I’ve been freelancing full-time for three years now, and last year (2013), my freelance career has grown considerably.
I have learned a lot since I started working for myself and I’ve made many mistakes along the way. I want to share with you seven of my top freelance mistakes, so you can avoid them and start growing your freelance business more rapidly.
1. I was too afraid to step out of my comfort zone
A few of years ago, I never took any major risks other than actually making the jump to freelancing full-time.
Back then, I mostly worked with a few friends on various client projects. We all had our own tasks: I handled everything design, someone else handled the coding and development, and another managed projects. At this time I really relied on my “team” to help find future work and to handle the business side of things.
Then… Our little “team” split (for reasonable reasons.)
I had put all of my eggs into one basket, and it came crashing down. Not knowing where to go, where to look for clients, or how to pick up the pieces. I was left to worry for my future career.
As scared and worried as I was, this required me to step out of my comfort zone.
I started from scratch and rebranded myself: my logo, my website, and my entire freelance business. I was forcefully pushed out of my comfort zone and because of that, I actually started to grow—as an individual and an entrepreneur.
If you’re struggling with finding clients, making enough money to pay your bills, or with anything in general, then this is a sign that you need to take a step out of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to fail and learn from your mistakes.
I continue to take step-after-step outside of my comfort zone every single day. Because of that, I’m growing, making new connections, and presenting myself with opportunities I otherwise wouldn’t have. You should do the same.
2. I wasn’t doing anything with my website’s traffic
This one deserves a big face-palm. For almost five years, the countless portfolio website designs I’ve gone through were all nearly useless; I displayed my work, had an about page, and a contact form. That’s all I needed to get clients, right? So wrong!
Just last year I started to put my blog to use, and that helped generate a few views, but still, pageviews are meaningless if that’s all they are.
Your website should be used as a marketing tool, which in turn should then work for you – making you more money.
Use your site to generate traffic (typically with your blog), then it’s your site’s job to convert those page views into something more: a paying client, an email subscriber, and/or a product customer. This is how you’ll start to make more money and get clients coming to you for work, instead of you having to chase after them.
Consider the content on every single page. What’s its purpose? What tasks do you want your viewers to complete or what path would you like them to follow? Use calls-to-action that point the users to their next destination. If they’re on your about page, where should they go next? Probably your work or contact page. Don’t just leave it up to them to use your navigation. “After you get to know me, here’s my awesome design work, or heck, contact me with your project and let’s get you sorted!”
A few months ago, I wrote a very simple case study on my blog about a recent logo project I did. I shared my process, the testimonial, and showcased my work in a single blog post (as well as in a portfolio piece). Then I promoted the post and design on all of my social media accounts: Dribbble, Twitter, and Facebook. In just a couple of days, I received three new logo projects! All saying they saw this new design and would like me to design their new logo.
If you need to, reevaluate your website, or even better, ask someone else to take a quick look!
3. I didn’t target the right audience on my blog
For almost an entire year I wrote articles on my personal blog targeting freelancers. It’s what I enjoyed writing about, and there were people that enjoyed what I had to share.
However, no one seemed to point out a major flaw about this, and it took me many peaks and valleys in my stream of work to recognize it: I was targeting the wrong audience!
The truth was, I had readers on my blog, but it was other freelancers — technically my competition. I should’ve been producing content that brought in potential clients.
After realizing this major flaw in my website’s content strategy, I announced the idea for the blog you’re currently reading and that I was refocusing my personal blog content for the right audience; my potential clients.
I haven’t put too much effort into my portfolio’s new content strategy, but I did publish my first case study which led to some new client projects!
If you have a blog on your portfolio website, be sure that your content strategy is targeted towards the right audience. Then make sure you have the necessary calls-to-action that are converting those new views into something more; like email subscribers, paid clients, and/or product customers.
4. I didn’t have a developed work process
This is a recent one. For the longest time I had no process to my work. If I had a client project come in, I’d just wing it and try my best to communicate what the client was getting for their money, and how I was going to help get them to their goal. Projects were hit or miss for a while, and because of this, my business was failing.
So I sat down and reevaluated my entire work process. I’d automate some of the tasks using online services, and I’d follow certain steps for every single project to help ensure a smooth process. I’d no longer “wing it” from here on.
At the start of a project, I use a form to gather the client’s project requirements — From there I either accept or reject the project. Then I use Freshbooks to get a down payment, and I start the project once the payment is made. After the project is completed (but before I deliver final files), I send the final invoice, and again, use a form to get their feedback on their experience with the project.
Since I developed my process on landing client projects, I have more work, get paid faster, and work more efficiently. My business is considerably more successful, and my clients most often enjoy the entire process when working with me.
5. I didn’t treat my freelancing as a true business
Before I started freelancing full-time, I treated what I did as a hobby. At least that’s how I’d look back on it nowadays.
The biggest mistake I made when getting started, was that I didn’t effectively track my income and expenses as business transactions. I handled all finances in my personal checking account, and when it came to do my taxes, it was a complete mess.
I can’t stress how imperative it is for you to immediately set up a separate bank account for all business transactions if you’re serious about starting a freelance career.
Also, create a simple business plan. Doing this will help you shape your freelancing into a real business. You’ll establish plans and goals to work towards, which is very important.
6. I was afraid to voice my opinions towards my clients
When you’re just one person with little to no real-world business experience, you can sometimes feel intimidated by your clients. Not because you’re necessarily afraid of them, but you’re afraid of saying the wrong thing.
If you’re running a business, you have to be confident in your expertise. I mean, that is why your clients are working with you, right?
It took a client to make me realize that I needed to really stand by my work:
Don’t be concerned about my feelings. If there is something from the design standpoint that you feel strongly about, make sure you voice it. Sometimes, like in my case, I honestly didn’t know what I was looking for or what direction to go.
Sometimes you just want to say, “How does this look?” But in most cases, you need to tell the client why your work looks the way it does. You made a decision out of their customer’s best interests, so explain to them why. If the client has their own opinion, they’ll let you know. Follow your gut and take it from there, but most cases, the client wants to hear what you have to say, and they’ll respect you for that.
7. I undervalued my services just to land the project
Yes, it’s true — I’ve worked for peanuts before just to land a project and to get paid for the sake of it.
Learn from my mistake and don’t do this! Your time and services are worth exactly what you make them out to be, and if someone is asking you to lower them, then don’t be afraid to say “No.”
I love this quote from Jacob Cass:
Unfortunately, as I can’t lower the quality of my work, I can’t lower my costs. (via The Freelance Handbook by Computer Arts publication)
Charge what you’re worth, be flexible with a client’s budget as long as it’s within reason, and you’ll start to get quality projects. It’s honestly as simple as that. As long as you’re comfortable with the project price, then you’re good to go. If you ever feel hesitant or think, “this is a very low budget”, then save yourself the time and just turn it down.
Now it’s your turn
My seven freelance mistakes have helped me become a better freelancer. I have learned that if I step outside my comfort zone and push my business, then I’ll continue to grow naturally.
What have your freelance mistakes been and what did you learn?
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