Biggest Mistakes Made by Freelancers (and How to Avoid them)
For those of us who have been freelancers for a while, you can attest that it’s quite easy to make mistakes that can compromise your work and relationships with your clients. With minimal accountability and no one to delegate duties to, it is very easy to ruin an entire project and ruin your reputation, rocking the boat with your client.
Chances are, if you have been freelancing for a while you have made quite a number of mistakes and if you are new to freelancing, chances are you will make yours in time. The truth is, even with a lot of guidance from the internet, ease of work due to technological advancements, and easily available information, there are errors that human beings are just prone to. As the old adage goes… Human is to Error… and mistakes are a part of our growing process.
As a freelancer, some of the mistakes you will make will be small, for example, minor typos in your text, while other bigger ones may be detrimental to your career. The bottom line is mistakes have the potential to set you back and damage your business. However, there is no reason to be too hard on yourself, mistakes will be made even in a conventional 9 to 5 job. The important thing is that you learn from each mistake in order to become a better freelancer and entrepreneur.
In order to ensure that you don’t commit some of the most significant career-endangering mistakes, this article has compiled some of the biggest mistakes made by freelancers and how to avoid them yourself.
You are receiving advice from someone who has made quite a number of the mistakes we will be discussing so pay attention and by the end of this article you will be able to avoid these costly errors in order to have a fruitful freelance career.
BENEFITS OF BEING A FREELANCER
There are numerous reasons why a person will forgo a contemporary 9 to 5 job to become a freelancer. It’s an idea, I am sure, you flirted with before, that’s why you’re reading this article right? You must also have/have had a lot of skepticism about the sustainability of this type of career right?
The number of people and businesses hiring freelancers is on the rise because people are beginning to realize the benefits of freelancing and contracting remote expertise as opposed to hiring a permanent workforce. Freelancing is a very viable and attractive option for many people with key skills that are in demand in various markets today.
But let’s forget about employers for now and focus on the freelancers (employees) themselves. What are some of the benefits of being a freelancer?
In my experience, we all have different productive hours. Some people are most productive during the day and can therefore handle a 9 to 5 job while other people like myself are most productive at night and these might be suited for a night shift job. There is also another category of people who have irregular and random productivity hours.
Despite which category you fall under, whether you work better during the day, at night, or randomly, being a freelancer gives you the freedom and flexibility of adjusting your work schedule to accommodate your most suitable working period. Being a freelancer also allows you the freedom to abruptly interrupt the schedule you have in place.
For example, your brother calls and says he will be in town with his new fiancée for a few hours and wants you all to have a long lunch to get to know each other. As a freelancer you will be able to readjust your schedule to fit in your lunch date while it would be impossible in a conventional job.
Due to the flexibility that freelancing offers, you are able to work from virtually any location. Whether you are at home, school, the train, a café… you can casually proceed with your tasks.
This allows you a better work-life balance because it allows you to spend more time with your family, kids, friends, girlfriend/boyfriend… Freelancing offers you enough flexibility to do activities you love more often and spend time with the people who matter without having to compromise work.
In a conventional 9 to 5 job, yes you understand that your employer must have worked really hard for several years to establish his business and place himself in the position that he is in.
However, I am sure it has crossed your mind that what your employer is charging clients and what he is paying you is significantly disproportional. It is quite possible that your employer is charging the clients over five times what he pays you.
However, as a freelancer, you will be able to charge your client the exact worth of your work and pocket the profit after catering for expenses without having to be undercut by an employer. Additionally, as a freelancer, there is no monthly or weekly cap on your salary, your work is rewarded pro rata, that is, you are rewarded in accordance to the quality and quantity of your work.
Therefore, the better the quality if your work and the more hours you put in, the higher your pay will be.
Let’s be honest, human beings value their freedom and you and I are no different. We love to be in control and we hate knowing that someone is in a position to boss us around simply because they are paying us.
As a freelancer, you are answerable only to yourself… well that is until you have completed your task, which is subject to review by your client, but other than that there is no supervisor constantly breathing down your neck from 9 to 5.
