Are These 5 Mistakes Holding You Back from Freelance Success?

What's Holding You BackThere is a lot of great freelancing advice out there, both on this site and on many others. Anyone who wants to make it as a freelancer has many resources available to help them with what they need to know — everything from dealing with problem clients, to finding them in the first place, to organizing taxes and so on.

In fact, there is so much good advice about what you should be doing that I think it’s helpful to look in the opposite direction — at things that might be holding you back.

In this post, I’ve created a list of 5 big mistakes that could be holding you back from freelance success. Make a little progress with these, and your freelancing will see some definite improvement.

Let’s get started…

Mistake #1 — Not Making The Most Of Your Time

If you find yourself with plenty of spare hours each week and certainly aren’t stretched to get your freelancing tasks done, you’re one of few. For the rest of us however, we only get so much time here and there to ‘do what we do’ and we have to make the most of it.

I’ve been victim to the idea of leaving projects until the last minute and rushing around to get things done, but those days are long gone. You never know when a new project or opportunity is going to come up that will take up your time and if you’re still sitting on a backlog of other work (or other typical life surprises), you may not be able to seize the chance.

Set yourself a schedule for when you will work on your tasks and stick to it. It’s far better to get things out of the way early on then leave them till your last possible opportunity.

Mistake #2 — Holding Limiting Beliefs About Potential

This may sound stupid, but I’m sure some people can relate to my own situation. When I was 17 I was contacted by a large phone manufacturer to help promote their new website blog. They offered me a ton of money (especially for my age) to do the job and whilst I knew I was very capable for the task in hand, I started doubting my own abilities and whether or not I could keep them happy as a client.

Thankfully, things worked out well for me, but that situation still touched upon an important concept: know your worth, and don’t doubt your potential. Limiting beliefs about how much money you can make, how great your finished projects can be and how many clients you can keep a hold of serve you no positive benefits whatsoever.

Limiting beliefs are called limiting for a reason.

Mistake #3 — Casting Your Net Too Wide

I’ve already wrote about this in full detail on another post, but I still think it deserves to be mentioned here. Too many people suffer from the idea that the more they do of this and the more they have of that, the more money and success they can achieve.

Logically, it might make sense, but in theory, it’s not always the best route to take. I had a lot more success in getting clients and making money when I narrowed the services I offered but became a known expert on what I did offer. I narrowed my audience when doing this, but took a bigger share of the market that is out there. Before you start going ‘gung-ho’ for every possible client and service out there, scale back and see how things work out.

Mistake #4 — Always Looking for Shortcuts

I have a friend who runs a very popular blog (where he outsources the writing) which makes him thousands of dollars and a very liveable income each month. The thing is, in looking to grow the blog, he spends absolutely zero time following the fundamentals he used to build the blog in the first place, and spends a lot of his time reading autobiographies of successful people and looking for some ‘trick’ he’s missing.

I’m not saying reading about the success of others’ is bad, but sometimes to take your client base or income to the next level, you just need to keep doing what you’ve been doing. If there are shortcuts which won’t falter the quality of your work then sure, try them, but if you’re looking for ‘tricks’ and ‘secrets’ out of laziness, you’re going to find yourself taking an even longer journey than before.

Mistake #5 — Not Measuring What is Working

Just like it’s possible you may be casting your net too wide and still missing all the fish, there’s also a good chance you’re spending time on things which don’t benefit you at all. Possible examples of this could be writing blog posts, commenting on other sites, participating in forums and battling for jobs on freelance marketplaces.

Some of these might be working and the first three will be great if you’re trying to get your name or brand out there, but how many are really converting into clients? Take some time aside one day to look at the people who are paying for your services and see if you can work out where they found you. If you can’t, it doesn’t hurt to ask. It’s possible that only one or two main areas are sending you clients but you’re spending equal time in five.

If that is the case, now you know where to change.

These are just some of the common factors I know have held me back in the past, what others do you know?


  1. says

    If you don’t count mistake number 3, casting your net to wide, all of these applied to me a few years ago. I even had a period when I started studying on the bus to school, when I was about to have a great test. Even though I passed I figured out it didn’t work long term and decided to change.

    For people who are trying to make money online I think it’s important to think about mistake number 5. I’m certain a lot of people are checking their Google AdSense stats several times a day without actually have a clue about why they are making money one day and not the next.

