We’re living in a time where freelancing is booming. That means opportunity, but also competition, and only freelancers who start with eyes wide open, aware of the potential pitfalls, will survive and thrive. So here are our four top pitfalls you should avoid:
Forgetting You’re a Professional
You’re not just someone ‘working from home’ or that little office around the corner. You’re a business and you need to act like one. Treating your work as if it’s a hobby or something you’re doing as a favour won’t improve your reputation or earn you respect. It won’t earn you much money, either.
Wherever possible, try to get a written contract – and ensure it includes details such as the exact scope of your input, interim and final deadlines, payment method and dates, ownership of the finished product, and a definition of the completed project. Ideally there should be caveats in place for what will happen if things go wrong, too, and agreed response times. If you miss your deadline because you asked an important question and recieved no response for a week, things could go rapidly downhill for both you and your client.
Keep records of all your work and your finances, deal with clients in a professional manner, and have standards you stick to. Don’t let clients wheedle you into doing cheap, shoddy, overly-rushed work, especially if you’re doing it for the promise of more lucrative and substantial work later; it rarely appears.
When you’re not sure how much work you will get next week or how many of the people you’ve approached will respond with a ‘yes please’, it can be tempting to take all the work on offer, or pitch for so much work that if you were to be awarded it all, you wouldn’t have time to sleep for the next month.
Don’t do it.
Trying to do too much at once can be detrimental to the quality of your work and your ability to meet deadlines, damaging your reputation, and also to your physical and mental health. Take time to realistically assess what’s involved, how complex the work is and how long it will take you to complete it. Keep a paper or digital calendar/diary to hand at all times, and don’t forget to record other non-work commitments there too.
Setting the wrong price for your work
When work is scarce, it’s tempting to work for peanuts just to fill your cupboard with… well, peanuts, perhaps (insert food of your choice). There will also always be clients who want something for nothing or tell you that Bob or Suzanne can do the same work for half the price – or, if you’re talking hourly rates, that Bob or Suzanne have said it’s only five hours’ work, while you’ve quoted eight (making you doubt your ability, too).
Do your market research, assess what you have to offer objectively, and then be equally objective and analytical about each job. If you believe you’re charging a fair rate, stick to your guns; don’t give lengthy explanations, but simply say that to deliver the work to the standard the client wants and the job deserves, you estimate that eight hours is how long it will take.
Don’t forget that your earnings must cover all your expenses (including power, water, phone etc for wherever you work and any insurances), your tax bill and national insurance payments, times when you are unable to work, and a retirement package – or that over-charging can put customers off too.
Resting on your laurels
So you’ve got some regular work, or a long-contract. No need to advertise then, eh? Time to let the website and the social media updates slip. You’ve got it made.
Think again. Out of sight is usually out of mind in the business world. While you were working on that three month contract, Sam, who usually gives you a day’s work a week, has found someone else to do it. They’re not you, but they’re not bad, and they’re a little cheaper too.
Fail to stay in contact with Sam, and you may have lost his work for good. Fail to continue selling yourself, and you may find yourself in trouble when that three month contract is up. So put aside time to maintain business relationships, seek out potential new clients and remind the world you exist. Putting all your eggs in one basket is the most dangerous thing you can do. Businesses fail and re-prioritise all the time and today’s regular, lucrative, long-standing gig could be tomorrow’s tumbleweed.
Avoid these pitfalls and you should see your reputation grow and your freelancing opportunities flourish.