10 common freelancing mistakes

So you want to be a freelancer? And who can blame you? Work when you want, from where you want, doing the work you want. Sounds awesome.

But is it really that simple? Can you just quit the nine-to-five and live your best life freelancing from your dream location?

Of course not. If it was that easy, everyone would be doing it.

So if you are thinking of quitting the nine-to-five or you’ve recently made the leap into freelance life, and you want to get off to a great start, here are ten common freelancing mistakes to avoid.

1. Don't underestimate the importance of sales and marketing

Being good at the thing you offer isn’t enough. You’ve got to convince people to give you money for it.

And that means you need some kind of marketing and sales process.

You either have to go out and find people who need what you’re offering or find a way to attract them to you. And once you’ve found those people, you need to convert them into buyers.

If you’re not doing any marketing – whether it’s networking, content marketing, cold outreach or something else – you will struggle to get customers.

And if you haven’t got customers, your freelance business won’t last very long.

Word of mouth is great, but you can’t rely on others to get you customers. Even if you’re getting lots of recommendations, you’ve still got to convert those recommendations into customers. And if you aren’t very good at selling, that’s going to be tough.

What kind of marketing you do and how aggressive you make your sales process is entirely up to you. But you have to do something.

Announcing to the world that you’ve started a freelance business and then sitting back and waiting for the work to roll in is not a strategy.

Learn some basic marketing and sales techniques. Do not underestimate the importance of being able to market yourself and sell your services.

(Want to learn the basics of good copy and content? Sign up for my free email series here).

2. Don't wait for perfection before launching something new

In the first year of business, the most important thing is getting clients. That’s it.

Yes, things like having good branding, a website, and marketing collateral are all useful, but they aren’t a priority.

In my first year as a full-time freelancer, I traded as Lisa Slater Copywriting using a website I’d built myself using Weebly (not sure if that even exists anymore) and no logo.

I used an old headshot and some stock images. I made my invoices in Microsoft Excel.

None of that stuff mattered. What mattered was getting clients. And I did.

Once I started getting clients, I figured out what kind of work I wanted to do, what type of clients I enjoyed working with and how to package my services.

After that first year, I rebranded as Make Your Copy Count. I transitioned from sole trader to limited company, and I invested in a new website. I got a nice logo and graphics, started working with an accountant and began using accounting software (Xero).

My business evolved gradually.

You don’t have to wait until everything is perfect before launching a new business, product or service.

If you wait until everything is perfect, you’ll be waiting forever.

When I launched my free email series, I hadn’t finished writing the emails before I started getting subscribers.

I’ve launched courses and sold places on them before the content has been finalised.

Don’t overthink things – if you want to launch a new product or service, you don’t have to have the details completely nailed down or have perfectly polished promotional material.

Start promoting it – see whether there is any interest. If there isn’t, you haven’t wasted time or money. If there is, then you can finalise the details.

3. Be careful who you take advice from

Everyone will have an opinion on marketing or how to run your business, or whether something is or isn’t a good idea. But their opinion isn’t necessarily an informed opinion.

It’s not that people want to give you bad advice on purpose. The problem is people love being helpful. And in their quest to be helpful, they forget that they don’t have the knowledge or expertise to give effective advice on that particular subject. Most of the time, their advice is based on guesswork or stuff they’ve heard from other “helpful” people.

If you want marketing advice, get it from someone who understands marketing. If you want business advice, get it from someone who has built the kind of business you want. If you want accounting or tax advice, get it from someone qualified.

Don’t get advice from someone with no expertise on the subject. Don’t get advice from people with the same problem as you – if they knew how to solve it, they would have solved it for themselves.

And for goodness sake, don’t get advice from self-proclaimed business gurus who claim they can turn you into a six-figure business overnight. If it was that easy, everyone would be doing it.

Check out a person’s credibility before you blindly follow their advice. 

(Check out my article on marketing advice to ignore for more tips on what to watch out for).

4. You don't have to agree to everything

Are you a people pleaser? Do you find it hard to say no to people? Unfortunately, these aren’t good traits for a freelancer.

If you agree to every call, meeting or “can I pick your brain” request, you’ll stretch yourself too thin. If you say “yes” every time someone asks if you can discount your price, squeeze in an extra project, or do a quick favour, you’ll end up with more work than you can handle and less money than you deserve.

Saying yes to everything just to keep people happy can result in you being overworked, underpaid and exploited.

Not every opportunity is a good opportunity. You need to learn to be selective.

Be selective about the type of clients you work with.

Be selective about the type of work you agree to.

Be selective about who you give your time and energy to.

5. Don't price too low

If you are working more hours than you’d like but earning less money than you need, your prices are too low. It’s a simple equation.

You might be worried that increasing your prices will mean you won’t get as many clients. You might not. But you don’t need as many. One client paying you £1200 is better than two clients paying you £500 each.

And if you charge a decent rate, you can give your clients a better service because you won’t have to take on as much work to cover the bills.

If your prices mean you only need one project per week, you can give that project your full attention. You aren’t splitting your energy between multiple clients, trying to manage multiple sets of questions and struggling to meet multiple expectations.

Taking on less work but at a higher price means you can provide a better service.

6. Get control over your money

It never fails to amaze me how many business owners have no control over their money.

They live invoice to invoice, never keeping track of what is owed, never saving any back for tax or emergencies, and never making provisions for months when income won’t be as high.

