Many new freelancer ventures into freelancing with the dream of freedom and flexibility. Sure, working from home (or anywhere you want) comes with its perks. But it is not all rainbows and unicorns. You will never achieve your goals if you make these freelancing mistakes. New and sometimes experience freelancers are not immune from them. These mistakes can cost your work-life balance.
Did you know India follows right behind the USA in the total number of freelancers in the World? Yes, we are the second largest freelancer country. If you are a new freelancer or have been freelancing for a while, you should take note of these. Better be prepared than sorry.
Freelancing Mistakes 1: Not planning for the tough times
Before you start freelancing, you must have enough money in your account to cover your expenses for at least 3-4 months. When you are just starting, things will be difficult, unless some miracle happens! Budget yourself. I won’t tell you to penny pinch but you must be very careful with your spending.
2. Quitting day job without a proper plan
Don’t make this mistake new freelancers. Look before you leap. Get a pen and paper, sit down somewhere quiet and start writing what skills you have that you can market. Choose one that a client will be willing to pay for. You may be tempted to choose the newest cool skill. But choose something that is in demand, to save yourself the trouble of having to educate people about. Find out whether you will be developing any new skills to improve your chances of landing a client. Plan how you are going to market yourself as a freelancer.
3. Not developing an entrepreneurial mindset
Most people go into freelancing with the mindset of an employee. Big mistake! Yes, you are the boss. Don’t forget that you are on your own. You must be responsible for your work. Be responsible for your clients. Don’t over promise and under deliver. That is the road to disaster. Not only will you lose the client. Bad news spreads fast. You will also lose any future clients. Market yourself on your initiative.
4. Not studying the Legal side of things
Get a lawyer’s advice on the basics – like non-disclosure and independent contractor agreements. Get your paperwork done like a standard statement of work, invoice, and contract.
5. Not setting the right fee for your work
Some new freelancers charge very less, some even work for free. New or experienced, most freelancers don’t know how much they should charge. If you don’t take the time to draw up a clear picture on your price, can either leave you without enough money to survive or lose clients because you are charging exorbitantly high. Talk to your peers or do market research to get a picture of the fee in your niche service or product. But base your price on the value you offer the client.
6. Biting off more than you can chew
When starting you have to charge less. And end up taking in more clients to make enough money. More clients mean more work. You lose your life. Freelancing takes up most of your time. Before you, realize it your personal life is gone. You lose ‘me time’. Don’t let this happen to you. Take a break, go on a vacation. If possible set the weekends off for a personal time.
7. Not doing your homework
Once you get an inquiry from your website or a recommendation, don’t be in a hurry to set up meetings. You might end up like me, explaining my service to someone who didn’t know what I did nor needed my services.
Do your research before getting on that phone call or Zoom meeting with the prospective client. You must know what you’re getting into and who you are talking with. You would already know this if you have completed the steps I outlined in Stages 2 and 3 in Freelancing 101.
8. Don’t give away free advice
Once a local HR business approached me. I made the mistake of preparing a presentation and proposal. Then I went ahead and talked for a good 60 minutes answering their questions. I ended up giving away a lot of free advice. They didn’t hire me. To rub salt on the wound, they used some of those free tips by themselves.
- If the client isn’t convinced on hiring you, leave. Don’t try to convince, you will end up giving free tips
- Don’t give free tips.
9. Taking any client that comes along
Not everybody will be a good fit. Even if they give you the impression of being an ideal client, do a screening first. Some may seem like a dream come true. Offering you more than you charge. For a new freelancer, it might be tempting to take up anyone who will be willing to pay your price, even without a negotiation. This should be a red flag. Don’t bite the bait. These people might be scammers in reality.
10. Not having a niche & taking clients not in your niche
These are errors that keep you poor. I learned this lesson the hard way. As a new freelancer, I didn’t niche down and specialize. I’d take up any client, thinking I could write. I thought research would help me. Boy was I wrong! The research took up all my time. I couldn’t deliver the work on time. I fell behind on deadlines. It became a nightmare.
