Freelance In 40 Days [Day 26]: Common Freelancing Mistakes To Avoid

Posted: November 10th, 2009

Photo by Jasmeet (Flickr)

Photo by Jasmeet (Flickr)

This is Day 26 of the Freelance in 40 Days series where you’ll learn to freelance just by taking it one day and one task at a time. Today you’ll learn to avoid common mistakes made in freelancing.

In the last tutorial I mentioned how mistakes are inevitable and are a normal part of freelancing. There are some mistakes freelancers make that can be very damaging, though, that can cost you time, money and even a client or two.

Rather than repeat the history of many a freelancer, I’ll introduce you to some common freelancing mistakes and how to avoid them.

1. The Feast or Famine Cycle

Every freelancer will have their periods with a heavy workload along with a slow period every once in a while which is normal. If you have periods where you are working (the feast) followed up by periods where you aren’t working and scrambling like hell to find work (the famine) then this isn’t healthy for your business.

You never want to put yourself in a situation where you are desperate for work. Not only does this cause unneeded stress but there is also the tendency to take “whatever work comes your way” that may not pay what you like nor be what you really want to do.

Avoiding the feast or famine cycle:

  • Never stop looking for clients. When we have work to do, we tend to take comfort in that instead of planning for more work in the future. One technique I found useful is spending a few minutes a day to look for one client.
  • Start saving for that rainy day. One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard for freelancers is to have a backup savings to help you out of a rough patch. It is more than likely that you will have to rely on it at some point in your career since a famine cycle can happen that is beyond your control.
  • Learn a new skill. If your particular field is having a slow period, it helps to have another skill you can fall back on to keep the work flowing.

2. Not Using Project Agreements

A project agreement tells your client, “This is exactly what I’ll do, this is what you’ll pay me and these are some conditions I have for you.” Skip this and guess what? You open yourself up to being walked all over by the client and possible disputes with her.

Remember, in the client’s eyes, you appear expensive and a prudent one will try and get her money’s worth. The project agreement will keep her in check.

How to start using project agreements:

3. Sticking to Only One Client

There’s no better feeling to the freelancer than finding a client who gives us a lot of work. There is a danger to this, though. What happens if, say, a client decides to cut costs due to an unforeseen circumstance? Don’t think it won’t happen either. If a freelancer is taking up a chunk of a budget, they are usually the first to go.

Then you are left in a famine cycle. Uh oh.

Avoiding this scenario:

  • Never rely on just one client for work and seek out many so, in case one drops out, you have others to fall back on.
  • Reduce your workload with the main client so you can accommodate other clients. You may have to turn down some work, which is difficult, but its better than being left with no work at all should that client decided to leave you.

4. Not Planning Enough

I’m probably not the only freelancer that has started a project only to find that grew to twice the workload by the end of it. What really hurts is that, while the workload increases, the compensation doesn’t increase much, if at all, since a budget is often determined in the beginning of it.

Any underestimation of work is the fault of the freelancer (usually) and can be eliminated just by planning from the start.

Avoiding poor planning:

  • Spend the time to do the research on a project, especially larger ones. Sometimes this can even take days. Remember, there is no wasted time in planning.
  • Know exactly what you are getting into. If a project requires any skills you aren’t familiar with, then get familiar with them before starting.
  • Break a project down to it’s smallest parts. Usually the hard or questionable parts expose themselves. Do more research, if necessary, until all parts are understood.

5. Missing Deadlines

It shouldn’t have to be said but consistently missing deadlines makes you unreliable and hurts your reputation. A client may think twice about referring new business to you or may even decide not to work with you again.

Avoiding missed deadlines:

  • Do careful planning (see above).
  • Be realistic and give yourself ample time to complete any project. Come up with a careful time estimate to complete any project and then add overhead time on top of that. You’ll find yourself having to dip into that overhead once in a while.
  • Treat each project like a term paper in college and do what you have to do to meet a deadline. If that means working weekends and pulling all-nighters, do it.

Your Homework For Today

Understand and avoid the common freelancing mistakes above. It could mean the difference between a successful career or not.

A Client A Day Keeps The Poverty Away

Posted: May 11th, 2009

Photo by OTH (Flickr)

Photo by OTH (Flickr)

Last year, given the sudden downturn of the economy, I figured it would be wise to evaluate my own marketing efforts so I’d be able to continue working during what would appear to be rough times. The funny part was that, at the time, I had long term steady work from a couple of clients for a while up to that point and really haven’t looked elsewhere for new clients since I was content with what I had.

Then it finally dawned on me. What if either of my clients suddenly stopped providing work or went belly up? While I’m not quick to panic, it would be unwise to think that these businesses wouldn’t be affected by the economic meltdown. So time for a contingency plan. Pretty easy, though… find more clients, right?

Fast forward to today and I learned the cold reality that this shouldn’t be a contingency plan. Continually looking for clients HAS to be a part of a routine. Plain and simple. Falling into a comfort zone and feeling content with the work you have at the moment can eventually prove fatal to your freelance business.

Why, you ask? It is very common to roll in the work and repeat business and see your freelancing career thriving. Then, BAM, it slaps you upside the face; suddenly no work to do, no income rolling in and you’re out scrambling to find work. What often follows is desperation and taking on work for below your cost. Then the cycle repeats. Welcome to the feast or famine cycle.

Ask any freelancer and for sure they’ll tell you they have been through the cycle at some time or another. All it takes to counter it, though, is one simple step each working day. Just dedicate a half hour or so to searching for just one new project everyday you work. Do the math… if you work 250 days a year, that means you apply to 250 projects. So isn’t it fair to say, you’ll win 10% of them which means you’ll have 25 new clients?

Out of those 25 you may even get a few repeat or long-term clients (if you do your job right of course). The real benefit here, though, is that you greatly lessen the possibility feast or famine cycle and you increase your income in the process. It only costs you a half hour to an hour a workday which we all have, right? OK, so I had to cut down my time spent checking out highlights on the ESPN website but, hey, I’m not regretting it.

And what if you are just too busy with projects to spend that hour looking for new ones? Spend that half hour looking for one anyway. The point is to get into the habit of always looking for clients. Skip a day and you ditch the habit like a New Year’s resolution. You may come to regret it when a big project gets done, no new one is lined up then rent is due in a couple weeks.

Then there is always the issue of happening to win new projects if you are just too busy. Ladies and gentlemen, this is called business growth. Schedule these for way in advance, after current projects are done, or subcontract these projects or even just turn down the project offer.

Believe me, you will rather have the problem of too much work rather than too little.