  2. says

    A big Yes for #2, there are times that we knew that we are capable of the job but a part of us is not entirely convince of what we can do. Successful people were able to overcome risks, fears and doubts. It might sound cheesy, but being a patriot of your own self and leaving insecurities, negativity and hesitation behind will help you to succeed and prove your worth.

    For number #3, I think it’s the same with multitasking which I’m not a fan of. When you do a multiple task at the same time, the quality of each outcome of task will be badly affected. Well, it may work for some but I believe that when give your 100% focus on one activity on specific period of time the quality of what you did will not be compromised. ss

  3. says

    My biggest mistake was not having formal procedures/documents in place when taking on work.

    I was so afraid of having no work when i first started out that I agreed to work with bad clients, far too cheaply, without anything in writing. It almost cost me my freelance business.

    Now I ask for a 50% deposit before i begin any work and clients must agree and sign my terms and conditions which i had written for me by a legal firm.

  4. says

    The two most important points for me are these: narrowing my focus and measuring what is working.

    I’ve learned to not stay with stuff that isn’t working simply because I don’t have the time, energy or money to focus on those things except for what has proven to be successful. In addition, I regularly evaluate what is working and what isn’t, shifting as I go to maximize my productivity and profits.

    We freelancers cannot afford to chase after an elusive dream nor do we have an endless repository of funds to fall back on. At least not in my case!

  5. says

    I’ll add one to this:

    Focusing on the short-term and neglecting the long term. It’s too easy to deal with the fast fires and what seems (and I do mean seems) important to manage right now.

    Always look a week ahead. A month ahead. A year ahead. Know where you’re going, and make every day a small step towards that future goal.

  6. says

    a couple of these are pretty easy to fall into. But it’s never too late to work on things. Just need to focus a bit.

    Thanks for this post.

  7. says

    I think what I am suffering right now is mostly mistake #2 with a dash of #1. I been noodling around with web development for a couple of years now and just have not been able to take it to the next level where I am freelancing for people. I have built a couple of sites for people here and there (mostly family and friends), but I still think that I do not have the chops yet to take that next step.

    AS for #1, I am at the point right now where I am about mid-life into my current career right now and working anywhere between 40~50+ hours a week(depending on how my on-call week is going). On top of that I am going to school full time. Instead of spending free time trying to build a portfolio and become a web developer ninja, I spend most of it comatose or playing video games, because I am too burned out to do anything else. One of the ways I been trying to combat this, is getting up earlier in the mornings and spend that extra 45 minutes to an hour working on web stuff. tIt could be a tutorial on a new CSS/Photoshop technique or trying to finish design the redesign of my site. I also believe that this in part is fueling my issues with mistake #2 to a degree.

  8. says

    Casting the net too wide is what I did wrong in my first two years. I’ve narrowed the playing field down so far I might be cutting things too close now…but so far, so good. The only thing I would add to this article is something about paying attention to your instincts. Every single time I ignore that little voice in my head, I regret it in the end…even when large dollars are promised and delivered.

  9. says

    i don’t support taking many projects at the same time those make overload. because then there is much possibilities to create buggy code. another tips is that, when you got invitation from a new client or existing client, just tell him you can give much time after some days later. its better way to not loose clients

    thanks for a nice post!

  10. says

    The desire to do everything under the sun in an effort to make the most money is often a common pitfall of many I feel like. I found myself coming back to the same question when I first started looking into freelance work, “Is it better to know a little about a lot of things or is it better to know a lot about a few things.” I have since discovered that the latter is a much better choice as people seem much more eager to employ the expert then someone who just knows the basics. Nice post!

  11. says

    I definitely need to have a think about my business, I know it’s tough at the moment and I fear that I’m not getting the work I should be getting and I’m stretching everything to the limit.

  12. says

    The second mistake, Holding Limiting Beliefs About Potential, is what is hitting me now. I am working on a project that is totally different than anything I have done. It’s driving me crazy because I keep doubting myself as I write each sentence.

    Alas, I will get it done on time, and it will be excellent work. My client will be happy!

  13. says

    I’d say this covers things very well. Mostly this all comes down to time management and self management which are two of the hardest things for freelancers to get a handle on.

  14. says

    The mistake 3 “Casting Your Net Too Wide” is my problem based.

    I formerly launched a site taking about online marketing, shopping and so on, it’s too widely.

    Now, i just talking about adsense and adwords. It’s getting better.

  15. says

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  16. Wowie says

    Great post and big YES-es to mistakes number 2 and 3.

    Your post got me thinking and really inspired me to change certain ways I do my business.

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