When I first decided to quit my job and freelance, I had visions of waking up when I wanted, earning loads of money and traveling the world.
The reality was, I was living at home with my parents, working long hours and struggling to earn what I was being paid at the job I had just left. Freelancing can be really tough, especially when you first start out. People often get discouraged when they face similar obstacles.
Over the past five years, I have spent time figuring out how to find high-value clients and work on creatively fulfilling projects. My mission now is to help other freelancers do the same. After speaking with hundreds of successful freelancers and small business owners, as well as ones who were struggling, I started to notice some recurring patterns and common pitfalls.
I want to share with you 7 reasons why most freelancers struggle and what you can do to avoid it.
1: You haven’t identified your values
There are many reasons people decide to freelance, among them are things like: freedom and flexibility, the opportunity to earn more money, and the ability to travel. The one thing that most people haven’t done is ask themselves why they want these things.
Why is freedom important and what does it mean to you? This is one of the most important questions you have to ask yourself as it allows you to get in touch with your core values. When we fail to identify our values and spend time focusing on external goals, we set ourselves up for unfulfillment and disappointment.
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One of my favourite quotes by Tony Robbins is, “Success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure.” There is nothing worse than working for years towards a goal to only find out that it isn’t actually what you want and doesn’t make you happy. Trust me, I’ve been there.
The way to avoid this is to identify why those goals are important to us, and focus on the ends not the means. Our values are essentially our compass and they allow us to move towards work that is fulfilling and creates an emotional drive within us. By identifying our values, we have a far better chance of working with clients we want to. Ultimately this will determine how you feel about the projects you are working on.
2: You don’t have a niche
Being everything to everyone is the fastest route to failure. Most freelancers worry that if they just focus on a specific market, they will miss out on loads of work, but the opposite is actually true.
Taking on any project from anyone who will pay you creates a vicious cycle which leads to being overworked, underpaid, and unfulfilled.
Not only that, but it also makes you comparable to thousands of other freelancers out there. If I am looking for freelancers to help me with a project, I automatically ignore the ones who list everything from web design to photography and project management.
I am looking for someone who has relevant experience and skills that will add significant value to my business. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a broad skill set, as long as those skills are essential in solving a significant problem.
3: You haven’t thought about how you can add more value than your competition
Your niche is related to your story, your unique skills, and experiences. Together they qualify you to solve a problem. By unpacking your value you can find the market you are best suited to serve.
Your story is the thing that makes you unique, no one else has your experience, insight and skill set. Few people really tap into this potential to identify where their true value lies. They rarely use these insights to solve meaningful problems and are often focused purely on the work they have been given.
Not only can this become monotonous, but it is easy to replicate and find cheaper elsewhere. Get creative about problem solving. After all, that is one of your biggest assets!
4: You aren’t clear on the problem you are solving
Most freelancers I speak to don’t really know what the problem is they are solving for their client, and therefore it becomes really difficult to add more value than anyone else and stand out from the competition.
When a client comes to you and asks you to complete a project for them, do you ever ask what problem it is they are trying to solve? Or do you just get on with the work, carefree as if you are actually adding significant value? This is one of the critical attributes that highly paid freelancers seem to have; they are problem solvers.
5: You are still trading your time for money
When I first started out, my average job varied from a few hundred pounds to a thousand pounds. I never really stopped to think about how I could take my clients from start to finish on a project, I just completed the work they asked me to do. At the time, it seemed logical, as the time it took me to complete the work dictated the price.
However, as I became clear on the problem I was solving, I realized that the price should be related to how much value I was adding to their business, not how much time I was spending on it. If someone can solve the same problem as me, but in half the time, should they be paid less?
Of course not, if anything they should be paid more. Clients don’t pay for your time, they pay to have a problem solved. If you don’t believe me, ask them how much they will pay you to play cards with them. Charge clients based on the value you are adding to their business, not the time you are spending on the work.
6: You don’t have a clear description of your ideal client
People often tell me they want to work on fun, creative projects, but when I ask who their ideal client is, they find it difficult to articulate. The only way to find the type of clients you want to work with consistently is to be really clear about who they are.
When I run my workshops, one of the most important exercises I do with people is creating their customer persona or avatar. As soon as we know who they are, we can think about different ways to engage with them and start a conversation. Without knowing who they are, it becomes almost impossible to find them.
7: You don’t have a process to generate new business
How do you generate new leads and find customers to work with? Most freelancers I know rely mainly on referrals, which is great in a way because it means they are doing a good job, but what happens when these referrals dry up? How do you go about finding new clients?
Having something you can share with your potential customers for free that adds value and helps them to solve a problem, is a great place to start. I often call this a referral kit because you can send it to people you know who may come into regular contact with your ideal clients.
An example of a referral kit could be a blog post, ebook, event, or an infographic. It should be something that educates your client and helps them to get clarity on their problem and the obstacles they need to overcome to reach their goals.
When I first started freelancing, I would try to sell someone something without really understanding their problems or adding any value, this is like asking someone to marry you on the first date! Instead, you need to demonstrate that you understand them and can help them solve their problems.
I have experienced all of the above myself and have spent years learning from my mistakes. My mission is to share tools, knowledge, and resources with as many creative freelancers and small business as possible. Life is too short to do work you don’t enjoy for people you don’t like.
If you avoid these seven common mistakes, you will be well on your way to creating a freelance career that brings you both financial and creative rewards.
Let me know what common mistakes you have made in the comments.
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