I was working all the time, but not making ends meet. I was paid very low. Until one content writer told me to focus on the technology niche because I was good at it. Find your niche, start learning everything about it, your writing will be so much easier—and you’ll get the expertise your clients would pay the price you set.
11. Not having an accounting system
You must know how to manage invoices, accounting and contracts. Get legal advice if you must. But get your paperwork in order. In India, currently, you don’t need a license to work as a freelancer. Choosing whether you should be a sole proprietor, partnership firm or Private company can wait.
12. Not improving yourself
Being a new freelancer is a hassle. You are doing the jobs you have already committed to. At the same time you are trying to find the next project that will pay your expenses. And you are trying to have a personal life too. But don’t slack on improving yourself. Take the time out, at least 30-60 minutes every day to learn new skills. Immerse yourself in learning more about your niche. Join courses, take exams and certifications and read books to make you a valuable addition to any team.
13. Never asking for help
Even if you take all precautions you can make mistakes. You are human after all. And humans make mistakes. What do you do when you make a mistake? This is why you must try to apprentice with an experienced freelancer. Or have a mentor. ASK FOR HELP.
14. Being Afraid to Sell
The creative types are afraid to sell. If you are afraid of being a sleazy salesperson, I suggest you focus on having wonderful, long chats with potential clients. Make the chats about their issues, and challenges in their business. Befriend them. Relate to them. You won’t have to sell any more.
15. Waiting for the perfect gig
Do not wait for your dream client to magically appear and hand you that perfect gig on a silver platter. New freelancers, you might be ignored by your ideal clients who prefer to have experienced hands. So you might have to be satisfied with working for the ones that come along. Do not let your career wait till you get that perfect gig.
You must have a picture of the perfect gig, but don’t let that stop you from taking on something less ideal. Play around with niches slightly related, this will allow you to sharpen your skills more.
16. Not having an outreach plan
The beginning of your freelancing career, you must dedicate 50% of your time for outreach. Remember “theme days” we talked about in the ultimate guide? It takes time to find new clients and project. If you don’t take the time to build your pipeline of clients you will always be wondering where the next job is coming from. You will be tensed and lose focus on your work.
So be consistent. Commit to networking and tend to your relationship garden. Work will keep coming your way.
17. Not networking
Freelancing is a type of business that you do. A business has to market itself. If nobody knows about it that is a failure model. Since you are new, nobody knows about you. So you have to toot your horn. Get out there. Let the world know you are available for XYZ work.
Join communities like Opportunity Designer. Join Facebook groups and Twitter chats. I’d suggest focusing on Opportunity Designer because Facebook and Twitter are so full of noise, with every Tom, Dick and Harry sharing God knows what; it will be hard for you to focus your efforts. Our club is dedicated to businesses like yours and we keep it noise-free.
18. Not knowing how to manage projects
Project management is a big deal when it comes to freelancing. Write down the processes of your work early on. Write down step by step details of your work from the start to the end.
19. Not knowing how to manage clients
You don’t have to be a relationship and communications expert, but you must be able to weed the bad clients out of the good ones. Having a clear cut process helps, learn to see the signals wrong clients give out. Use firm language. In your process details, make it a point to include the client in the loop of how things are going. The two of you have to be on the same page to avoid problems down the line.
20. Not knowing how to handle criticism
No matter how many steps you take to ensure smooth sailing, mistakes and problems eventually happen. Criticism is unavoidable in our imperfect world. But don’t take criticism and rejections personally.
Make your dealings with the client 100% about them. Not about you.
21. My favorite pet peeve: Under-delivering
Your mantra should always be “Under promise and Over deliver”, not the other way around. Many new freelancers get really excited and simply say yes to everything. Beware of that tendency, you might not be able to deliver what you promise. Think twice before committing to the client suggestions.
Learn to say “No” to outlandish client requests. Don’t budge if they try to push you. You must manage the client, not the client managing you.