8 Freelancing Mistakes That Show You’re an Amateur

You may have been freelancing for a while or for a short time, but for some reason your business isn’t doing as well as you hoped it would. At times like this, many freelancers blame an oversaturated market, a flailing economy or cheap clients. But are these really the problems that are preventing you from becoming a success?

Freelancing mistakes

It could be that you are making some classic rookie mistakes which not only showcase your amateurism, but also prevent you from really thriving. Check out these 8 freelancing mistakes that show you’re an amateur:

1. You Aren’t Asking for Enough

A survey by Contently revealed something startling: 38.6% of respondents made less than $10,000 per year, despite the fact that 62.5% are full-time freelancers. The problem? Many freelancers simply aren’t charging enough. Rates differ from industry to industry, region to region, and person to person. However, there are a few rules of thumb that can help you determine whether or not your rates are too low:

  • Do your clients treat you like a living, breathing human being or like a machine? Clients that pay pennies for premium work don’t always think highly of the freelancers they hire.
  • When was the last time you took a weekend off? If you can’t remember—or if the answer seems depressingly far away—then there’s a good chance that you need to increase your rates so that you can free up some time for yourself.
  • Do you have time to market yourself or take on new clients? Some freelancers find themselves in an endless loop of work with no time left over to improve their business. If that’s you, then you should consider raising your rates to pay for the time that you spend on things like marketing or vetting potential clients.

2. You’re Not Looking for New Clients

Contently’s survey revealed another interesting fact: more than half of all freelancers that said they never look for new clients make less than $20,000 per year. The freelance lifestyle is notorious for its boom-and-bust cycles, but many of those lean times can be avoided with proactive marketing. True professionals make sure that they’re setting aside time on a daily, weekly or monthly basis because they know that clients come and go.

3. You Have No Savings

If you’re not making enough money to safely build a rainy day fund, then consider taking the advice in the first section. Few things come off as more unprofessional than writing dozens of desperate emails once you realize that you won’t be able to pay your bills this month. The very nature of freelancing is always uncertain, so rather than become surprised each time work slows down, make it a goal to have a minimum of three months’ worth of money sitting in your savings account. Increase your rates if you need to, set aside that extra cash on a regular basis, and use the slow times to build up your portfolio or focus on your marketing tactics.

4. You Can’t Accept Criticism Gracefully

Whether you’re a writer, a web developer or a photographer, you’re going to get feedback on your work, and not all of it will be good. Sometimes that criticism isn’t justified, but quite often, it is. Few freelancers get the job done perfectly on the first attempt every time, especially since business dealings often take place over the phone or via email, where it’s easy to misunderstand something, or clients have a difficult time clearly explaining their precise needs. Whether the mistake was your fault or not, the professional thing to do is to avoid sending a snarky email and instead thank them for their feedback and make the adjustments.

If you run into a truly unreasonable client—and it does happen!—it still isn’t OK to fly off handle at them. Instead, be brief, be polite, and when the conversation is over, put that client on your blacklist.

5. You’re Never Not Available

Most freelancers will go the extra mile to please their clients, but the difference between amateurs and professionals is that professionals set boundaries. If you build the expectation that your clients can contact you 24 hours a day, seven days per week, then some of your clients will get angry when you don’t respond immediately to emails sent at 3 AM or on a Sunday. Set regular working hours—even if those hours don’t fall within the business day—and stick to them. It’s tempting to deal with emails and phone calls as they come in, but if you make this a habit, you’ll soon find yourself answering to your clients when you should be focusing on the work at hand.

6. You Refuse to Learn New Things

Amateur freelancers hate change. By contrast, the pros are quick to try new things or learn new technologies because they know that everything changes with time—writing or art styles, software, equipment and more. If you want to prove that you’re not an amateur, then you’ll need to spend time and money learning new skills and upgrading your tools.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to go back to school for a new degree, but it does mean that you should consider continuing education of some sort—workshops, certifications or the occasional class. When it comes to technology, you don’t need to buy all new software as soon as it becomes available, but if you’re sending files in an archaic format or working with a 15-year-old editing tool, it will show.

7. Working with a Weak Contract or No Contract at All

For some freelancers, the legal end of things is secondary to finding work and getting paid. However, a strong contract not only protects you, it helps you and your client align your expectations. According to Freelancers Union, here are some of the things that your contract should contain:

  • An outline of the job, including revisions, so that you can avoid “scope creep”
  • A statement detailing who owns the rights to the finished product and what those rights entail
  • Your deadlines, your rate or fee, reimbursement for your expenses, and the dates that payment is due, along with applicable late fees
  • Your early termination fee, or “kill fee,” just in case the client backs out before you finish the project

8. You Don’t Keep in Touch

So many freelancers complete a project for one client and then move on to the next one without ever looking back. However, some statistics from the 2012 Freelance Industry Report (PDF) show just how important it is that you contact former clients:

  • 16.9% of freelancers find work through their professional networks
  • 23.8% land new clients through word of mouth
  • 27.4% get new business from client referrals

Freelancers often feel like they’re being pushy when they contact previous clients. However, you’ll find that the opposite is true – clients who love your work will be more than happy to give you referrals or send more work your way. There is a misconception that new or part-time freelancers are amateurs by default, but that isn’t so. In reality, what separates an amateur from a professional is your attitude and the seasoned way in which you handle your business and your clients.