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Freelancers: Stop Making These 5 Mistakes if You Want to Survive


You escaped the corporate grind and became a freelancer. Congratulations! I know how liberating that can be! The gig economy is thriving and there has never been a better time to be a freelancer. But are you setting yourself up to be a successful freelancer?

The reality of freelancing is that you’ll probably end up working more hours than you did in your corporate job, and you might earn less money doing it – at least at first. However, the flexibility, the freedom, and the home office makes the long hours and lower pay worth it for most freelancers.

If that sounds like you, then you’ve taken the right first step in becoming a freelancer, but are you making some of the common mistakes that lead to freelancer failure? Have you fallen into any of the traps that could put you back on the path to Corporate America?

Don’t worry! I’m going to help you stay off that path by explaining what the five most common mistakes are that lead to freelancer failure so you can avoid them!

1. Slashing Your Fees

What are you worth? How much money do you need to make per hour to survive? Do the math. Don’t undervalue yourself!

The problem for many freelancers is uncertainty. A prospective client calls you and wants a quote for a new project. You send your estimate and get a response asking for a lower price.

What if no one else calls this month? Will you be able to pay your bills? Should you accept the lower payment?

Even freelancers who have month-to-month clients with a fairly stable income stream have a fear in the back of their minds that those clients could disappear at any moment. Life changes. Business changes. Few things are guaranteed in business, and when you’re a freelancer, you learn that lesson very quickly.

It can be tempting to slash your fees to bring in some extra work and boost your cash flow, but tread very carefully! You’ll end up regretting it.

Why? Because you’ll be making less money per hour than you would have if you invested time into finding clients who value your skills and experience and are capable of paying your full rate.

Once you give a client a discount, they’ll want it all the time, so unless you cut ties with that client, you’ll continually earn less per hour from that client than you could be earning from someone else. It becomes a cycle that you need to break in order to survive.

The better option is to never let the cycle start in the first place. Don’t cut your fees!

2. Overworking

It can be tempting to take on as much work as possible when you’re a freelancer, but don’t do it.

When you work too much, your productivity and quality drop. Eventually, you’ll burn out.

Even more important, when you work too much, you lose time with your friends and family. You can’t get that time back, so enjoy it while you can.

Set timelines with your clients so they have realistic expectations of what you can deliver and you get to have a personal life.

3. Losing Focus

Don’t take every project that comes in if some of those projects aren’t the right fit for you. Don’t give into the temptation because you’ll end up regretting it.

Let’s say you’re a freelance writer and your specialty is copywriting. Now imagine that a client asks you to do some technical writing work, which is outside of your expertise. You might consider taking the job for the money knowing you’re capable of completing the project.

However, technical writing isn’t your specialty. It will take you longer to complete a technical writing project than a copywriting project. But you can only increase your fee to a certain point to cover that additional time before it gets too high for the client to accept.

Your options are to 1) take the project and end up making less than your hourly rate because it takes you longer to complete the project or 2) increase your fee and price yourself out of the job.

But wait. There’s another option.

3) Don’t even consider the project because it’s outside of your focus. Instead, use that time to look for more clients and projects that match your focus.

In the end, you’ll be much happier if you choose option #3.

4. Getting Too Comfortable

You have several clients who keep you very busy. Things are going great, and you’re making enough money to feel comfortable as a freelancer.

What happens next?

For most freelancers, they get a bit too comfortable. When the money is rolling in, they stop prospecting and networking.

Don’t let yourself get too comfortable.

To be a successful freelancer over the long-term, you should always be looking for new clients.

I get it – you don’t have time to look for new clients because your current clients keep you really busy. If you found new clients now, you wouldn’t have time to do the extra work.

That’s one of the biggest challenges freelancers have to face. However, getting too comfortable with the clients you have now can cause big problems later.

A client can disappear at any moment, so never put all of your eggs in one basket, and never become overly reliant on one client or a small number of clients.

5. Failing to Self-Promote

Few people like to self-promote, but as a freelancer, you have to. If you don’t promote yourself, no one else will. Therefore, you need to dedicate time (and possibly money) to self-promotion on a weekly or monthly basis at a minimum.

Be active on social media. Publish content on your blog and on LinkedIn. Place some Facebook Ads. Write guest posts on sites where your target client audiences spend time. Invest in some search engine optimization for your website.

The key is to be visible, share your expertise, and continually network to build your brand reputation. In time, those efforts will pay off with new client inquiries.

Your Next Steps to be a Successful Freelancer

Avoid the five mistakes discussed above, and you’ll be on your way to becoming a successful freelancer. Most important, determine your value, prioritize your free time, toot your own horn, and maintain focus. Success rarely happens overnight but with patience and persistence, you’ll be on a path to success sooner rather than later.

Susan Gunelius

Susan Gunelius is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Women on Business. She is a 25-year veteran of the marketing field and has authored ten books about marketing, branding, and social media, including the highly popular Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing, 30-Minute Social Media Marketing, Content Marketing for Dummies, Blogging All-in-One for Dummies and Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps. Susan’s marketing-related content can be found on Entrepreneur.com, Forbes.com, MSNBC.com, BusinessWeek.com, and more. Susan is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She has worked in corporate marketing roles and through client relationships with AT&T, HSBC, Citibank, Intuit, The New York Times, Cox Communications, and many more large and small companies around the world. Susan also speaks about marketing, branding and social media at events around the world and is frequently interviewed by television, online, radio, and print media organizations about these topics. She holds an MBA in Management and Strategy and a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing and is a Certified Professional Career Coach (CPCC).

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