14 Freelancing mistakes you might be guilty of

This article contains a list of common mistakes that freelancers make. If you enjoy this article you may also want to read “10 Steps to becoming a successful freelancer” and “22 logo design mistakes you might be guilty of“. Here we go:

1. Charging too much. Unfortunately, we have to face the fact: most people hire a freelancer above an agency because they think they can get a better price.

Finding a balance between charging too much and not charging enough is one of the hardest aspects of freelancing.

[Tweet “Finding the balance between charging too much & charging too little is one of the hardest parts of #freelancing. “]

2. Charging too little. On the other hand, many freelancers do not charge enough for the services they provide. Although freelancing is not the same as running an entire business with employees etc., as a freelancer you have overhead too. Charge enough that you can make money and advance your freelance career.

3. Billing per the hour.
It’s a logical fallacy. You tell a client they will be charged X amount per hour and when you finish the job, you send the bill.

But think about it for just a minute. Why would you punish yourself for getting a job done quickly? Charging by the hour means if you take 12 hours to do a 15 hour project, you are losing money. Find an effective way to charge on a per-project basis.

[Tweet “Charging per hour means you’re punishing yourself for finishing a job quickly.”]

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4. Waiting to bill until a project is completely finished. There is nothing wrong with asking for payment on work you have completed.

When I work on client projects, I tell them what stages we will go through during the process and at what point(s) I will bill them. This ensures I don’t go weeks or months without getting paid.

5. Saying yes to everything. It’s okay to say no. Sometimes you don’t want to take on a project because it doesn’t pay enough, or because your morals go against it.

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Often times, you may have too much on your plate to take on a huge project. If you feel like you cannot fulfill your end of the bargain, don’t agree to do it. It will just hurt your brand in the end.

Most clients will respect you for being organized enough to know what you can and cannot do.

[Tweet “Clients will respect you more when you can be disciplined enough to say “no.””]

6. Ignoring small clients/jobs. Surprisingly, all of the high-paying “big” jobs I’ve ever received were from clients who started out “small”.

Many times a company may ask you to do something simply and quickly. Take advantage of that situation and upsell them on additional work that will increase profitability of the project. Blowing off “small” clients is a big mistake in the freelancing business.

7. Getting lazy. A lot of teenage freelancers think freelancing means they get to sit on the couch all day, with their laptops on the cushion next to them, drinking coffee and watching TV while they work.

While one of the perks of freelancing may be that you work from home, try to maintain a professional atmosphere. Set up a spectactular home office, get up early, make your mornings productive and try to avoid distractions. Your professionalism will be reflected in your work.

8. Wasting time. It’s easy to find more entertaining things to do than some of your design jobs. Social media and blogging opportunities may sound more appealing than designing this week’s ad for the newspaper, but be sure to set priorities. Then, after the work is done, be sure to do what you really enjoy. It is more fulfilling if you do the work first and play later.

[Tweet “Do the most important work first or you’ll never make time for it. #productivity”]

9. Being unorganized. A lot of new freelancers lack business skills. Take a class or read a book on how to manage a small business and incorporate elements of what you learn into your freelance business. There is nothing more unprofessional to a client than a freelancer who can’t keep track of his billing, payments received, project status, etc. Organize yourself.

10. Not treating your freelance career as a business. It’s not a hobby. It’s a business. Freelancing, while entertaining and enjoyable, is also a way to make money. Treat it that way. Maintain a professional image (both online and otherwise) and act as if you were a top-notch creative agency. Take billing and organization seriously and show your clients you’re serious about your work.

11. Lacking courage. As a freelancer, you will have to constantly be selling your services. Be confident that you can do a good job for your client and show of your work whenever you can. Be sure to stay updated on the latest trends and techniques so you have a natural sense of confidence.

12. Lacking education/ability. The truth of the matter is there are a lot of “freelancers” who simply freelance because they lack the necessary skills to work for an agency.

While I hope this is not your motivation and it is certainly not mine, I admit there are a number of freelancers that seriously lack the needed skills to be successful. Take time to learn as much as you can by going to school, reading books, following freelancing blogs, talking on twitter, and more.

13. Settling for mediocrity. Just because you don’t have a huge firm backing your design doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of putting out great work for your clients. Never say or think things like “Well here is your logo. Sorry it’s not better, but you got a great deal.” Always make your work top-notch.

14. Never selling. As a freelancer, you are always a salesman. You have to sell your work to get more work. Look for opportunities to solicit work wherever you go.

What other mistakes have you seen freelancers make? Take a second and share in the comments.

PS: I originally posted this article in 2009. I’ve updated it and republished it here. Thanks for reading.

