10 Freelancer Mistakes that Damage Your Success

10 Freelancer Mistakes that Damage Your Success

Today’s guest post comes to us from far, far away – at least, far away from where I live. This is one of the reasons I accepted Kwame’s post, by the way; he comes from Ghana. Isn’t that cool? What’s also cool are the 10 freelancer mistakes that follow – I bet most people are making at least one of them right now! Enjoy.

Success, as defined by the Cambridge Advanced Learners dictionary, is “the achieving of the results wanted or hoped for”. Freelancers make all sorts of mistakes just to achieve success. Most of the time, these mistakes create lots of problems: financial, health, reputation, and more.

The problem is that many freelancers don’t even know they’re making mistakes with their business – and most of them are avoidable.

Here are ten freelancer mistakes that damage success:

  • They can’t fire bad clients: Trying to please a client who seems insatiable is a big mistake. Some clients want the world, but they don’t have the budget for it. Some clients try to dictate, and they don’t listen to advice. If you think a client is giving you trouble (or is going to), fire him politely and quickly. It’s the only way you can focus on other clients who bring you smiles and success.
  • They accept more work than they can handle: So you’re working on two projects and five are pending… Why do you need to accept more? When you have several projects on your plate, turn new ones down or let clients know when you’ll be available. Most will wait because they know your potential.
  • They work long hours: When you work long hours, you end up creating stress for yourself. You might also be working in haste to get the project complete, which means you deliver less than your best. Know yourself and your schedules. Make a to-do list to help you manage your time. Also, work with your calendar when projects come knocking at your door – don’t just say yes. Plan!
  • They don’t upgrade their skills: Freelancers who don’t upgrade their skills get left behind when technology changes. You always need to learn. You can either learn the free way through blogs and online tutorials or pay for courses to upgrade your skills. Check out Education Portal for a selection of writing courses, or if you’re a web developer/designer, check out the Tutsplus network and Lynda.
  • They don’t have basic business knowledge: If you’re a freelancer and you don’t know anything about how to run a business, market your services, or manage your finances and client projects, get some basic education. Visit blogs related to small business and freelancing, and soak up everything you can to succeed.
  • They don’t get enough rest: Sleep deficit is nearly a disease. It makes freelancers very unproductive, but so many freelancers don’t know this. You don’t have to stay up late to work on projects and it isn’t a badge of honor to shortchange your rest. If you do this regularly, you’ll experience burn-out, lose creativity, make bad decisions and not be able to deliver your best work. Set project deadlines and time-tables that make sure you get rest.
  • They can’t take criticism: Drop your ego when it comes to working with other people. People will praise your work, but they’ll also criticize it, so be ready. Many freelancers prepare for praise when they deliver, but when the client isn’t satisfied, they start defending their work. That’ll cost you referrals and new clients. If you can’t accept negative feedback and criticism with a smile, don’t be a freelancer.
  • They charge too low for high-end jobs: Most clients want to pay less, not more. If you want to make it as a freelancer, avoid falling into the trap of low wages or letting them haggle you down – unless you only want to add to your experience and money doesn’t matter. If you have excellent set of skills, look at what other premium freelancers charge and set your prices accordingly.
  • They accept work they are not qualified to accept:
  • Sometimes, freelancers accept work in areas in which they aren’t qualified. Your finished work sucks if you do this, and you’re fooling clients who trust you know what you’re doing. Make sure you have the skills the project requires. When you’re offered a project that needs top skills but yours are only amateur, pass. It’s best to work on projects that fit within the skill set you have.

  • They don’t measure their business: Freelancing is a business, and like every business, you need to measure whether your efforts are effective or not. Find out whether your marketing is getting results. Look over your finances for the year – are you breaking even? Measuring your business allows you to make changes that help your business grow. If you don’t measure frequently, you may lose cash through poor marketing, faulty pricing or too many expenses.

Here’s a last mistake freelancers often make: they don’t develop relationships with their clients. Clients are the best marketing resource you could ever have, so develop excellent relationships with each of them.

You can do this by performing diligently on your first job and communicating well before, during and after the project is complete. Listen well to what the client wants, and communicate with him each time you complete a step of the project, just to keep him updated.

