembered to specify including one or two rounds of revisions in your terms???), but the reality is that the client may decide not to pay a bean (though, hopefully, you secured an initial downpayment anyway???).

On that note …

14. Not charging for your time
You are legally entitled to be paid ‘quantum merit’. Include this disclaimer in your copywriting terms: ‘Costs are for my time spent on the project, regardless of whether or not the work is used.’ Just in case a client asks for a redraft again and again and again then refuses to pay, you’re covered and perfectly entitled to be compensated for the time you’ve spent so far on the work.

Written by Caroline Gibson, a freelance copywriter who’s only human.

E: caroline@carolinegibson.co.uk  T: +44 (0) 7957 567766

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