Found Money, Lost Money, and Freelancing


Have you ever unexpectedly found money?

I know that I have. I once reached into the pocket of a coat I hadn’t worn in a long time and found a crisp ten dollar bill that I didn’t know that I had.

I still remember how I felt when I found the money. It was a happy surprise. Almost immediately I started to plan how I would use my unexpected bounty.

The opposite of finding money is losing money, and believe me, when you’ve lost money the feeling isn’t nearly as good.

I remember when some friends gave me a fairly large gift card. I thought I put the gift card away in a safe place. Instead, I lost it. I never saw that gift card again and I’ve always felt bad about the waste.

In many ways, freelancing feels a lot like finding and losing money. It may seem as though it’s out of your control, but really it’s all about your reputation and your marketing.

If you’ve ever lost a freelancing gig you expected to get or gotten freelancing work you didn’t expect, this post is for you.

Why Some Prospect Inquiries Feel Like Found Money

Recently, a prospect contacted me about doing a substantial amount of work. As usual, I asked the prospect how they had heard about me. To my surprise, the prospect hadn’t ever heard about me. In fact, they were looking for another freelancer and accidentally ran across my website instead.

Although they hadn’t been looking for me, the prospect couldn’t find the other freelancer. It seemed that the other freelancer didn’t have a website or much of a web presence (or if they did, it wasn’t very easy to find). We wound up discussing the prospect’s needs and, to make a long story short, that prospect became a client.

In a way, landing that client who seemed to come out of nowhere felt a bit like found money. It wasn’t, though. If I think about it, I worked hard to land the client. That work started even before the client contacted me–when I started building up my online presence. It continued on as I discussed the client’s needs and came up with a custom proposal for meeting those needs.

Of course, getting clients you didn’t expect is only half the story. The other half is losing clients you expected to get.

Why Losing Out on a Proposal Feels Like Lost Money

If you don’t get a freelance gig that you were counting on, it can certainly feel like you’ve lost money. In other words, the feeling isn’t very good.

It can take hours, sometimes even longer, to develop a proposal for a prospective client. Usually, the process goes something like this:

  • A prospect makes an inquiry about your services.
  • You ask the prospect about their project, paying close attention.
  • You may even schedule a telephone meeting to discuss the project.
  • Once you understand the project, you create a proposal (including pricing).

As you can probably guess, the process is a lot of work–work that you won’t be paid for unless you land the project. That’s why when you don’t get a project it can feel a lot like lost money.

It also stings a bit if this happens with a contact you’ve been networking with through social media (and therefore feel that you know).

Your Takeaways

There’s a certain aspect to freelancing that you can’t control, no matter how hard you try. Sometimes, you do all the right things and you don’t get the client. Other times you do (practically) nothing at all and you do get the client.

Getting freelancing work can feel a lot like found and lost money–sort of up and down.

The first takeaway, at least for me, is to keep on doing the right things (even when they don’t seem to be working) because doing them greatly improves your chances of success. And by doing the right things I mean:

  • Marketing your freelancing business.
  • Networking with other freelancers and with prospective clients.
  • Building and maintaining your professional reputation.

The second takeaway is not to take a failure to land a project personally (even though it might feel personal). Losing a gig you thought you would get is almost always a temporary setback. In the end, things usually balance out. The rejection is usually not about you anyway.

Your Turn

Have you ever gotten a gig seemingly out of the blue? Or, have you ever lost a freelancing gig you felt sure you would land?

Share your stories and thoughts in the comments.


  1. says

    Hi Laura

    I’m lucky in that I worked in direct sales for 10 years before setting up as a freelance web designer.

    Sales taught me that you wont always sell to those that seem nailed on and likewise you will sell to people that dont seem interested.

    The key for me is to treat each prospect in exactly the same way safe in the knowledge that I’ll convert 1 in 4 (ish)

  2. says

    The ads really detract from the story. Because they are not set apart by space or colour, it is easy to lose content thinking it is just a caption to the ad. Plus they come in the worst places: right before a bulleted list.

  3. Catena Creations says

    I had a prosepct eralier this year that said he was ready to sign and ready to move ahead with changes immediately. I met with him and his manager, created a proposal with detailed pricing, and presented it to them. They asked me to make some revisions, which I did. Then I had to meet with their board in a city an hour a way.

    As it turned out, they used my proposal to shop around for better rates, and I was kicked out of the process. I invested more than $1,000 woth of time in this. Lesson learned: i no longer do detailed proposals or pricing for anyone unless they’re ready to sign when we meet. I also include detailed confidentialty language up front thtat the information is not to be shared. It’s still not foolproof, but it gives me more leverage if this would happen again.

  4. says

    One of the best ways to avoid losing time and money through proposal writing is to establish the budget, if it it’s a guide, before you do any form or proposal.

    That way you don’t waste your time or the (potential) clients!

  5. says

    First of all you have a grammar mistake in the 1st sentence. Second, about my perception on lost or won bids – they never felt like found or lost money. I know my value and I know there are many reasons why somebody would choose to pick me or not. I don’t feel I loose anything if I am not picked by a client. I just move on.

  6. says

    First of all you have a grammar mistake in the 1st sentence. Second, about my perception on lost or won bids – they never felt like found or lost money. I know my value and I know there are many reasons why somebody would choose to pick me or not. I don’t feel I loose anything if I am not picked by a client. I just move on.

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