I wish someone had given me a list of don’ts when I first started freelance writing, then stood over me with a yardstick and rapped me on the knuckles every time I made a stupid move.
Alas, there was no Miss Trunchbull to guide me through those brutal first few years, and I made a lot of stupid moves.
Some of these stemmed from being young and entitled, others from dealing poorly with clients.
But far and away the most common mistake I made was to compromise my true passions in pursuit of money.
I became “The Jill of All Trades”
I know, I know. That story has been told…but not in the way you think.
I’m not talking about sacrificing my morals or anything. I’m talking about picking up the odd jobs every writer is asked to do: A little research here, a few social posts there, NBD, make the client happy, right?
And before you know it, you’re a Jack or Jill of all trades, at your clients’ beck and call for every “quickie” task conceivably related to writing.
Problem is, even if you’re happy with this arrangement, new clients won’t be.
They come to you for expertise, not for your Renaissance Man repertoire. If you don’t specialize, they’ll find someone who does. Which makes it imperative that you start saying no to those little tasks, and start saying yes only to writing work.
Without further ado, the five jobs you should absolutely, positively, under no circumstances, even on pain of death, ever do.
1. Hourly research work
If you’re the type of writer who researches and summarizes content for a living, you can safely ignore this advice. Most of us, however, aren’t.
We’re either creative writers working on spec or copywriters being paid to create original content. In the latter model, a per-word price is usually involved, which is almost always higher than the amount you’d make if you billed hourly. (And if you’re not yet using value-based pricing, you should be.)
Since it’s hard to charge per word for research – you’re just summarizing, after all – you’re pretty much forced to charge hourly. That makes it a bad deal.
Perform research as part of an assignment which you’ve contracted at a per-word or per-project price, but don’t do research on its own.
2. Social media management
Ah, social media. I’ve seen so many writers include this in their services then…slowly… realize that the amount of work involved in pulling together enough tweets or Facebook posts to constitute an assignment is almost never worth the money.
Why? Because this is specialist work.
Culling through news articles, writing pithy phrases and selecting the right hashtags is hard, especially when you’re doing 50 at once, unrelated to a piece you’ve just written. This is best left to social media professionals, because you usually can’t contract a price that’s worth your time and they feel comfortable paying.
The exception to this rule is when you offer a Twitter post or two, or maybe a LinkedIn blurb, to go along with a blog post, white paper or another long assignment you’ve just written.
I do offer this, and clients appreciate it.
3. Photography and image sourcing
Photos go with blog posts, right? Isn’t it normal to include a few with each piece? Most clients will tell you it is.
However, most of the copywriters I know refuse to offer image sourcing, let alone actual photography. With a camera. (Yes, I’ve been asked about this multiple times.)
Honestly, it’s my opinion that you shouldn’t be providing images of any kind. The ideal goal is to turn each gig you get into additional, stable work from that client, as well as a recommendation to a new client, from whom you will hopefully also get repeat work. Providing ancillary services such as images will dilute your work, because it isn’t your specialty – making this client less likely to hire you back or to recommend you to others. Plus, you clearly don’t like it that much, or you’d be a photographer, right?
Providing services you love will exponentially increase the amount of satisfactory work you get; providing services outside your wheelhouse can spiral into more and more jobs that are unrelated to your true passion.
Save your energy for writing, and don’t offer images.
4. Editing others’ work
Many a client will come to you asking if you could “just give this piece from XYZ Department Head a look-see” or “clean up this work from my previous copywriter, whom I fired.”
I’ve gotten both of those requests quite a few times, and they scare me. I don’t want to mess with writing of which some department head is protective. Nor do I want to be in any way associated with a writer who didn’t make the cut.
Also, editing is a deep skill. It’s often harder to edit someone else’s work – keeping its message, intent and voice intact while making it presentable to readers – than it is to write from scratch. That’s why people have whole jobs editing. They’re called editors…and if you’re a writer, you probably aren’t them.
I either offer to write a new piece for clients if they give me the specs, or I send them to the editor with whom I work.
5. Paid reviews
Several prospects have approached me asking if they can pay me to go leave a review on Amazon. They even offer to send me their product, and claim that my review should be “honest.” And honestly I’m a little unclear on how all this works, but I’m pretty sure the Federal Trade Commission’s definition of sponsorship doesn’t include Amazon reviews.
Plus, since I’m not going to get paid until after the review, how honest can it really be?
Say no to this every single time. Even if the money is good, and often it is, it’s not worth your soul. You have a responsibility to the world to use your writing for good. And convincing Great Aunt Ginny to buy a dubiously sourced protein powder is not good. Don’t do it.
While I still can’t come to your house or office or coffee shop nook and rap your knuckles with a yardstick, I can guarantee greater happiness and success if you avoid these jobs. Even if it makes you nervous to limit your repertoire, try doing so for a few months and see what happens. Chances are excellent your workload and profits will increase, not the other way around.
Go ahead, try. I’ll wait.
*sits patiently for 5 months*
See? Told you.