3 Common Freelance Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them)
We all make mistakes.
We especially make mistakes when we are first starting something new. This includes starting a freelance career.
I get a lot of emails and Facebook messages from newer freelance writers and friends who want to ditch their 9-5.
Some of them just want to pick my brain. Some of them just want to introduce themselves and connect with me.
And some of them are unsure of where to start and feel overwhelmed.
They’re afraid to mess up.
I know that feeling all too well. I deal with it all the time.
I’m also fairly certain I’m not the only freelancer who deals with it. In fact, I’m sure most of them have dealt with it at some point in their careers.
And guess what?
At some point, you’re going to royally screw up.
Seriously. You will.
It’s going to suck. You’re going to freak out and question what you’re even doing. You’ll doubt your decision to become a freelancer.
But, it’s going to be okay.
How do I know this?
Because I’ve had my own freelance career for a bit over three years now. I’ve screwed up several times. It’s part of navigating and learning a new career.
Each mistake I made helped me grow. It has helped me learn.
And it will likely help you to do the same.
The following three mistakes are ones I made, and they’re also the most common mistakes new freelancers make at some point. Fortunately, this post also includes advice on how to avoid the issue in the future.
So, keep reading to find out the three most common freelancer mistakes - and how you can avoid them.
Mistake #1: Not having a contract in place
CONTRACTS ARE ESSENTIAL.
When I first started out, I figured email communication would work just fine.
Why would I need a contract, if I still have proof they said they would pay me for my services? I mean, everything was right there in the emails.
I was wrong.
I had a series of twenty-five emails between myself and a new client, hashing out the details of what was supposed to be a $1500 project. The deadline was in ten days, so I immediately set to work after receiving the final confirmation email.
I completed the project, and sent it over to the client for review. I told them to let me know if they needed any revisions.
After three days of no response, I asked if they were satisfied with the work they received. I told them that I would send over the invoice if no further work was needed, and that they had 30 days from that time to pay the invoice.
A full week passed. No response.
I sent another email. No response.
After three full weeks, I received an email that basically said I didn’t have proof that I was not doing this project for free. They pointed out that anybody could have emailed me from their account.
They simply weren’t going to pay me.
Because I did not have a contract in place, my client was under no legal obligation to ever pay me. I lost out on time I could have spent on other clients, and I lost out on $1500.
ALWAYS have a contract in place before you start your client’s project. Don’t write a single letter without one.
Mistake #2: Not asking for a deposit
One of the most common mistakes new freelancers make (I know I did!) is not asking for a deposit before starting on the client’s project.
When I first started out (a bit over three years ago), I had a client who paid me to write and place content on high-traffic websites. I would write the article in accordance with their needs, and would submit it to the website the client selected.
Once the post was accepted and was live on that website, I would be able to send my invoice and receive payment for that article. But, if the article was rejected or was not published, I did not receive payment.
I spent a full week working on a particularly in-depth small business article that discussed marketing automation software. I did thorough research, I wrote well, and the client was pleased.
I submitted the article. Turns out, someone had already written an article on that topic the week prior. My article was rejected on that basis.
Which meant I didn’t get paid.
Now, my contracts ALWAYS state I receive 50% of the project total upfront. This a non-refundable deposit.
This way, I will get paid regardless of whether or not the project was completed. If a client decides they no longer wanted that project, or they choose to cancel the contract, I will still have not completely wasted my time and money.
Mistake #3: Taking on a project you’re not entirely sure of
Sometimes, you get a certain gut feeling about a project.
Listen to that feeling.
During my first year of freelancing, I took on a major project while I was still dealing with something major in my life.
It was a terrible idea. The project was HUGE and involved creating a 300-page eBook on related to canine health and nutrition. I needed money and I have veterinary hospital experience, am an experienced show handler (primarily Borzoi), and have extensive pet health knowledge.
But, I also knew I wouldn’t be able to be 100% focused because I was dealing with a huge tragedy. But, I did it anyway.
Here’s where I screwed up:
I let the client pick a ridiculous deadline. It was completely unrealistic. I had just under two weeks to get the project done. Because I was constantly having to leave the house to handle things related to what was going on in my life, I was working unhealthy hours to get things completed.
Did not set the scope in the contact. The client kept revising and adding things to the project. They wanted things changed based on feedback like the tone needing to “be fluffier.” I was new to this, so I really didn’t know how to go about setting scope boundaries, or even that I should have made it clear what the expectations were beforehand.
I accepted a super low rate. I let the client set a rate that was less than half what I was charging - and that was before I knew my rates were INCREDIBLY low. I received $0.01 per word. I didn’t know what to charge, so I just went with whatever the client said.
I was short on cash, but I still broke one of the biggest rules: Don’t take on a project you’re not sure about.
After freelancing for a bit over three years, I’ve learned to recognize major red flags that I initially overlooked because I was a newbie.
I also make sure to:
Set realistic deadlines. I generally tell clients I will get their project completed in 2-3 days more than I really need. This allows me to have plenty of time to work on it, so I can turn my work in early. Clients really appreciate it, and consistently over-delivering develops a great rapport.
Make sure the scope is clear. I ALWAYS use contracts (now), and I outline the scope of the work before I start on the project. The scope covers payment, deadlines, what is expected, legal stuff, and other things that need to be cleared up to avoid issue.
Charge what I’m worth. I had some incredibly low rates when I first started out, and it definitely made me question if I wanted to continue my freelance career. Eventually, as my experience and knowledge grew, I became more confident and started charging more.
I know what my work is worth, and I know the value I bring to my clients. I also know how much work certain projects are. So, I charge based off those things, and I don’t hesitate to negotiate for higher pay when it’s necessary to do so.
Everyone makes mistakes, especially when they’re first starting their freelance career.
You’re going to screw up. It’s inevitable. But, when you do screw up, fix the issue and learn from it.
That is how you grow your business.
What have your biggest mistakes as a freelancer been? What did you learn from them? Share your experiences in the comments!
Alexia P. Bullard is an overly caffeinated, Tacoma-based business writer who specializes in crafting engaging content that helps brands drive traffic to their websites and gain more customers. She primarily works with B2B, tech, and cannabis brands.