5 stupid mistakes I made my first year of freelancing
Don’t be like me.
Does anyone ever really know what they’re doing when they start working with clients? I didn’t. Still haven’t really figured it out. But I’ll tell you something. When things go wrong and you chalk it up to the learning curve, you start taking mental notes of all of the things you wish people had told you before you started freelancing.
A lot of the mistakes I made definitely could have been avoided with a bit more research or talking with people who had been through it, but being the socially nervous, prideful introvert I am, I assumed I could just figure most things out as I go. Certain things went well and others went horribly wrong.
In between getting my UpWork account banned, getting stiffed $1k and following up a day too late, I took a few notes and created my own set of rules for making freelancing as easy as possible.
Not getting paid up front
To this day I hate contracts. I hate how formal and traditional they are. but I get it. you need to protect yourself from the inevitably shitty clients you’ll encounter who will take advantage of you.
I’ll confess. I still don’t charge everyone up front. Because I’m a hypocrite. But I’ve become much better at gauging the situation and client to determine how to move forward.
This doesn’t mean that you need to ask for the entire amount up front. Some people ask for a small deposit up front. Others require half up front and half on delivery. If you’re working on a monthly, or retainer fee, you can ask for the first-month retainer up front to get started and then the remainder of the payments on the first of the month, or whenever you want. You just need to come to an agreement and set the expectation up front.
As awkward as it might be to talk about money logistics, it’s even more awkward sending a client a 3-month overdue notice and a threat that you’re going to involve a lawyer. This only happened to me once, and I never ended up getting paid. I was blocked by the client on every mode of communication and eventually had to accept it as a loss.
Sites like UpWork take a percentage of your earnings but will protect you from situations like this.
Charging per hour
Probably the biggest mistake I made early on was directly tying my income to my time. As a writer, getting paid by the hour is ridiculous. You’re penalizing yourself for being efficient at your job. Unless you have a really high hourly rate, or are an extraordinarily slow writer, charging a flat fee or a retainer is a win-win for everyone. You know exactly how much you’re going to make and can plan accordingly, and so does your client. No one has to deal with awkward surprises.
Not learning enough
I was an education snob and if there’s one thing I wish I had realized sooner is that everything I learned in college was pointless. I went to college. Then I went to extra college because I thought it would make me “smarter.” All it did was make me a well-educated broke person.
I used to be so hesitant to pay for coaching, buy courses or really pay anyone to help me with anything which is probably why I went almost 6 months of consistent efforts gaining zero clients.
Once I started paying for things I wanted to know, joining communities, and learning new, practical things, I made real progress.
Continuing to learn new things is what keeps me inspired and motivated to move forward. Now I subscribe to people’s newsletters, read daily on emerging trends and statistics and try to learn new ways to help my clients. If I don’t, someone else is.
Being desperate and not selective
There was a time when I didn’t think I would ever get a single client. no money and no prospects will make you desperate and desperation will make you do stupid things. Like write 1000-word articles for $10. Or falling into the age-old trap of “wanting to build your portfolio” so you write for free in exchange for all of the “exposure” the company’s blog will get you.
I know it’s hard and a lot of times unrealistic to be picky with clients when you’re in a tight situation, but I also found that working with low-value, low-paying clients, were the most difficult and time consuming jobs I had to do. It took a while for me to even feel qualified enough to turn down clients that couldn’t pay my rates or were difficult to work with. One thing I learned is that creating space in your life for the things that you want (in this case, quality clients) will usually cause you to attract those things. If you’re at capacity doing worthless projects that you don’t enjoy, you won’t have space for the opportunities you deserve once they come knocking.
The last stupid thing is actually just a list of a bunch of other stupid things I did that proved to be “learning opporuntites”
Being afraid of phone calls. Violating UpWork terms. Taking jobs on Craigslist. Not leveraging my personal network. Only “applying” for freelance jobs. Not asking for advice. Not celebrating small wins. Asking for too much advice. Caring too much about what people thought. Thinking that success would come over night. Treating clients like they were my employer. Being afraid of cold emailing.
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