As a freelancer, you get to plan your own time and do your work in comfortable independence and at the end of the day, it makes you feel good. This kind of autonomy is motivational, and when you are motivated you only need a little discipline, honesty, and consistency to excel in your work and maintain good client relations.
Growing in knowledge is extremely important, even as I’m writing this article you might think that I’m the teacher but I’m also realizing mistakes that I have been making as a freelancer.
Also, in my time as a freelancer I have also gotten to learn diverse topics from fields I would have probably never encountered had I chosen a conventional line of work. For example, a website developer will spend decades doing the same kind of work, expanding knowledge in his field as the times change but never knowing what ‘content production’ is all about.
Being a freelancer keeps you on your toes, always expanding your skill set in order to be able to grow your client base by being proficient in different fields. Freelancing also keeps you on your toes in the sense that you have to keep up with changing market trends lest you risk becoming redundant in this field of work.
Acquiring new and valuable information and learning new skills is beautiful and even if you ever decide to take up a conventional 9 to 5 job, your skill set will be so diverse you will be better positioned to land a job in comparison to a person who has persisted in a single field.
Freelancing also teaches you important life skills that you might never acquire in a regular job. Have you ever wondered why certain people have good well-paying jobs that they maintain yet can’t seem to hold their personal life together?
Well, once you have been a freelancer, you realize the importance of time, strategy, and discipline, which are applicable across all aspects of life. These people are able to hold the job because someone is always monitoring them and they’d hate to lose their job. But when it comes to life beyond work, you realize that it wasn’t discipline keeping them employed but fear.
So when no one is looking they become reckless because the discipline isn’t inherent in them. Maintaining a happy client in such an autonomous working environment demands that you stay disciplined in your work and deliver high quality projects without anyone having to push you or threaten your job security. As a freelancer, you eventually adopt these qualities, ensuring your success not just in your work, but in your day-to-day life.
Speaking of job security… ordinary employees will constantly stress over theirs, wondering whether one mistake could be their last and wondering what the increasing unavailability of jobs in the market could mean to them. Ordinary employees will therefore hold on to their jobs regardless of whether or not they are satisfied in order to keep receiving that monthly salary.
On the other hand, being a freelancer gives you the liberty to choose which clients to work with and which one to set aside while simultaneously allowing you to play a role in setting the terms of the contract as well as the payment plan with the client you choose to work with.
Escaping Toxic Environments
Most of us have been there, sour relationships, fake smiles, gossip, bullying, name it… all these things will be found in just about any work environment. Granted all of the above will be found even outside of the work environment but the difference between the outside world and the work environment is that you can choose to stay clear of these situations in the outside world.
In a conventional job, however, you are stuck in this environment for about 8 hours in 5 or 6 days out of the week. And you wonder what causes work-related stress?
It is even worse for you if the person propagating such a toxic environment is your senior. However when you are a freelancer you have the power to create whatever kind of environment is most suitable for you.
Maybe you like loud music around you when you are working, or you prefer to be out in nature, or you prefer the comfort of your own room… whatever your preference is, as a freelancer no one will be there to confine you to an environment you are not comfortable in, you get to choose your ideal environment.
10 BIGGEST MISTAKES MADE BY FREELANCERS AND HOW TO AVOID THEM
Nobody’s perfect, unless you believe in a higher deity. Were all susceptible to mistakes and if were wise we learn from them, however, the wisest of us learn from the mistakes of others.
‘A smart man learns from experience, a wise man learns from the mistakes of others.’ – Unknown
Again, pay attention and internalize the mistakes we are about to discuss and especially be keen on how you can prevent yourself from making them whether you have fallen victim to them before or not.
‘The only true wisdom is knowing that you know nothing.’ – Socrates
As mentioned, as a freelancer, some mistakes will be more costly than others. In this part of the article I have compiled the mistakes I feel are the most detrimental to your freelancing career and client relationships.
Let’s have a look at these mistakes, what you can learn from them, and how you can avoid them.
This is probably the biggest mistake you can make as a freelancer. Your ability to schedule your work and meet the deadlines set by your client is of the utmost importance.
You, might be thinking, so what if you do not meet deadlines, isn’t it more important for you to deliver quality? True, the quality of your work is very important but this does not mean that the client doesn’t expect that same high quality work at the agreed upon time, after all, it’s what he is paying for isn’t it?
Apart from the skills you bring to the table, as a freelancer, your reputation is everything. If you miss your deadlines too often your clients will eventually look for more timely candidates who are equally capable of delivering high quality projects. And as a freelancer, your reputation is all you have.
So what can you do to avoid missing deadlines and still deliver high quality projects on or ahead of time?
First, set your own deadline, significantly shorter than the one issued by your client. Then proceed to break down your project into smaller projects and make sure you meet the deadline for each mini-project. This way even if you miss your own deadline by a little bit of time you are still within the client’s deadlines with even more time to ensure that the quality of the project is up to standard.
Yes you might argue that you work best under pressure, maybe so, but that last-minute rush almost guarantees that you will miss the agreed upon deadline and possibly compromise the quality of your work. If this becomes the case, you ruin both your client relations, ruining your reputation in the market, and cut down on your chances of securing work in the future. Deadlines are there for a reason, and clients prefer reliable employees who deliver quality in a timely manner, time after time.
‘No matter how you feel, get up, get dressed, and show up.’ – Regina Brett
You know one of those days you wake up and just don’t feel like doing anything?
Of course you do, even the most successful and hardworking people who just don’t seem to take a day off have them too. The difference is that they have mastered discipline enough to power through this feeling and get themselves into the rhythm to get things done.
Yes freelancing allows for flexibility and you can make up for one lazy day on another day but don’t let this become a routine. This will lead to lower and delayed income on your part and a tainted reputation with your client because you’ll definitely miss your deadlines in the process. What can you do to avoid making this mistake?
One word… Discipline… Assure yourself that you are not going to slack off at any period that you had scheduled for work unless it is due to an absolutely unavoidable circumstance that inhibits you from working right then.
Say… you have a family emergency that you must attend to, or suddenly your computer crashes… solid reasons, but never miss your scheduled work period simply because you ‘didn’t feel like working right then’. Push yourself to get to work when you had planned to no matter how you feel, and as T.D Jakes says, ‘Motivation is Overrated’, get up and start and once you are in the motion you will wonder why you didn’t feel like getting to it in the first place.
It might be hard at first, but practice this every time you feel like slacking off and in no time it will come easily to you. However, if you still feel like slacking off, it may be time to reassess your work schedule and see when you are most productive in order to make the most profit and maintain good client relationships.
As a freelancer, you are more or less your own boss. However, what you may not realize is that this freedom and authority over yourself can go to your head. In fact, in all possibility, you have become a freelancer to escape authority, am I right?
However, having no authority can set you up for failure and you may end up feeling entitled, feeling as though you are unique and that the client needs you and the skill you have to offer. And you might be thinking… but they do? Yes, sure they do… but you need them as well. This is a relationship, and like any other relationship, you deserve nothing more than you give, so don’t fall in the trap of feeling entitled. How do you avoid falling into this trap?
Focus on cultivating a healthy, mutually respectful, and mutually beneficial relationship with your client. Place focus on the relationship just as much as you focus on the projects that you are working on.
You can do this by striving to be a responsible, likable, and dependable person, and in most cases this is often more important than the skills you have to offer because there is always going to be another freelancer out there with equally desirable skills. So what is your unique selling point? What will make the client want to work with you as opposed to others?
Work on your attitude, be personable, be understanding, be cooperative, be likable, keep the relationship enjoyable, and always remember no one owes you a thing, you get what you give.
This is another detrimental mistake. Poor communication leaves your client feeling worried and out of the loop, wondering whether his investment in you was a waste of time, and in doubt about your dependability and ability to deliver.
Like all relationships, good communication is a key element for a healthy relationship. If you want to maintain a great client relationship that keeps both you and your client happy, keep talking to them, update them on the progress of the project and any hurdles you might have encountered along the way.
Phone them, email them, have online chats and video chats, arrange for regular meetings, and show them why they chose to hire you in the first place. Also keep communication open, where the client can reach you at any time and cultivate a friendly, happy, and approachable communication culture.
However, be careful not to overstep to the extent where you give the client the impression that you are unprofessional. Getting too personal with your client could also be detrimental in the sense that one of you might end up getting hurt along the way resulting in a sour and irredeemable relationship. So while communication should be open and friendly, make sure to maintain a nice balance between casual and professional.
Staying with a Hostile Client
Yes, it’s true; it’s your job to keep the client happy. But this is still a relationship remember?
Relationships are a two way street and there are many factors that can make a client a bad, or rather the wrong client for you. This may be inclusive of their working style, their unwillingness to cooperate or assist when there is a hurdle, they’re difficulty, their pay rate, how difficult they are, unreasonably stringent deadlines, their communication style…It could be anything really. What can you do?
Be aware that when you choose the wrong client, you will be unhappy, less motivated, make less money, essentially exposing yourself to the toxic work environment that you should be shielded from as a freelancer. Just like clients select freelancers carefully, also select your clients very carefully, do your research on them, observe their communication style at first instance, carefully consider their expectations and then decide if they are the best fit for you and if they are worth the hassle.
When you work on your first project, let it be on a trial basis and if you end up feeling that they are not a good fit for a particular reason, talk to them about it and to see how this can be mitigated. If after communicating your concerns they are unwilling to adjust, then it might be time to consider other options.
As a freelancer, you know specifically how you are looking to benefit, so the best advice is to internalize on this and decide what kind of client provide it and go for exactly that.
No Work-Life Balance
When you are a freelancer, it’s easy to get lost in your work, where all you think and talk about is your business. While your work is absolutely important, letting it take over all your life and going at it every waking hour is not so advisable.
Even the most hardworking and focused people need some downtime. When you find your work taking over your life and affecting your relationships with the important people in your life it’s time to review your work schedule.
Although freelancing allows you to earn more depending on the hours you put in, it is also unhealthy to spend every waking hour at work. So how can you go about this?
Establish a balance between your work and your life and place equal priority on your down time as you do on your work, create time in your schedule to do things you enjoy. Have you ever noticed that your speed and effectiveness reduces with each hour you stay at work? Have you considered that maybe you need a break to refresh your mind? A close friend of mine once told me something I have found to be true, ‘Focus on being productive rather than being busy.’
The easiest way to do this is to create a well-balanced schedule. This does not necessarily have to model a 9 to 5 job, you don’t have to take breaks in conventional hours, just make sure your schedule is consistent, regularly reboots your mind, allows you to maintain healthy relationships, and maintains a good productivity level so you get things done more effectively.
This is another detrimental mistake you can make as a freelancer. Please do not promise anything you are not sure you can deliver. It’s understandable that you want to keep your client happy and prove that you are reliable and efficient but every time you give a client high expectations only to let them down it works against you.
You come off as dishonest, inconsistent, and unreliable instead. You begin to acquire a very negative reputation. How can you avoid making this mistake?
Sometimes you might be making promises that you think are attainable, but I have found that the most effective way to deliver every time is to first listen to the client and understand what they need.
Once you have understood this, carefully consider whether you can deliver and if there are factors that might delay you communicate them immediately to the client and come to an agreement that is comfortable for the both of you.
If you find yourself falling behind on a deadline for whatever reason, speak to your client about it, keep those communication lines open, it’s far much better to be honest. Also keep in mind, it’s always better to under state your delivery and over deliver as opposed to giving high expectations and under-performing.
We inferred the importance of scheduling earlier… jumping right into work without a plan is one of the worst things you can do. As a freelancer you have no one there to monitor you and it’s easy to fall prey to your own chaotic schedule to the point where you’re not really being efficient in your work. What can you do?
A good work strategy does not imply that you have to be behind a screen 24 hours a day, all it means is that you have to create a consistent work schedule based on the hours in which you find yourself being most productive. It makes no sense being behind your computer but feeling so unmotivated you find yourself playing solitaire instead. Everyone works differently so think about what works for you and base your whole work routine on that.
