It’s always tempting to leave the corporate world behind and go freelance – after all, who wouldn’t enjoy by the prospect of higher earnings, no managers and a flexible schedule?
Self-employment is easier said than done, though, and plenty of pitfalls can hinder your new business before you’ve started. And when there are so many opportunities, too, that’s a big problem.
If you’ve been tempted by the freelance life, then read this article before you get to work – we’ve rounded up the six biggest freelance mistakes and explained how to avoid making them.
Not knowing your worth
One of the most challenging parts of setting up a freelance business is figuring out how much you should charge for your services. If you ask for too much money you’ll struggle to attract customers, especially if you’re new in the industry. And if you don’t ask for enough, you’ll struggle to make ends meet when it comes to paying rent and affording food or you’ll have too much work.
It’s a difficult balancing act. If you’re freelancing in the same industry as a previous job, you’ll probably have a better idea of how much to charge. If that’s not applicable to you, then don’t worry – you can hit up freelance marketplaces like Guru and Fiverr to see what people are charging for similar services.
Other freelancers and your industry knowledge can certainly give you a ballpark figure, but you’ve got to make sure that the prices you charge will cover your living costs and any other expenses associated with the work at hand.
It’s not just about picking a rate and sticking with it, either. If you’re a new freelancer it’s worth lowering the rate to attract initial business, and if you’ve been around a while and you’ve got plenty of expertise then you’ll be able to charge more too.
Figuring out freelance pricing is difficult, and charging too much or not enough is a common mistake. But look at the market, figure out your costs and stay competitive with other people in your field and you won’t go far wrong.
Too much work – or not enough.
It’s good to be busy, especially if you’re a freelancer, but if you accept every job that comes along you’ll end up with more work than you can handle. You won’t do a good job, you’ll get burnt out, and clients just won’t come back.
It almost feels counter-intuitive as a freelancer but you must remember that you can turn work down if you’re too busy. You and your existing clients will both benefit.
At the other end of the scale, if you have one or two regular clients then you’ll be in big trouble if you lose the contract – that’s a huge chunk of your income gone.
This is a tricky balancing act, especially for new freelancers, and you’ll probably make mistakes until you determine what that balance looks like for you. Ideally, you need enough clients to stay busy without the workload becoming overwhelming – and a good range of clients so losing one won’t ruin your finances.
Ignoring the numbers
And, talking of finances, it’s too easy to ignore accounting when you start freelancing. That’s a critical mistake that can scupper lots of businesses.
Before starting a freelance business, it’s crucial that you’ve got a pool of savings to tide you over – it might be a few months until you have a regular income that can replace a salary, and you’ll need cash to cover any start-up costs. It’s also worth keeping a savings pot after you’ve established yourself, because you don’t know when business will drop away.
Beyond the initial pool of money, you should get an accountant who can steer you in the right direction when it comes to tax and filing returns. It’s a good idea to have a separate bank account where you can siphon your tax money throughout the year so you’re not stung with a huge payment and no cash when the time comes, and ensure that you regularly issue invoices and chase clients who haven’t paid.
We won’t lie: financial management is hardly the most exciting part of freelance life. But if you don’t keep on top of your money, your entire business and life will suffer.
Producing poor-quality work
It’s easy to get complacent if you’ve been freelancing for a while and you think you’ve got a solid base of reliable clients. If that happens, you could easily miss deadlines, churn out bad-quality work and fail to communicate effectively.
If you end up in that situation, don’t be surprised if clients start to disappear. And if you become complacent, it might be time to think about your business and its future.
Instead, try to go above and beyond with your work. Your clients will appreciate it, your reputation will spread and improve, and you’ll be able to land better clients at higher prices.
Not nailing the work/life balance
Any employee needs to have a good work/life balance to ensure success and productivity in all areas of life, but it’s especially true for freelancers – there are few jobs where work and leisure blend so easily, especially if you work at home.
To develop a good work/life balance you need to create a solid routine, switch off from your work at the end of the day and ensure you eat well, get regular exercise and enjoy your hobbies. That’s the key to avoiding burnout and ensuring you stay level-headed and relaxed. If you do that, your work will improve and you’ll be happier.
Succumbing to distractions
Working at home isn’t just a challenge to your work/life balance – it can also hinder your productivity.
Don’t believe us? Consider what else is around when you’re regularly working at home. You’ve probably got a TV in the next room, you may have a games console or a gaming PC within touching distance, and it’s always tempting to just pop out to the shops or head out to see a friend.
If you do that regularly, you’re just not going to make any money. And, if you’re susceptible to distractions and losing your focus, you will have to take steps to stop that happening.
Some people remove those distractions from their working environment and others go out for exercise in the morning to improve their focus. Some people use apps to help manage their time, others work on unconventional schedules to keep productive, and others have firm goals to ensure the work gets done. Some people leave the house to work from co-working spaces, and others even pretend to commute to get themselves into the right mindset.
No matter how you do it, you’ll only find success as a freelancer if you stay productive and minimize those distractions.
And, beyond keeping focus, the best freelancers manage to have a great work/life balance, deliver great work and charge appropriate amounts. Follow our rules and you’ll avoid the big mistakes – and you’ll join them sooner than you think.
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Mike has worked as a technology journalist for more than a decade and has written for most of the UK’s big technology titles alongside numerous global outlets. He loves PCs, laptops and any new hardware, and covers everything from the latest business trends to high-end gaming gear.