5 Mistakes Every Freelancer Makes
If you’re new to the world of freelancing, chances are you’ve made a few mistakes along the way. Even if you’ve been your own boss for a while, it’s likely that you’ve had to learn the ins and outs of the business the hard way. Making mistakes is not necessarily a bad thing—it’s a great way to learn—but if you’re making a lot of them or making the same ones over and over, there might be a better way to do it.
Freelancers Union now counts you among the 53 million Americans who have struck out on their own, so it goes without saying that there are at least a few million people who have paved the way for you. Why not learn from other freelancers’ mistakes so that you can move on to great success faster?
Here are five mistakes every freelancer makes at one time or another:
1. Only looking for new business during the dry spells
As a sole proprietor you don’t have the luxury of a sales team to constantly bring in new business. The nature of your work tends to be feast or famine, unlike full-timers who rarely have to seek out the next assignment. When you’re working, all your energy and time is focused on the current project (or projects), and it’s only when you’ve turned it in and sit back that you realize your income pipeline is empty. Building your business is an ongoing task in which you must focus on today as well as plant seeds for the coming months.
Solution: Keep soliciting new business while you are busy with the job at hand, even if it’s only one of these items per day:
- Keep up on industry blogs and periodicals in order to understand the trends in your field.
- Write your own blog regularly with insightful, helpful or humorous posts to establish a reputation as the go-to expert in your field—and then post it to all your social media networks. Or approach other bloggers in your industry and ask to write a guest post for them with a link back to your own site.
- Update your professional profile and post or share daily on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn so that potential clients can see your brand, follow your progress, interact with you, and access examples of your work. Even if you don’t get immediate work from putting yourself out there, these social platforms are a great way to make connections with both potential clients and colleagues.
- Attend job fairs and conventions. Not only are you likely to learn a thing or two, but speaking with people (rather than hiding behind text-based communication) is another way to get your name and face out there.
- Contact old or prospective clients every day. If you’re a writer, send at least one pitch per day to magazines or other publications. E-mail or phone prior clients to let them know you’re available and ask for referrals and recommendations.
- Hold a giveaway or contest. There’s nothing that people love more than freebies, and having a giveaway that is specific to your business is a great marketing tactic to attract attention.
2. Forgetting that you are a business
When you work for a large corporation, it’s not always the case that you form personal relationships with customers. However, as a freelancer you are salesperson, worker bee, customer service rep, accountant, and CEO all at once, so you’re more likely to get to know your clients. The only downside is that it can be difficult to ask these “friends” to pay up.
Solution: Never begin a job without a rock-solid contract in place spelling out the work you will do, the rate you will be paid, the due date for payment, and the fee for late payment. No matter how you feel about a client, you are running a business, not a volunteer center. If you’re queasy about demanding payment for the second (or tenth!) time, leave that job up to an outside vendor. At Hiveage, we take care of sending invoices, accepting payments, and following up on overdue accounts for you so that you can focus on doing your work. For a quick and free solution, you can use our Free Invoice Generator to prepare elegant PDF invoices.
3. Trying To Do It All Yourself
As a “one-man band,” it makes sense that you must do everything yourself, like finding new clients and attending meetings, writing up contracts and sending invoices, replying to correspondence, updating websites and social media, learning new skills to fully tackle a project, troubleshooting issues—to mention the actual job itself. This can be exhausting and stressful, but more than that, it can mean the difference between completing a project to perfection or mediocrity.
Solution: A professional is not someone who does everything herself; it’s someone who knows what she can (or wants to) do and what she needs to delegate to others. So whether you outsource administrative tasks or a portion of your work, hire others and simply tack on an additional percentage to your fee to cover this.
4. Giving inaccurate rate quotes
The thought of 53 million other freelancers going after the same jobs as you are can be terrifying. To get an edge, you may be tempted to undercut everyone else with heavily discounted prices—after all, it worked for Walmart—but the truth is that you cannot build your business without charging a fair price for your services. In addition to determining how much your time is worth, you need to factor in the cost of doing business. How much do you pay for your website, utilities, computer upkeep, office supplies, and transportation to and from client meetings? Those costs need to be covered or else your enterprise is a hobby and not a business.
Solution: Find out what others in your field at your level of expertise are getting and then charge a similar fee. If you have feelings of guilt, shame, or doubt about this, then it probably has more to do with your self-esteem than the fee itself.
5. Forgetting about taxes
As a freelancer, it may take some getting used to the fact that you are now responsible for paying your own taxes. Whereas an employer once withheld taxes for you so you didn’t ever have to think about it, the IRS still expects their fair share from the earnings of a freelancer. You must pay your income and self-employment taxes every quarter (four times a year).
Solution: To keep track of your taxes, as well as make sure you’re claiming all the expenses you’re entitled to, it’s a good idea to hire an accountant that specializes in freelancers.
The truth is, there are probably many other errors or oversights you’ve made (or will make) as a freelancer, and that’s okay. But to keep making mistakes will only cost you money, time, and credibility. So the trick is to look a gaffe in the eye, learn from it, and then move on.