• Advice

Common freelance mistakes–and how to avoid them

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.

What made you a great employee will make you a starving freelancer.

That's because employees don't suffer from perceived value. Their role in the company gives them intrinsic value. But a freelancer's value is perceived.

There's a formula to calculate perceived value:
Perceived Value = Perceived Benefits - Perceived Cost/Liability (risk)

To increase your perceived value you have to increase the benefits you offer and lower the liability of hiring you. If you're like many freelancers, you're not aware how important that equation is to your career.

Lower your perceived liability

Freelancers start out, by the nature of being a freelancer, with a high perceived liability. It's your job to lower that perception will increasing how you can benefit the company. I was freelancing for nearly 10 years before I realized I was freelancing wrong.

I was too focused on getting and finishing projects. Not spending the time to sell myself as an expert.

Many people take a leap into freelancing without learning how to freelance.

Here are five other common freelancing mistakes that affect perceived value:

Mistake #1: You call yourself a freelancer

I didn't know that "freelancer" and "freelancing" were dirty words. Perceptions, like first impressions, are strong and everlasting. People don't pay top dollar for a service that has a bad reputation.

Despite the increase in freelancers, they're still viewed as a business risk. You're an outsider who doesn't know the inner workings of the company. There's no learning curve for you. You have to jump right in and be brilliant. Potential clients know that they're expecting a lot from you and that's why it all feels so risky.

Being perceived as a high risk decreases your perceived value.

You have to reduce that perception of the risk.

The only way to do that is to increase your perceived benefits. Start by calling yourself a business owner who's available for hire. Now you're perceived as a business providing services to another business.

Mistake #2: You get paid per hour

I assumed being a freelancer meant being paid per hour. That's just how it is. Everyone works per hour rates.

There's no rule about getting paid. It can be anything you and your client agree upon. There's no such thing as a market rate for freelancing services. So why are so many freelancers getting paid hourly?

In 2017, the 3rd Annual Freelance Copywriter Salary Survey asked, "What does a day in your life look like?" The survey found copywriters are working up to 50 hours per week, a 37% increase from 2016–but aren't increasing their hourly rates.

Most people become freelancers to have more freedom and flexibility. Working more hours doesn't sound like freedom or flexibility.

When you get paid per hour you're viewed simply as a cost. When I started freelancing I priced my services based on the amount of time it would take me. That made me a risk to clients.

To increase perceived benefits present yourself as an investment for your potential client. An investment is a goal toward making a profit.

Mistake #3: You don't know your numbers

The only number I knew for sure was my hourly rate. But there are more numbers you should be tracking.

Businesses have sales funnels that they use to attract and keep customers. They track sales conversions to determine if their product or service is viable. Freelancers need to do the same thing.

Many freelancers go through those feast and famine stages. One minute you're busy with projects and the next you're scrambling to find new work. Those feast and famine swings happen because you don't know your sales numbers.

How many clients and how much activity will it take to hit your financial goals?

Create your own sales funnel.

Mistake #4: You look for projects

I thought the way to being a kick-ass freelancer is to deliver amazing results, on budget and on time. So I would looked for projects that I knew I could knock out of the park. But that strategy doesn't increase perceived value.

The more you work with high-value clients the more your own perceived value increases.

High-value clients don't view freelancers as a liability and don't undervalue you.

I ignored red flags about clients because I was too focused on the project. You get high-value clients by having your own list of requirements that potential clients need to meet. Look to make a great mutual relationship fit and not just look for projects.

Mistake #5: You view other freelancers as your competitors

If I don't get the project then some other freelancer will. So it makes sense to view other freelancers as competition. But here's a stat I wasn't aware of: "81% of freelancers refer work to other freelancers, and 52% collaborate with other freelancers." That surprising stat came from the Freelancers Union’s survey report How to Live the Freelance Life – Lessons from 1,000 Independents.

Don't freelance alone. Be part of a network of freelancers. It's easier to land a project when you've been referred. A fellow freelancer could turn a cold contact into a warm one.

You can reverse your mistakes

I now qualify potential clients to see if we're a good fit instead of looking for projects I can complete. My proposals now offer benefits that go deep into how I'm the solution to their business problem. I have a sales onboarding process now.
If a potential client is deciding between you and another freelancer they're going to pick the freelancer who shows their high value.

Professional freelancers say how they're going to solve the business problem. Typical freelancers ask the client how the problem should be solved.

Bridgett Gayle Bridgett Gayle is a conversion copywriter, editor and the founder of Get Why Marketing (