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9 Biggest Freelance Mistakes Everyone Makes—But You Can Avoid

freelance mistakes
Table of ContentsUpdated Oct 10, 2022

Have you finally taken the plunge and become a freelancer? While there are lots of benefits to being a freelancer, there are some drawbacks that can happen if you make freelance mistakes.

There are lots of mistakes that new freelancers make quite commonly, that make their new role much harder for them. Here’s how you can avoid them and make the most of working for yourself.

1. Not Having Savings When You Launch Your Business

Launching your freelance career is a scary prospect. You’ll leave your regular 9 to 5, set yourself up as a free agent, and start looking for work. It’s a time of uncertainty, and you’ll feel anxious as you get started.

That’s true of most freelancers, but one of the most common freelance mistakes out there is new freelancers starting out without any savings in the bank. They leave their jobs to get started, but they don’t have any cash to fall back on.

This is so important to have, as no matter how good you are, you may need that cushion to fall back on. You may not be able to find clients right away, or you may not have enough work coming in right away to cover all your expenses. No matter how well you market yourself, you’re not going to get tons of work coming in right out of the gate.

As such, you’re not going to be making your old salary amount as soon as you start freelancing. You need those savings to help you stay solvent during this time, as they give you something to fall back on.

Even when you do start seeing success, you’ll want those savings to cover you through any lean times.

You can easily avoid this mistake by building up some savings as you plan to go freelance. You won’t be leaving your job right away to do so, so use that time and those earnings to create that cushion just in case you need it. That will ensure that you’re never stuck if you find you’re having a quiet period with your freelance work.

2. Thinking Of Yourself As An ‘Employee’

This is another one of the most common freelance mistakes that new freelancers make. Once they strike out on their own, they don’t lose the ’employee’ mindset that they had in their old job. That can actually hurt their new career in the long run.

This is so easily done. You had to have that mindset in your old role, as that’s the mold that you had to fit. You fit into the company machine in a specific way, and it’s hard to shake the mindset off.

It’s something you need to ensure you do though, as freelancing is a very different beast. When you become a freelancer, you’re not an employee any more, you’re running your very own business. You’re the person in charge, so your mindset needs to change accordingly.

Firstly, you need to do all the legal and technical jobs that set you up as a business. For example, you need to register your business with the tax office so everything you do is above board. You don’t want to forget to do that, and cause problems for yourself later.

As well as this, a common mistake is to let the clients run the business, rather than you. You are working for the clients, but remember that you own the business and you’re in charge. That means that you could get late payments, and that’s another problem you want to avoid.

When you still think of yourself as an employee, your job just won’t be as profitable. Make sure you change your mindset, and remember that you’re in charge now.

3. Not Using Contracts With Clients

Not using contracts is one of the most common freelance mistakes you can make as a new freelancer. When you find a new client, they may want to agree to terms with you with a ‘handshake’ deal. This can happen whether you’re meeting in person, or virtually online.

New freelancers tend to agree to this as they’re not sure of the norms yet, and they think that it’s what’s expected of them. However, this is going to be to your detriment. When you agree on terms informally, that can lead to issues with changes to the work, getting paid on time, and so on.

Instead, make sure that you’re drawing up contracts every time that you work with a new client. You may feel like that’s overkill, but a contract has a lot of benefits.

Firstly, it lines up everything that both you and the client should expect from your partnership. When you both know what you should be getting, that makes it easier on both of you. Plus, there will be no misunderstandings later on, so there’s less problems with last minute changes.

A contract will also protect you legally, so you should ensure that you have them in place. That ensures that if a client doesn’t pay you or changes the project without notice, you have your original agreement in writing to refer back to.

That contract will provide security to your clients too, so they’ll be happier to work with you when you have one in place.

4. Accepting Any Client Or Project

freelance mistakes

As mentioned above, at the very start of your freelance career you may see you don’t get lots of work at the outset. That makes it very tempting to take on any and every project that comes your way. That sounds like it’s sensible from a financial mistake, but it’s one of the worst freelance mistakes you can make at the beginning of your new role.

Of course, there will be times when you have to take on work that you’re not all that excited to do. The bills do need to be paid, and if you want to stay solvent you need to take the work that comes your way. You should try not to make a habit of this, though.

Remember that some jobs are not going to be the right fit for your skill set, and it’s very much OK to say no to them. If you were to take the job on and not do it to the level that your client was expecting, then that’s going to hurt your reputation as a freelancer. You’ll get the payment for that job, but that could actually lose you work later on.

Plus, remember why you went into freelance work in the first place. Most likely, there were jobs that you did not enjoy doing when you were in your old role. If you’re going to work as a freelancer now, you don’t want to get stuck in the same pattern of doing the same jobs now.

As such, when choosing jobs make sure you’re only taking on work that is relevant to you and your skill set. If you have to take on something less than relevant, be sure you can still complete it to the best standard possible. You don’t want to continue doing that kind of work, and be stuck doing work that you didn’t want to do in the first place.

5. Not Getting Paid Enough

When it comes to freelance mistakes, not getting paid enough is right up there for many new freelancers. It’s so easy to commit this mistake, too. If you’re new to the field and you’re trying to get work, it’s so tempting to lower your prices so you can get more work coming in.

While you could lower your prices and try and get more work that way, what you may find is that you’re actually putting off clients.

