For many 9-5 employees, freelancing looks like the ideal scenario. You can roll out of bed past 10 AM, have a relaxing cup of coffee, and then walk into your office 10 steps away from your bedroom to start a business day on your own terms. Doesn’t that sound like a dream?
It does. But real life has a different story to tell.
There are unanticipated challenges that may obstruct your tranquility. To avoid such situations, make yourself aware of the common mistakes every freelancer is bound to make sooner or later.
10 Common Mistakes You Should Avoid
Taking on freelance jobs that do not fall under your niche
When venturing into the world of freelancing, every freelance job that comes your way will feel too good to pass on. The money will start trickling in and you will want to get your hands on whatever is laid in front of you. Treat each offer with caution as not everything that shimmers is gold. Know your interests and build a customer base that will help you network and give you consistent work. A good place to start is by networking with other freelancers who are active in the industry you are interested in. How do they find clients? How much do they charge? What is the perfect ''buyer persona'' they target when marketing themselves online? Do they use freelance platforms like Transformify, Upwork or Fiverr to find freelance jobs and gigs? Although not everyone will openly share information with you, after a few conversations, you will have a plan on how to market yourself and find new clients.
Identify your niche and only work on freelance projects that help you stand out from the crowd. If you are a freelance writer, for example, taking all sorts of writing and editing jobs will not secure a steady flow of highly-paid freelance jobs. Imagine what a client looking at your portfolio consisting of anything and everything ranging from blog posts writing, to sales copywriting, to email copywriting, to product review copywriting will think about? Will you be the one who will receive the job offer? Highly unlikely. If the client is looking for a really good sales copywriter, a portfolio showcasing successful sales copy examples, case studies and testimonials from clients will always stand out.
Agreeing on a plausible deadline is advisable before you start a project. Communicate your expectations with your customers, provide examples of similar projects and land on a timeline that works for you both. Reasonable customers that will give you creative freedom and let you work at your pace are not easy to find. Every freelancer has a horror story about pushy customers and changing requirements. So, if you want to avoid uncomfortable situations, explain your working process to your prospective customers, lay down your terms and leave it up to them to accept or reject these terms. All a freelancer has is their reputation that can easily be ruined by unmet deadlines, so be clear and don't let someone push you over to agreeing on a deadline that you know will be impossible to attain. Delivering projects later than the agreed-upon date can lead to lost business as there is a lot of talent in the market and customers will start looking elsewhere. So, before agreeing to a deadline, estimate the time you will need to finish the project and give yourself a little wiggle room if you encounter any unexpected delays.
Being too casual and losing touch with professionalism
The side effect of being a freelancer, not wearing business clothes to show up at work and working on your own terms is losing touch with ‘professionalism’. All the time, you have to be mindful of the fact that you are being paid for your work. It is important to keep a professional demeanor while liaising with customers even if you communicate via Slack and they don't see you.
There will always be some customers having unrealistic expectations or those who try changing the scope of work halfway through. However, as a freelancer, you can't be short-tempered. Take time and blow off steam elsewhere, then come back to deal with such people more professionally.
Putting all your eggs in one basket
Freelancing is not the most stable lifestyle. The market can be volatile and there could be an abundance of offers or even total scarcity. Hence, it is advisable to either have more than one source of income or have a fallback option. As you do not have the security of a steady paycheck, having another source of income can be helpful if you fall upon hard times. Moreover, before you start your freelancing venture, save enough money to get by until you catch a momentum.
Taking up excessive jobs
Burn-out is way too common among freelancers. Freelancers often take up excessive jobs as they do not have fixed hours and then often tend to overwork to get them completed before the deadline. Discipline is required to maintain mental as well as physical health. You do not have to work a 9-5 as freelancing gives you the freedom of choosing your working hours. However, it is advisable to have an outline of a routine to save yourself from overworking.
Incorrectly pricing their services
Undercutting is a common phenomenon among newbies. To get ahead of the competition, new freelancers tend to lowball their prices to attract more customers. This often comes back to bite you as the customers expect the same prices even after you have made your name. So, know your worth from the beginning and stick with it. Understand what the other freelancers are charging and figure out what would be fair to you and the customer. Every job should earn you money. You can offer discounts from time to time to lure in customers but remember that you are doing this to earn a living. You also do not need to have fixed prices for every customer as different projects might require different resources and some might take up more time than others. Stay away from hagglers who do not respect your time or talent.
Never say ''NO''
Customers will demand the world of you. It is your job to know what you can and you can’t do. You have the amazing freedom to pick whatever you work on, so only work on freelance projects that are worth your time. Learn to say ''no'' to freelance jobs that you don’t find interesting or people you are not comfortable working with. The sun does not rise or set with one customer. Learn the art of letting go. Not every opportunity is worth your time anyway.
Not asking for referrals
If you want steady work to come your way, there is no better way to get the word out about your services through word-of-mouth. There is an opportunity in the clients you have now or the ones you have worked for in the past. Tap this well by asking happy clients to spread the word about your work. More often than not, they will be happy to do so.
Not signing a remote worker contract
Legal work can be a hassle and most people try to avoid it. But for your protection, a simple contract must be signed before you take up a new job. It can put your mind at ease as no one will be able to take advantage of you once a legal document has been signed. It can protect you from clients who could potentially cheat you of money or those who pile up work after you have agreed to a project. You can create a simple template that can be used each time you work for a new client.
Doing everything by yourself
You are just one person. Expecting yourself to take care of every aspect of your business from bookkeeping, accounting, taxes to managing your social media is unfair. Not to mention, you will waste a lot of billable hours trying to get everything done. Take help and hire people who are experts in these fields if needed. Another approach is to use freelance platforms like Transformify, Upwork, Fiverr to get matched to freelance jobs and attract new clients. If not, being a one-man army is not that bad a deal anyway if you manage to secure a couple of long-term contracts.
Rather than making your own mistakes, learn from the mistakes of freelancers around you. read the negative comments left online by the customers of other freelancers working in your field. Why were these customers unhappy? Is it something that sounds familiar to you? These common mistakes are easily avoidable once you are aware of them. Research is your best friend so indulge in it before you head out into the world of freelancing.
A passionate entrepreneur, ex-freelancer, and career-building enthusiast, Aditya lives and breathes Hiration — an AI-powered online resume builder and platform to help job seekers find their way in today’s highly treacherous job market.