7 Common Freelancing Mistakes that Will Shipwreck Your Freelancing Business


Over the years, I’ve gotten to know many freelancers.

One thing I’ve noticed is that many freelancers disappear after a year or two. They no longer post to their blog. Their URL no longer works.

What has happened to these wonderful freelancing colleagues?

Sadly, many of them have gone out of business. It’s easy to make the mistakes that can shipwreck your freelancing business.

In this post, I’ll identify seven common freelancing mistakes that can make your business fail. If you like this post, you may also like 5 Ways Freelancers Sabotage Their Success.

Common Freelancing Mistakes

Ideally, every freelancer would be able to stay in business. It’s painful to see all of those dreams and all of that hard work sunk by a few mistakes.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world and there will always be some freelancers who fail. However, many freelancing failures can be avoided.

Here are some common freelancing mistakes that can lead to failure:

  1. Being Too Accommodating. Sadly, a few would-be clients are more than happy to take advantage of you. If you let them, they’ll take up hours of your unpaid time on the phone asking pointless questions. Or, they’ll gladly pay you half the going rate for your services. It’s up to you to make sure that this doesn’t happen. Screen your clients carefully before agreeing to work with them. Establish boundaries for your time. Decide the rates that you will charge and stick to those rates.
  2. Not Keeping Good Records. As a freelancer, you are running a business. As a business owner, you need accurate information so that you can make wise decisions. You also need good records so that you can pay your taxes. Record all of your expenses and all of your income, no matter how small. In addition, keep detailed records of the amount of time that it takes to complete a project so that you can create accurate estimates for future projects.
  3. Not Taking Taxes Into Consideration. As a freelancer in the U.S. you are likely considered self-employed. This means that no one is withholding money from your pay for income taxes. You are responsible for seeing that your income taxes are paid. You must also pay the Social Security and Medicare taxes as well. Depending on where you live, you may also owe state and local taxes. Non-U.S. freelancers also need to be aware of their tax obligations.
  4. Being Unreliable.My freelancer disappeared on me.” Sadly, I hear this a lot. We freelancers are annoyed when clients disappear, but some freelancers are guilty of this as well. As a freelancer, make sure that you answer client communications in a timely fashion (usually in a day or so) and always meet your deadlines. Unreliable freelancers not only hurt their own freelancing business, they also damage the overall perception of the freelancing community as a whole.
  5. Not Listening. Over the years, miscommunication has caused a lot of relationship problems. Freelancing relationships are not immune to communication problems. Too often, a hurried freelancer makes assumptions about a project that simply aren’t valid. Or he or she may fail to get all the information they need. If you aren’t sure what a client means, ask. Double-check all client communications and repeat the client’s instructions back to them.
  6. Not Using a Contract. This a pet peeve. I’ve often heard freelancers complain about problems with their freelancing projects. One of the first things I ask is “what did your agreement say?” More often than not, the response is that there was no written agreement. I can’t emphasis this enough. Get your project agreements in writing–preferably in contract form. A written agreement gives both you and the client something to refer back to if something goes wrong.
  7. Letting Distractions Win. We freelancers fight distractions on a daily basis. We may have other family members at home while we work. Friends may call or stop by and assume that we are available because we are at home. And of course, our household chores such as laundry, vacuuming and cleaning are just a few steps away from our home offices. But if you want to succeed at freelancing, you need to block it all out and focus. It helps if you have dedicated area in your home for your freelancing business.

As you can see, none of these common mistakes are insurmountable. With a little planning, you can keep them from shipwrecking your freelancing business.

Your Turn

What was your biggest freelancing mistake and how did you overcome it? What freelancing mistakes would you add to the list?

Share your answers in the comments.