You’d have thought that I had freelancing nailed by now, wouldn’t you? That I’d be an expert. Well, the truth is that I’m not. I’m constantly learning.
So here’s a cautionary tale.
To avoid the common mistakes that we all make and inspire you towards being a far more professional independent than I am, you should stop:
1. Thinking the working day is your working day
Ah. The freedom. Your own hours. Long lie ins, or at the opposite end of the scale, working all night. It’s great when you have no boss to tell you what to do. But it also means that the buck stops with you. Working 9 to 5 while waiting for opportunities to come your way is among the worst freelancing mistakes. The difference between working for an employer and working for yourself is that you really do have to take personal responsibility for getting the work done, getting new clients, keeping the pipeline going and, at the same time, keeping a healthy balance.
2. That you only have to deliver what was asked for
I expect many of you experienced freelancers are smiling at that. It seems so obvious, doesn’t it? You do a good job of delivering the items and services in the contract and that should be enough? Wrong. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your clients will be happy with that. If you only do what is asked for, your client will wonder what you are really bringing to the party. What they want from you is fresh thinking, a different perspective on the problem, and someone who doesn’t arrive with baggage. Create that kind of partnership and you’ll be asked back time and time again.
3. Losing the plot
In our enthusiasm for our newly found independence, we can become so engrossed with our work that we bury ourselves in our home office/bedrooms. It’s hardest on our families when we freelance from home. Working at home is great, but without the routine of getting up, getting dressed and going out to face the day, it can be easy to lose touch with – well – reality. There are lots of ways that you can work independently and enjoy the company of others. Join a coworking space, and if you’re in London, join our coworking pop ups, or your local ‘jelly’. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that they are often a more productive way to work than working at home for days on end without having anyone to bounce ideas off and share the highs and lows.
4. Compromising your day rate or price
Seriously. If you start off your client relationship by compromising your daily rate, you will start off your new relationship feeling resentful. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t negotiate, but offering work for free or at a low rate just means that your clients won’t value you. That’s the bottom line, I’m afraid. And it’s easy to think that you’ll be getting a foot in the door, but it’s almost impossible to move your clients up the price ladder. You can always reframe your costs for longer projects or for the security of a retainer, but never, ever, ever do it for less than you think you are worth. (Now read our blog post about being confident!)
5. Accepting every piece of work that comes your way
By ‘comes your way’ I mean accepting work that drops into your lap. Just because it’s work and they say they will pay you for it, it doesn’t mean that it’s the right kind of work for you. Listen to your gut feel, because it will rarely be wrong. You will know when the chemistry isn’t right. Every time that I’ve ignored that little voice, I’ve suffered the consequences of working with a client that isn’t interested in listening to advice, or doesn’t see our relationship as an equal, collaborative partnership. Then come the disputes over paying for your work. Trust your instincts….
7. Overstaying your welcome
Let’s just say you’ve found a nice client, and you both love each other. They keep giving you more work, you keep delivering and everything looks rosy. Except that you are starting to feel that your ideas are going stale, that you’ve stopped learning and that your relationship with your client has almost become co-dependent. The whole point about freelancing is that you have the freedom to try new ideas, to do it your way and be continually challenged. If security is what you are looking for, then perhaps freelancing isn’t for you.
8. Thinking that a permanent job is the answer
Freelancing should be a career of choice. If you are using freelancing as a way to fill in, in between proper jobs, then you’ll never realise the real benefits of working for yourself. Taking control of your own working life means never having to put your destiny in the hands of anyone else. I can’t pretend that freelancing gives you a secure future, because no job gives you that. But it will give you a chance to live life on your terms.