Eight common mistakes first-time freelancers make

Jul 5, 2017

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You’ve probably already imagined it in your mind—the thrill of quitting your day job, the excitement of being your own boss, and the sun warming your face as you lie on a beautiful beach, sipping a cocktail while you work on your laptop.

Slow down! While it’s definitely possible to become a full-time freelancer, it’s not as easy as you think.

Here are eight common mistakes new freelancers make…and how to avoid them.

Mistake #1—Not charging what you’re worth

One of the biggest mistakes new freelancers make is not charging what their time is worth.

You could reason that since you’re new to the game, you need to charge less than other freelancers. Or you could accept low-paying work from random job boards, thinking that any work is better than no work.

That mindset will get you nowhere. You have something very valuable to offer to clients—a professional skill their business needs! So never sell yourself short.

On the flip side, don’t be cocky and charge outrageous prices, either. If your portfolio doesn’t look like $100-per-hour work, don’t try to charge $100 an hour. If you’re not sure how to price your services, do some research to find out what other freelancers are charging.

Mistake #2—Spreading yourself too thin

Another challenge facing new freelancers is finding (and keeping) a healthy work-life balance.

You might inadvertently take on more work than you can handle. You might have a hard time juggling your day job, family commitments, and other obligations. Or you might spend too much time on “busy work” that isn’t furthering your business.

You are not superhuman. You can’t say “yes” to everything and expect to find time to do it all. Worse still, you’ll end up with a mediocre portfolio that won’t impress anyone. Set a steady work schedule and try your best to stick to it. Only accept jobs you really want to do.

Most importantly, know your limits and know when to say “no.”

Mistake #3—Not Having a Clear Business Plan

Have you ever thought of starting your own business? Freelancing is one of those things that can seem really easy…until you try it.

Where and how should you focus your time? What are your marketing strategies? How strong is your social media presence?

Before you can get your business off the ground, you need to create a solid business plan.

For starters, invest in a professional website. Do some research on the marketing strategies that are working for other freelancers. Create a realistic budget and stick to it.

And rather than trying to do everything, pick one niche and specialize in it. That’s the surest way to create a strong, impressive portfolio.

Mistake #4—Choosing the wrong clients

As you’re narrowing down your list of clients, make sure you’re also creating a list of clients you don’t want to work with.

It can be tempting to jump on any offers that come your way, especially in the beginning. But if something about a potential client rubs you the wrong way, don’t ignore that feeling.

Do they seem overly demanding or cheap (or both)? Are they unclear about what they want? How quickly (or slowly) do they respond to your questions?

Potential clients aren’t just deciding if they want to work with you. You need to be screening them, too, to determine if they’re the sort of people you want to work for.

Bottom line: If your gut tells you not to accept a job – don’t.

Mistake #5—Working without a contract

As a freelancer, you’ll likely be working with clients from all over the world. These people may have a different culture, different values, and a different way of doing business.

That’s one of many reasons why you should always put everything in writing. All proposals, contracts, and submissions should be written down and signed by both parties before any work begins.

A contract is your opportunity to outline exactly what the client can expect from you. It’s your chance to iron out the details, too, such as how many revisions the client can request.
And if the client doesn’t want to sign a contract? Refer to mistake #4.

Mistake #6—Assuming you know everything

We all know the saying, “The customer is always right.”

Most of the time, they are.

They’re the ones hiring you, so it’s important to listen carefully to their requests. Try to ascertain their needs, and always respectfully consider their point of view.

While there’s nothing wrong with offering suggestions, don’t assume that your way is always the best way. You may have the expertise, but your client knows what his business needs.

To be a successful freelancer, you must first be a good listener.

Mistake #7—Under- (or over-) delivering

It’s easy to fall into the habit of mindlessly churning out projects without putting any real effort into them. This is especially true if you’re accepting jobs that you’re not excited about doing.

But indifference leads to laziness. Once you get lazy with your work, you’ll start to miss deadlines and lose clients. So always go the extra mile, and never settle for the bare minimum.

On the flip side, it’s also possible to be too dedicated to a project or client.

An open line of communication is important, but you can’t allow your client to take over your life. There should be set times for when the client can call or email you—and set times for when they can’t.

While you will occasionally have projects that require extra time, these should be the exception and not the rule. Always seek to find a healthy work-life balance.

Mistake #8—You forget your integrity

It may seem like a minor point, but it’s probably the most important.

If bills are piling up and work isn’t flowing in, you might be tempted to take any offer that comes along. But if that job goes against your principles or beliefs, it will only leave you feeling resentful.

The whole reason you became a freelancer was to do work that you love.

So if you’re not passionate about the project, give it a pass. More work—better work—will come.

Becoming a Successful Freelancer

In 2016, the 55 million freelancers working in the U.S. earned over $1 trillion.

One thing’s for sure: There is no shortage of work for aspiring graphic designers. As technology advances, the need for skilled freelancers will only continue to grow.

With the right foundation and enough determination, you can be one of them.

Antonio is the Founder & CEO of boonle.com. He writes about design, freelancing, business, and marketing.

Antonio Calabrese

Antonio is the Founder & CEO of boonle.com. He writes about design, freelancing, business, and marketing.