Advertising
Advertising

3 big mistakes creative freelancers make with their careers

3 big mistakes creative freelancers make with their careers

Ah, the life of the creative freelancer. Waking up at noon, taking on only the projects that excite you, working only when you’re inspired… Okay, it’s nothing like that. But the way I see it, if you’re a writer, artist, photographer, web designer or another creative type, working as a freelance professional is more rewarding and fun than just about every other way to make a living.

Which isn’t to say it’s easy to be a freelancer. Building and maintaining a successful practice is damn hard work. And you’ll almost certainly encounter some huge, career-jeopardizing pitfalls along the way. It’s best to learn about those pitfalls now, so when you face them in your business you’ll be prepared to maneuver around them.

You don’t want to make any of these mistakes. They can really slow your progress in growing your business. Trust me. I’ve been a creative freelancer for almost 20 years, and I’ve made one or two of these mistakes myself, more than once. (Alright, all of them.) (Alright, alright – a lot more than once.)

1. Taking professional criticism personally.

This one is hard to avoid. After all, as a creative pro, you probably identify yourself personally with your work – or your art, as I’m guessing you think of it. One of the most common – and career-threatening – mistakes I see freelancers make is failing to take a client’s criticism professionally and objectively.

Advertising

Sometimes freelancers mistakenly think they need to stand their ground and argue for their original vision; other times they just become belligerent and hostile. But remember: There are a lot of freelancers out there, and no client has to keep hiring one who makes their life difficult.

But if you see your work as your calling, as an extension of you, how can you not take it personally when a client criticizes it?

My advice? Always remember that it’s not personal. It’s a piece of work you’ve been commissioned to create by a client who’s paying you for it. Of course, you should put your best effort into every assignment you receive. And you should never turn in work you’re not confident will delight your client. But remember, it’s their end product, not yours.

And if a client is underwhelmed by your first draft? Take their suggestions, requests – and, yes, even their criticism – professionally and cheerfully. Then bang out a kick-ass second draft.

Advertising

2. Delivering subpar work to smaller or less-significant clients.

There’s a great scene in the old Miami Vice TV series, where Detective Sonny Crockett is standing in a hospital operating room with a doctor who’s about to perform surgery on a kid the detective mistakenly shot.

“That kid,” Crockett says to the surgeon, “is the president of the United States.”

If you want success and longevity as a freelance professional, think of every client you land, no matter how small, as Google. Imagine that for every assignment you work on, the company’s CEO is waiting to review it. Many freelancers do just the opposite. They give less than their best to a client or project they deem too small or otherwise unimportant.

I can’t imagine a time in history when this tactic made good business sense. But today, in the era of social media, when everyone essentially has a microphone, how could it be anything but totally self-destructive?

Advertising

Even the smallest companies you work for, even the lowest-paid assignments you accept, still represent opportunities to delight a client, to earn a great endorsement or testimonial, to win referral business and to get better at your craft.

3. Developing too narrow an area of expertise.

This one might seem controversial. No one wants to hire a generalist, according to conventional wisdom. Many experts tell newbie freelancers that we need a specialty, a niche. So you focus, and you become a great writer of press releases for medical device companies. And before long, you have a beautiful, extensive portfolio of press releases for medical device companies. No other types of writing. No experience in other industries.

Yes, you can use an area of specialty as a differentiator for your business. Gaining knowledge in a particular industry can separate you from the freelance pack. So can developing expertise at a specific skill within your freelance practice – white-paper writing for copywriters, for example, or shooting executive headshots for photographers.

But if you want to enjoy a long professional life as a freelancer, you need to go both deep and broad. Carving out a niche for yourself as a healthcare writer is smart, but you’ll also want to be able to show a prospective new client in another field – technology, financial services, transportation – that you can write for them too.

Advertising

So don’t get complacent. Even if you’ve already got plenty of work in your current field, stay alert for opportunities to do new types of work, for new clients, in new industries. Always be open to a chance to broaden your expertise, to enrich your portfolio… and to do more great work.

To your success!

Featured photo credit: Man Typing Laptop With Retro Camera and Coffee / Ed Gregory via stokpic.com

More by this author

robbie hyman

Copywriter

3 big mistakes creative freelancers make with their careers 2 Lessons in the Movie Rudy that Can Change Your Life Words and Phrases to Avoid in Your Professional Writing Freelancers And Consultants: 3 Reasons You Shouldn’t be Billing Hourly Why Money Might Not Be As Important to You As You Think

Trending in Productivity

1 5 Values of an Effective Leader 2 How to Motivate People Around You and Inspire Them 3 The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work) 4 30 Practical Ideas to Create Your Best Morning Routine 5 Is People Management the Right Career Path for You?

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

Advertising

From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

Advertising

The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

Advertising

But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

Advertising

Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Advertising

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

Read Next