Beginner freelancers make mistakes that could have and should have been avoided if only they had someone helping them out in the process
I’ve made so many of the same mistakes and to be candid, I didn’t even know that my system was problematic until after problems started to rise.
But over the past half-decade, I’ve grown so much as a freelancer because I learned a lot from the simple mistakes I made and while experience may be the best teacher, wouldn’t it be better to just avoid the problem altogether?
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The Most Common Mistakes Beginner Freelancers Make
When you’re starting out, it’s normal to feel confused by everything that’s going on. Here’s the complete list of mistakes I made as a freelancer and what you can do to avoid them later on.
1.) Staying On Freelancing Platforms
UpWork, Fiverr, and Freelancer.com. These three are what we call the Freelancing Triumvirate and they’re the exact reason why so many people say that the freelancing world is saturated and overly competitive.
While online job boards are an easy and uncomplicated way of finding clients, it’s actually been found by the Freelance Industry Report that only 6.3% of freelancers think this is an effective way to find clients. With over 59 million freelancers in America alone and only 145.4 thousand core clients on the platform, what are the chances of you getting consistent work at a fair price?
Your best chance, then, is to get off these platforms and start building an actual audience.
2.) Taking On Too Many Clients
When I first started freelancing, I said yes to every client that offered me work, even if the job wasn’t anything connected to the work I was looking to build a portfolio on.
Admittedly, it’s a great way to build experience and gain positive reviews.
But it also leads to overwork and burnout.
When your work revolves around how much time you spend working on a certain project (as is the case with hourly contracts), burnout and physical dissuasion for work could perhaps be the worst things that could happen to you.
I recently wrote a post on how many clients you should have as a freelancer and on it, I talked about the pros and cons of having a lot of clients. There are a lot of variables that go into it but more than anything else, you have to ensure that you’re able to take on the extra work without any drop in quality.
3.) Charging Too Little
If you’ve ever been on freelancing platforms like UpWork and Fiverr, you’ll know just how many jobs there are that offer work at extremely low rates. Hourly rates of less than $10 are abundant and month-long projects worth less than $1000 is a common sight.
As a freelancer, you should know the value of your work. If you don’t, I suggest you do a little bit of research on the prices you should be charging.
Here are some questions I ask myself to know if I’m charging too little:
- If this was my only project, would I be able to live off the price for as long as I’m working on it?
- Have I increased my prices recently?
- Do I feel that this rate is fair?
- How much are other freelancers charging for the same work?
These are the exact questions I asked when I was first starting out and after an honest session of self-reflection, I quickly found that I was severely undervaluing myself.
4.) Simply Following Instructions
Freelancing is more than just a day job. Like any relationship between a business(you) and a customer(the client), you don’t come in and do the bare minimum for your clients. You come in and give your very best at all times.
So, simply following instructions won’t cut it. Many of my past customers were extremely excited when I brought in a fresh perspective and my own ideas to the project. By providing fresh ideas and making creative decisions, you’re improving the quality of the project and increasing the chances of success.
Don’t be afraid to speak up. Remember, you were hired for your expertise and knowledge on the subject. Don’t be afraid to speak up and have input on the project.
5.) Not Having A Contract
I was guilty of not having a contract for the first couple of years of my freelancing career. In my defence, that was mostly because I found all my work on online job boards. Coincidentally, that’s also how I know that these online job boards don’t provide that much room for growth.
Anyway, when I moved off of the platform and started finding work mostly through my contacts, I found that not having a contract was actually holding me back. Oral agreements may have been easier but they were horrible when it came to clarifying the parameters of the project.
Let me tell you a story about one of the first offline clients I ever took.
When they approached me and requested for me to write articles for their website, I quickly gave them my usual quote, believing that they’d provide the article titles, headers, and some preliminary information that they wanted on it. You know, the usual.
I didn’t realize that they wanted me to come up with everything, from keyword research to copyediting.
What ended up happening was that I committed myself to a job that severely underpaid me.
If I had a contract, I would’ve been able to clarify all these points and get them in writing for future reference.
So please, please, get your clients to sign a contract and clarify everything.
6.) Not Networking
Your best future client is one that’s worked with you in the past. They’re familiar with you, your work, and your schedule. They know what they’re getting and are extremely comfortable working on more projects with you.
That’s why they’re also the best advertisers and marketers for your business.
Did you know that over 33% of freelancers get their jobs through referrals?
I know so many freelancers who get on UpWork, Fiverr, and Freelancer.com and never leave. The problem with these platforms is that after you work with a client on a project, you’ll likely never work with them again. You’re a name on a screen who did simple, mediocre work for them.
You won’t get a referral through the clients you have on these platforms. So your best bet is to network in real life, here’s a list of the 5 best places to find potential clients.
It’s not going to be easy but networking is an essential part of any freelancing business. It builds your brand and ensures that you’ll have a consistent flow of work for the foreseeable future.
7.) Failing To Communicate
One of my earlier clients asked me to write an article about doing taxes. I did some research and wrote about the forms you need and where you can file them. I edited the article and sent it off for approval, proud of the quality of the work I had finished.
What I didn’t know was that the client actually already had a setlist of headers in mind that they didn’t send over (and I didn’t ask for).
In the end, I had to rewrite the article at no additional cost.
I doubled my workload at no extra cost for the client.
This breakdown in communication could have easily been avoided if I just asked my clients for more information.
Before a waiter leaves your table in a restaurant, do they just smile and walk away?
No, they repeat your order and reconfirm to make sure that you understand each other.
Be accessible to your clients and let them know if you have any questions.
8.) Giving Up
This is honestly the saddest beginner freelancer mistake I see happen way too often.
My friends are familiar with what I do for a living and they often ask me questions about starting out as a freelancer. I tell them to get on UpWork to get a feel for the industry and get some skin in the game but they quickly give up after they get rejected for the first 5 jobs they applied for.
I think of freelancing as a business – and how many businesses start off profitable right from the first month?
Building a brand and an identity as a freelancer requires time and effort.
So, if you’re first starting out as a freelancer, don’t give up, keep honing your skills, and keep applying for more jobs.
It’s the only way you’ll grow.