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My top 16 Freelance Mistakes

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my years as a freelancer, it’s that “you learn from mistakes” is more than just a saying. It’s a damn mantra!

Messing up as a freelancer can be costly AF – in terms of money, time, and your precious mental health.

I’ve been working as a professional graphic designer for over 10 years and made my fair share of mistakes. It wasn’t fun. They just made me want to pull my hair out and cry in the shower a bit. But, you know, #adulting.

But, some mistakes can have some seriously devastating consequences. Like, non-paying clients, clients who treat you like dirt, and working yourself to the ground.

These are all stories you hear all the time in the freelancing world.

Today I’m going to give you a glimpse into my own personal experiences and what I did to fix those situations. Because let’s face it, there’s nothing better than learning from other people’s mistakes.

What are the worst Freelance Mistakes?

1. Accepting ALL clients

You know that phrase “I gotta get clients…no matter what!”? Yeah, that’s a thought that runs through all our minds.

It’s also the first mistake we make as freelancers.

You’re so scared of not having enough money to pay the bills, that you’ll take on any client and any job that comes your way. But here’s the thing, no matter how many clients you have, the day is still 24 hours long.

You can’t do your best work if you don’t give yourself time to eat, sleep, and have a little bit of fun. That’s right, freelancing isn’t just about work, it’s also about having a balanced life.

When I first started freelancing, I made the mistake of taking on too many clients. I was working more than 60 hours a week, I didn’t have a social life and I was just sitting in front of my computer all day.

And to be honest, the work I was producing was not my best.

The worst thing was that at the end of all those projects, I realized that I had no new clients (cause I never had time to look for them) and all I wanted was a vacation.

It took me a while to learn how many projects I can handle at the same time, always keeping in mind the quality of work and balance in my life.

Every freelancer is different, so it’s important to experiment with the amount of work you take on until you find your sweet spot. Trust me, it’s worth it.

2. Working for free

Let’s talk about the age-old debate of working for free. Now, I know there are some people who think it’s a great way to gain clients or beef up your portfolio.

But let me tell you, as someone who’s been in the game for a while, I am firmly against it.

Because why the heck should you work for free? You’re providing a service, and that service deserves to be compensated.

And let’s be real, if you want an amazing portfolio, the best way to do that is by doing a personal project that you’re passionate about.

Not working for free for some client who’s just gonna use you and throw you away.

Let’s say, hypothetically, that you do work without getting paid, and the client recommends you. Do you think they’re gonna recommend you as the freelancer who charges fair rates? No, they’re gonna recommend you as the freelancer who works for free. And guess what kind of clients you will attract? The ones who expect you to work for free!

So, my advice to you is, know your worth.

Don’t be afraid to ask for what you deserve. It doesn’t always have to be money, but it should be a fair exchange for what you are delivering to your client.

3. Not knowing how much to charge

Do you how much you should charge for your services? Now, I know there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, but not even thinking about it and just trying to get work is a big mistake.

If you charge too little, you’re gonna attract the wrong kind of clients and you’ll be working yourself to death just to make ends meet.

But on the flip side, if you overcharge, no one’s gonna want to pay $100 an hour for your services if your portfolio and experience say you’re only worth $20.

So, how do you figure out the right price? Well, for starters, you can research what your competitors who offer similar quality services are charging.

It’s also a good idea to know your monthly expenses and your long-term goals. That’ll help you figure out what you need to charge to make it all work.

It’s important to note that there are a lot of variables when it comes to pricing a project, but these tips are a good starting point.

Trust me, it’s worth taking the time to figure out what you’re worth because no one else is gonna do it for you.

4. Offering discounts

I’m guilty of this one myself.

I used to offer discounts to new clients just because I was scared they wouldn’t hire me. But let me tell you, it’s a trap!

It’s so tempting to use discounts to close a deal, I mean, who doesn’t love saving a little money? But here’s the thing, clients aren’t just looking for a discount, they’re looking for the best value for their money.

If a client is gonna pay you $1000 for a logo design, they want to know that that logo is the best they could’ve gotten for $1000.

That includes the quality of the work, the level of service, and the professionalism you bring to the table.

Now I only offer discounts to my long-time customers as a way of showing my appreciation for our business together. But never as a way to get more work.

