We recently published a post which outlined 14 common pitfalls that new freelancers tend to stumble on. It seemed to resonate with many of you. We have since received a number of requests to write another version, for the more seasoned freelancers, and this is the result. In our opinion (and experience of making mistakes), all freelancers could benefit from avoiding the following blunders.
This post is essentially a checklist of mistakes to be aware of, bad habits to rectify and really, ways to achieve best practice in your business. These are the 15 mistakes that are stopping your freelance business from growing – and ultimately, making more money.
You may find that you are guilty of one or two of these in your own work, and making simple changes to rectify that, could be exactly what you need to pick up the pace in your productivity, or to get a couple more clients on board.
We would love your input on any additional mistakes that you think we should include, go ahead and comment at the bottom so that we can chat about your thoughts.
1. Starting Work Without Clarifying Details
When it comes to project work, it is essential that you understand exactly what the client is expecting from you before you:
- Agree to a fee
- Start working
Not doing this vital first step may be a massive waste of your time and efforts, and could ultimately result in a disgruntled client too. Communicate clearly and clarify in writing what you will be working on, and when you will deliver. Have regular check-ins with your client to let them see how you are progressing too.
We love Google Docs for this, as it allows both parties to access a work-in-progress, making suggestions and edits throughout the project.
2. Not Prioritizing Your Time
There are a million tips and tricks to increase your productivity, but none will work if you forget to keep a track of your day, and take action to prioritize your time effectively. Always know what your most important tasks are every morning and allocate a set number of minutes or hours to get them done.
We love the Pomodoro timer for managing our schedules. Once you have set your priorities, the timer keeps you accountable, making sure you get the work done in the time that you have set aside.
The ticking sound maintains a sense of urgency, and greatly reduces the impact of distractions and procrastination.
3. Relying On Clients Long-term
Even seasoned freelancers can make this mistake…. When you have been working with a particular client for a while, it is easy to anticipate that they will continue calling on you regularly for consistent projects. That is how it has been for a year or more, so what will change?
We should know that everything can change in business, and even employees are not safe, so freelancers are on their own! We should never forget that nothing is guaranteed beyond the last project contract that we have signed. So be sure to diversify and have more than one active client to maintain your financial security.
If you want to find out more about how to build a constant stream of new clients then check out our Upwork.com Starter Kit. We speak in detail about where to find clients and how to land consistently high paying jobs.
4. Accepting Every Single Job
Despite the last warning, it is still important to know when to say no to work. Sometimes your reason for declining a project, (or even a client in general) can be as obscure as a gut-feeling, other times it can be direct feedback from other freelancers about payment issues.
Our advice is to fully research clients before you accept work from them. You can look at their profiles on freelancing sites, and even databases such as the Better Business Bureau. Additionally, learn from experiences with clients, and if they cause you too much stress then think carefully before accepting new projects from them.
5. Taking On Too Much
Fear of the dreaded dry-spell can lead to taking on too much work, with too many deadlines in close proximity. It could even be one client piling a ton of work on you last minute, and you feel pressured to say yes to it all. Try to take on only what you can comfortably manage, without affecting the integrity of your work at all. Avoid over-promising on what you will deliver.
The absolute key-stone of your business is your reputation, governed by the quality of what you submit – sub-par or late work is out of the question. So know your limits, and stick to them.
6. Becoming A Victim Of Scope Creep
Ever heard of scope creep? We bet you have experienced it!
This is where you are nearing the end of a project and suddenly the goalposts change….you need to complete X,Y and Z in addition to A,B and C.
Then once that is done you discover that there is also annexe 1,2 and 3 to do in order to complete.
BIMThinkspace puts it beautifully here, with an awesome diagram to illustrate their point:
The project management discipline recognizes three project ‘boundary elements’ – scope, cost and schedule – acting in tandem with each other (Wagner, 2013). When one boundary element is increased or diminished, the other two elements must also increase/diminish in order to regain project equilibrium (Fig. 1). According to the Project Management Institute (PMI, 2013), ‘scope creep’ is the incremental expansion of the project’s scope – e.g. through additional work requests – without the necessary readjustment of the other two elements.
