So you’re freelancing! Congratulations. There’s nothing quite like entrepreneurship, and you’re in for quite a ride. To make your entry into freelancing as easy as possible, tap into the collective wisdom and avoid some of these extremely common freelancer mistakes.
There are two factors when it comes to under-valuing yourself: not knowing how much to charge, and knowing how much you “should” charge but not charging it.
Your first step in avoiding this mistake is having a good idea of what your rates should be. The Freelancers Union recently put out a helpful infographic explaining how to find your minimum hourly rate. Know this number, and don’t go below it.
Sometimes you might feel discouraged when you see gigs going to lower-priced freelancers, or you get pressure from a potential client to reduce your prices. But this is a trap! Don’t feel like you have to drop your rates to land a gig — low-ball clients aren’t clients worth having. Certainly if it’s a desperate do-or-die time and a low-ball gig means you can keep the power on for another month, do what you have to do. But make that the exception, not the rule.
Learn how to sell your services and communicate your value. What’s the benefit of working with you as opposed to the cheapest web designer on the block? (Hint: look for things like your experience, your industry knowledge, your areas of expertise, a successful track record with your ideal type of client, etc.)
Taking any gig that comes your way
Closely linked with under-valuing yourself is taking on any gig that comes your way, even if you know it’s a dud. Whether you feel desperate or you’re trying to appeal to every web design client out there, it can be tempting to take on every lead that hits your inbox. Get a vision of your ideal client, and start targeting only those prospects. Learn how to say “no” to opportunities that aren’t right for you. After all, taking on the wrong client could mean you aren’t available when the right client comes.
Working without a contract
When you’re completely new to freelancing, contracts can seem like overkill… but they aren’t. Contracts are important for protecting yourself legally, and they’re also critical for setting out expectations right off the bat. It’s not uncommon to get a client who will want to spend months in revisions and tweaking and ironing out and changing … and you get the drift. A contract puts an enforceable limit on that.
Focusing on the frills
As a web designer, it’s certainly a good idea to have a professional presence online, consistent branding, etc. But don’t get so caught up in making The Perfect High-Tech Website with The Perfect Logo and The Perfect Business Cards and The Perfect Everything Else that you miss out on the most important part of freelancing — finding clients. A logo won’t pay the bills — a good client will.
Not building your business
Take the first hour of every day, and make it yours. Don’t answer email, don’t do client work, don’t return phone calls. In that first hour, focus solely on the things that will build your business. This means marketing, contacting former clients to fish for more work, developing your own skills, or taking care of anything that needs to be done to build your business. Clients can have the rest of the day; that first hour needs to be yours.
Failing to deliver
There are a few things that are unacceptable when you’re freelancing, and one of these is missing deadlines. Take the client seriously, and make your deadlines. On the flip side, make sure you’re leaving yourself enough time to do the project right. It can be tempting to offer fast turn-around times to land a client, but be reasonable.
It’s also critical to make sure you aren’t over-promising, based on your skills and the client’s needs. Don’t breathlessly say you can deliver something you don’t know how to deliver. If a project involves something you want to learn how to do, mention this to the client, but don’t sell yourself as having a skill you don’t actually have.
Ignoring the finances
Working for yourself, whether you’re a full-timer or a side-hustler, means you’ve got to keep your financial house in order. This includes setting aside money for taxes, and paying them quarterly. Generally the advice is to set aside 25-30%, but talk to a tax advisor to get the best plan for you.
Beyond taxes, though, you need to be aware of your “books.” Have a good system for invoicing and keeping track of how much money is coming in. Keep track of your expenses and receipts, and understand the difference between gross income (what’s coming in) and your net income (what stays in your pocket after business expenses). Also develop financial policies that work in your benefit, like requiring a deposit up front, and charging rush fees for work that needs to be turned around quickly.
What’s the most common mistake you’ve witnessed beginners making?