There’s an enormous amount of responsibility that goes along with being a freelance web designer – especially if you’re doing it full-time. Sure, it can seem like a carefree way of life, but the reality is that you’re ultimately responsible for your own success or failure.
Sometimes, failure is a product of circumstances beyond your control. Crazy things do happen in this world of ours. But much of the time, a failed freelance venture can be traced back to a series of events and/or a pattern of behavior. One bad decision may not do you in, but continually making them can indeed push you off the proverbial cliff.
Let’s investigate some reasons why freelance web designers fail:
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1. Lack of Preparedness
Every one of us makes mistakes in our daily work. We can easily misspell a word, accidentally delete a file or forget to perform a required task. It’s just part of being human.
Because we are fallible, we should find ways to prepare for those inevitable hiccups. That means backing up files, using a spell-checker and keeping your own form of a to-do list. It’s really a matter of committing yourself to a few processes. It’s amazing how often we just don’t do it.
If you’re unprepared, a bad situation can be made that much worse. Getting caught flat-footed when a site crashes, for example, could lead to losing a client – and a significant amount of money.
Being chronically unprepared, then, is pretty much a death sentence to your freelance career. The sad part of this is that it’s something you can actually avoid with a little effort.
2. Getting Stuck in Bad Relationships
Working with a client who has failed to pay a bill? A lot of us have faced that one. But beyond the more obvious issues of not getting paid, there are some other ways a client relationship can be deemed a bad one.
Clients that are always in a hurry – until they’re not – can be a detriment to your schedule, your ability to get new (and better) clients and also your sanity. Then there are those who are a bit volatile and require an outsized amount of attention, compared to the revenue they generate for your business.
The point is that there are a host of bad relationships out there. As with the lack of preparedness section above, it seems inevitable that one of these is going to affect you at some point. But if you willingly accept and continue to get yourself into these types of relationships, your business will suffer for it.
That’s why you’re better off being proactive in a situation like this. You might discuss things with your client and explain the need to fix the process of working together. If that fails, then it might be time to politely move on from each other.
3. Being Too Dependent on One Revenue Source
Booking a big client who will provide you with a steady amount of work and income over the long term is a big deal for a freelancer. It can make a real positive difference in your bottom line and enable you to stay in business.
On the flip side, you don’t want to become so dependent on this one great client that your business turns to dust if the relationship dissolves. It’s a good idea to still have other reliable sources of income. Keep booking other projects (within your means, of course) and make sure to actively look for new revenue streams.
Having diversity in your business means that you can lose that big client and still have a little breathing room to survive. Sure, the loss will still hurt (maybe even quite a bit), but at least you’ll stay afloat while trying to replace it.
Besides, if one client takes up most of your time and is most of your revenue, then you might want to discuss becoming an actual employee. That way, you’ll at least have the benefits that go along with a more permanent type of employment.
Overall, strive to ensure that no single client is more than 20%-25% of your total yearly revenue. Any more than that and you do risk losing everything if the gravy train suddenly dries up.
4. Poor Financial Management
Perhaps nothing on this list will sink your business more quickly than mismanaging your finances. Sure, it’s about spending wildly on things you may or may not need. Most of us realize that’s not a good idea (even if it is fun at the time). But there are other factors to consider.
One factor could be as simple as not charging enough. While it’s admirable to want to provide your clients with an affordable service, it’s also quite possible to sell yourself short. If you charge a low hourly rate, then you’ll pretty much have to make sure that every hour out of your workday is a billable hour. Even the busiest freelancers aren’t going to necessarily going to generate income every minute of the day.
You don’t have to go out of your way to gouge clients – that just creates another slew of problems. The idea is to simply figure out an income that you can comfortably live on and set your rates accordingly. It can still be affordable for clients and competitive in your market. Don’t try to become the Wal-Mart of web design – it’s not going to work in the long term.
The other big factor is the failure to prepare for any taxes you have to pay. For example, I live in the USA, where taxes on freelancers are a bit brutal. We have to pay estimated taxes quarterly. It can be financially draining – even if you are somewhat prepared for it.
So, have a plan of attack when it comes to paying taxes. This is one area where you may even want to solicit the help of a financial professional. They can help you devise a plan to stay in compliance and avoid financial ruin.
5. Getting Away from Core Services
Diversity is mentioned above, and to be sure it’s important. But it can sometimes go too far. In that never-ending quest to bring in more revenue, a freelancer may start to offer other services that are outside of their core expertise.
Complimentary services can be a nice way to make a little extra cash. The issue here is that some offerings may end up taking way more time than anticipated while also hurting revenue.
This was especially a problem in the early days of the web. Some designers took on work in unrelated fields like computer repair, while others stayed closer to home with things like print design and SEO.
The key in offering services is to make money without having to put out too much effort. Reselling web hosting, for example, could turn a decent profit without having to be fully responsible for running a server. You want to stay within your field of expertise without getting in the way of your core business.
Simply put, trying to do too much and offering services you know little or nothing about will put you on the fast track to disaster.
There’s Usually a Reason for Failure
Like we see in every other industry, poorly-run freelance design businesses don’t often survive. But it’s especially magnified because, unlike working for a large company, a freelancer is usually the single deciding factor in everything. It’s sort of like being the CEO of your own destiny. That is just the risk we take for that extra bit of freedom and for doing what we love.