Editor's note: This blog was originally published in January 2022 has been updated for accuracy.
You know how they say “learn from the mistakes of others”? Living by this saying is just as useful in our private lives as it is at work. If you’re a freelancer, then luckily for you, we’ve got you covered. Here are the top 12 mistakes you should avoid if you want to make 2023 the best year you’ve had!
What mistakes should you avoid as a freelancer?
Let’s start with the most common mistake I see among new freelancers – one that could have a snowball effect on your career.
1. Assuming clients know how freelance cooperation works
When you begin working with a new client, ask them if they’ve ever cooperated with external partners. If they haven’t, you’ll need to onboard them on how things will work between you two. It’s especially worth pointing out how it will be different from working with a full-time employee. From my own experience, some companies that are new to working with freelancers or contractors might expect you to be online for 8 hours a day and available for regular, last-minute calls. Some might even wish to manage you as if they were your superior (think of work evaluations, weekly 1-on-1s, and other team rituals). If this is true of your project, then remember that it’s not a sign of ill will – your client simply goes with the methods they know are effective.
To start off on the right foot, make sure to lay out how your collaboration will work on the kick-off call. You can also put together a short guide/playbook for the client if you want everything on paper. This will help to keep everyone happy and manage any potential, unrealistic expectations.
2. Agreeing on random price tweaks during the project
Let me debunk one of the biggest freelancing myths, once and for all: you don’t need to live with financial uncertainty when you leave your nine-to-five job! One way of keeping a steady, predictable income is by signing a contract.
Let’s say you’ve got a client who’s signed up for a three-month-long retainer package for 20 hours a week. It means that you guarantee your availability for exactly that – 20 hours. Now, let’s assume that the client has only used up to 17 hours. If they ask you to charge them for 17 hours only, kindly decline – you can’t recoup the 3 hours you’d be losing, as these hours were reserved for them.
Naturally, if the client continuously doesn’t use up the retainer package, then perhaps it’s worth changing its size or switching to a different payment model. For example, you could ditch the flat fee to a per hour, time & material rate. The bottom line is, don’t let these changes become effective immediately and affect your earnings.
3. Keeping your phone at your desk during your most productive time
Your phone is the perfect distractor – when you’re stuck on an assignment, it’s very tempting to scroll through Instagram, Pinterest, or any other app you’d consider your guilty pleasure.
Though it might seem harmless to take an occasional social media break here and there, you should treat it as a red flag if you catch yourself looking at your phone every couple of minutes or so during the workday. As I work from home, I try to keep my phone in the other room to avoid temptation.
If you can’t leave yours unattended, then at least put it away and set yourself to “do not disturb” mode. That way, you will not hear any messenger or SMS notifications but will hear the phone ring if someone calls you twice just minutes apart. This will help battle the worry that you’ll miss any project fires or private emergencies if you can’t keep your phone in sight. Speaking of FOMO, this brings me to the next point.
4. Reading notifications while working on tasks
This is particularly important while you’re doing deep focus work – like me working on this blog post, for one! When I write an article or work on a strategic task, I steer away from looking at my work inbox. Sometimes, I even close the tab in my browser. Otherwise, if there’s a message I’ve been anticipating, I might drop whatever I’m doing to read the email and decide to respond to it straight away.
On average, it takes 23 minutes to restore focus after any kind of distraction, so you can imagine how badly checking notifications will mess up your productivity!
5. Not replying to clients for a long time
Let’s try to look at things from the other perspective – i.e, the client’s. How might they feel if you’ve been reading their messages without responding?
In the past, I’ve worked with a writer who kept opening my messages and questions about our ongoing project but wouldn’t respond for days on end. The fact that I saw a “message read” icon on each of my queries only added to my anxiety. A simple “I’ll get back to you shortly” or “I don’t have the answer yet, I’ll get back to you as soon as I do” response would have certainly calmed me down.
