January 17, 2021

11 biggest mistakes freelancers make

Their numbers are growing. Between 2014 and 2019, the number of freelancers in the U.S. grew from 53 to 57 million, or about 7.5%. 

Have you been thinking about turning your experience, knowledge, and skills into a career as a freelancer? If so, then I say, well done. To help you succeed, here are 11 of the biggest mistakes freelancers make. Avoid them, and you'll be off to a great start.

You're not clear about your values. 

Many freelancers find themselves doing work that makes them feel unhappy, conflicted, and resentful because it goes against their moral principles. How do they get themselves into situations like this? Usually, it's because they need the money. But this defeats one of the main reasons for freelancing, which is having the freedom to do work you love. 

How can you avoid this happening to you? Be crystal clear on your values before you begin freelancing. Write them down and post them where you see them every day. When your values are clear, decisions are easy.

Get practical tips and advice you can use delivered to your inbox twice each week on Wednesday and Saturday. Join us today.

Enter your first name and best email address in the form below.


You're a perfectionist. 

Being a perfectionist is one of the biggest mistakes freelancers make because it prevents them from starting and completing projects. For example, a freelance writer might be so concerned about perfection that she ends up spending too much time and energy doing research. 

Working with clients involves deadlines. But if a freelance writer spends too much time researching and then needs to overshoot the deadline to get the content written, the client won't be happy with her work, regardless of how great the piece she wrote is. 

To avoid this, you've got to have a balanced view of perfection. Perfection doesn't exist. So, when you've got deadlines to meet, don't go overboard on any aspect of your project. 

In the case of our freelance writer, well-written content completed on time trumps perfectly-written content delivered late.

Arrogance is a problem many freelancers have. 

They may have had some success already in the corporate world or independently, and now they think they know-it-all. If they receive criticism or constructive feedback, they're unwilling to accept it because, in their minds, they're never wrong. Something that reinforces arrogance is when a freelancer has a tribe of people continually praise him for his greatness, wisdom, insight, and knowledge. As if everything he says is pure gold.

To avoid this happening to you, don't get stuck in an echo chamber. Admit that you don't know everything and be open to listen to others and keep learning, regardless of the amount of knowledge and experience you already have.

Lying to your customers and prospects. 

Some freelancers will claim to have the skills to do something when they don't and may have never done a particular type of work. Some freelancers overcharge for work, e.g. charging for 3 days when they know they can complete a project in half that time. In the end, customers always find out when freelancers lie to them. 

Avoiding this is easy. Always tell the truth. Never lie to a prospect or a customer. Ever.

Poor communication.

You can't expect to have good relationships with customers if you don't communicate clearly and frequently. Many freelancers fall into this bad habit. 

To avoid this, schedule regular meetings with your clients, phone them when you need to discuss important issues that suddenly pop up, and from time-to-time remind them about why they hired you. Keep the communication channel wide open and avoid this because it's one of the biggest mistakes freelancers make.  

Not having fixed rates.

Pricing projects based on what you think each client will or won't accept is guaranteed to impact your business, and not in a positive way. Never wing it when it comes to pricing work, as you want to ensure that you're getting paid sufficiently for the value you provide. 

To avoid this, decide how much you want to earn each month or each year, and then structure your pricing based on achieving those goals. 

Completing projects too fast.

You want to move on to the next project as quickly as possible, so you get the current one done in record-breaking time. However, will your customers feel special and that you care for them? Not likely. Clients sense when you're goal is to "take the money and run," and this is one of the biggest mistakes freelancers make.  

To avoid giving your customers this impression, show them you care about their projects by under-promising and over-delivering. You'll be happy you did because you'll have loyal customers who will recommend you to others. 

Biting off more than you can chew.

Lots of freelancers get themselves into this situation by taking on too much work at one time. They don't want to turn down work or tell clients they'll have to wait until they've completed the project they're currently working on. But taking on too much work often results in low quality and missed deadlines. 

To avoid shoddy, lazy work, only take on an amount that you can cope with while providing the highest quality and service you're capable of and that your customers expect from you.

Not having a contract.

This means your position isn't clear to your clients, or worse - it's weak. One of the biggest mistakes freelancers make is not wanting to think about all the things that could go sideways with a client or a project, but there are a lot of unforeseen things that can and do happen - and more often than you'd think. You must have a contract with each client and for each project. Neglect this and I can guarantee you're going to regret it at some point. And remember, even though you want to believe that every person you work with is as honest and ethical as you are, the fact is some clients are not.

To avoid running into problems, have a contract that details everything about the project and have it worked out and agreed upon by both sides - you and the client - first. The contract should clearly state the project scope, deadlines, and any extra fees the client is expected to pay if they request additional items or hours that increase the amount of work.

Overlooking taxes

You're merrily working away, have lots of happy clients, the money is rolling in each month, and you completely forget to set aside enough cash to cover the Taxman's share. This can be a brutal mistake.

You can avoid a big tax surprise by either 1) hiring a reliable tax accountant or 2) setting aside a minimum of 30% to 50% of your gross income every time you get paid for a project. Keep that money separate from all other cash you have. You'll be glad that you did when tax season rolls around.

Believing work will magically fall into your lap. 

Especially if you've got a full slate of projects - at the moment. The key there is, "at the moment." The well can and does dry up sometimes. During a busy period, it's easy to forget about marketing your business. But remember the saying, "out of sight, out of mind." If you forget to market yourself and your business, there'll come a time when you're going to be scrambling for more work. 

To avoid this problem, even if your plate is full right now, schedule some time each week to spend on marketing, building relationships, and developing your business because you reap later what you sow now.   

Whether just starting out or you've been freelancing for some time, you'll make mistakes. I've made several of the ones listed here and that's why I wrote this post. You can avoid these mistakes by learning from those of us who've already made some of them. Avoid these 11 biggest mistakes freelancers make and you'll be off to a great start.

Check out this post: How To Succeed At Starting A Freelance Business In 2021. 

Get practical tips and advice you can use delivered to your inbox twice each week on Wednesday and Saturday. Join us today.

Enter your first name and best email address in the form below.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}
>