• Advice

Common mistakes freelancers make with their business

Paul Jarvis is a web designer and author. His latest book, The Good Creative, explores the habits of the world’s most respected and interesting artists.

Most creatives start their journey in business something like this:

1. They get good at their craft.
2. They build a website.
3. They set up their social media profiles.

And then... they wait for clients to hire them.

As good as we are at making our art, creative folk miss one of the most important requirements for running a business: representing ourselves.

1. Don’t expect others to see your talent

Potential clients may not see your brilliance because they aren’t masters at your craft. You’ve got to show them why you’re an expert by teaching or showing them what goes into making what you make and why it would benefit someone like them.

Example: telling someone, “I write website content” wouldn’t do much for someone hiring a writer. Saying, “I wrote the copy for website X after spending 30 hours with their customers to learn their wants and needs and a week after they started using the content I wrote their business increased by 500%,” is a much stronger pitch.

2. Don’t try to appeal to everyone

This always seems like a good idea but is counter-intuitive because it lacks focus. If you learn what a specific group of people wants, needs or feels is important from you, you can laser-focus your craft and message to them. Be specific.

Example: it’d be almost impossible to be known as “the best web designer ever”, but it’s much more feasible to be known as “the go-to web designer for business coaches.”

3. Understand what your audience actually wants

The reasons people hire people like you might not be what you think. How can you find this out? Ask people that have hired people who do what you do, why they hired that particular person. Pay attention to their reasons and the specific words they use. Then, put those reasons and words into how you pitch yourself on your website or in meetings.

Example: programmers who focus on tech startups might think they get hired because they write documented and object-oriented code. But after talking to startups that hire programmers, they might learn that programmers like them are hired because they understand the business goals and write software that takes those goals into account.

4. Focus on being better, not different

Always trying to be the best in your field is like chasing perfection’s wily tail. Be amazing at your craft, for sure. But there’s always the risk that someone will come along who is technically better.

Instead, focus on why you’re different/unique. How do the services you offer relate to your unique vision? Anyone can master a tool, but not everyone can offer the expertise that you’ve built up in your body of work.

Example: it’s hard to compete as a designer with $5 logo designers. But if you focus on why your logo designs speak to your client’s audience and how your years of expertise have achieved real results for the people that have hired you, your work is no longer interchangeable with lowest common denominator designs.

5. Keep in touch

Too many creatives get busy with their work and forget that the reason they’re busy is because of the network they’ve cultivated. Follow-up with leads, reconnect with previous clients, stay in touch with industry peers. This way you’re less likely to be forgotten as the industry expert you are, by the people most likely to hire you for the first time, hire you again, or refer work your way.

Example: the easiest way to keep in touch with lots of people is through a newsletter. Good creatives know how important an email list is to their business and continually work at offering value to their email list by sending out new content, curated links, behind-the-scenes details and list-only incentives.


Instead of spending all your time working on yourself and your craft, spend a little time figuring out who your audience is, what’s valuable to them and how you can foster a continued relationship with them.

**Want to up your freelancing game? **My course, The Creative Class, is almost ready and will be open to my mailing list before it’s available to anyone else.