As a freelancer, you know how challenging it can be to juggle your time between marketing your services, managing your budget, and tracking invoices – not to mention actually working on client projects. Being a freelancer means being every department in one, and many freelancers fail to reach their potential because they make crucial mistakes that consistently hold them back. I know, because I’ve committed the same mistakes.
The following highlights the five biggest freelance mistakes you can make and how to rectify them.
1. Charge too Little
When you’re breaking in to the business, nearly all the advice regarding what to charge indicates you should settle for less to get established. There is some truth to this, as it definitely pays to have a solid portfolio, but it can be a double-edged sword. Consider what happens if two or three of your first clients become long-term customers at a nominal fee. You could end up spending the majority of your time on their work for little pay off.
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To avoid that trap, double your fees. Yes, it will be more difficult to find clients. And yes, you’re likely to lose a few you already have. But you’re far better off working for a handful of clients who pay you well than dozens of clients who amount to two or three times the work for the same pay. Charging more lends a sense of legitimacy to your skills, and therefore enables you to land higher-quality clients and focus more on the quality of your work rather than the quantity.
2. Refuse to Delegate
As your freelance business grows it can become increasingly difficult to give up control over any aspect of your work. Keep in mind that the more work you have, the more paperwork you have. You could easily find yourself devoting ten to twenty hours each week on non-paying “business stuff” that would be better left to other business professionals.
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Let’s say, for example, you spend five hours per week on bookkeeping and invoicing – all non-paid work. If your fee is, say, $90 per hour, you’re losing $450 each week to maintain your business records and make sure you get paid. I’m willing to bet you could find an online bookkeeper to handle those accounts on a part-time basis for less than $200 per week, thus allowing you to earn an additional $250 in weekly income. Over a year, that adds up to $13,000 – a pretty significant chunk of change.
3. Ignore Your Local Market
One of the biggest mistakes I made when I first set out as a freelancer was to ignore the local market. I thought I could find all of my clients online and never have to bother with face-to-face meetings. Of course, I could have and probably would have done just that if not for an opportunity presented to me by a friend in the design industry. My friend introduced me to a local client who had a need for ongoing work, who in turn introduced me to other local clients. Now, nearly half my client stable is comprised of local businesses.
It’s important to understand that despite all the advantages of services such as LinkedIn and Facebook, people still trust those they shake hands with – or have a beer with, for that matter – more than anything they read online. If you can get a foot in the door of your local market, and do a good job, I guarantee you will increase your client base easily.
4. Ignore Networking Opportunities
This goes hand-in-hand with your local market. A large portion of B2B business is acquired via referrals, not overt marketing, for the same trust-related reasons I’ve mentioned. When you are not an active member in your community, online or off, you’re are undoubtedly missing out on opportunities to grow.
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Join your local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, and BNI. Attend the meetings and get to know your business community. Attend open houses and business cocktail parties. Volunteer to help. Online, be an active part of communities your customers are members of. Don’t pitch – such sites likely have paid ads for that – just be helpful and cordial. In a few short months, such networking opportunities can begin paying huge dividends.
5. Fail to Take Breaks
Breaks are necessary for efficiency and creativity. The science backs it. You need breaks during the day to relax and refocus. Some say you should work in 90 minute bursts with a 15 minute break between sessions. I don’t know if it’s paramount that you follow such strict guidelines, but when you notice yourself slowing down or hit a block in creativity, take a few minutes for yourself. A walk around the block, a mile on the exercise bike, or even a few minutes picking at my guitar seem to work for me; find a brief distraction that works for you.
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Not only should you take breaks daily, a weekly lapse in work – most call them weekends – can work wonders for your stress levels. And a couple of vacations during the year can essentially hit the “reset” button on the grind of hard work so you return refreshed with an abundance of creative ideas. For a stress-free trip, get ahead of your work and give clients advanced notice so you don’t have to worry about playing catch-up when you return. Better yet, delegate someone to handle your calls while you’re away.
If you’re struggling as a freelancer or you simply feel as though you haven’t realized your potential, incorporating these suggestions into your business will allow you to work more efficiently, more creatively, and more profitably.