Scope creep sucks! How to avoid it? Be straight and speak up if something wasn’t agreed – of course this only works if you have put the details of the project in writing beforehand. We would recommend adding a clause in your Ts&Cs for this…..if project boundaries change, then deadlines and fees should too (you will need to put that in legal terms of course).
7. Not Signing A Contract
What was that? You don’t have Ts&Cs?
Tsk tsk my freelancing friend.
We highly recommend that you draw up your business Ts&Cs that you send to each client as roles are being negotiated. In addition you should ensure that you have a signed contract in place before you start working with a new client.
You can hire an attorney to do this for you, or you can use a template from PandaDoc which has a ton of great resources for freelancers.
8. Avoiding Negotiation
Don’t be scared to negotiate with your clients when agreeing rates. You know what is involved in your work, they don’t. You also know your business bottom line. Don’t be scared to say no when they attempt to slash your fees, you should have arrived at these after careful consideration.
Be aware of the value that you add for your clients, and confident that you deserve the money that your work calls for.
As we are on the subject, be certain that you are not charging to little, and think carefully about working ‘for exposure’. Sometimes it is a useful part of a business strategy, but make sure that you know the long game before you just agree to completing work for free.
9. Not Backing Up Data
Simple one – but essential. Clients will not care if the dog ate your project. You just won’t get paid.
There are so many options available to save your data….choose your favorite cloud and back up. Regularly.
10. Not Invoicing Regularly
You should have an invoicing process in place, and this should be followed to the letter each and every time you need to invoice a client. Complete your invoicing regularly to be sure that you don’t miss anything out – and if it gets too much for you, then outsource this aspect of the business. You are the boss after all, you get to make those calls.
Quickbooks is a fantastic resource that you can leverage to make your accounts run smoothly.
11. Spending All Of Your Earnings
Having a tool such as Quickbooks in your arsenal will also help you to prevent this next common mistake – of spending all of your earnings. Don’t mix up profit and revenue. The cash that comes into your business is not all yours!
You also need to consider:
- Business costs – training courses, virtual PA etc
- Quiet months
Admittedly, this isn’t fun, but it is reality.
12. Not Specializing
Be sure to niche down as much as you can, so that you can position yourself as a premium service provider. Don’t be tempted to throw your net too wide, as you will miss opportunities to be hired as an expert in your chosen area.
13. Not Taking Care Of Yourself
Freelancing is hard work, of that we can agree. But in order to keep your business functioning you need to be sure that you take care of yourself. You are the businesses most important asset after all. If you end up in bed for a week exhausted, you will lose out far more than if you just shut your laptop down an hour earlier each night.
Schedule time for breaks and exercise, eat healthily and get the sleep you need. This is essential for your business. Forgetting to leave your desk for days on end is just not healthy – as tempting as it may be sometimes.
This will not only keep you fit and healthy, but will also boost your creativity and focus – which will in turn enhance your productivity. Awesome!
14. Forgetting To Keep Learning
We have emphasised the importance of keeping your physical health on point, and of course of equal significance is your mental strength. By that we mean that you should keep your brain sharp and never stop learning. Technology means that things are changing rapidly, and you need to keep up with your industry.
Fortunately technology is the very tool that will help you to do this. You can sign up for on-line courses, watch tutorials and read all of the research that you can google from the comfort of your desk. Plus, we recommend that you attend seminars and read/listen to books as much as you can too.
15. Not Working On Your Own Projects
Finally, we want to remind you of the motivation for becoming a freelancer in the first place.
Did you say something along the lines of: ‘the ability to work for myself’?
If so, then what are you doing for yourself?
If the only answer you have is ‘client work’, then haven’t you missed something here?
Of course client work is important – it is the bread and butter that pays the bills. But meanwhile, you should be working on something of your own. Carve out chunks of time, daily or at least weekly to focus on your passion, your masterpiece. Then stick to this schedule rigidly.
It is the only way to ensure that you make it happen!
So those are our top 15 mistakes to beware of if you want your freelance business to grow. As always we would love your input, so feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.