3 Big Mistakes Beginner Freelancers Make

Prices, clients and when to say no

Photo: Free To Use Sounds/Unsplash

I have been freelance writing for just over a year now, and I have made many mistakes.

There are mistakes to be made in every walk of life, and they are unavoidable sometimes due to our lack of experience. It is through our mistakes that we learn wrong from right, and they allow us to navigate closer to our goal in the process.

Minor setbacks often lead to major steps forward if mistakes are quickly learned from and seldom repeated.

But there are some mistakes that you don’t need to make yourself in order to grow or get closer to where you want to be. Some mistakes can be learned by watching rather than by doing.

When it comes to freelancing, you are trying to move forward and grow as fast as possible, in order to make more money, faster. Thus, mistakes often simply slow your progress down.

Knowledge is power

Yes, learning from them shows you what you should and shouldn’t do, but there are a few ways to minimise just how much these mistakes slow you down.

By becoming aware of the mistakes listed below you will not magically know how to be the best freelancer in the world. Chances are you will still make the mistakes.

But knowing what they are will at least make it easier for you to see when you are making them.

1. Charging prices that are well off the mark

This one is super easy to do as a beginner, as it really does rely on experience.

You don’t yet know who your clients are, you don’t know how much they are willing to spend and you have no idea how much you are worth.

It’s hard to put a price on your own skills, but it can also be just as hard to put a price on someone else’s. This is why it is often not as simple as stepping back and saying, “What would I pay for this?”

Sure, you could ask friends and family, or people you know in the industry, but you will only really find out what people are willing to pay when you receive your first payment.

From there you won’t know whether to go up or down.

Is it worth risking putting off potential clients by charging more?

Or should you just accept that you probably won’t get many clients unless you charge less, possibly less than you deserve?

$2/hour is never the right choice

These questions were the most prominent in my mind when I first started. I wrote a few pieces for around $2 an hour, which by anyone’s standards is painfully low.

But it’s what I thought I had to do to get customers. The truth is it worked for me, but I wasn’t relying on my freelancing income. If you are, you won’t survive on $2 an hour for very long.

I then raised my prices over time to a much healthier number, but it wasn’t a steady incline.

But I have also offered clients quotes that they have turned down for being too high, causing me to readjust my rates. I then found other clients that were happy to pay me a bit more for a bit less work.

It became a balancing act, trying to keep the workflow fairly constant while still getting as much out of it for myself as possible.

The key word here is balance, and it is not something that is easy to find in terms of pricing your services. But the most important thing to remember is you are probably not offering skills that deserve $100 an hour right off the bat (unless you really are, in which case kudos to you!), but you are even less likely to be offering something worth just $2 an hour.

Finding that balance

It’s hard to know your limits when you are just starting out as a freelancer. Without the experience of being told yes and no you have to just poke around in the dark until you find prices that stick, that also don’t leave you struggling to afford rent or food.

But the mistake here is not poking around in the dark at all; you need to do it sometimes.

Do not settle on something that you know is not enough for more than a few days, weeks or months, depending on your timeline and goals.

Likewise, don’t keep your prices too high for ages while just expecting clients to pour in, if you know yourself that what you are offering is not worth it.

Don’t be afraid to change your prices in both directions, to find something that works for you and the client.

2. Not actively seeking out the right clients

A key factor in how much you will get paid is who your clients are.

Once again, when you are a beginner you will maybe have an idea of who your clients are going to be, but you won’t have any of them until you find some.

Finding them can be easy or it can be hard, depending on a variety of factors such as your industry, niche, skillset etc.

In the easy camp, you could just be very lucky and find customers that are willing to pay your ideal rate right away. Or you could be in an industry that is starved of highly skilled freelancers.

But more likely you will struggle to find any clients at first, and then when you do you will probably find a varied range of them.

Client variation

By this I mean you will find clients that are very communicative, and ones who barely give you any instructions.

You will find those who get back to your messages instantly and some who take days to reply. But how they communicate with you is just as important as how often.

Some will give you all the information you need to get started on the project right away without asking any questions, and these are the right kind of client.

