Where Are All the Good Writers?

I had a recent conversation with a peer who mentioned that finding good writers to work with was more than a tad difficult. She’d been disappointed time and again by writers who just weren’t what they seemed to promise.

That’s a problem. When you don’t deliver on your promises, you end up costing yourself repeat business, long-term clients and better jobs. You move from client to client with no stable customer base and no guarantees of future work.

You also screw up business for your customers as well, leaving them facing extra expenses and cleaning up a mess. You create a bad reputation for yourself – and quickly, too.

Here are three issues that my peer and I discussed so you can make sure you aren’t one of those writers who falls short and disappoints.

Reliability and Dedication

Writers often proclaim to be reliable and dedicated. Most of them aren’t. At first, they seem eager and always deliver, but within a few short months, reliability starts to slip. Deadlines aren’t met, or they’re only met at the last minute. Quality slips. They lose track of time. They answer their email more slowly. They get comfortable in a nice job working for a nice person and become flat-out flakey and lax.

Reliability is a long-term quality that you need to maintain. Your clients need to be able to count on you now, tomorrow and in a year from now.

Making Clients Work

People hire writers to do what they can’t do or what they don’t want to do. They trust that the work is going to be done well. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen often. Clients get work that they have to double-check and verify for quality, which costs time – and time is money. Even worse, many times they have to pay someone else to edit or clean up the writing, too.

If you’re going to put yourself out for hire, make sure you can do the job well. No one should have to go over your work, fix your mistakes or clean it up, no matter what type of industry you work in.

A Promising Portfolio

One of the biggest issues with many writers is that they create portfolios of their work. They put their best samples forward for all to see, and it becomes an unspoken promise of quality. But interestingly enough, many writers can’t replicate the quality of their portfolio on a regular, daily basis. Sometimes it almost appears as if someone else wrote the samples, because the writer just isn’t hitting the mark.

Your portfolio should be nearly perfect to demonstrate your skill level, but if you can’t provide the same quality when it comes down to a regular gig, you’ll just disappoint your clients.

Give a Damn

Freelancers do what they do because they love what they do – and of course, want to earn some money doing it. That’s great, but if all they have are their own self-interests at heart, that egotistical mindset is going to show up in communication, in negotiations and yes, even in their work. Guess what? Clients see it too, and they know the writers don’t care.

Your job as a writer isn’t just to make your life better. Your job includes bettering someone else’s life too, whether through increased readership, traffic or sales. Care about the effects your work has beyond your own gains.

Good Business Sense

Writers love to write. Most are terrible at business, though. They don’t schedule properly, they don’t understand the domino effect their actions create for clients, and they don’t treat their work like a serious affair. Some writers are all about the art of writing, and they forget that when it’s on a for-hire basis, art really has very little to do with it.

Freelance writing is a business, and you need to understand how business works, not just how to write. Learn about business and get a good sense of cause and effect so you can better serve your clients.

It doesn’t matter how you learned to write or where you got your skills. It doesn’t matter why you write or what you like to be paid for your work. If you’re going to put up a ‘for hire’ sign, you need to make sure that you’re worth hiring.

Your turn – can you think of other areas where writers need to sharpen up and get with the game? What are your pet peeves with writers? And even more importantly, what could you work on yourself to be a better freelancer?

Want more great advice on turning your freelancing career into a success? Check out The Unlimited Freelancer. It’ll teach you the tricks you need to know to really unleash your full potential.


  1. says

    I’d also add “Make your client pay something upfront so they are invested in the process”.

    I’ve had plenty of jobs that no matter how hard I might work, I can’t get good results because I don’t get what I need (documents, interview time, etc). That usually happens if a client hasn’t paid an upfront signing fee. In their mind, you have cost them zero so that project is worth zero attention.

    Also – ensure you only have a single contact at any company you work for. It doesn’t matter if three, ten or a hundred people are critiquing the work – you’re only going to speak with one of them. That person must have worked out all conflicting corrections, suggestions etc before they talk to you.

