10 Mistakes to Avoid as a Freelancer
When you’re working as a freelancer, whether it’s been two months or two years, you should step back and evaluate how it is going every so often. From rookie moves to common traps, you want to make sure you are aren’t making any mistakes that can set you or your freelance business back.
Here, we’re going to look at 10 mistakes you’ll want to avoid as a freelancer. (And you can use this list to look at things you might be doing that you need to rethink.)
1. Working 24/7
While freelance work offers the opportunity for flexible scheduling and hours, you can’t work every waking one of them. It’s important to create a work-life balance so that you know what work needs to be done and plan time to do all the other things that matter to you.
The easiest way to do that is to create a work schedule of sorts. It does not have to be 9-to-5, but it should have some consistency so that you can get in work mode and get things done more efficiently and effectively. Having a schedule will also help clients communicate with you during your “business hours” and help family members know when to leave you alone so you can work.
2. Undervaluing Your Work
One of the biggest problems I encounter when talking to new freelancers is that they severely undervalue their time and work. Doing projects for free or at very low cost, tells clients that is what you are worth. Establish pricing that makes sense in your market and is in line with the services you offer and stick to it. (OK, occasionally I’ll do a pro bono project for a non-profit or family member, but not very often.)
Here are a couple of resources to help you get an idea of what others are charging:
- The Freelancer Rates Database
- Designers’ Hourly Rates by HOW Magazine
- Calculating a Freelance Rate by AIGA
3. Taking On Every Project That Comes Your Way
About half of the projects that come your way as an established freelancer will be duds. And it’s OK to turn down these projects. Don’t get stuck taking on every project that comes your way and either creating something that embarrasses you or that is overwhelming because you already have a full work load.
These are five projects to avoid:
- Anything that involves something you don’t really know how to do, unless it’s a really simple skill to add to your portfolio.
- Projects that give you that uncomfortable feeling. This can include anything from things you just don’t believe in, have concerns about the legality of, and just don’t feel like you can do well.
- Projects from clients that don’t actually know what they want or balk at paying from the start. (These are huge red flags.)
- Projects from family members or close friends are always tricky. It’s hard to say no, but sometimes it is the best thing so that feelings don’t get hurt and relationships are not strained.
- Anything that comes along when you are booked solid. If you really want the project, ask if the timeline is flexible, but don’t take on anything that you can’t meet deadlines for.
4. Not Having an ‘Upsell’ for Clients
Keep business churning with add-ons for work and ways to keep the project going after the initial contract. It’s the business plan that keeps you working. And if you don’t have upsells, you should consider them.
Consider upsell elements such as design bonuses or added features. Think about ways to keep the client happy and in contact for a longer time, such as maintenance, analytics or advertising contracts or selling native files to the client when the project is complete.
5. Billing Clients Inconsistently
If you do not have a process for billing, you are likely missing out on payments. It can also cause major frustration for clients.
And nothing is easier than setting up a billing process:
- Set rates (and produce a sheet that you can give clients)
- Set a billing schedule (frequency for sending invoices and when they are due)
- Notify clients of rates annually
- Stick to your own rules
6. Getting Too Comfortable
If you don’t keep learning new things and keeping current with trends, tools and techniques, you will fall behind. Don’t allow yourself to get too comfortable with where you are and what you are doing. It is imperative that you keep learning new things.
7. Over-Promising (and Under-Delivering)
Don’t promise anything that you are not 100 percent sure you can deliver. It happens all the time. Yes, you want to be accommodating and easy to work with, but you don’t want to get a reputation for falling short.
Start by giving yourself some leeway when in conversations with clients. I like to listen to what is needed and for anything that is not a sure but say “that sounds good, but I’ll need to think about how to make that work.” Then you have some options for whether you can do it, how to quote a price for the service and even have a way out if you just don’t think the request is workable.
8. Working Without a Strategy
If you are just working along with no regard to what comes next, you are in trouble. Even freelancers need to develop a business plan and strategy.
Where do you want to be in one year, five years, 10 years? It’ll be hard to get there if you don’t even know where you are going.
9. Forgetting About the ‘Business Stuff’
And speaking of the business, don’t forget about the “business stuff.” If taxes, marketing, licensing, networking and talk of revenues versus expenses aren’t your thing, find some help to navigate it all.
Failure to think about freelancing as an actual business can hurt you in the long run. You need a firm understanding of what tax and legal obligations apply in your location. Failure to obey these rules can result in significant headaches, unexpected expenses and potential fines.
10. Betting Too Much on Current Clients
The truth about working as a freelancer is that any client could disappear any day. It’s a scary fact.
The solution is to diversify your client base and ensure that you have good working relationships with your current clients. Some of it goes back to strategy as well. Do you have a plan for how to replace a client (and the coordinating revenue stream) if necessary?
While it is easy to fall into some of these common freelancing mistakes, it can be just as easy to correct them. (Thank goodness!) The key is staying focused, organized and creating plan. You don’t have to do it all in a day; many of these things evolve over time. (Probably in the same way your freelance business has changed and grown.)
Freelancing 101 is an occasional series to help the increasing number of freelancers in the market. Whether you are a designer, writer, developer or wear multiple hats, we will share tips, resources and ideas to help you make the most of your small business. Is there something in particular you want to know? Let me know at [email protected].