After projects are complete, follow up with clients and ask how everything turned out in regards to the work you did. Tell them you’ll be at their service if they should need you again. Friend them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, and engage them in conversation once in a while.

What’s the biggest freelancing mistake you ever made? Which mistake are you making right now? What other mistakes have you noticed happening in the freelancing world?

About the Author: Kwame Boame is a marketing consultant who helps small businesses achieve success. He blogs about brand communication at Sociatic.

Post by Agent X

Agent X is the name many mysterious and intriguing people take on when they guest post at our site. Their mission is to slip in like a thief in the night, leave you with entertaining, valuable and useful content, and slip away again - without getting caught.

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  1. Charging too low for high-end jobs and not following up clients and asking their feedback on the project (started recently, though). Yeah, I need to work on these and several other (mentioned) areas to be the successful freelancer. Thank you for the post!

  2. Great advice here Kwame (and I’m with you James, very cool to have a post from someone from Ghana. It’s one of my favourite things about this big wide web of ours.)

    The thing that rang true with me the most was the need to only do the stuff we’re awesome at. I cobbled my own Word Press site together and (after hours and hours of work!) am delighted with it. Does that mean I’m magically qualified to do the same for others? No way! The time it takes me to get stuff looking super sparkly and wonderful can be much better spent on the things that come naturally to me.

    There is much to be said for learning skills but that doesn’t mean we should start selling that stuff on to other people. I appreciated the timely reminder.

  3. Hi,

    Great points. I notice these mistakes quite often.

    It would be interesting to have another post, from the other side of the fence (10 Mistakes buyers make when outsourcing).


  4. Love this post because I KNOW I take on too much work. It’s funny how a freelancer schedule works – you go weeks if not months without anything. You market your ass off and nothing happens. Then you get a new client out of the blue. Then another. Then another. So suddenly you have 3 awesome new clients and more come in. Then it’s dead again. It’s definitely a mistake to take too much on at once, but a skill most freelancers should learn is how to pace themselves and negotiate.

    We worry so much about not having money in a month or two that it’s hard for us to not take on so much at once!

    • @Marian, where is the Facebook ‘like’ button!??

      I to am sort of in the position. While I am also working full time as a web developer in a professional firm, my freelance jobs sound just like yours- nothing, then everything all at once! :)

  5. Thanks for the opportunity James and thanks to everyone who read my post.

    @Solomon, charging too low is a mistake common to beginner freelancers. Most of them tend to think that freelancing is not worth the work but fail to realize they’re the cause of their own predicaments because they’re doing it wrongly. It’s good to know you want to improve ;). Good luck.

    @El, Your site is very cool. Your comment also shows you’re a honest freelancer. Some people, after putting up a WordPress site like yours, begin to think they can start taking clients. The problem comes when the client asks them to do what they haven’t done before and then they give excuses or outsource that part. It’s always better to work in the area of your expertise.

    @Nabeel, sounds cool :). Freelancers are not the only people who make mistakes; buyers do too.

    @Marian, learning to pace and negotiate is a great tip for all freelancers trying to make it. There can be a real gap between projects and one thing that worked for me is building relationships with my clients. Word of mouth is one of the most powerful marketing tools and it’s a good thing to focus our marketing efforts on that.

    Thanks for the comments guys ;).


  6. Hey Kwame, great post! I remember “firing” a client last year – it wasn’t that he was a bad client, just that I was not what he needed (or wanted) in a Coach. The relief when I ended it was fantastic – not at all what I’d expected. But it made me better for other clients, because I wasn’t questioning my skills as I had been, wondering if it was me causing the issues or him.

    I’ve made most of these mistakes at some point, and I see a lot of my clients and readers making them too.

    Not sure I agree with you on the rest though, surely we all work better on just four hours sleep a night and an overdose of caffeine all day? No, really! LOLOL

  7. Hi Kwame,

    All great tips for freelancers to tackle, esp hours/pricing. We forget that we want to be “FREE-lancers” and end up imprisoning ourselves via pay, hours and project choices, thus becoming “CAGED-lancers.”

