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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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

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robbie hyman

Copywriter

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Last Updated on July 13, 2020

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm; leaving you calmer, in control and a lot less stressed.

1. Write Everything down to Offload Your Mind

The first thing you can do when you begin to feel overwhelmed is to write everything down that is on your mind.

Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s on your mind.

For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind”.

The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will begin the process of removing your feeling of overwhelm. Writing things down can really change your life.

2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

Once you have ‘emptied your head,’ go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

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As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. Here’s How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List.

3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

Now here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and us humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take:((Odhable: Genesis of Parkinson’s Law))

    This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad but they stick to the belief it will only take thirty minutes. It’s more wishful thinking than good judgment.

    We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. If you have estimated that to write five emails that desperately need a reply to be ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

    Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is you put yourself under a little time pressure and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

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    When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time and so it plays tricks on us and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our colleagues to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

    Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening and we get more focused and more work done.

    4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

    Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Go through your to-dos and schedule time on your calendar for doing those tasks. Group tasks up into similar tasks.

    For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

    Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

    5. Make Decisions

    For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

    If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

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    If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss, a colleague and get advice.

    Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You need to make a decision to deal with it and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved. (You can take a look at this guide on How To Make Good Decisions All The Time.)

    I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend of mine of the problem. He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I paid a smaller amount for a couple of months.

    This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

    The first, don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second, there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

    6. Take Some Form of Action

    Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we feel overwhelmed (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

    The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

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    It also means rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible and you can make decisions easier about what to do about them. Often it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be you see you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

    Overwhelm is not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work, it can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

    The Bottom Line

    Make a decision, even if it is to just talk to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something on its own will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution one way or another.

    When you follow these strategies to can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

    More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

    Featured photo credit: Andrei Lazarev via unsplash.com

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