Freelancing is a great career opportunity for people who enjoy working independently, value the flexibility of setting their own hours, and are willing to take on some risk in exchange for more job satisfaction and financial reward.
But it’s not for everyone. In fact, many people try freelancing once or twice and find they’re not cut out for it. It takes a special kind of person to succeed as a freelancer.
You need to be organized, self-motivated, and have excellent time management skills. Additionally, you need to be able to handle stress well and have good communication skills so you can meet your clients needs while still operating efficiently as your business owner.
If you’re not currently ready to make the leap into freelancing but think it might be something you want to do someday, there are still things you can do now to help get you in the right mindset and position yourself for future success if and when the time comes.
Here are six critical beginner mistakes that often keep people from becoming successful freelancers.
Doing Work You Don’t Like
It might sound obvious, but the number one reason people fail as freelancers is they don’t like the type of work they’re doing. If you do contract work in a certain field, but you don’t actually enjoy the work itself, it’s going to be very difficult to succeed.
What’s even worse is that you may not even realize this is the problem. You might think the problem lies with your business or marketing strategy.
You might be so desperate for the money that you don’t recognize that you’re in a job that’s just not a good fit. This is one of the reasons why it’s important to get started as a freelancer as early as possible in your career.
By contracting for a few clients in your desired field, you’ll gain a lot of valuable insight into what the work is really like and whether it’s truly something you want to do in the long run.
Assuming You Know Everything
Freelancers are often called “self-employed” for a reason. As the owner of your own business, you’re responsible for everything, including taxes, accounting, marketing, and more.
This can be a great thing if you’re someone who’s motivated and self-disciplined enough to handle all the things you need to do yourself.
But if you’re someone who needs structure and prefers having a boss to tell you what to do, being a freelancer may not be a good fit. To get started as a freelancer, you’ll need to have a pretty high level of self-confidence and self-awareness.
You’ll need to be able to recognize when you’re making mistakes or falling behind on various tasks, and you’ll need to be able to rectify the situation without relying on a manager or client to tell you what to do next.
If you don’t recognize that you lack these skills, you may end up burning out and quitting after just a few months, mistakenly thinking that freelancing isn’t for you because it’s too hard.
Poor Time Management
This is related to the last point, but it’s important enough to get its own spot on the list. If you don’t know how to manage your time well, you’ll find it very difficult to succeed as a freelancer. This is because time management is at the core of every successful freelancing business.
Whether you write articles, design websites, photograph weddings, or offer any other type of service, you need to be able to meet your clients deadlines and deliver a quality product on time.
If you don’t have a good grasp on your priorities, you’ll never be able to stay on top of your work and meet these important deadlines.
If you’re currently having trouble managing your time, there are things you can do to help improve in this area. Try using a calendar or to-do list so you’re not just relying on your memory.
And instead of trying to do everything as soon as you get it, learn how to say no to work so you don’t overcommit yourself.
Lack Of Clear Policies And Systems
Freelancers often work without a boss or manager to enforce protocols, check their work, and tell them what to do next. So, it’s up to you to set and follow the protocols and procedures needed to make your business run smoothly.
This means you need to have clear policies and procedures in place for everything from billing to filing taxes to dealing with client communication.
And if you work with an assistant or have team members, you need to make sure everyone on your team follows the same rules and procedures so your business maintains its professionalism.
The lack of protocols and systems is one of the reasons why many businesses fail to scale. If you’re not careful, you’ll be able to handle everything that comes your way with ease.
But the moment you get busier, you’ll find that you don’t have the systems in place to handle it. This is why it’s important to put thought into creating systems and procedures for everything as soon as you start out.
Working Without A Contract
Even though you’re working as a freelancer, you’re still doing a type of business. In fact, you have all the same obligations as any other business owner to your clients, to your team members (if you have any), and to your business’s legal compliance.
Unfortunately, many freelancers don’t take their obligations as seriously as they should. They may think that working without a contract doesn’t matter.
Or they may think that clients are happy just to have the work done and won’t really care about the lack of a contract. But it’s actually a huge mistake.
A contract protects you as well as your clients. If you work without one, you give clients a loophole to walk away from paying you.
And if you’re working with a large company, they may be able to get out of their contract without penalty. A contract ensures that your client understands the expectations and that you understand the requirements as well.
Terrible Communication Skills
Whether you’re writing emails to clients or talking with team members, good communication skills are essential to success as a freelancer.
And unfortunately, many people don’t have great communication skills. If this sounds like you, don’t despair. There are things you can do to improve your communication skills now so they’re stronger when you’re ready to freelance full-time.
This includes reading books on communication, attending workshops on the topic, and putting what you learn into practice as often as you can.
Getting Angry At Clients
As you grow your freelance business, you’ll likely deal with some difficult clients. They may complain about your work, be unreasonable, or be chronically late in paying you.
When this happens, it’s important that you stay calm and rational. You’ve probably heard the saying that you should treat your clients as if they’re your boss. Well, it’s true.
Your clients are your bosses, and if you want to be successful, you need to learn how to work with difficult people. You may not be able to control how your clients behave, but you can control how you respond to them.
No “Rainy Day” Fund
Freelancing is a wonderful career path. It allows you to set your own hours and work from wherever you want. You can choose clients that interest you, and there aren’t any annual reviews or yearly performance reviews.
But with all these perks, there is one thing that many people don’t think about the risk. Freelancing is risky. If you get hit by a car one day and have no health insurance, you have no income.
If you have a baby or become pregnant, there is no paid maternity leave. If you contract for a client who pays you late and you run out of money, you have nothing to fall back on.
Sure, you can always take a contract from a different client, but your financial situation will be different each time. It’s important to have a “rainy day” fund – some money set aside for when things go wrong.
It can be tempting to think that you know everything there is to know about freelancing. Unfortunately, if you’re not careful, you can make some very costly mistakes that can undermine your business’ success.
You need to be able to recognize when you’re making a mistake and to figure out how to fix it. Your clients will thank you for it. But you also need to keep in mind that it can take years to build a solid reputation and client base as a freelancer.
And what you think is a critical mistake might actually be a necessary step to success. These are just a few of the many things you need to keep in mind as you embark on this career path.