Tuesday, January 22, 2008 at 1:58am by Site Administrator
Like any novice in the business world, the beginning freelancer is bound to make a few flubs along the way to professional success. After all, nobody is perfect. Most mistakes are harmless learning experiences that help you in your path to becoming a better businessperson, but there are some mistakes that can really make your life difficult, and that you might be better off having never made. Here are a few of the most common, and sometimes most painful mistakes that freelancers make, and some tips on how you can try to avoid them, or just make them less harmful on your path to freelancing success.
- Quitting your 9 to 5 without any preparation. While your cubicle may feel more like a prison than a workspace, you shouldn’t just run out on it without any prior preparation. However bad your current job, ending up without a steady income and wholly unprepared for managing your own business is much worse. Before you take the leap into freelancing, make sure you have enough money saved to keep you afloat, at least a rough business plan, some solid contacts and a good understanding of where you’ll fit into your particular market. This will make it much easier on both you and your finances to make the transition from the corporate world to working for yourself.
- Working for less than you deserve. One of the biggest mistakes that new freelancers make is not charging clients what their time is actually worth. While you don’t want to charge so much that clients balk at your rates, you also don’t want to be forced to work ridiculous hours just to make ends meet because you aren’t charging enough. You can find a happy medium by researching what the going rate is for freelancers in your field and using that figure to gauge what you should charge. If you’ve got load of experience and a killer portfolio, you might warrant more than the average, while if you’re just starting out in your field you’ll likely have to work your way up to the higher echelons of work.
- Choosing the wrong clients. Something freelancers will quickly learn is that not every client is a good fit for your abilities and some may even test the limits of your patience and sanity. Sometimes the money made on a project simply isn’t worth the headaches that come along with it, and can result in you working more hours for less money than you should be, and ultimately being unhappy. Before working with clients, consider their working style, how difficult they will be to work with, whether or not they’ll pay on time, their particular market and how well these things fit with your needs. When choosing clients you have just as much of a right to interview them as they do you. Ask lots of questions and see if you can do a few projects on a trial basis before committing long-term.
- Spending too much on equipment you don’t need yet. It can be really tempting to give yourself a sweet office setup, especially since you’re going to be spending so much time in it, but investing in brand new computers, copiers, scanners and other equipment before you’ve got the workload to absorb the cost can cast a shadow over the success of your business before it has even gotten off of the ground. You can avoid overstepping your budget by only investing in the equipment that is required to do your day to day business. Once you build up your clientele, and your need for more office equipment, you can then make an investment.
- Working all alone. Just because you work at home and aren’t surrounded with coworkers doesn’t mean you have to completely isolate yourself. New freelancers are prone to take the term "going it alone" a little too literally when in actuality, you don’t have to do it all by yourself at all. Avoid feeling isolated by seeking out communities and resources for freelancers in every field to learn how to get started, network, and make positive and lasting connections with clients. They can also be a great place to get feedback on your ideas and vent when clients are making your life difficult.
- Not researching your market. When you’re first starting out and looking for new clients, it can be a daunting task and you can often make pitches for projects that are less than stellar because you haven’t done the appropriate research on your client. Approaching someone asking for work without really knowing their needs, desires, or how the work you will do will really benefit your client isn’t going to win you much business. Avoid this common pitfall by researching your clients thoroughly before ever even attempting to work with them. Check out their website, see what their company is about, and what their long term goals are. Then you can more accurately assess what you have that will be of value to them, and increase your chances of getting hired.
- Failing to be realistic about business expenses. Many freelancers make the mistake of underestimating their business expenses and how much they’ll really need to stay afloat during the preliminary stages of their business venture. You’ll need equipment, computer programs, advertising, websites, domain names, business cards, and loads of other small expenses that can add up quickly. Don’t let this scare you away from freelancing, just be honest with yourself about the potential costs you’ll face when you decide to pursue it. After all, you don’t want to end up not being able to afford to put a roof over your head. Before you make the transition to freelancing, carefully lay out your current expenses, as well as any additional expenses you think you’ll encounter when going into business. It’s better to overestimate slightly rather than underestimate, as unexpected expenses always seem to come up when you’re short on cash. Once you have this estimate, you can figure out how much you’ll need in the bank before you start your business.
