25 mistakes new freelancers always make
Freelancing can seem daunting, especially if you’ve left the comforts of a salaried job and are going it alone for the first time. There are so many things to take care of in addition to your actual “work”, such as pitching for business, dealing with clients, organising your finances and promoting your services. With all of these considerations it’s inevitable that you’ll forget something, or make a few mistakes along the way. I certainly did when I first started out! Here are 25 mistakes that new freelancers always make:
1. Not having a schedule
One of the benefits of freelancing is flexibility. You can choose your own hours to suit your lifestyle. But it’s important to stick to the same schedule every day/week, otherwise you’ll never get anything done.
2. Getting distracted
One skill that every freelancer needs is discipline. You can’t allow yourself to be distracted by social media, television, children or family members. Treat your working time like you would in an office.
3. Taking on too much at once
As a new freelancer you’re eager to impress new clients, but don’t take on more work than you can handle. Pushing a job back for a week is a lot better than agreeing to an unrealistic deadline and then failing to deliver the work on time.
4. Working through the night
It’s often tempting to work all hours of the night in order to get work done quickly for a client. Don’t do it, unless you’re being paid extra for a rush job, or if there are exceptional circumstances. There’s no quicker way to burn yourself out.
5. Not getting out enough
Similarly to working long hours, it’s all too easy as a freelancer to spend days, or even weeks alone with your computer. Remember, it’s important to interact with other people in the outside world too! Try coworking with other freelancers, or even just take your laptop along to a coffee shop.
6. Becoming a slob
It may seem like a huge novelty at first, being able to work in your pyjamas. However you get much more done if you’re already showered and dressed before you sit down to work. Plus, you never know when a client might Skype you!
7. Relying on only one or two clients
Try and spread your workload over numerous clients, rather than just one or two. That way, if a client decides they no longer require your services it won’t have a huge impact on your finances. Trust me, losing a client happens frequently and suddenly!
8. Forgetting to put aside money for tax
As a freelancer you have to budget for all expenses, including tax. Remember to put aside an appropriate amount each month to cover taxes, or use an app like Coconut to help manage your finances.
9. Not promoting your services
Clients can come and go at any time, so it’s important that you constantly have your name out there for any prospective new clients. At the very least, you should have a website, LinkedIn profile, and be active on social media.
10. Not learning new skills
Most freelancers will learn loads as they go anyway, but it’s important to set aside time each week/month just to keep up-to-date with the latest goings-on within your niche. You have to ensure you are at the forefront of any new developments so you can be confident you are providing the best possible services to your clients.
11. Not keeping a portfolio
Keep an electronic record of all the work you’ve completed. That way if a new client asks to see some examples you can either refer him to your portfolio, or send the relevant links.
12. Forgetting to ask for a by-line
Unless you agree to work on a ghostwriting project you would expect to receive credit for your work when it is published online. Always double-check this in advance and ask for a link back to your own website. Once, when I was just starting out, a piece I had written for a well-known blog was credited to their own staff writer!
13. Trying to become a jack of all trades
While it helps to have a broad knowledge and skill set, you can really benefit financially if you stick to one or two specific industry niches. Use past experience to your advantage. If you’re an expert in something, then clients will be prepared to pay a higher premium for your service.
14. Not building a network
Keeping in contact with other freelancers is vital if you want to survive long-term. It’s basically like having colleagues, but in a virtual setting. You can offload and de-stress if you’re having a bad day, or hear about new work opportunities and events. Solejam is a regular meet-up/social group for freelancers in London, or search for similar groups in your area.
15. Spending too long on bidding websites
Most freelancers start on sites such as Upwork and PeoplePerHour, or sign to an agency where they agree to do large volumes of work for very little pay. I still take jobs occasionally from these sites, but I never sell myself short.
16. Not communicating / keeping in touch
It’s important to keep in touch with clients both during and after projects. For long-term contracts I would normally send a weekly update to let the client know what stage I’m at, then afterwards I still like to keep in touch with past clients. You never know when they’ll have more work to throw your way.
17. Being available 24/7
When you’re starting out you want to go out of your way to be available to the client, but it’s important that you set reasonable expectations in relation to your working hours. I once had a client who would phone at 11pm demanding work to be sent over immediately, and he even phoned me on New Year’s Day to ask why I wasn’t responding to emails. Now I never answer emails or calls after 6pm or on weekends, and I set out of office notifications during holidays.
18. Letting the client bully you
Unscrupulous clients will often try to bully you into starting work before the payment terms have been agreed, or will increase the scope of the project after you have already agreed a price. This should be a huge red warning light – make sure you know exactly what is involved before you start.
19. Working for exposure
If a client offers you exposure in exchange for your work, you should run away, quickly, in the opposite direction. I’ve never heard of any freelancer who has worked for exposure and then received any paid work or commission off the back of it.
20. Agreeing to work for free / small payments
Similarly to the dreaded “exposure” clients will often ask you to complete a free trial period, where if they like your work then the payment rate will increase. It never materialises – you’re already selling your services for nothing so why would they pay you now? And if you don’t do it, someone else will. The Freelancer Club have a #NOFREEWORK campaign which encourages businesses and freelancers to agree to a code of conduct and ensure people are paid fairly for their work. Take a look.
21. Not setting the correct payment rates
When you’re just starting out it can be difficult to know what to charge for a project. Remember, freelancing involves a lot of unpaid admin tasks, accounting, and marketing, so you might only spend a small percentage of your week actually working for clients. It’s important that you earn enough to cover your time and expenses.
22. Not chasing up late payments
If a client has agreed to pay you on a set date and doesn’t, then you’re perfectly entitled to query this with your client. When I first started I was afraid I’d upset the client and would let missed payments run for weeks at a time. Now I give a couple of days grace and I’m straight onto them. Nine times out of ten it’s a simple mistake.
Bonus Tip: Before you agree to start work with a new client, find out the name and contact details of the person who will be responsible for paying invoices. Sometimes this may be an accountant, or finance department. Keep asking until someone takes ownership of paying invoices in advance and you’re much more likely to get paid on-time.
23. Not signing contracts with clients
Always sign a contract with your client, or at the very least, have some sort of written agreement. That way, if anything does go wrong, you’ll have something to fall back on.
24. Being afraid to say “No”
You don’t have to agree to everything and anything your client wants you to do. If something sounds unreasonable, it’s okay to say “no.”
25. Not trusting your own instincts
This is the most important piece of advice I can give to any freelancer: trust your own instincts. Unfortunately there are a lot of scammers out there looking to take advantage. If something sounds dodgy or too good to be true, then it probably is.
Of course, making mistakes is part of any job, and freelancing is no different. You wouldn’t expect to walk into a job and do everything perfectly right away. The important thing is that you learn from your mistakes, and constantly evolve and develop.
As far as freelancing mistakes go, I’ve made them all, and learned the hard way. That’s why it’s so important to make the time to network and join online communities. If only I’d had somewhere to voice my concerns or speak to other freelancers, then I would probably have avoided most of these pitfalls, and saved a lot of time and money in the process. But hey, at least I’ve made all of these mistakes, so you don’t have to!