Keep in mind that offering discounts on your services can devalue the work you do, and make it harder to charge fair rates in the future.

5. Not having an emergency fund

One of the hardest challenges of being a freelancer is the ups and downs of freelance income.

It’s not easy, and it’s not something that happens overnight, but learning to navigate the highs and lows is all part of the freelance game.

I remember the first time my income exceeded my expectations, I was like a kid in a candy store. I bought everything!

Necessities and non-necessities alike. But here’s the thing, the next two months, I had to go into debt just to pay my bills.

It was a hard lesson but I learned that having a safety net, a little fund to fall back on when there’s no work or payments are late, is one of the most important things any freelancer should have.

Not having an emergency fund it’s a mistake that a lot of freelancers (and non-freelancers) make, but it’s one that can be easily avoided.

It’s worth it to take the time to plan for the lean months, so you can enjoy the good ones.

6. Not trusting my instincts

I’m all about the power of gut feelings.

In the freelance game, it’s important to know when to trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right when you’re talking to a new client, then don’t take the job.

Your intuition is a valuable tool when it comes to making decisions for your business.

I used to overlook this in the beginning. I was like “I need the money”, and I took on clients that I knew weren’t a good fit for me. And guess what? I ended up dealing with some real “bad clients” and working on projects I didn’t enjoy.

Even though I got paid, it was a waste of time for my business in the long run.

So, listen to your gut, it’s usually right. Trust me, it’s better to pass on a job that doesn’t feel right, than to take it and regret it later.

7. Not backing up files

Something that’s just as important as making money is backing up your files!

I know it’s not the most exciting topic, but trust me, it’s crucial. As someone who has made this mistake more than once, not backing up your files on a consistent basis is one of the worst mistakes you can make. I’m not even joking, I’ve lost all my work twice – TWICE – because of totally avoidable reasons like a broken disk or accidentally deleting files. (I may not be the brightest bulb in the box, but I’ve learned my lesson).

But here’s the thing, backing up your files isn’t just your responsibility, it’s your duty to both you and your clients.

It’s a priority, plain and simple.

I personally back up my files twice a month, whether it’s on an external drive or through online services like Dropbox or Google Drive.

The point is, don’t wait until you lose your files to start thinking about how to keep them safe. It’s a simple task, but it’s one that can save you a lot of headaches in the long run.

8. Not knowing who my ideal client is

Something that’s so important but often overlooked: knowing what kind of clients you want to work with.

At the beginning, I was like “I need the money, I need the experience” and ended up taking on all kinds of clients.

It was a nightmare.

I was working on projects that I hated. It was an ordeal to get up in the morning knowing I had to do something I didn’t enjoy.

It took me a while to finally realize what kind of jobs I really wanted to do, and what kind of clients I wanted to work for. And let me tell you, the earlier you figure that out, the better it is for your business.

Knowing who your ideal client is influences so many things like your branding, marketing, and even how you build relationships with clients.

So, don’t be like me. Take the time to figure out what you really want, and who you really want to work with. It’ll save you a lot of headaches in the long run.

9. Not having a budget for my business

Let’s be real, being a freelancer isn’t cheap. There are a ton of expenses that come with running your own business.

I made the mistake of not taking them into account until it was too late. I was so focused on what I needed to live on that I forgot to factor in the costs of keeping “the machine” running.

But here’s the thing, it’s essential to know what expenses are necessary for your business to function at its best, and to factor those costs into your prices.

Whether it’s hardware costs, online services, marketing, the list goes on and on. If you don’t think strategically, the costs can add up quickly.

So, take the time to figure out what you need to keep your business running smoothly and budget accordingly.

10. Not having a contract

I bet you have heard about freelancing contracts before. I also bet that you think you’ll be fine without one.

You might be ok… until you are not.

Contracts are essential, they’re like a prenup for your business. They set expectations, outline the scope of the project, and spell out payment terms, and any contingencies that may come up.

At first, I avoided signing contracts because I thought it would scare off clients. But guess what? If a client doesn’t want to sign a contract, they’re probably not the right fit for me.

Not having contracts resulted in some major headaches for me. Clients disappearing, changes to the project without negotiation, and unclear boundaries in our professional relationship. It was a mess.

