Several adjectives describe freelance work; easy is not one of them.  So why do people go into freelancing? Freedom, flexibility, and independent career paths are the top reasons, according to both the Freelance Industry Report by the International Freelancers Academy and the Genesis Research Associates Survey for oDesk. Converting those reasons into actual benefits requires self-direction, creativity, and tons of work.  No, it’s not easy, but If you steer clear of these common freelancing mistakes, it won’t be too difficult either.

1. Thinking like an employee; limiting your work hours.

It’s great when you have no boss to tell you what to do.  But that also means you alone are responsible for marketing your services, updating skills, negotiating and monitoring payments, and prioritizing projects to meet deadlines.  Working only from 9 to 5 while waiting for opportunities to come your way is among the worst freelancing mistakes.  Think like an entrepreneur who does whatever is needed to deliver quality work.  The Genesis Research Associates Survey showed 90% of freelancers believe the word entrepreneur reflects a certain mindset that describes them rather than strictly as having started a company.

2.  Performing minimally; merely following directions.

Brick-and-mortar companies come with protocols and job descriptions that define authority and establish boundaries.  In freelancing, clients provide the rationale, background, and parameters for projects.  You bring in knowledge, expertise, and a new perspective.  It’s a relationship between equals who collaborate on a project, but YOU take the initiative.  If your working style is just doing what the client says, he will begin to wonder why he got you in the first place. Pour in fresh ideas and be ready to justify your creative decisions—even when it contradicts his viewpoint—to show how it will benefit his objective. Your opinions and inputs are part of the value you contribute.

3. Looking randomly for clients; accepting every project.

Online job boards offer an uncomplicated way of finding clients, but the Freelance Industry Report states only 6.3% of freelancers think this is an effective way. Referrals (27.4%), word of mouth (23.8%) and personal/professional network (16.9%) offer the best possibilities. Employing effective methods for finding clients is important, but experienced freelancer and coach Celine Roque also emphasizes that the foundation of successful freelancing is in being very specific about who your ideal clients are and working only with people who fit that description.  Applying for every available gig is among the most common freelancing mistakes that can get you stuck doing work you don’t like for people who treat you like a commodity. Formulate your criteria of ideal clients who respect you as an equal and whose businesses are aligned with your values.  You will conserve time and energy and can then focus on specific types of clients and businesses.

4. Settling for low pay; ignoring the income aspect.

Thanks to the above criteria, I had no problems eliminating projects that did not fit in with what truly moved me. I enjoyed working with appreciative clients whose values and goals resonated with mine. The downside, I realized, was that I used the pleasant working relations to justify accepting less pay.   Offering to work at a low rate or with no pay comes naturally when you want to support online communities or individuals whose advocacy you also share.  But when you do it too often, it can give you a distorted perception of your worth. Firmly establish the value of your contribution and get paid per global industry standards to sustain your freelancing

5. Not communicating enough; leaving things unsaid.

The Cambridge dictionary defines the expression, “It goes without saying” to mean something that is obvious. In freelancing where clients come from diverse cultures and live across continents, nothing is obvious! Everything is worth saying and best put into writing—proposals, deliverables, contracts, submissions, milestones, and everything in between. A Best Practices Study published by Outsourcing Center concluded that a shared understanding of each others’ goals is key to successful outsourcing relationships. Don’t assume your goals are clear to your clients or that you understand their objectives. Repeat, paraphrase, and reconfirm to make sure you understand each other.  Establish communication lines early on by clarifying who the project point person is. Be accessible. Provide your contact details and the best times to reach you. Respond promptly to messages while observing time zone differences and cultural holidays .

6. Not suggesting another possible project; losing connection.

Your best future client is your past or current client.  Why?  Because he already knows your work ethics and work quality and you already know his business challenges and goals. Don’t be in such a hurry to work for a new client without suggesting another possible project to your current client. This forms part of YOUR initiative.  A well-thought out new project suggestion demonstrates you understand his goals and are in a position to help him achieve them.  If you do not envision another project or if he declines your suggestion, send a thank you email with your full contact details to keep the communication lines open.  Still unconvinced about the value of keeping in touch with past clients?  Then it’s worth repeating the findings of the Freelance Industry Report mentioned earlier:  Referrals (27.4%), word of mouth (23.8%) and personal/professional network (16.9%) are the most effective ways to find clients.

7. Giving up—the saddest of freelancing mistakes.

Successful freelancing takes time, not necessarily from a set number of hours but from regular immersion and practice. With practice comes improvement.  Don’t entertain doubts and distractions that cause you to lose focus. Take note of your successes. Look back to when you first started and appreciate the progress you made. VP-International and Enterprise of oDesk, Matt Cooper, put it clearly to copywriter/blogger Stephanie Gonzaga when she interviewed him.  “It’s a global meritocracy. You’re competing with everybody else in the world so you gotta take the time, but when people put in the time and they work at it, they are successful.”  And here’s one more reason not to give up.  Fortune magazine reports a jump in freelancer pay as managers learn that paying more pays off.  Nikki Parker of Freelancer.com adds, “Employers are willing to pay more for quality” and assess freelancers based on “their past feedback, skills, reputation, and portfolio of work.”

8. Losing site of the big picture; neglecting other areas of your life.

Working freelance from home blurs the boundaries between work and time spent with the family, relaxing, or doing other things. It’s tempting to accept more work and labor late into the night or over the weekends. Some projects will necessarily require you to work such hours, but if you do this habitually and allow clients to control your schedule, you could be headed for exhaustion and creative drought that will affect work output. Among the freelancing mistakes, this has the highest impact on your health, relationships, and other life areas. Stick to a reasonable work schedule that leaves you time and energy for a balanced life. 

Enjoying the benefits of freedom and flexibility in freelancing comes down to personal choice.

  • Do you want to go full time or make a gradual transition while keeping your job?
  • Are you revved up working on simultaneous and successive projects?
  • Does working long-term with a single client complement your mobile lifestyle?
  • Are you happy collaborating with a few clients on intermittent projects that allow for other pursuits?

Decide on your approach and avoid these freelancing mistakes, and you’ll soon arrive at a free-and-easy operation.

Featured photo credit: JP Stanley via flickr.com

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