Going freelance is an exciting and nerve-wracking decision. There are certainly positive aspects; there’s no boss to answer to, and you’re in charge of your workload and time. But you also aren’t guaranteed an income, and need to work hard to keep and retain clients. When you’re trying to build a client base, making the right decisions is key, but many people make common mistakes that inhibit their ability to build their business. In this article we discuss five of the most common mistakes, and how you can avoid them.
Walking on eggshells
Treating clients respectfully and professionally is essential to success, and winning business via word-of-mouth. But this can lead freelancers to put clients on a pedestal because they are so scared of losing them. In practical terms, this often translates as doing extra work for free, and generally not standing up for your business interests. Some clients will take advantage of this, which may lose you respect and will also hit your profitability. You need to ensure you protect your boundaries at all times, and remember that while clients are important, you do need to keep things in perspective.
Not charging enough money
This is probably the most common freelancer mistake; they think that because they are new and untested, they can’t charge much money. In the end they tend to come up with a figure based on their previous job’s hourly rate, but these can’t be compared directly, because there are many additional costs when freelancing (utilities, travel, computers), and also the non-guaranteed nature of the work means you need a buffer in case of dry spells. It’s also important to remember that many clients are also put off by rates that are too low; they are paying for the services of an expert, so they will get suspicious if the rates don’t reflect this.
Taking on every job you can
You’re desperate for work when you first start out, which makes it likely you’ll snap up everything that comes your way. This is a natural reaction, particularly as you’ll be used to earning a regular salary. Being thrown in at the deep end can be scary. But you must ensure that clients you take on are suitable for your skill-set, and that they are the type of client you want to work with. Otherwise, there are mismatched expectations, which may lead to disagreements, disputes, and a whole host of troubles. If you have a bad feeling about a client, it may well pay to distance yourself from the project and slip away quietly.
Not focusing on sales
It’s very exciting to run a business; this drives many first-time freelancers to focus on the ego-boosting, visually-appealing parts of the process, such as producing fancy logos, creating a lovely website, producing business cards and other tasks. But these activities do not bring in money – in fact, they cost money, and it’s important to keep costs doing when you’re building a business. That's not to say branding isn’t important, but you should do a minimum at the beginning. Sales are essential; if you are not making sales, your business is failing. Focusing on making sales is essential in the beginning. Once you’ve got a roster of clients and your balance sheet has stabilised, you can start thinking about spending some money to build your brand.
Failing to separate work and life
Working from home appeals to a great number of people, and it is a nice way of life – there’s no commute and no dress code. The downside is that it can be harder to shift between mental ‘modes,’ so that either you find it hard to stop thinking about work or you find it hard to get ‘stuck in.’ This is something to be avoided from the beginning because it can be hard to get out of the rut. Separate your work area overtly – perhaps have a separate office with a lockable door, which is as far as possible away from the house’s natural socialising areas so you’re less likely to get distracted.