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Millo Articles by Preston Lee

Preston Lee is the founder of Millo where he and his team have been helping freelancers thrive for over a decade. His advice has been featured by Entrepreneur, Inc, Forbes, Adobe, and many more. Connect with Preston on Twitter.
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  1. Agree with #6. No client or task is small. I have taken on numerous small / one-off clients and converted them into long term clients. There’s always some work to be done, you just need to educate the client 😉

    I am a victim of #5, saying yes to everything. Learning to say No these days.

  2. Paula Spagnuolo says:

    Great article Preston. I’m a long time freelancer and while the things on this list are not new concepts to me I plan to bookmark it. Even for the more experienced freelancer it gets easy to lose sight of the ‘basics’ when you get wrapped up in the day-to-day tasks and articles like this are worth reviewing from time to time as a reminder. Thanks for updating and republishing it.

  3. My common mistakes is not having a standard quotation on graphic and web services that I offering. I’m on my 1st year in freelancing and things going pretty well. I just curious if $40/day if workable for a newbie like me? and what can you suggest on creating my pricing on graphic and web design services? Thank you and I hope you could me. 🙂

  4. Wow, these mistakes are very common. The biggest ones are when it comes to charging. I know many freelancers who tend to charge too little because they don’t know how much they’re actually worth. It can really hurt them. This entire list is a must read for every freelancer.

  5. Gabriella says:

    Very informative and very spot on. Great write!

  6. Ransey J. says:

    I really like what you said about treating your freelancing as a top-notch creative agency. Throughout high school many people simply wouldn’t hire me because I was young, but the clients I did have were always very happy because I treated my work and business professionally and they got professional work finished. I think that is a very important point. Great post!

  7. Eugenia Dorn says:

    This all is so true! I really try to work home as I were in the office. I put on make up, earrings etc. Also i am never working in my pijama))))))) I have 1 cofee break, lunchtime etc in particular time everyday. And it really helps me to kill laziness

  8. ALWAYS a young white guy. EVERY article. EVERY page. EVERY writer.

    1. Preston D Lee says:

      Hi Michelle. Our team is made up of both genders from various countries. Sorry you’ve not had the full experience. If you’d like to contribute, let’s talk about it. https://millo.co/contact

  9. #7 applies to me the most at the moment but I would prefer to call it ‘getting too comfortable’. And we all know that is not where the magic happens.

    But still it is so nice to not drive an hour to your work everyday, to sit in your yoga pants and comfortable socks and to have the store to yourself during the day. But also very boring 😉

    I loved what you said about your workspace and attitude reflecting in your work. So I’m thinking about joining a community where you can rent a workspace per month or per hour. It is a very inspiring place and it is a great opportunity to meet other business owners. I don’t think you can make your home very inspiring if you’re the only one working in it 😉

  10. Freelance Graphic Design | Tony says:

    This is a very informative and amusing post for anyone who could relate to every situation you have cited. Graphic designers of various age, level of expertise and length of experience should take put all of these in mind to avoid committing the same mistakes and make themselves better people and the best of what they do.

    1. Hi,

      I am a freelancer who is just starting in the business and would like to ask you one of the most important questions in the freelancing industry for beginners….how do you get clients? Do you ask anyone and everyone? I know it may sound wrong but I studied Art & Design and have learnt the graphic design packages but lack the knowledge of how to get clients. It’s been over a year since I’ve been trying but I am learning more and more.

      Any advice would be very much appreciated.

      Thank you!


      1. Talk to everyone. Network. Sometimes you need to talk to folks you don’t think would give you any business. Introductions are everything in business.

        Case, I am an Industrial Designer. I go to technology, web, software, VC and any networking events in between. I find a many more opportunities though opposite channels than I do talking to people in my own field.

        Own who you are let the world know who you are.

      2. Ransey J. says:

        Here you go man, this helped me out a lot! https://millo.co/how-to-find-design-clients

        Hey, by the way, what do you mean by packages? I know some people do design bundles, but I would love to hear what you have to say about it and what you learned.


  11. Rupinder Singh says:

    welll these are the real things which one should keep in mind ,,,I m a freelancer and i knw it…..thanks again for this amazing and original post… cheers

  12. LOL at number 5. Saying yes to everything.

    I gues this is what makes me always spend extra time to make new designs each time my client ask for it.

    I will try to say no to my clients.


  13. Jonathan Patterson says:

    #4: I have a clause in my contract that says “incurred expenses throughout the project may be billed immediately.” I have another clause that says something to the effect of “if progress is halted [as a result of the client] for more than 30 days the outstanding balance may be billed immediately.”

    1. Ashley Ortiz says:

      These seem like really good clauses to have in one’s contract! Did the project go smoother because of them, and in the event of delayed progress on work, were you still able to collect payment on the work done? Thanks for the tip Jonathan.

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