That’s because they can actually be suspicious of you if they feel you’re not charging enough. If you’re cheap, are you going to have the expertise to get the job done, and can you return work on time?

You obviously don’t want to put those clients off, as that will close doors to you before you can even open them. As such, you’ll want to ensure that your services are priced fairly. Obviously, you shouldn’t go too high, but you should price yourself at a reasonable rate.

Another reason you may be pricing yourself too low is because you’re not actually sure how much to charge at all. Pricing their work is a freelancer conundrum, and there’s never been an easy answer to it. With online services though, you can get an idea of what others are charging.

For example, you can take a look at sites like Glassdoor. They include salary ranges for all kinds of roles, including freelance ones. This gives you a very good idea of what you should be charging.

You should ensure you cover all the aspects of your salary when pricing your services. That includes sick pay, maternity pay, healthcare, and so on.

6. Ignoring Marketing When You Have Lots Of Clients

Of course, you need to be marketing yourself when you start freelancing. You want to be able to find clients who will fit with you and your skills, so you’ll have a regular income coming in. Common freelance mistakes include ignoring marketing and letting it go by the wayside when you have plenty of work coming in.

This makes sense at first glance, because if you’re already taking on as much work as you can handle, then why would you need to market yourself?

However, the fact is that when you’re a freelancer, you’re not always going to have a steady stream of work. You’re often going to have very busy periods, and then less than optimal periods where you don’t have as much coming in.

When you aren’t marketing yourself continually, you’ll find yourself entering a feast or famine mode. When you go into famine, that’s going to make you more desperate to find work, and that’s not great for you. You’re more likely to take on work that isn’t right, and clients will know that they can bargain you down when it comes to price.

Keep on top of your marketing as soon as you start out as a freelancer. That helps you keep a steady flow of work coming in, which will be much better for you overall.

7. Not Listening To Your Clients

No matter what industry you’re working in, communication is crucial. That’s especially true as a freelancer, as you need to be listening to your clients and what they want from you. Communicating with them from the outset is something you need to do, and not listening is one of the freelance mistakes you must avoid.

Remember that nothing can go unsaid in the freelancer/client relationship. You need to be very clear at all stages what you’re doing, and what you need from them. When you’re clear and direct, there’s no room for misunderstandings.

You really do need to be listening to your clients, as they’re the paying customer. When you pay attention, you can start to see trends in your work, and what people are looking for now.

When you know this, this makes it much easier to find new work as you can get ahead of the curve. Make sure you’re listening and seeing what they want.

On the other hand, you should be listening to clients as not all of them are going to be ideal to work with. You will have heard the phrase, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” The same applies in this situation.

If you’re talking to a client and you get the feeling that they’re not on the level, you should trust your reaction and walk away. That includes clients that aren’t paying on time, are making far too many changes, or being generally difficult to deal with.

8. Managing Your Time Incorrectly

freelance mistakes

Now that you’re a freelancer, you’re ready to start working on your own time. There’s no need to work to another’s schedule, and that’s one of the biggest benefits. However, that does mean that you have to manage your own time, and that’s more difficult than it looks.

You’ll soon find that there’s a lot more that you have to handle when you’re a free agent. Common freelance mistakes include not being prepared for it, and wasting time on tasks when you should be working on paying jobs.

These can include not setting boundaries with clients, accepting work that will take too long and not pay enough, and agreeing to deadlines that are too strict.

Remember that as a freelancer, time really is money. If you’re spending time on something, it needs to be earning you money, or help you earn money. As such, pay attention to what you’re doing, and ask yourself if this task is helping you achieve those goals.

Also, don’t forget that you don’t have to spend your entire day on work. If you’re working all the hours of the day on projects, sooner or later you’re going to burn out. That’s not good for your health, and it’s a bad way to manage your time.

Remember too, if you’re working long hours day in and day out, you’re not going to be putting out the best work. Instead, stick to a schedule and manage your time so you don’t hit burnout.

If you do this, then you can avoid some of the pitfalls that normally come about from incorrect time management. Ensure that you value your time, and that you’re getting paid for the time you do spend on the work you do.

9. Ignoring Other Aspects Of Your Life

As just mentioned above, time is money when you’re a freelancer. If you’re not working, you’re not earning. That’s a real worry for many people who are just starting out.

As such, they make freelance mistakes like ignoring other aspects of their life, while looking to get their freelance business off the ground. It’s understandable why, as you need it to be a success and keep the money coming in. However, that’s going to hurt you in the long run.

When you worked a regular job, you knew the concept of a work/life balance, and the same should still apply when you’re working for yourself.

You should work hard, but at the same time you should be looking to have time off, when you can focus on yourself and your family.

As such, make sure that you decide on a sensible work schedule, and take care of yourself. You need your business to succeed, but that shouldn’t come at the cost of your own wellbeing.

Don’t make these freelance mistakes anymore

Ultimately, being a freelancer can be a rewarding career venture. While mistakes can still be made in this industry, that’s the same for many industries everywhere.

These are just some of the most common freelance mistakes that new freelancers make. Now that you’re aware of them, you can ensure that you don’t do the same. We hope that you’ll learn from this guide, and become one of the most sought-after freelancers in the market.

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Written by Eula Skiles

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Eula Skiles writes about freelance work, and tips for those getting into freelancing.

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Reviewed & edited by Adam Wright, Editor at Millo.

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