Killer Mistakes to Avoid When Freelancing

killer mistakes to avoid when freelancing

Freelancers can be a proud bunch – I should know, I am one; and often, I won’t even tell my life partner if I screw something up or end up kicking myself for losing a client.

When the buck stops with you, it can difficult to hold your hands up and say you got it wrong – and it’s exactly that attitude that means we can miss out on some of the golden advice that’s come from more experienced freelancers who’ve worked around serious mistakes.

Take some time to read the following 5 points. Even if you don’t need them now, just keeping them in your subconscious could help you avoid running aground in the future.

Forgetting to look after yourself

Working for yourself can be enormously time-consuming – and when you work from home, there’s no cleaner or store manager who’ll kick you out when everyone else has gone home.

This makes it really tricky to make sure you’re looking after yourself. When time and effort equals money, there’s an overwhelming temptation to just keep driving forward – after all, you can sleep when you’re caught up, right?

The problem is, this mindset never catches up – and it’s unlikely to ever feel content with the money you’ve made this month or how your business is performing. Before you know it, you’re on your 23rd late night in a row and your friends and family have forgotten what your voice sounds like.

Looking after yourself means something different to everyone. For some people it’s about getting time to meditate, exercise and eat well; for others, it’s about knocking back tequilas with friends and spending the next day wishing you hadn’t. It doesn’t matter what this kind of self-care looks like to you, what’s important is that you acknowledge that there are a few things or people who make you feel good and keep you motivated.

All companies talk about staff morale. Since you’re your own company, think about staff morale too – forgetting to look after yourself will end with you hating freelancing – or making yourself ill.

Letting the networking and marketing lapse

Photo by Benedikt Geyer

I don’t mean to alarm you when I say this – but freelancing can be horrifically unpredictable.

There have been lots of instances where I’ve banked on a regular invoice coming in each month, only to get an email from a client to say they’re tight on money, going in a different direction with their marketing – or similar.

It’s time like these that I wish I’d been marketing my services the week before – but I hadn’t, because I’d assumed the following week was going to be totally fine and predictable. When it’s not, you’re forced into ‘panic mode’ – desperately looking for work – and, worse still, accepting work that you would normally turn down – just because the bills need paying.

The message here is simple:

Keep networking and marketing – even when the financial sun is shining.

At the very worst you’ll be creating a spreadsheet full of contacts you can go back to when you’ve got space for a little more work – and, you’re potentially saving yourself going into panic mode should something unforeseen happen with a ‘dead cert’ client.

Thinking you have to be the lowest priced

I’ll keep this tip brief because you simply need to hear it.

You don’t need to be the cheapest in the room – and if you do, you’re in the wrong room.

You’re a professional delivering a great, reliable service. That alone stands you above 75% of other freelancers. Price your service accordingly – and if you think you don’t deserve it, think about what you need to do to ask for a reasonable amount of money – then make it happen.

Forgetting you’re talented

Photo by Kinga Cichewicz

This next tip runs neatly on from the last – as it’s all about undervaluing your knowledge and, to some degree, a lack of confidence in yourself.

If you’ve made even $1 freelancing, then that’s proof that you can do it – and that you’ve got a product or skill that other people want or need.

The problem is, it’s easy to consider yourself bottom of the ladder when you’re a freelancer, especially if you’re scrabbling around for little jobs here and there. What’s more, it’s easy to forget that you probably know a more about your chosen service than the person who’s buying it, after all, they’re not doing it themselves.

There’s a balance to be struck when you’re working with a client. There’s got to be room for understanding what your client wants and shaping your service accordingly – but at the same time, you shouldn’t feel like you’re a second-class citizen just because they’re paying your invoice. Working for a demanding client might make you feel like you’re not good enough as-is, but I can assure you, you absolutely are. When you start approaching clients with a ‘this is what I can offer you’ mindset, you’ll find yourself dealing with far fewer clients who expect to run your life for a few dollars!

Losing grip of your finances

Freelancing can be hard work, so if it’s not putting a reasonable amount of money in your pocket, you’d probably have a more stress-free work life picking up a job at a local shop.

The trouble is, when you talk to a lot of freelancers, they just don’t know what they earn – and this is dangerous for a couple of reasons.

The first reason is the IRS. Life is likely to get difficult if you find those guys knocking on your door.

The second reason is simply working out which parts of freelancing are working for you. I used to have a client who paid me £200 (around $260) to deliver a small number of writing projects each month. Without any understanding of how that figure tied in with the amount of time I was spending on the projects, I had no idea whether it was good value or not. After a few months, I added up all the time I spent with him calling, emailing, messaging me at 11pm, and so on – and I worked out that my hourly rate was around $7.

I can assure you, had I not worked that figure out – before politely ‘breaking up’ with that client, I’d have driven myself into the ground years ago.

Record what you earn for each job. Track your time spent on each role and put an hourly rate against what you’re doing. When you know what you’ve got to do to earn, $1, $100, or $10,000 – you can act accordingly.

READ NEXT: 101 Freelance Business Ideas

Cover Photo by Stacey Rozells


2 Replies to “Killer Mistakes to Avoid When Freelancing”

  1. Dora Crow says:

    Good points! I’d also like to suggest not beginning any project without receiving 50% payment upfront first.

    1. Stephen Kelly says:

      You’re absolutely right Dora – and thank you for the comment! Payment can be such a tricky thing – especially when you’re someone who likes to deliver a good and friendly service.

      A year or so ago I was asked to write something for a new client who used the classic “If this is right then there’s a lot of work for you…” line – only to protest when we talked about 50% up front (even though that was a very small amount of money!)

      That’s a real red flag for me! Perhaps ‘client warning signs’ could be a good article at some point soon…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *