Updated: Dec 26, 2022
You’ve decided to go freelance, and that’s great! Running your own business can be incredibly rewarding and exciting, but there are inevitable mistakes you need to avoid. Before taking the leap and getting started, make sure you don’t make these 7 common freelancing mistakes.
1. No boundaries with clients
Saying no is the most critical business skill you can learn to protect your cash flow and self-worth. Many clients want to work with you, and saying no allows you to only work with worthy clients.
If a client asks you to do something outside of your expertise – say no! You’re not an expert at everything, so remember to only work on tasks you can handle.
You are a professional. Don’t be intimidated into working for $5 an hour because your client insists that’s all they can afford. It’s unethical and will eventually harm you both.
Many people would be willing to pay you a reasonable rate for your services! If your client constantly asks you to take on tasks outside what was initially agreed upon – say no!
These additional tasks come with new rates (or even free!). Letting clients dictate rates may seem like an easy way to make more money in short bursts, but it will damage your reputation as someone who charges fairly for their time. It also makes you look unreliable when juggling other projects simultaneously.
2. Poor customer service
What to do when you don’t want to work with a client? Regardless of your portfolio, you will still meet clients who are not a good fit for you or your business. When you get an offer that doesn’t work for you, it helps to reject work respectfully.
When you value your client's time, you reject work that just isn’t a good fit easily. If a project doesn’t align with your vision or has a clear goal, walk away from it respectfully. And if you’re working with a client who constantly changes directions or is indecisive, be honest about your situation.
Tell them why you can’t continue working with them. You can also refer them to someone else who might be able to meet their needs better.
3. You take on too much work
In some situations, taking on a lot of projects may be a good thing. For example, if you have a particular area of expertise or your client roster is exceptionally full for the next few months—even years—you’re in good shape to take on more work. It’s when you take on more than you can chew that things get sticky.
When you take on more work than you can handle, it becomes much harder to produce top-notch work on every project, and it becomes tempting to sacrifice quality so that you can keep up with everything else.
So what happens then? Quality suffers, even more, resulting in wasted time from fixing issues like grammar and sentence structure. You also breed room for unhappy clients who you disappoint because you failed to meet their needs.
It’s not a good idea to try and work on more than you can handle, as even if it doesn’t result in missing deadlines or poor-quality projects, it takes more time to complete each task. Not only does that waste your time, but it also pushes back other projects waiting for your attention.
It’s also a significant cause of stress because working from start to finish on multiple projects all at once isn’t feasible due to different stages of projects needing your attention at other times.
4. You are poor at meeting deadlines
Let’s face it—your reputation is your most valuable asset when working as a freelancer. And yet time and again, freelancers tell us that missing deadlines is one of their most common mistakes. It is hard to establish credibility with clients when you don’t meet deadlines?
What’s more, missing deadlines can lead to problems with future projects; clients who notice a pattern in missed deadlines will have a much harder time placing their trust in you than those who don’t.
Setting appropriate expectations for meeting deliverables is vital. For example, I will be able to meet X% of deliverables by Y date. If that’s not possible, clarify: After speaking with X, I’m confident I can finalize an agreement by Y.
5. Doing free work
Many new freelancers think they can win clients by doing free work. Doing free work might seem like a good idea at first glance because it allows you to build a relationship with someone you may be able to convert into a paying client eventually.
But your skills will lose their value if you do enough free work for people. So it’s not just that doing free work is costly from a time standpoint—it’s also expensive from a financial one because when clients realize how little your services are worth, they don’t want to pay for them anymore.
6. Poor communication
Communication is at the core of every freelance relationship. Maintaining open lines of communication with your clients is essential and equally important to communicate effectively. If you don’t communicate well or on time, you risk losing clients who don’t like to be kept in the dark.
In addition to avoiding poor communication skills with clients, it’s also vital that freelancers know how to communicate efficiently with team members – if they exist.
Sometimes too much chatter can create more confusion than clarity—it’s important to ask yourself if you’re communicating because you have something to say or just because you need confirmation that what you think will happen.
It’s important to define project requirements and confirm acceptance of those requirements. Requiring clients to sign an acceptance form that outlines what they are accepting is a great way to cut down on issues later.
It’s also worth establishing a project timeline so there are no surprises when delivering a finished task. If you can’t communicate what you need verbally, then it needs to be written.
7. You don’t invest in your freelancing business
Many freelancers don’t invest in their freelancing business, and this is a big mistake. For example, it is common knowledge that a portfolio of work is critical when freelancing. Still, you’d be surprised how many freelancers have not taken the time to gather a body of work to show their experience and ability.
Suppose you fail to take advantage of every marketing opportunity. In that case, clients will also see your lack of investment as unprofessional and may prefer to give business to someone who makes them feel more confident about their decision. Don’t let these missed opportunities cost you new clients, cash and credibility.
We all know the best way to avoid mistakes is to predict them—so we’ve done just that here. If you’re diligent enough to heed these warnings, you can save yourself a lot of time and money, not to mention headaches.
And if you recognize a mistake when you’re making it, there’s a lot less chance it will cost you. So pay attention, note the advice above, and avoid some potential trouble. After all, any amount that you can avoid losing is as good as money in the bank.
Your freelance business is not growing as quickly as you’d like. There are a few reasons for this but lots of them can come down to the fact that you may be making mistakes with your marketing and sales strategies.
Some of these mistakes will lead to frustrated clients. Other errors will mean losing money because you’re not taking advantage of specific freelance opportunities or avoiding some of the common (and sometimes hidden) pitfalls of being an independent worker.
Ask yourself how much you’re willing to invest in your business and career development before things start to pick up.