My advice is to get a contract drafted by a lawyer. But if that’s not an option for you, there are plenty of free templates available online. Just make sure you read and understand it before using it.

Don’t make the same mistake I did, protect yourself and your business with a solid contract.

11. Not having a routine

Something that’s near and dear to my heart is setting boundaries for yourself. Can you tell that my 60-hour workweeks scarred me deeply?

Don’t get me wrong, the freedom of freelancing is unparalleled. But it’s so easy to get caught up in the lack of structure and suddenly find yourself pulling all-nighters just to meet a deadline. Once in a while, it’s fine but is not a sustainable lifestyle in the long run.

Not having a routine meant missing out on a lot of other experiences that would have been possible with a little bit of prior organization.

Nowadays, I have set working hours that allow me to truly enjoy the freedom of being my own boss. I can schedule my day the way I want and have time for the things that I love without sacrificing my work.

So, my advice is to set some boundaries for yourself and stick to them. It will make a world of difference in your work-life balance and overall satisfaction with freelancing.

12. Not communicating with clients

Do you know what sets successful projects apart from mediocre ones? Good old-fashioned communication.

As someone who hates their own weight in coffee just to make phone calls, it’s not my favorite part of the job. But I get it, If I were a client, I’d want to know what’s going on with my project and if everything is on track.

So, to keep everyone happy, I send a weekly email that includes the status of the work, the progress made, and the tasks for the upcoming week. This way, my clients know what’s going on and I don’t get bombarded with unnecessary calls.

It’s a win-win situation and it takes the guesswork out of communication. It’s a small effort that goes a long way in keeping everyone happy and on the same page.

13. Not promoting my services

I wish getting clients was as easy as having a website and voila, clients coming in left and right. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way.

That’s why having a solid marketing strategy is a must for any freelancer.

For me, not promoting my business enough was the reason for many months of poor income. I had this idea in my head that promoting my business made me seem like a sleazy salesman.

But the truth is, no client will hire you if they don’t know you have a solution for their business.

So, my advice is to experiment with different marketing strategies and see what works best for your business. It might take some time and trial and error, but it’s worth it in the long run

Having a solid marketing strategy will bring in more clients and keep your business running strong.

14. Not following up

There are two types of follow-ups you can do: to potential customers and to old customers.

In the first case, I used to make the mistake of remaining silent after the initial inquiry if I didn’t hear back from the potential client.

I thought that if they were interested, they’d reach out. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes you have to give them a little push to close the deal. Now, I use what I call “the magic email” before moving on.

As for following up with old customers, it’s one of the best ways to get more work and referrals. Don’t forget about your client after the project is over. Asking how things are going a few months later is a great way to stay present and show interest in your buyer’s business.

It’s a simple gesture that can go a long way in maintaining a good relationship with your clients and getting repeat business.

15. Depending on a single client

One of the first pieces of advice I got when I started freelancing was to not rely on a single revenue channel. And… I didn’t listen.

When you’re a freelancer, income is not always consistent. And when that income depends on one single source, it’s like playing a game of Russian roulette.

Imagine, one day your client doesn’t pay you on time, doesn’t have any more work for you, or decides to work with someone else, and just like that, you lose your income and have to go out hustling for new clients.

The ideal situation is to have one or two big projects and several small ones to diversify your client work. Also, having multiple sources of income, like selling photos, courses, etc., is a great way to diversify your revenue.

Trust me, it’s a much safer way to ensure that you have a steady stream of income and you’re not left scrambling when one client falls through.

16. My biggest mistake

My biggest mistake, however, was not treating my freelance career like a business.

I was too focused on getting the next client and not enough time was spent on designing business systems and planning for the future.

It took me a while to realize that as a freelancer, I am an entrepreneur. And if my goal is to be my own boss and never set foot in an office again, I needed to start thinking like one.

Being a business owner means learning about a lot more than just getting clients and setting prices.

To this day, I’m still learning new ways to optimize my systems and reach my goals (which, let’s be real, is to travel the world). The path of being a freelancer is ever-changing, and the complex challenges of success are just part of what makes it so thrilling.

What about you? What mistakes have you learned from? And more importantly, which ones do you wish you could avoid? Let me know in the comments!

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