    It’s mentally tempting to take on a job you know doesn’t feel right! I now walk away from design/writing jobs that give me bad vibes.

    Three questions to ask yourself before taking on a job:

    1) Is this going to be a pain-in-the-ass or a joy-in-the-heart?
    2) Is my quote based on my experience or my fear the client will think it too high?
    3) Am I getting any kind of “Danger, Will Robinson” vibes?

    Thanks! Giulietta

  8. You are right, we need to “soak up everything you can to succeed. There is so much to learn.

  9. I’ve been guilty of taking on way too much work, which leads to not getting enough rest. Not to mention, the quality of my life overall stinks when I do that. While I don’t mind burning the midnight oil once in awhile for a special project, I’ve become much more realistic about what I can accomplish on a day-to-day basis and still have a life.

  10. This is a great post. I am doing more of these than I should. I struggle with working long hours, which leads to not getting enough rest.

    Like most new freelancers, I priced myself to low. When I started freelancing, I asked a few well connected PR people to look at my business plan and pricing. The first thing they told me was my pricing was too low. People get what they pay for and when the pricing is low, they expect bargain basement work. Often, the clients who want to pay the least will be the most trouble.

  11. Great tips! I’m just starting out freelancing so I will make sure to keep these in mind. I’m already struggling with the scheduling. Trying to balance a full-time job, clients’ needs, and marketing my own services is challenging. I noticed last week I was “on” all the time, so I blocked out time this weekend to just relax and recharge.

  12. @Kwame Thanks for your kind words. :) I have done a couple of simple site designs for family members but to be frank, I’m very much a trial and error kind of girl and it doesn’t excite me. I wasn’t exaggerating when I talked about the hours it took me to sort out my place! Inspired by our own James though, I love the idea of eventually doing some sort of collaboration thing with a brilliant designer so together we could offer a complete package of awesomeness.

  13. @Melinda, thanks for sharing your testimonial :). Your experience shows that following these tips will work for anyone if they really understand what they want to achieve. Four hours rest a night and an overdose of caffeine isn’t good for your health; physical and freelancing. We all work deep into the night sometimes but it’s best to have lots of rest too.

    This is one rule I use: there are 24 hours in a day and it should be split into three 8hr parts; 8 hrs should be used to work, 8 hours to entertain and 8 hours to rest. It all adds up to 24 hours. I’m not consistent with this rule but I make sure I get my 8 hours daily rest ;).

    @Giulietta, wonderful tips you shared there. Freelancing should be exciting. One thing I’ve noticed too is that some clients don’t like people who charge low fees. I used to charge low fees until I realized what others were charging for the same service I render. Now that I’ve increased my rates, I’m getting more clients to work with me. It may sound unrealistic but it really is a fact that if you charge too low, clients think you will not do a great job for them.

    @Mary, thanks for the comment. There is always so much to learn. I admire James’ display of what book she’s. It’s proof that even the people we learn from also learn from other people. It’s a great cycle :).

    @Jean, woohoo! Looks like you found your balance ;). Thanks for the comment :).

    @Clara, well said. However, some clients intentionally set low budgets for their high-end projects; they don’t always expect bargain basement work as you put it. It’s a sad situation but it happens. Thanks for commenting :).

    @Lindsey, yay! Work at it steadily and you’ll find your balance. It takes time, focus and persistence. Thanks for commenting ;).

    @El, I like your enthusiasm. Collaborations can be tricky but all the same, it’s a good idea. You can go for it but there should be terms and conditions for both of you to agree on and follow. That will reduce future conflicts. Thanks for commenting again ;).

    @All, thumbs up to everyone who commented. Judging by the comments on this post, I’ve noticed that most of us are honest about their skills and really work very hard :).

  14. Taking on too much work at once and not charging enough for it <–story of my life.

    I'm getting better though, just let clients know my rates are going up due to having a ton more experience and hopefully that'll mean I can take on less work while still making enough money. Yes it's silly to undercharge, but on the other hand it's gotten me a lot of experience from cheap buyers that I wouldn't otherwise have had so it's all good really.

