Nobody said being a freelancer is easy. Sure, everybody who’s not a freelancer thinks that, but they’re wrong. There are many pitfalls and you have to be really careful not to err. Now, making mistakes can be highly educational and you will make your fair share of them when starting out as a freelancer, but there are some mistakes that you’re better off avoiding and that you can avoid with a minimal amount of caution. All you really need is to be forewarned.
Working freelance is a dream job, but it’s still a job and, as jobs go, it’s much more demanding than a regular office job. It takes a lot of care and attention to details in order not to fail at it. You suddenly need to start worrying about pricing, or number of hours of work you put in each day. You know, things you never had to think about before because it wasn’t your job to. The place where you worked at before going freelance had a team of guys working on the pricing of your work, the hours you had to put in daily were regulated by contract, the jobs kept coming because the company had account managers.
Simply said, working for someone means there’s a whole team of people who worry about all the other aspects of the commercial operation while you get to focus on your specific job. Now that you’re freelance, that team is gone and it’s just you who has to think of all this stuff. That can be quite a daunting task. But you shouldn’t worry, you just need to be aware of all these aspects in order to be successful.
Here’s a list of mistakes most people make when starting out in the freelance world that can cause large setbacks and that can be easily avoided if you take care.
1. Charging Too Little
It makes sense to want to underprice when first starting out. It helps bring in contracts and helps you build your portfolio. Everybody wins, right? Wrong. What happens if you get a few big contracts at your initial, cheap rates? You’re stuck doing most of your work for just a little cash. The best course of action is to price your work honestly and according to market prices.
If you do find yourself in this situation, there is a way to get out of it: double that initial price. Some of your contracts may back out, but you’ll find that, if you’ve been doing quality work, most of them won’t and you’ll no longer be finding yourself in that place where you feel like you’re being taken advantage of.
2. Getting Fooled by a Big Number
You may find yourself faced with an offer that sounds great. A lot of cash for just one project, all in one big lump sum, maybe even up front. Do yourself a favour: don’t sign the contract just yet. Make an estimate of how much work the project entails, in hours. Be realistic about it. Then divide the amount by the number of hours to work out your hourly wage. You’ll probably find it’s much lower than your usual rates. Stay clear of these projects, they can easily lead you to bankruptcy.
3. Not Getting a Contract
If you ask any freelancer that has been on the market for a while for a piece of advice when starting out, it’ll probably be „Always get a contract.” That happens for a reason. Sure, the legal part is a hassle, and sometimes you meet a client who just oozes trustworthiness. So you’re tempted to forgo the contract and just jump straight into the work. Nine times out of ten, doing this will end in your having done free work for someone.
Sure, getting a contract is not always possible. If that is ever the case, do try to get some form of written agreement, at least an email clearly stating your and his obligations. Law students can tell you that a contract is just a meeting of wills and an exchange of obligations – that the piece of paper we refer to as a contract is just a proof. Make sure you get that proof.
4. Bad (or No) Usage of Social Media
As a freelancer, your best friend is word of mouth. Nowadays, word of mouth’s best friend is social media. There’s a whole community of people doing what you do that are ready to help you out should you need help. There’s a whole bunch of satisfied customers ready to leave positive reviews on your profile, should you have one. There’s also a bunch of prospective clients who check who they’re hiring online before they do.
Do try to use social media to interact with other professionals and customers alike. You’ll find yourself presented with opportunities that would never have surfaced otherwise. More so, since using social media has become the norm, if you don’t use it, people will perceive you as ‘weird’ and will hire someone else who does.
5. Having a Bad Portfolio
Your portfolio is who you are. In the creative industries, your portfolio is your CV. Would you put the summer job you got at McDonald’s when you were 16 on your portfolio? No? Then why would you put your first branding project from five years ago on there? Like any other skillset, designing takes practice. The more you do it, the better you are at it. That also means that your first attempts are going to be pretty bad. Do yourself a favour and keep them out of your portfolio once you have better work to showcase.
It’s not only your first projects you need to be careful about here. It’s also more recent projects that just didn’t turn out that well. Be honest with yourself. Not everything you do deserves to go in there, so don’t cram it all in. The key phrase when building your portfolio is quality over quantity.
That concludes our list of common mistakes freelancers make. If you have any more suggestions of things new freelancers should avoid, please check out the comment section below!