However, they usually know what they are doing and what they are looking for, which can make it difficult to negotiate a favourable rate if you are trying to push things a little higher. This is because they have been here before, and they know that if you don’t like their price, they can just take their business elsewhere.

On the other hand, you might find clients that are a bit harder to deal with in terms of communication. They might take a few more messages to get to the root of the issues they are having. They also might take a while to respond to your questions and give you a hard time when it comes to answering them.

Looks can be deceiving

But they might be more willing to pay you more, as they don’t know how much to expect in your industry. This might be the first time they have used a freelancer, and so they are looking to you for guidance.

Surely these are the clients to go for, right?

Well, not always.

In the beginning, it will be hard not to simply go for any client that will pay you. But you need to learn quite quickly that more money can often mean more time, and not just time spent writing or creating, or whatever you are doing to get paid in the first place.

Time spent communicating and asking questions is time you are being paid for. If there is a lot of this alongside a lot of time spent actually working on the project, your hourly rate will rapidly decline.

So it is often a good idea to try and find clients that are easy to work with, and then focus on raising your rates.

Over time you will learn what the right kind of client is looking to pay for your services, and so knowing what to look for in a good client will also help you conquer the problem of knowing what to charge for your services.

Good client checklist:

  • Quick to respond to messages
  • Gives clear instructions
  • Pays above your minimum rate

Traits of a bad client:

  • Constantly pesters you about deadlines
  • Fails to give clear answers to your questions
  • Is happy to spend lots of money upfront without giving a clear outline of the project

3. Not being able to say no

This final mistake is one I am definitely guilty of. I am much better than I used to be, but I still struggle sometimes, that is for sure.

There are lots of cases where saying no is much smarter than saying yes when it comes to freelancing, and there are lots of benefits to learning how to do this.

You can find out more about these benefits by checking out my article on the topic here.

Yes, Yes, Yes!

When you are a beginner, all you want to do is say yes to every offer that comes your way, because the chances are high that you aren’t getting many of them. But some money is not always better than no money.

As we have seen with the second mistake, it is important to understand whether or not something is really worth it. In that case, it is whether or not the client is worth it. Then, once you learn who to avoid, you do so.

But now that you know who is worth it, you have to ask if the individual projects are worth it too.

A big project with a tight deadline that you might not be able to make? Probably not worth it.

What about a series of projects that require you to commit to them all at once, without taking into account what might happen in other parts of your life within that time? Again, you will probably find something that will get in your way, and the unnecessary stress is not worth it.

Finally, a project with a big price tag attached to it that requires you to do something that you don’t know if you have the skills to do quite yet? Come on, you know you’re pushing it now!

Is it worth it?

These lucrative projects might seem to be essential for your growth as a freelancer, but sometimes it is smarter to turn them down. If a project looks like it might take you too long to complete and the deadline is non-negotiable, it’s usually not worth putting extra pressure on yourself.

But that is not to say that pushing yourself isn’t also essential. You do need to find your limits, and this is often done by going past them, rather than getting close to them. The idea is to not do this too frequently that you end up burning out.

I am a student, and I have been balancing freelance writing alongside my studies for over a year.

Well, I’ve been trying to.

It’s not easy, especially when you are trying to make as much money as you can by taking on every job possible, while also trying to study for exams.

But it is during these more intense periods of time that I have taken a step back and learned when to say no.

Saying no has meant I have missed out on hundreds of dollars’ worth of projects at a time, but it has saved my brain from extreme stress.

This means I can focus on my studies and my work in a balanced manner, without any major stress getting in the way of either. This in turn has allowed me to take on more work of a higher quality, and earn more money in the long term.

Even if you don’t have studies or another job to worry about, the idea still applies.

You do not want to overdo it simply because you think any money is better than no money; it’s not.

You will learn your own limits over time, but as a beginner, take note of the jobs that stress you out the most.

Think about the projects that have pushed you close to the limit of exhaustion. These are the kinds of projects to say no to in the future.

These three mistakes are not ones that you will instantly be able to avoid, as you will probably make them throughout your freelancing career.

But knowing what they are and why you should try to avoid them should minimise their effects on you when you do make them.

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Freelance writer and aspiring blogger. Creator of Sophical Content. https://sophicalcontent.com

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