Anyone who is committed to freelancing knows that, even if it seems that the work provides the luxury of flexibility, the reality is much harder.
When you are responsible for your own success, you also become responsible for your own failures. That means a freelancer needs to pay close attention to how they manage their time and energy as well as additional taxes for freelancers; it also means that they need to be constantly striving to learn new strategies and skills.
So, if you’re a freelancer, you’ve probably done a lot of research into your own industry. You know the tricks and tools of the trade.
If you are, for example, a graphic artist, you ideally brush up on the latest updates to Adobe Illustrator or InDesign; you learn about the powerhouse companies in the field, and you know reasonable fees to set for your work.
But you aren’t just a graphic designer: you’re a freelance graphic designer. That means it’s also useful to draw on the experience, trials, and tribulations of other freelancers who’ve come before you.
Because being a freelance designer is a whole different animal than being a designer who works for a company in-house.
Here are 4 Mistakes Every New Freelancer Makes when they’re first starting out.
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4 Mistakes Every New Freelancer Makes
Not Setting Boundaries
When you begin picking up clients, it’s exciting! People see the value in your work and they’re willing to pay for it. It’s easy to get caught up in that feeling and start saying YES to everything that comes your way.
But one of the most important skills for a freelancer is knowing when to say no. The old adage ‘under promise, over deliver’ is very valuable here. You want to ensure that you don’t end up overextending yourself so much that you do long-term damage.
It’s much better for your business to take a small amount of work for a client so that they later recommend you to another business– thereby diversifying your income sources– than to take a large amount of work for a client one time and end up doing a sub-par performance on a poor timetable so that you get money for that particular project but the revenue dries up.
Be honest with yourself about how much work you can handle, and make rules for yourself and your clients. Maybe that means not taking calls on nights or weekends.
Maybe that means ensuring that no one has your personal number. Whatever it takes, draw a boundary and stick to it, because that’s the best way to guarantee your personal health and success.
Not Using Tools
We always hear that we’re supposed to work smarter, not harder.
That is doubly true when you are a freelancer because you aren’t just looking to put in the hours for a company boss: you need results. Every bit of efficiency that you can muster is important. Which begs the question: how can I be more efficient as a freelancer?
There is one surprisingly simple solution. You’ll want to find a few tools– these may be apps or software programs– that you can lean on to streamline your life.
Using too many apps will quickly become overwhelming and clutter your operations, but a bit of research will typically lead you to two or three particular tools that will make a world of difference. The first step, though, is naming the problem.
Think about where you’re bleeding time. To resolve the issue of spending too much time creating social media posts, get a social media marketing tool. Do you struggle to keep up with the latest news and advances in your industry?
Find a good RSS feed or news aggregate. Are you wasting precious hours reporting your minutes and creating invoices? A bookkeeping tool will make that process a snap.
The real skill here, of course, is determining where your hours are being wasted. Try to pin down your most mindless task and then do a bit of searching to find a bit of help– many of these tools are free.
Not Making a Contract
Sure, it’s a pain. A contract can often feel like a sideroad or an obstacle that keeps the client from actually beginning to work with you. But the truth is that you don’t want to work with a client who’s scared off by a contract. In a fair world, contracts help both parties.
A contract isn’t necessarily going to protect you from non-payment from a client: if you are an individual freelancer going against a single big client, chances are you’re going to be at a huge disadvantage, and legal costs would not be worth the fee you’d recoup.
What a contract does is lay out expectations for both parties; set a road map for unexpected obstacles like late delivery, and make sure there is clarity about payment and a timeline.
Most clients will be honest, but a contract will also give you a sheen of professionalism and establish trust between both parties in a way that can be very valuable.
Being able to present a contract (and later an invoice) tells a client that you have the experience, you take your work seriously, and you know there are firm deadlines and thresholds that you are willing to hold yourself to.
And look again to tools– there are many apps and tools out there that can help you draw up a professional contract without scrambling for a lawyer.
Charging the Wrong Rate
This is one of the biggest struggles for freelancers. No matter how closely you follow the community of people in your industry, there will always be a huge range of rates charged for (nominally) the same work.
It depends on the workers’ experience; the clients’ demands; the speed and scope of the project– it’s tough to set firm rates when there are so many moving parts. If you set rates too high, you might lose business, especially if you are new to freelancing.
If you set them too low, you won’t be doing your best work, because you’ll have to take on too many projects to meet your needs.
Ideally, you want to set hourly rates that work out to be the same as someone working in-house: but that means you have to take into account ‘invisible’ benefits, like insurance and vacation days.
Don’t be afraid to experiment a little bit, even when it’s scary, to get a feel for how rates affect expectations and negotiations. Once you’ve established yourself in the field, you can begin to raise them.
Those are our four tips, but the best one of all is to remember you are part of a community. When in doubt, turn to your fellow freelancers, whether you find them in person or in an online community. No one can help you like them.