Whether you want a job with more variety, you’re looking for more flexible working hours or you want to pursue a passion, freelancing is a great way to escape the 9-to-5. Working as a freelancer gives you freedom and flexibility, but it’s also full of uncertainties.
Making the right decisions is key to staying on the market, but many new freelancers make common mistakes that affect their ability to build their business.
Here are some of the most common mistakes freelancers make and how to avoid them:
1. Being afraid to sell
For many new freelancers it feels awkward to promote themselves. However, without the ability to sell yourself, you can’t gain enough clients for your business to thrive.
The solution is to get over the inhibition and to not take rejection personally. Through a lot of practice, you will learn how to efficiently promote yourself and your business. Don’t forget though to put your prospect’s interests first at all times. Your pitch should me more about how you can help their business than about you.
2. Not knowing what to charge
This is a tricky one. If you charge too much, you won’t close enough deals, but if you charge too little, not only will you struggle to make enough profit, but your products or services might be regarded as low quality as a result of being cheap.
So what should you do?
Try to figure out what other freelancers are charging for the same type of services. You can check freelancing websites and platforms and see what prices are asked and for what quality. For example, you can begin by looking at the lowest price and at the highest price for your type of services and check what those freelancers are offering for it.
Another way of finding out what prices are on the market is by asking other freelancers in your field of work, preferably ones that offer complementary services to what you offer, since your competition will probably not want to reveal their prices to you.
Some freelancers list their prices on their websites, so make sure you check those too.
3. Not specializing
One of the main mistakes new freelancers make is trying to have more specializations at the same time.
When you become a freelancer, it’s tempting to take every project you are offered. However, you should make sure that you don’t become a jack of all trades. If you take up too many different projects, you will not have the possibility to specialize in something and be really good in that one thing.
Clients look for specific skills in a freelancer and if your portfolio shows a range of unrelated skills and experience, they will probably see you as an unfocused person without any true specialization.
4. Not using an accounting system
At the beginning, when you have just a handful of projects, it seems easy to keep track of all the transactions and invoices using Excel sheets, but as your business grows, it will soon become overwhelming and you will have a hard time when tax season comes. An accounting system or invoicing tool enables you to have all your finances in the same place and gives you an overview over which invoices and bills are still open.
Invoicing tools provide you with important data about your finances, such as dynamically generated reports, monthly and yearly statements, income and expenditure summaries and accounts receivable and payable. Every invoice you send through the accounting tool will automatically be stored in the system. You will be notified when the invoice in received and when it is paid and you can set automatic payment reminders for your clients.
When using invoicing tools, you don’t need to research what an invoice should contain or look for invoice templates, because these are already included in the system and are always up-to-date with the latest regulations. Most invoicing tools are either free, for example invoicely, or don't cost much, so it’s worth using one to make your life easier.
5. Not networking enough
When you start a business, you need to do a lot of networking. By meeting many people, you can spread the work about the services you are offering. Even if the people you meet do not become your clients, they might recommend you to others.
In order to meet as many people as possible, look for business groups on linkedin, xing, meetup and other similar platforms. Also, search for live networking events in your line of business, such as conferences, seminars, meet-ups or after-work events.
It might seem awkward to introduce yourself to strangers at the beginning, but you will soon get used to it. To make it easier, you can start by asking them about their business, this way you'll break the ice and also learn more about how to present your own business.
6. Settling for low pay
It’s hard to start a business and find the first clients that will help you create a strong portfolio. That’s why most new freelancers accept projects for a much lower rate than their work is worth. This is not a mistake in itself, as long as it stops after they have a few projects under their belt.
In order to grow, you need to be paid at the market price. You can accept lower payment at the beginning, but after you gain experience and a client base, you need to know your worth and ask for the rate you deserve.
7. Accepting any project
Not only shouldn’t you accept projects that pay less than you are worth, you should also avoid clients you don’t feel comfortable working with and work that you don’t feel comfortable doing.
If a client doesn’t treat you with respect, asks you to do your work in a way that is against your principles or constantly delays payment, stop working for them. Continuing your partnership with such a person will erode your self-esteem and will probably not do much good to your portfolio either, so it’s not worth the effort.
8. Starting work without a signed contract
No matter how well you know the client or how small the project is, never start working before you and your client sign an agreement detailing all the terms and conditions of the deal, as well as the amount of money you are supposed to receive.
You would be surprised how many disputes arise between business partners, because one of them is convinced that they have previously agreed to different terms. If you have a written agreement, such disputes can easily be solved. If you use e-signature software, such as eversign, you can upload the agreement directly on the e-signature platform, sign it and send it to be signed by your partner without any of you needing to print or scan the document. The resulting contract is secure and legally binding.
9. Not knowing how to manage projects
Many new freelancers have no experience in managing a project and just go through projects aimlessly, without a clearly structured plan. In this way, they are often taken by surprise and have a hard time keeping deadlines.
In order not to make the same mistake, you should make a clear plan for every project, with a roadmap containing all the steps involved and then keep an eye on it to make sure you are on schedule.
10. Working too much
When you are your own boss it’s very easy to go overboard and burn yourself out. Every new project means more experience and more money, so it’s hard to say no. Many freelancers cut more and more into their spare time by accepting all the projects they are offered.
But burning the candle at both ends is a bad strategy and, if you don’t take care of your mind and body, this will sooner or later affect the quality of your work. So, it’s better to accept only as many projects as you can take without overworking yourself than to start losing your best clients or even worse, having to take a longer break from work due to illness.
Remember to unplug as much as possible at the weekend and to take holidays to rewind.
Being a freelancer isn’t easy, but if you are determined and passionate about what you do, it could become the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done.