  15. I’m guilty of 5 of these mistakes, and they are hard to overcome. My worse two mistakes are not charging enough, and working too many hours for the pay. Thanks for sharing this article.

  16. These are all really good tips. I can imagine it’s very tempting at the start when you’re trying to establish a name for yourself to undercut your rate and be afraid to say no to a demamding client but as time goes on, you grow in confidence and start setting firm boundaries for clients.

  17. The first item made me laugh. Yes, as a freelancer there is always the constant fear of not getting enough projects to help you survive a month without being a starving freelancer. Don’t we all want to please everyone. Now, those of us working on freelancing sites know that clients can blackmail you – like threatening to give you the lowest feedback possible if you don’t succumb to their wishes. This can really put a dent on your portfolio as some clients out there judge you based on those ratings or stars ( or whatever you call them ). The biggest mistake I think I ever did was not saying no to a request I cannot handle — making me hang on the edge of sanity as I’m too cranky for my family to talk to, haha.

  18. @Michelle, I agree that undercharging can help you build your portfolio when you’re a beginner. When you have 5 solid portfolios, you can increase your rates. It’s a good practice, considering the number of freelancers competing for projects.

    @Karen, not charging enough and working long hours can lead to freelancer burnout. Increasing your rates will serve as motivation to keep you going on and growing strong. Try to overcome these mistakes before they overcome you. It is not that hard.

    @Matthew, I agree with your point Matthew. As time goes on (in other words, as your experience grows), you need to grow your business and income.

    @Issa, if clients try to blackmail you, the best thing you have to do is to stop working on their projects. Remember that no matter how skillful we are as freelancers, some clients never get satisfied. Shy stress yourself on a project that may end up in a ‘blackmail’ no matter how best you work at it?

    Thank you all for the great comments ;).


  19. Freelancers definitely under-price themselves. I see it with new people all the time. I have been guilty of it myself. Once you get reasonably good at your craft, you are far better off seeking and taking on only good clients. Your job should not make you miserable. Working for demanding people for little pay is a recipe for stress and unhappiness. Do not put yourself in that position.

  20. This is a subject dear to my heart. The points mentioned here have been a learning and teaching thing with me for a few decades. The technology changes, the clients and trends change, but those problems that freelancers have never do. So I have a few things that have kept me going: 1. Be strong about your pricing, 2. Be strategic about your networking (5 client events for every one peer to peer or educational networking event), 3. Try not to network every week, leaving time to actually do your work, 4. Do become an active learner in your profession (active learners are active client advocates and command a higher fee). 5. Last, mix your marketing up. It can include face-to-face, mailing, e-mailing, social marketing, viral, referral and broadcast, but it has to be doable and measurable with the ROI. Just follow the money with your passion. Thank you Kwame (and I do forgive your country’s football team for kicking us out of the World Cup – sigh) lol.

  21. Yes, I totally agree with the bad clients.. bad clients bring you day down, they waste on your productivity, they take advantage of you..

    Lots of people can’t cut the fat and trim them off because they think they will lose money, but being happier will work long term as the time is saved and more room for better clients. Bravo.

    Wicked noose picture by the way.

  22. @Kathy, you said it all. Thanks for reading and commenting ;).

    @David, sage advice. Thumbs up to you :). Offline marketing is one marketing aspect that is gradually being forgotten. Networking offline is one of the best ways to find freelance gigs. A few weeks ago, I went to visit a friend at his office and he introduced me to one of his clients who happened to be there at the time of my visit. He hired me straight away. I didn’t even have to talk much. Relationships do work magic.

    Thanks for forgiving my country. I hope you are going to forgive me in the next world cup if our teams meet again ;).

    @James, a stress free career is part of what makes up a successful life. There are people out there willing to pay our preferred prices. Let’s just quote it. Thanks James :).

    Thanks for the comments guys.

  23. Hi Kwame – this is a great list and I can identify with many of these having worked a lot with freelancers in the UK. Another common mistake is focusing too much on getting new business and not building relationships with existing customers.

    It’s hard to build a freelance business if you’re just constantly trying to convince new clients to give you work.


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