Every job has its pitfalls. Those bad habits or oversights that worm their way into your routine and just destroy your motivation, productivity, or profits. Teachers stick to the same lessons for decades and fail to notice that their students have changed. Doctors grow their practices too fast and can’t give all of their patients the level of care they deserve.
But what about freelancers? What are the most common freelancer mistakes that plague our industry?
In this post we’ll take a look at some of the biggest pitfalls you need to avoid as a freelancer and offer useful advice on how to make sure you aren’t falling into them.
#1 – You Take Every Job That Comes Your Way
If you are just starting out, this might seem like a very unrealistic problem to you. Why would anyone ever turn down work? It can be a good problem to have, but still one that you need to find a solution to if you don’t want to burn out.
For starters, you don’t want to spread yourself too thin. If you accept more projects than you can actually complete on time, you risk delivering low quality work or missing deadlines.
There are also some jobs that you might be able to complete just fine, but are still not a good idea to take. Some clients just aren’t a good fit for your skills, your work ethic, or your personality. A client who treats you more like an employee than a freelancer, for example, might not be worth the effort. The same goes for clients who don’t provide clear instructions or try to get you to do more work than the contract entails.
How To Avoid This Problem: To avoid spreading yourself too thin, you’ve got to get a clear picture of how long your typical project takes you. This comes with time and experience, but a good way to make up for it when you are just getting started is to set later deadlines than you actually need. This gives you wiggle room in case you do overbook yourself.
To get better at dodging problem clients, get used to saying “no”. Also keep an eye out for red flags in pre-work communication. Clients who demand too much, communicate disrespectfully, or try to haggle over price are probably not worth your time.
#2 – You Don’t Charge What You’re Worth
A lot of freelancers set their prices very low when they are new to the industry because they just want to attract any business they can get and build a portfolio. This is fine, but there does come a time when you need to earn an honest wage.
Even if it costs you existing clients, raising your prices will likely lead to you working less hours but still making more money. It’s also going to pay off by weeding out a lot of the tire kickers that you may have been dealing with. Many experienced freelancers learn that the clients who are looking to pay the least are also the most difficult to manage.
How To Avoid This Problem: Once your workload is starting to overwhelm you, think about raising your prices. Check out our post on How To Calculate Your Freelance Hourly Rate to get a good idea of what your time is worth. If you are really worried about raising your prices, you can always do it slowly. Even adding an extra five dollars to the price of a $25 service can boost your freelance income significantly.
#3 – You Don’t Market Yourself
The more demand you create, the more valuable you will be to potential clients. Imagine two freelance web designers who both produce the same quality of work, but one is able to charge five times more because she is in demand.
The best way to create demand (other than doing good work), is to market yourself. You can be the freelancer who sits on the sidelines wishing you had more work and better clients, or you can be the one who hustles every day to earn the success you deserve.
How To Avoid This Problem: Get in the habit of selling yourself on a regular basis. We put together a complete guide on Marketing for Freelancers, but the most important thing is developing the discipline to make marketing part of your standard operating procedure.
Start small, but add it to your schedule. Even just five minutes a day is enough to send a few emails, make a few posts, or otherwise reach out to potential clients.
#4 – You Don’t Get Paid
Every freelancer has horror stories of chasing down that one client for months to get paid. Maybe they do eventually get the money they worked for, but a lot of times the client just disappears.
Not getting paid happens for a lot of reasons. Sometimes you get legitimately scammed. Other times the client is unhappy with the work even though you delivered exactly what was promised. Whatever the cause, the end result is the same: you wasted time for nothing.
How To Avoid This Problem: This is one of the more common freelancer mistakes, but also an easy one to avoid. Getting a contract signed before starting work is one way to legally bind a client to pay. But this can be a bit of a hassle, and still doesn’t guarantee the client doesn’t ghost on you.
An even surer bet is to conduct business on a freelancing platform like Legiit. The buyer pays up front but the money gets stored on the platform until you deliver. Both you and your client have the security of knowing that a third party is mitigating the chance of anyone being scammed.
#5 – You Don’t Have a Financial Plan
A lot of freelancers get surprised by their success. When it does finally hit, they are too busy working to think about things like finances. They don’t know how much money they are earning, what their expenses are, or what their fiscal goals for next quarter are. Then tax season rolls around and they’ve got to scramble to pull it altogether.
How To Avoid This Problem: You’ve got to start by putting together some sort of financial plan. Begin by creating separate bank accounts for your personal and freelancing funds. Next, set a date with yourself once a month to take a look at your finances. This is a good chance to see if your profits are trending on the rise or not, and to set goals for the next month.
There are a host of other freelancer mistakes that will try to trip you up as you grow your business, but this list covers some of the most common ones. You can’t plan for everything, but the more aware you are of what might go wrong, the better your chances of cutting it off before it becomes a real problem.