    And finally, sometimes it is necessary to kick your client’s ass. If they don’t deliver the corrections back to you on time then email and call them to advise they are putting the delivery date in jeopardy. If some big boss comes in after final draft and completely changes the brief, remember to re-quote, ask for more money and very openly ask the big boss why they weren’t involved before.

    The best value you can offer your client is to be professional and force them to be professional as well.

  2. says

    Not to be cheesy, but I actually have the opposite problem. I tend to take to long because I want everything to be perfect. I end up overwriting something when the client simply won’t care. I don’t know why I care because it isn’t like my name is on the byline, but then again, something inside me starts to flicker when I know I’m not doing my best. That flicker is never okay.

  3. says

    Hi James – a very astute post as usual. I think that some freelance writers forget that they’re running a business first and foremost and want to play the artiste. An event producer employed me to write some conference speeches for her client recently. She’s worked with lots of writers but was disappointed that many of them submitted sloppy work, were too precious about their words (i.e. didn’t like it when the client wanted to make changes), and didn’t try hard enough to really understand the brief and what the client wanted. In other words, they just weren’t professional enough to do the job properly.

    In my own case, I believe my customer service and writing is very professional and I always hit deadlines. However, behind the scenes is a different story – I work from home and find it far too easy to find ‘house’ stuff to do instead of working. I need to set myself a proper schedule so that I work at specific times and fit house, exercise, etc around that – at the moment it’s just a jumble which I’m sure affects my productivity.

  4. says

    Excellent points James. I need to work on stopping reading, (blogs, websites, books,)so much and concentrate on writing more.

    Upon my readings lol, I found a post that would complement your post here and help freelancers to pinpoint their pros and cons, (attitudes,) of being a freelancer.

    It’s “13 Breeds of Freelancer And How To Up Your Game,” by Jack Knight

    I think I am some of “The AWOL Freelancer,” “The I-Did-It-My Way Freelancer,” “The Constant-Excuses Freelancer,” and “The No-Business-Skills Freelancer.”

  5. says

    While your friend is having a hard time finding good writers, I’m having a hard time finding my first paid freelance gig. Hook me up if you would be so kind.

  6. says

    One area I’m working on is pitches. Sometimes I put a lot of effort into them, in thinking about good hooks (heck, just about a topic!), crafting the pitch itself, and then I either never hear back or just get a “thanks but no thanks.” Refining…

    Also working on building up my portfolio, getting clips, and trying to look super-sharp and ready to go.

    All your points are well-made. I have one client I absolutely adore, since they are very professional, fun, reasonable, pay damn well, and I love what I write for them. I’ve been writing for them for two and a half years now, and I do my damnedest to stay writing with excellent quality. It must be working, because they still hire me very regularly!

    I also make a point of gently checking in now and then when I haven’t heard from them in a while, just to see if they have anything available. Keep the wheel squeaking and all that.

  7. says

    Because, yes, it’s not about what a client can do for you (money in the bank), it’s what you can do for THEM that matters. Or, at least, that’s what THEY are going to care about, so it behooves you to care about it too, so that you can GET that money in the bank…

  8. says

    James, here is the crux of the quality problem in freelance writing: it’s too easy. Everyone with a hairdresser or higher-education degree are pitching the same editors for the same jobs. Writing once was self-limiting; you needed to be able to read and write, qualities that often were not shared by 99 percent of the populace. Then, you needed to know the right person, someone not easily reached by hitting the “send” button. Lastly, you had to be able to deliver, rather than rely on heavily-edited published clips. (As we all know, good editors can make the worst writing sing.)

    Freelance writing is not a profession. Otherwise, we would have professional requirements, like plumbers, car mechanics and doctors. Instead, writing (like journalism) is a craft – that requires part artistic ability. Too often, the artistic ability is overemphasized (after all, who isn’t an artist in some way?) and the sheer grind of business acumen is overlooked.

  9. says

    @ Ed – The problem you mention isn’t new. Since man figured out he could trade labor for what he wanted, there have always been joe-jobbers and those with skills. People can tell the difference by the results and the writer’s reputation.

    And I disagree – freelance writing is a profession, and all professions (even garage mechanic) require some type of innate ability. (But I’m not one to promote arTEESTic attitude, so there you go! lol)


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