Freelancing is hard work! I see mixed responses on the faces of people when I tell them that I earn money as a freelance writer. Most people appear impressed and assume that I jet around the world from assignment to assignment. But the truth is, it’s a real job that takes a lot of effort.
From marketing my own services to delivering content to clients, I own the process from start to finish. It’s a big responsibility. I often have new freelancers who ask me how I’ve made a living in this crazy industry. It really is a lot of hard work getting started, and times can get lean! If you’re starting a freelancing business, take care to avoid the top 10 mistakes freelancers make.
1. Setting the Bar Too Low
When I first started freelancing, I was guilty of setting the bar too low. I wanted…and needed…clients and to build up my portfolio. I bid low on jobs that I found online to get the work. Too low. As a result, I got a flood of work and spent countless hours delivering completed content to the clients for very little money.
I realized after I had done this, that I had created a double-edged sword. First off, I realized that it wasn’t the client’s fault that I bid low, so I sent them the high-quality writing that I had promised, making very little money on these jobs. Secondly, I had groomed these new clients to pay very low prices for high-quality work. It’s awkward to try to go up on the price after you set it! It has a feel of a bait and switch and is uncomfortable for both you and the client.
The positive that came out of this situation was that I had, indeed, built a small portfolio to move forward.
Lesson learned? Price your work appropriately. If you need to start on the bottom end of the scale, that’s fine, but don’t go lower! Value your work and time so that your clients also do so.
2. Taking on Too Much Work
Learning your comfort level with how much work you can accept at once is an important element to your success. You want to take on as much work as you possibly can so that you maximize your income. However, you don’t want to put yourself in so much work that you’ll never complete it.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of working too many hours and not balancing workload with family time. Just don’t do it!
3. Missing Deadlines
Your clients will come to depend on you to meet your scheduled deadlines. Promising unrealistic deadlines is damaging to your relationship with your clients because it causes interruption to their own business plans.
Here’s an example. Perhaps a company hired a freelance writer and a freelance web designer to create a website for their company’s grand opening. The freelance writer falls behind on the copywriting for the site. This makes the web designer unable to do his work and the website incomplete by the deadline.
When you take on a client, be clear about expectations. Tell them what you need from them when you need it, and do your job on time! If you fail to deliver on a deadline, you will not be likely to have the client hire you for future projects. Repeat customers are a staple for your new freelance business, and without meeting deadlines, you just won’t retain clients.
4. Not Communicating
Ok. You set a reasonable deadline, but you’re having problems meeting it. The client emails or calls you, but you ignore the calls because you don’t know what to say. The delay might not even be your fault.
Here’s an example. Perhaps the PR person at the client’s office never called you with the details you needed to finish a section of the work. The client doesn’t know that this is the holdup! He is assuming that you bailed on him because you’re not responding. In fact, he’s getting more upset with you every day.
Problems will arise. You’re your own boss, and there’s nobody to fix things for you. Schedule time to chat with the client about the delay, think of a tactful way to discuss the topic without sounding like your shifting blame and have an awkward discussion. In the long run, this can strengthen your relationship as your client will respect your honesty.
5. Waiting Until the Last Minute
Time management is an important element for a successful freelancer. Don’t wait until the last minute to meet a deadline. In my firsthand experience, this is when you could have an unexpected problem with an internet outage or a computer crash. Allow yourself enough time to compensate so that you’re not scrambling and stressed out.
This doesn’t mean you have to deliver the project early, necessarily. It just means that you should take ownership of the process and plan your time wisely to avoid those unexpected issues…which happen more often than you’d think. I have learned this lesson the hard way!
6. Having Insufficient Equipment
Freelancers are attracted to their business because they see it as a bootstrap business. While it is inexpensive to get started, you must invest in the tools that you need to succeed!
My friend, Jenny, recently started a freelance graphic design business. Because she had an old and outdated PC, she borrowed her sister’s computer when she got her first paid project. She was going to collect the money from this first job, and then buy the new equipment she needed. Unbeknownst to my friend, her sister had bought the computer from a rental-to-own store and had become delinquent on the payments. Her sister needed to return the computer before Jenny completed her work.
Fortunately, my friend was able to save her work to the cloud, borrow another computer, and finished her project. She was resourceful and able to recover from this situation unscathed. Had she not found another computer to borrow, she would have lost her first client before the job was done.
Even if you don’t have a lot of money to start freelancing, make sure that you do have the basic equipment that you need to complete your projects.
7. Social Media Gaffes
Remember the old advice about not mixing business and pleasure? The same goes for your social media accounts.
Social media posts will follow you forever. Set up separate business and personal social media accounts. Keep your business posts fun and engaging yet professional. Keep your personal opinions to your personal pages. While you are, in fact, entitled to your personal opinions, remember that you will be likely to attract clients from all over the world. What is acceptable in one culture may be taboo in another, so your professional business page should be kept professional.
8. Being Shy About Your Business
Not everyone is a salesperson at heart. However, it will take work to build your freelancing business, and you will need to learn to become a salesperson. For some, the idea of getting out there and talking about their business strikes fear in their hearts.
You don’t need to hard-sell everybody you meet about your services. But don’t be shy! Let your friends, neighbors, and family members know that you are in business and looking for new clients. They may be able to refer you to a local person who needs your services.
9. Not Being Client-Focused
Your fledgling freelance business depends on clients to survive and thrive. Without clients, you don’t have a business. Commit to becoming a client-focused business so you can build relationships that will lead to referrals for additional work.
Delivering excellent customer service by responding to client calls and meeting deadlines is only a fraction of being client-focused. Indeed, client focus should start when you’re negotiating the work. Ask the client questions about his business, keep detailed notes, and really take a genuine interest in your prospective client.
Use these details to craft a proposal that is shaped to meet his company’s vision. He will see that you understand their corporate culture. Therefore, you’ll be more likely to intrigue him enough to hire you over a competitor who wings out quotations without asking for any information.
10. Skipping Asking for Referrals
Referrals, along with repeat clients, will become the lifeblood of your business over time. Just think of how much easier your marketing and sales process will be if you have clients looking for you! This doesn’t need to be a complex process.
In fact, I used referrals to almost triple my business over the last three years!
After I complete a contract, I send a thank you email over to my client with a note thanking her for her business. The following points are the components of my thank you email:
- An expression of gratitude for her business
- An offer of customer support, if needed (i.e. minor revisions)
- A mention that I am available for future collaboration
- I ask if she will pass my name on to her industry colleagues
This has helped my business tremendously! One of my first clients was a plumbing contractor for whom I wrote a few guest posts. After I emailed his thank you message, he referred me to a realtor who hired me to write all the copy for her 15-page website, a huge job! The realtor referred me to a window manufacturer for whom I write on a weekly basis. Plus, I still write occasional guest posts for the plumber and ghost-write blog posts for the realtor.
Not too shabby for sending a short little email!
Success Depends on You!
Freelancing is hard work. The responsibility of working for yourself is both exhilarating and challenging. Ultimately, your success depends on what you put into the business and the decisions that you make. Avoid these 10 mistakes that freelancers make to grow your business to its full potential and enjoy running a profitable enterprise.