13 Serious Mistakes No Freelancer Should Ever Make

“We’re human, mistakes happen.”

That’s what my business coach IM’d to me, when I went wailing to her after I failed to make a Skype appointment with an important prospect.

Sure, freelancers are human too. And we all make mistakes.

But I still felt awful. I felt like a failure. I’d let my prospect down. I was a terrible freelancer.

So I turned to my freelancing community and found that, indeed, other freelancers make mistakes too. Today, I’m sharing those mistakes with you.


Thirteen Bad Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make

Here are the 13 worst mistakes a freelancer could make:

  1. Working without a contract–This seems to be pretty common. Sometimes, freelancers start out while they’re still in school. Or just doing it on the side. So they don’t treat it as a serious business. Or sometimes, we just trust our clients too much. We can’t believe they could stiff us… until they do.
  2. Working with just any client–Here’s another biggie. Often, we get a bad feeling about a client. We see lots of red flags popping up, but we ignore them. We need the money. We need this client on our portfolio. We need this! And then things fall apart. We look back and kick ourselves, because we knew all along this was a bad idea.
  3. Missing deadlines and appointments–This is what I hear the most from people who hire freelancers. I’ve got plenty of clients who find me after being burned by freelancers who flake out on them, miss deadline after deadline while never running out of excuses, or simply disappear.
  4. Starting work without getting paid first–This is another common mistake, especially by freelancers who are just starting out. Again, it stems from trusting the client too much. The solution is simple: ask for a down payment first, before starting to do ANY work.
  5. Charging too little–Freelancers’ insecurities are most evident in our fees. We charge too little, because we don’t really believe in what we’re worth. Or we base our fees on the salary we used to make was employees. Or we ask for what we can live with. So we end up getting paid way less than the value we actually bring to our clients.
  6. Taking on too much work–This is a natural consequence of charging too little. If you don’t get paid much for each project, then you need to complete more projects to reach your income goals. Big mistake! Over-extend yourself and you end up missing deadlines, delivering poor quality work, burning yourself out, and thinking “freelancing sucks!”
  7. Neglecting your marketing when times are good–Sometimes we get in a groove, a good one. We’ve got lots of projects lined up. We’re working in a state of flow doing things we enjoy doing. The money’s pouring in. So who cares about marketing, right? Wrong! Freelancers need to be constantly marketing, getting leads, and keeping them “warm.” Because if not, one day, we’ll wake up and there isn’t a new project waiting for us. There’s no new check to deposit and yet the bills continue to arrive in the mail.
  8. Not having clear deliverables–You may have a contract, but is it a good one? Does it clearly state what outputs you’re going to provide, and when? And how you’re going to get paid, and when? And what your clients’ role is in the completion of the project? I’ve heard of freelancers proceeding to do certain tasks, only to find out the client hadn’t wanted them to do it. Don’t even think about getting paid. Ouch!
  9. Not having a “kill fee” in the contract–Here’s another mistake I myself have made. I forgot to include my kill fee, or how much my client has to pay if he/she discontinues the project after I’ve begun work on it. Once again, sometimes a shabby contract is as bad as not having one.
  10. Submitting completed work and client files without getting paid first–Here’s another mistake made by overly trusting freelancers. Remember that, once you’ve turned over the finished product to the client, you don’t have a hold on them any more.
  11. Not following up on proposals–This is a mistake we may not even realize is causing us to lose clients. I’m guilty of this myself, because I’m quite a shy person. I don’t like pestering people. Following up feels like pestering. But it’s a big mistake to assume your clients have received the proposal you sent, much less read them. If you’re like me and feel nervous about following up, read this step-by-step guide to a smarter follow-up.
  12. Not upselling clients–Here’s another mistake many freelancers don’t even realize they’re making. Freelancers who don’t “upsell”–offer to do more services than what their clients asked for–are leaving money on the table. Upselling may feel slimy and used-car-salesman-y to you. But in fact, it’s a sign of a remarkable freelancer. When you upsell, you have to anticipate your clients’ needs and be there to help meet them. When you offer an effective upsell, you’re showing your client that you fully understand what they’re trying to achieve, and you know how to help them get there.
  13. Neglecting your finances–Freelancers are usually a creative lot, which means many of us are not comfortable dealing with numbers and money. It’s too easy to sweep finances under the rug, until tax time comes. This is another big mistake. You can’t manage what you don’t see.

Your Turn

This is a pretty long list!

It’s not that freelancers are more human than others. It’s just that we’re navigating the freelancing waters pretty much on our own. Most of us are just winging it and learning things the hard way.

Fortunately, we have blogs like Freelance Folder and the forum where we can learn from each other — including each other’s mistakes!

Moreover, life always gives us another chance — if not with this client or prospect, then with the next one.

Which of these mistakes have you or do you make? What other mistakes have you made that other freelancers should avoid? Share them in the comments so we won’t make the same ones.

Image by Ivan Walsh