10 Painful Mistakes that Cost You Freelancing Work

Do you know why you lose gigs?

If you’re like most of us, you probably don’t know. The truth is that most freelancers have no idea why they lose a client or why they don’t get a gig.

There are plenty of freelancing mistakes that can cost you work. Happily, most of these mistakes can be avoided.

Making mistakes in the process of finding work can be painful. As freelancers, we count on a steady stream of projects in order to stay afloat. In this post, I’ll list some common mistakes that freelancers frequently make and describe how you can avoid making them yourself.

Avoid These Painful Mistakes

You may never hear back from a prospect about why you didn’t get a gig.

Now, you don’t have to sit around wondering. Below, I’ve listed 10 embarrassing mistakes that can keep a freelancer from getting the work:

  1. A junky portfolio. A substandard portfolio can certainly hold you back. Maybe your samples are too old or don’t highlight skills that are currently in demand. Worse yet, maybe you don’t even have a portfolio. Quick Fix: Check over portfolio to make sure that your best work is represented.
  2. No response. A surprising number of emails about prospective work go unanswered. If the prospect never hears from you, they won’t hire you. A related problem is responding with too little, too late. Quick Fix: Schedule a regular time each day to check and respond to emails. If you will be away (vacation, for example) leave an auto-response.
  3. Typos and other mistakes. Check your website, your samples, and any letters or emails you send out carefully. They should be error free. If these have errors, your prospects may assume you’ll make mistakes in their work. Quick Fix: Review anything that a prospect may see. Repair or remove pieces with mistakes.
  4. No references. Testimonials are a key part of marketing yourself as a freelancer. If no one is willing to say that you did a good job for them, prospects may wonder what’s wrong with you. Quick Fix: Ask a few of your current clients if they would be willing to write a testimonial for you.
  5. You just don’t get it. Your conversation and/or your emails show the client that you don’t really understand the project or the client’s needs. This can happen if you use a canned response. Quick Fix: Listen carefully to what the client says. Customize any email templates that use to communicate with clients before using it.
  6. No sale. You didn’t explain why you are the best for the job. There are thousands of freelancers out there, so to get work you will need to be able to explain why you are the best freelancer for the job. Quick Fix: Take the time to sit down and think about what unique value you bring to your clients.
  7. Social media self sabotage. Clients who hire freelancers are making a big financial investment. They can and do check freelancer’s reputations. Sadly, many freelancers sabotage themselves by being careless. Quick Fix: Review your social media postings from a client’s perspectives. Remove or use privacy setting to block anything that might make you seem unprofessional.
  8. Lack of enthusiasm. Given a choice between hiring two similar freelancers, most clients will hire the freelancer who seems to really want the work. Quick Fix: Be sure to clearly express your interest in the project by using phrases like, “I’m really excited about this opportunity.”
  9. You’re in hiding. There’s no contact information for you anywhere. An active web presence does you no good if no one knows how to get in touch with you. Quick Fix: Add your email information to your website. Make sure social media accounts point to your website.
  10. You struck me the wrong way. This is the personal element that we can’t always control. Perhaps you sounded grumpy or rushed to the client when they talked to you on the phone. Quick Fix: Relax before calling or meeting with any clients face-to-face. Smile when you speak and don’t look at your watch.

Your Turn

Have you made any embarrassing mistakes that cost you the gig? How will you avoid making these mistakes in the future?

Leave your answers in the comments.


  1. says

    RE: point number 9, ‘Being in Hiding’ – I find putting your phone number in your emails and saying that you would be happy to arrange a chat is a great way to encourage a response.

    I’m not a fan of cold calling but having a telephone number is still important, and even if most clients still choose to stick to emails, the fact that you have a telephone number gives them more confidence.

    Of course, when they do then call you it’s important to be prepared and to sound enthusiastic and professional which you mentioned in other points.

  2. says

    Great comments!

    Greg Walker–You’d be surprised about how many freelancers don’t include contact information on their websites, blogs, or social media profiles. If your prospect can’t figure out how to contact you, they can’t do business with you.

  3. says

    Just took care of no. 7 today. Was friends on Facebook with a fellow photographer who’s in his late 50s and has a mail-order bride who just turned 23. She’s beautiful, and he takes lots of photos of her, but she’s his wife, and they’re tasteful, so that’s fine.

    But then today he shared a photo from “Hot Babes from Australia.” Not only do I have professional connections on Facebook, but am also friends with about 15 of my son’s teen friends. Needless to say, I have unfriended this man — I don’t want those photos showing up in my news feed!

  4. says

    Great comments!

    Catena Creations, I think you made the right decision for your situation. I’m not sure whether clients would have been able to see that photo, but you never know when your son might be looking over your shoulder.

  5. says

    Last year I was working to diligently build my freelancing business so I could take the leap and go full time. I received a call from an out-of-state, online content publisher who said I was the only call they were making outside their city limits. My Linked In profile attracted him, and the subsequent interview went incredibly well. We both hung up the phone, excited about the partnership, and the skills I would bring to his team.

    Two days later I got a boilerplate email thanking me for my interest, but saying they were “selecting other candidates.” In a single short response to my inquiry, I was told that there were “numerous typos on my website, and that the company didn’t think I would reflect well on their new project”

    Ouch. I was embarrassed when I went back over the pages of my site, and realized how desperately I need to slow down, or hire a proof-reader.

  6. Stacey Herbert says

    I just had an experience where an aquaintance asked for a quote on a project. I spent nearly 1 hour on the phone with them, gave lots of marketing ideas and submitted a quote. Nearly two weeks later, I get a email back saying ” I don’t think you would be a good fit”.

    This is actually the first time I have ever had feedback on why someone has chosen not to work with me, aside from it being – outside their budget.

    My ego is a bit bruised, but I think the take away for me has been that I need to manage the consultancy process better, not give away too many ideas for free and limit the amount of time spent.

    I will also be creating a template that I can modify to help standardise the process, and help reduce the time I spend creating quotes that sell my services, so I can spend more time marketing them.

    I don’t want to work on projects where the person in charge doesn’t think “I will be a good fit”, but learning to manage my ego when I hear such things, is going to take a little more time.

  7. says

    Hi Laura, great post. Many of these mistakes could fall under one category, professionalism. Quite often we don’t understand what does it really mean to be professional, we judge it by what we think it is, in reality, we should always think what our prospects expect from us (prompt responses, clean communication etc.)

  8. says

    Well I can say I’ve falling prey to numbers 3-6, 10 a few times and is working hard at it. I think what gets me most time is striking the client the wrong way and not understanding them. I think if from the onset I get that client is good to work with, I will try to my best to understand and give a good impression. However, like everything in life there’s always room for improvement.


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