You have to get control of your cash. You need to plan for peaks and troughs in your business.

If you invoice at the end of each month and then don’t get paid for 30 days, that’s over a month between doing the work and getting paid. And that’s if the clients pay on time. This means you might not feel the effects of a quiet month until a couple of months later. You have to plan for that.

Personally, I recommend getting paid upfront. Getting paid upfront means you never have to deal with late payments or worry about whether you’ll get paid.

But however you choose to work, you have to understand your finances – know what’s coming in, what’s going out and how much you need to hold back for tax bills.

Create a buffer so you can still cover the bills in the quieter months without having to take on crappy work.

7. Don't neglect your marketing during a feast period

Despite what many freelancers will tell you, the feast and famine cycle is not inevitable.

You will experience small peaks and troughs in enquires and workload, but these should be manageable.

On the other hand, the feast and famine cycle involves huge fluctuations – weeks or months of overwhelming workloads followed by complete dry spells where you wonder if you’ll ever get any work again.  And this is preventable.

So many freelancers fall into the feast and famine trap because they stop marketing during a “feast” period. They get too busy to go networking, post on social media, create any content or send any marketing emails.

They don’t have time to reply to enquiries as quickly or thoroughly as they usually would, and any proposals they put together are rushed.

Then the workload eases off. And there’s no new work lined up. It all goes a bit quiet, and the famine phase hits.

So now our freelancer has to have a big push on marketing. They follow up on every open lead they can think of. And in some cases, they discount their rates or take on low-paying work out of desperation.

They start getting busy again – too busy.

And round and round the cycle goes.

The easiest way to break the cycle is to keep marketing even during feast times and not overload yourself with work (don’t say yes to everything).

If your marketing is consistent, your leads will be more consistent, and your workload will be more consistent.

(Check out my article on avoiding the feast and famine if you’ve found yourself stuck in this cycle).

8. Take control of how your business operates

Most freelancers go into freelancing because they want more flexibility and freedom, and yet they often find themselves with the opposite.

They work more hours, make less money, drop everything because a client wants their attention, jump through hoops to win business, and waste hours chasing unpaid invoices – it’s exhausting.

And it’s ridiculous. Because it doesn’t have to be that way.

You decide how your business operates. Only you.

If you are doing lots of low-paid work, it is because you are agreeing to it.

If your clients are running you ragged, it’s because you’re letting them.

If you don’t want to work evenings or weekends, don’t answer your phone or open your emails in the evening or on weekends.

If a prospect asks you to discount your price, say no.

If a client always pays you late, tell them they have to start paying upfront. And if they refuse, stop working with them.

It’s your business – it should work on your terms.

If you go out to eat and the place you choose operates on an order and pay-at-the-counter basis, you don’t question it. If they don’t open on Mondays, you don’t argue with them. If they tell you the kitchen closes at 9pm, you accept it.

Why should it be any different for your business? If clients don’t like the way you operate, that’s their problem, not yours.

9. Don't try and do it all alone

I was so guilty of this when I started freelancing. I wanted to prove I could do it all myself – wanted to say I’d built a successful business without any help.

What a mistake that was.

You can spend days trying to learn how to do something when an expert could do it for you (or teach you how to do it) in an hour.

Don’t be stubborn. Get help. Get support. Invest in software that will make your business more efficient. Outsource tasks you’re rubbish at to people who can do them better than you. Get expert advice and training when you need it.

Don’t try and do everything on the cheap – it rarely turns out well.

You wouldn’t think twice about taking your car to a garage if it wasn’t working right or calling a plumber if you had a burst pipe in your home. So why wouldn’t you bring in an expert when something isn’t working properly in your business?

I’m not saying you should throw money at everything, but don’t be scared to invest.

10. Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing

Social media can be brilliant, but it can also be extremely detrimental.

It’s too easy to look at everyone who is “smashing it” and feel like a failure.

But you don’t know the reality of their situation. They might be talking bullshit. Or they might have worked their arse off for years to get where they are. They might have had a lot of financial support. Or they might be drowning in debt.

Comparing yourself to other people without any context is the easiest way to demotivate yourself.

Focus on what you’re doing.

And work toward your own goals, not anybody else’s.

If you don’t want to build a six-figure business, or a seven-figure business, or a business empire, then don’t

If you don’t want to create multiple income streams or hustle eighty hours a week, or work from the beach, then don’t.

You don’t need a huge income, big house, fancy car, expensive watch, or designer clothes to be successful. If those things don’t make you happy, what’s the point of having them?

Your definition of success is what is important. What do you want from your business? What do you want from your life?

Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks you should or shouldn’t be doing – worry about what you want to do.

Are you a frustrated freelancer, coach, consultant, or service provider?

Are you tired of attracting the wrong clients, crappy clients, or no clients at all? 

It doesn’t have to be that way. You can get paid good money doing work you love for people you like, and The Freelance Fairytale will teach you how. 

Despite the title, The Freelance Fairytale is not a fluffy bedtime story. It’s packed full of practical advice to help you create a business that makes you happy. 

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Hi – I’m Lisa

If this is your first time here, thanks for reading. 

I’m Lisa – owner of Make Your Copy Count Ltd, and author of the ‘A-Z of Blogging’ and ‘The Freelance Fairytale‘. 

I help freelancers and small businesses attract more of the clients they want by providing copywriting training and business mentoring

If you’d like to get to know me a bit better, sign up for my daily email here