- Not educating yourself on the basics. Even if you’ve been in your particular line of business for a while, there may be things that are different when freelancing that you might not expect. New freelancers can be taken advantage of if they don’t take the time to learn about how to work with clients on a one on one basis. For instance, when you’re drafting or signing a contract with a client, will you know what makes a good contract and what makes one you should avoid? You can avoid getting tangled up in messy legal battles or stuck with the client from hell by taking the time to learn about contracts before you ever have the need to sign one. The same holds true for managing your business finances, taxes and marketing. If you’re at a loss, try asking others in the business or take a class online from the Small Business Administration.
- Not keeping set business hours. Now that you make your own hours, you can work whenever you want, right? While that might be the case, if you want to maintain your personal life you might want to lay down some ground rules with yourself and your clients. Without set hours you could end up working all hours of the night not only to get things done, but dealing with client calls and last minute changes, which is probably not what you had in mind when you decided to become a freelancer. By setting hours, you will create a time when you’ll force yourself to sit down and work, with few interruptions from friends and family, and later have time to spend with friends and family with few interruptions from work.
- Taking on too many projects at once. When you finally start finding work, it can be tempting to take every client and assignment that comes your way in an attempt to build a more solid portfolio and get your name out there in the freelancing world. While the money may be good, chances are pretty good that you won’t get much repeat business this way. You’ll be so busy juggling projects you won’t have time to give each one the attention it deserves and your clients may start to feel like they aren’t important to you. Avoid stretching yourself too thin by only taking on what you can actually handle, no matter how tempting those additional projects might be. You don’t want to get overwhelmed and burnt out in your first few months of freelancing.
- Getting too personal. Every once in awhile as a freelancer you will have a client that you simply love. They’re easy to work with, you get along great, and have a great rapport. But it’s very easy to fall into the habit of becoming a little too personal with your client and that can ultimately make working with them much more complicated. Feelings can become hurt at decisions that are simply business related, or you can start to appear unprofessional. You can avoid this by keeping your correspondence friendly, but professional, and making sure that while you’re working together, your relationship is strictly business.
- Having only one income stream. For new freelancers, figuring out how to make ends meet with assignments from clients can be difficult. If you find a client that’s willing to give you continued work, that’s great, but don’t stop looking for other work just because you’ve found a reliable client. After all, if your client goes out of business or suddenly no longer has a need for your services, you could be left out in the cold, quite literally. It’s better to rely on a few different clients for your income, so that even if you lose one, you have something to fall back on. When you’re starting out that might be difficult, so consider taking on a part time job to supplement your freelance work, just in case.
- Allowing yourself to slack off. Everyone has days when they wake up and simply don’t feel like doing a thing, and as a freelancer you are perfectly capable of taking advantage of that feeling and curling up on the couch all day to watch reruns of Full House and eat junk food until your stomach hurts. And every once in awhile, that’s totally fine. But a little slacking can turn into a lot, and soon you’re not making money and not getting work done on time. It’s fine to allow yourself the flexibility to work with your natural productivity highs and lows, but at the end of the day, you have to get your work done. Push yourself to make deadlines, please clients, and further your business. Once your hard work has paid off, reward yourself with a few days of guilt-free slacking.
- Not communicating effectively. This isn’t a problem just for freelancers, but for people from all areas of business, and it can have a big impact on your success at running your own business. In order to deliver a good product, you’ll need to know what questions to ask, how to conduct yourself in conversations, and how to not lose your temper or get overly emotional when your work is criticized. And in order to make sure that you’re happy, you’ll need to know how to ask for the pay you want and terms you can live with. While you won’t become a savvy, confident businessperson overnight you can give yourself a leg up on communication skills by tying to be honest, clear and professional in all of your communications with clients. Don’t leave room for interpretation and don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re unsure.
- Failing to create a business plan. It’s very easy to go into freelancing without any idea of where your business will end up in six months or a year. You may be the fly by the seat of your pants type, but you’re really doing yourself a disservice not to mention taking a risk when you fail to plan for the future of your business. Figure out who you are and where you want your business to go before jumping in or you could find yourself way off track when you reflect on it after a few months in the field. Having a basic outline of what expenses you expect to incur, what your target market will be, how you will find clients, how much you’ll charge, and a plethora of other issues should be addressed before you ever take the leap to avoid unhappy consequences later on.
Even armed with the knowledge of what to avoid, you’re bound to make a few mistakes in your freelancing career. Don’t let it get you down-everyone has been there at one time or another. So long as you learn from what you’ve done, and improve for the future, there are few mistakes that you can’t recover and come back even more successful from.
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