To sum up, if you’re not planning to respond, don’t read the message! And if you need some time to respond with the answer the client is waiting for, it’s perfectly okay. Just let them know you’ll get back to them ASAP. The worst answer to any project-related queries is no answer at all.
6. Shying away from rising prices
Keeping your prices at the same level for years because you’re worried that a client might leave will only make you poorer. There is this evil thing called inflation. If you don’t put your prices up at least to match the inflation rate, then your purchasing power will decrease. You’ll be able to afford fewer things.
I am sure you won’t be the only one increasing your prices. Everyone else will too, including your clients. It’s perfectly acceptable to change your rates annually, and that’s what I do.
Raising prices will also help you avoid significant price differences between clients. Imagine that your client recommends you to another company saying that you charge $55 per hour (which is your 2022 rate). Then, while quoting a similar job for the new customer you say it's $75, which is your 2023 rate. Your prospect is surprised and decides not to move forward. Keep your rates aligned to avoid situations like this one.
7. Trying to be a mind reader
Don’t try to plan your actions based on how someone might feel about them. It’s a waste of time as people react to various things differently, and you don’t have the power over what they think or do. Back in the days, both I and my other content half have spent hours trying to figure out how a client might interpret our message. We used to polish it and change it endlessly to make sure there is no room for misinterpretation, and oftentimes we still got surprised.
So here is the lesson I’ve learned: if you want to know what someone thinks, simply ask them instead of trying to guess and make assumptions. It will save you a lot of time and energy.
8. Working with clients without a contract
Unless you’re doing a super simple, one-off project, you need to have a contract that will specify project responsibilities, deadlines, and any other requirements. It should also guarantee that the client won’t abandon the project halfway through its duration. When there’s no contract, there’s no order. Some clients might now live up to their promises if they know they’re not legally bound to work with you.
You know how they say “pics or it didn’t happen?” Well, when it comes to client work, you should live by the words: “a contract, or it’s not going to happen”.
9. Forgetting about customer outreach
Getting your projects delivered on time is key. However, making sure that you have a constant flow of new gigs is equally important. Focusing on tackling ad hoc projects, and forgetting about client outreach is one of the most serious mistakes that I fell victim to in the past.
Now I book some time for client outreach on a monthly basis, and in a long time, I haven’t been in a situation where I am out of projects!
10. Checking emails 24/7
When I started freelancing I was constantly checking my inbox. Whenever a new email came, not only did I read it immediately, but I also messaged my business partner to check if she saw it, which was usually past 10 pm. As you can imagine, reading emails past your work hours isn’t the best idea, as you simply cannot switch off and regenerate.
Turning off email notifications has helped massively to disconnect and I no longer check my inbox past 6PM, unless there is a fire on a project.
11. Not having a plan B
You know what they say, hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Some freelancers live from day to day and completely give up on long-term planning.
Even when your projects are going very well, it’s good to be prepared for a scenario when one or two clients decide to leave. Is your financial situation stable enough? Do you know how to make up for the lost clients? It’s good to list all your projects for the upcoming months, and run financial simulations to see how your situation will change if a client leaves.
12. Forgetting about your mental and physical well-being
Freelancers tend to be frequently overworked. When they don’t work, they don’t earn. And unlike full-time employees, they’re not entitled to a paid holiday leave. That’s why they often postpone going on vacation, skip it entirely, or travel with their laptop. None of these options is ideal. We all need time to detach and recharge. It’s important to have a work and finances plan that lets you go on vacation without your electronic friend i.e., your laptop.
While it was problematic for me initially, and I only did workation, I now make sure that I get some time off every few months. If you plan your work right and stay disciplined then taking regular holidays will be perfectly doable!
Getting freelancing right in 2023 and beyond
Freelancing can be extremely rewarding if you approach it right. Eliminating the mistakes I’ve mentioned above is a great first step. However, if transitioning into the freelancing world still scares you a little then join MVP Match! Not only will we make sure that you get access to the most ambitious and exciting projects, but we will also take care of all paperwork including contracts and invoicing. Give us a shot!