3 Freelancing “Bad Habits” That Cost You Money

burning moneyWhen you’re freelancing for a living, you’re trading time for money – so you want to make sure that every hour is time well spent. 

But those “little” bad habits you may have as a freelancer may be eating away at your time, making projects that should have only taken a few hours take much, much longer.  When that happens, your hourly rate goes down – way down – and each project becomes less profitable. 

Don’t let this happen to you.  Check out these 3 habits to break and start bringing your rates back where they deserve to be.

Break This Habit:  Not Setting Boundaries With Your Clients

When you’re trying to make ends meet, it’s easy to tell clients “Call me anytime if you have a question or want something changed.”  Naturally, you want to give them full access to you so they don’t go elsewhere.  But open-ended access means you have no way of controlling how much time you spend with the client – and if you end up with a “needy” client you could find yourself on-demand at all hours and working for minimum wage when all is said and done.

How to break this habit: Before you begin the project, let clients know up front that you have “business hours” and that those hours are the best time to contact you.  If they need you after hours, invite them to send you detailed info about what they need via email so that you can hit the ground running when you open for business tomorrow.

Break This Habit:  Letting A Client Bully You Into Free Work

Invariably, you’ll have clients who decide that bullying you into providing extra work for free is an option.  They do it subtly, with statements like “Add this and it could mean extra business for you later,” or “Oh, I didn’t realize that the job wouldn’t include this item.”  It may sound innocent, but in reality the client is trying to put the pressure on you to do work for free – and those unpaid hours take your hourly rate down for the count.  By giving into those requests, you open the door for even more unpaid work down the road.

How to break this habit: When you’re scoping out projects for clients, do everything you can to lay out exactly what’s included (and what’s not included) in the deal.  Before you begin work, get agreement with them that there’s nothing else that needs to be added to the scope of work – and that if they need to change the scope later, that will (rightfully) come with an extra cost.

Break This Habit:  Letting Time Get Away From You

When your freelancing involves being on the computer, it’s far too easy to let the time get away from you.  An email here, a twitter there, and a quick stop at your favorite news site … suddenly the day draws to a close and you realize you didn’t accomplish as much as you needed to.  Letting yourself get distracted from your work can trap you into working overtime to compensate for the billable time you wasted, and spending more time than you need to on something isn’t why you got into freelancing in the first place.

How to break this habit: When you’ve got to focus on work, set deadlines and boundaries for yourself.  Force yourself to stay away from email and the web for a chunk of time so you can finish what’s in front of you, and then reward yourself with some downtime afterward.  This way you won’t be tempted to distraction, because you’ll know some self-approved distraction time is waiting for you soon.

Name Your Poison:  What’s Your Worst Freelancing Habit?

Something getting in the way of you getting your projects done quickly?  Let us know in the comments and we might be able to give you a tip or two to turn that bad habit around.


  1. says

    My worst habit is definitely over-extending myself. I tend to take on all sorts of new and interesting projects (for myself and clients) and then it becomes incredibly difficult to get everything done with the quality I want.

    There has got to be a happy medium somewhere!

  2. says

    My bad habit is that of trying new things mostly when I encounter them, when I really need to use them. Sometimes, I’ll let them slip by only because at that time they don’t prove useful. Sometimes it’s better to try them out even if on your own time.

  3. says

    not setting boundaries is huge. Without setting up milestones and a project brief, you are just asking for scope creep. I always make sure to create a very detailed project brief that outlines everything that is included in the price. This way there are no misunderstandings…..well….just a lot less!

  4. says

    Social networking can be a frelancer’s or virtual workers’ best friend, but at the same time, a total drain on time. Those little time wasters can get in the way of so much productivity time, and that can be my worst habit if I am not careful. When I really need to focus, I shut my doors, shut down the email and ignore twitter then get down to business.

  5. says

    When you think about it, at times it’s hard not to let one, two or all three of these happen. Many times those that we do business with turn out to be more than just business associates. They turn into friends.

    As friends it’s OK to make small exceptions as long as you get like services in return. Go the extra mile and under charge an attorney that you have for a client and hopefully they will do the same for you.

    Just don’t get caught into the place where you are always the one giving.

    One of the biggest time waster I have found is the notification of new email on your email client. Turn it off and make a habit of manually checking the email at set time (I try to take an email check break every 30 minutes while I’m working). With as much junk and spam email we all receive checking email is a big time waste.

  6. says

    Good advice, I’m trying to learn to log out of facebook, twitter etc and to activate ‘work offline’ on my email application when working – and I’d only check on emails every 2 hours or so…

    To some extent technology (work related) which is meant to increase our productivity is doing the oqposite!

  7. says

    Huh, I just made one of those mistakes not setting some points, while starting new job – (easy one as I thought) – it ended painfully with much more work – and yes, my mistake, I just suggest always write down on paper those points You discussed with client, so You can later show them those and yeah, just ask to pay little more if he wants some changes.

  8. says

    i think my bad habit is to stay in front of the PC until i can’t do my job. Stop at these site, reply the email, comment on the myspace, friendster, facebook & lots more.
    Thanks for the advice

  9. says

    I don’t do any of the listed time wasters, I am brilliant at time management and getting everything organized and completed, but I can’t seem to get my focus on how to make money from my work. I just want income to come in and I think I want to be discovered.

  10. Cindy G. says

    I am a Graphic Design Student who has often thought about Freelancing upon completion of the Graphic Design program. I enjoyed the article and will definately keep the suggestions in mind down the road!

  11. says

    I am a freelancer and its a tough world out there, most clients will want the work at very low prices and they know how to bully you, this is the most frustrating aspect, i charge 50% upfront which changes. They try to reduce the price by getting more work done and i have learn t how to say no to these inquiries.

  12. ben says

    Very good information here. I will definitely keep these tips in the back of my mind when making my way through design school and when thinking about the rest of my future.


  13. says

    This is such a great post. I keep a spreadsheet of how many hours I spend on each assignment to see what I earn per hour. But all that diligence can’t make up for an hour wasted on facebook.

  14. Kat says

    Great tips, thank you! We must share the same “you should work for free” clients. ;)

    Along those same lines, one of the largest time drains in my business is spent responding to clients, whether by voice or email. I know I easily lose 2 or 3 hours a day doing that – it would be ok if that time were generating income, but most of the time, it’s answering repetitive questions that I’ve answered before or troubleshooting silly problems. Maybe I need to grow a spine and tell them each communication is at a consulting rate. hmmmm

  15. says

    It’s unhealthy how much I succumb to bad habit #2, one thing I’d like to that is that one of the benefits that I get out of having a zen, a very minimalist or just a clean workspace is that it helps me get back some of that focus.

  16. Angela says

    Dear All;

    I’m new to this webiste and love all of the articles I’ve read. As a freelancer I know first hand how difficult and rewarding this line of work can be.

    Thank you for the reminder and wake up call to continually make sure my time is well managed. Great article and comments/ feedbacks!!!

    (freelance fashion design product description writer, data entry and advertising research assistant, real estate research assistant).

  17. says

    Letting a client bully you into free work is a best way to create resentment in the client/vendor relationship. It’s tough to work around as there is always a fine line.

  18. says

    I try to make sure that as little time is spent browsing the web. I always catch myself checking up on the news or something else, but I keep this at a minimum (most of the time) :)

    If you don’t do it in moderation, it will kill your time.

  19. says

    I am guilty of all three. I am just starting my freelance career and have found it really difficult to stay focused on the job at hand. Emails and phone calls take up some of my time. However it is those other pesky online distractions that keep calling to come see whats new in random people’s lives!


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