A consistent and strategic schedule disciplines both the mind and body to work when its time. Set regular work hours and ensure that you stick to them even on days when you may not be feeling driven. Remember, being a freelancer gives you great freedom, but that also makes you your own boss, so keep yourself in check like your supervisor would in an ordinary work setting.
‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ – Peter Parker
Undervaluing your Work
Another common mistake made by freelancers is failing to charge enough for their services. While you may be fairly new and inexperienced in freelancing, which may be a contributing factor to a low fee, be very careful not to get exploited by clients. Remember most clients are also conducting their own business and just like any business, they are looking to maximize profit. What to do?
Be confident in your skills, be diligent in your work, build your reputation, and demand a fee that’s worth the quality of services you’re providing. Also keep an eye out on the particular market segment that you are working in and familiarize yourself with the competitors’ prices to make sure you’re not being undercut.
If you do not figure out the pay you deserve as early as possible, you will grow your career at a slower pace than more aware freelancers and you may even find yourself being discouraged in your work because, let’s be honest, it’s natural for human beings to desire growth and progress in, not just in our careers, but in every aspect of our lives, right?
If you feel that you have honed your skills and that you have mastered discipline in your work ethic to a point here you are absolutely reliable, you deserve good pay and don’t be afraid to demand it. Don’t settle for less.
Rainy Day Fund
When you’re making more money than you had anticipated, coupled with the apparent job security that freelancing offers you, it is easy to get carried away and spend everything you earn under the notion that, ‘I’ll make more anyway.’
Also keep in mind that freelancing isn’t a conventional job where you have a fixed salary, freelancing compensation will fluctuate from period to period. One month you will make 500$ and the next you’ll make 100$, what will you do during those tough times if you had not saved for a rainy day?
You might argue that the point of making money is to spend it…And at its most fundamental, that is true. However, remember to spend your money responsibly. By spend responsibly I do not mean invest every last dime on investment, it’s okay to spend a little of it on leisure activities, just ensure that the bulk of it is being put to good use, in a way that it can serve you in the future.
As a freelancer, don’t just work to survive, work to better your life and make the future even brighter for yourself and your family/future family. Train yourself to set a small amount aside in your bank account and begin a retirement plan, no matter how young you are right now. You have heard the phrase ‘Time Flies’… It’s true. Just like you look back and remember being 9 years old, one day you’ll look back at this moment when you’re 60. It’s never too early to start planning for the future.
Tell me… are you guilty of making some of the mistakes we have discussed? I have certainly made a couple of them myself… but that’s how we grow and as mentioned before, the important thing is that we figure out how to avoid repeating them.
Being a freelancer is great, don’t be discouraged if you have made mistakes, we are human and we are bound to fall every once in a while. Wake up, get back on the horse and keep riding, the fall is just as fun as the ride if you choose to see the good that can come out of it.
Making mistake doesn’t mean that you have failed, keeping up with the mistake is what will lead to failure. The key to success in the freelance world is identifying the mistake, evaluating it, and taking steps to ensure that the mistake doesn’t happen again.
This article does not guarantee that you will never make a mistake again as a freelancer but it does make you aware of the most common mistakes that freelancers, including myself, have made in the past so you can hopefully avoid making the same. The advice given here will help you shelter your reputation to a large extent, protect your freelance business, and enable you to grow faster than your counterparts who were not fortunate to receive such invaluable advice.
Note, however, that these are not the only mistakes you can make as a freelancer. Monitor your clients’ needs and ensure that you are constantly and consistently delivering on those needs. This is the only way to avoid making other mistakes that may not have been included in our discussion. It is your job to keep the client happy and satisfied… and it is also your job to ensure that you’re satisfied with the arrangement that you and your client have.
You increase your chances of success every time you fix a mistake. Do not wait for a mistake to really affect your work for you to wake up. Catch your mistakes before they become a real issue for your freelance career. Use the guidance of this article to catch your own mistakes and take action today. You deserve the life you dream of… avoid these common mistakes and you will thrive as a freelancer, which will propel you towards the achievement of your goals both in career and in life. Good luck!
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