Four Freelancing Mistakes You Don’t Need To Make

Learn From Freelance Mistakes
We rarely like to admit our mistakes, but if we fail to admit them and learn from them then they’re likely to be repeated. In this article I want to admit some of my mistakes to you, and share my experience so that you can avoid making them.

My journey has taken me from the highs of doing what I love every day to the lows of chasing monthly payments and then back again. To say that my journey has followed the typical freelance rollercoaster would be an understatement.

Making mistakes along the way is a big part of freelancing, though, and I’m sure many of you can relate when I say that these failures and mistakes help to make your business successful and teach you a lot along the way.

Today I want to share four that I’ve personally had to learn to avoid, and it is my hope that in sharing these you can avoid them yourself without having to go through them first.

Mistake #1 — Giving Away Too Much Information

In many areas of freelancing there is the potential to give away too much information. On my path, as an internet marketer, I started out by telling clients exactly what I would do to increase their search engine rankings or get them more social media traffic.

There was a slight dilemma with this situation. Some clients loved the approach, understood that I knew what I was talking about, and requested more of my services. Others, however, took my outline and implemented it themselves or hired someone cheaper to follow it as best as they could. In the end, I decided to give prospects a similar outline, but included far less of the details I had previously been handing out.

If you overstretch to land the client, you might end up giving them all they needed in the first place. This could include sample logos, website templates, scripts, or anything else you’re creating. Definitely give them a taste of what you’re about, but don’t give too much before you land the deal.

Mistake #2 — Leaving Jobs Until the Last Minute

I was 17 when I first started freelancing and, just like I did with my school and college work, I ended up leaving a lot of my jobs until the last possible minute. It’s not that I disliked what I did (unlike college and school work) but more that I didn’t need to do things yet so I didn’t see why I should.

Eventually, of course, this caught up with me. The first place I ran into a problem was when I wanted to go to a party or do something else that happened to be at the end of the month. The second place was when I received extra work from other clients where they offered to pay double to have the work done quickly. If you have the free time to do your work, get on with it. As I’m sure you know, or will quickly find out, it’s far better to have things out of the way than to waste your free time and have a huge backlog to work through later.

Mistake #3 — Wasting Time on Unproductive Work

Just like I would waste my spare time and leave things until the end of the month, I would often spend time working on business activities that just didn’t help my bottom line. I realize now, as I type this, that I’m not painting the best picture of myself (I did change – honest).

I first started doing this because my initial marketing plan was simply to be everywhere at all times. I wanted to cover as much of the relevant web space as possible to try and land new clients. Only later did I realize a lot of these marketing ‘opportunities’ gave me little chance to land my ideal client.

I find it’s a good idea to record every action you take on a typical day (just once) and then review it. You’ll soon find what is working for you and what isn’t.

Mistake #4 — Acting Like Someone I Wasn’t

When I first started out, I never thought anyone would want to hire a 17-year old who was working from their bedroom. Therefore, I kept my age private and I put on what I can only describe as a front. For some reason, I acted and communicated with clients as if I was working in a large corporation.

Of course, I never lied to prospects and said this, but that is the way I was coming across. This front hindered me far more than it helped. It put a wall between myself and the client and we couldn’t really connect. Yet, as soon as I started communicating through my natural voice and in my usual way, I started creating great connections and building my network.

Strong connections are crucial to gaining trust and closing the deal, and pretending to be someone I wasn’t hurt those connections.

Open for Discussion: Let’s be honest, we’ve all made mistakes. What things have you done ‘wrong’ along the way on your freelancing journey? I would love to hear them, and I’m sure your experiences will help other freelancers.


  1. says

    Just to add some other points.

    For the last few projects, my team has encountered so many problems but most of them were technical problems. Despite that, we take these problems as a learning curve for us. We continue to move forward and deliver the best possible solutions to our clients.

    Thanks for sharing Glen!

  2. Unit B says

    In keeping with mistake #1, the idea of “under-promise, over-deliver” comes into play here. There is nothing unethical here, just giving yourself some latitude to maneuver, and in the end, be a hero. And by being NOT spelling out every last detail at the outset, your client can’t boost your strategy, as in your example.

  3. says

    Amber has it on lock and key. Learn to use what you have before going out and buying what you THINK you need. I bought three pieces of finance software this year and there was really no reason, I should have just picked on and stuck with it.

  4. says

    I’ve made the last mistake you have several times and now I’m just not bothered about it, and neither are my clients. Most people aren’t put off by age, they’re put off by negativity and poor skill, so as long as you don’t have either of those qualities, you’ll be fine.

  5. says

    Great article Glen

    When I started my biggest mistake was surfing the web. It was a hugs black hole for time and it’s so addictive because there is always another link to follow. But now I have reduced my browsing time to the time in between breakfast and 9am. Also I have set times to check my email, once in the morning, just after lunch and about 5pm.

    By doing this I’ve created so much more extra time to complete client work and also work on my own self generated projects.


  6. says

    I am agree with Onno. We have so many distractions! You must find a way to keep in control, be productive and stay in contact with the rest of the world.
    Thanks to share it!

  7. says

    I can see your point on #2, in fact I definitely relate to this. Before I always go through cramming especially at the end of the week where loads of tasks undone pile on my desk. The very root of this is procrastination. During the early part of the week, I tend to get too relax because I know I have so much time to finish all assigned task, not knowing that I have this time limit where my brain suddenly shut down and I loose focus and motivation (5 hour-limit). Those happened during the early part of my career and in time that was quickly resolved by enough self discipline.

  8. says

    In my recent article on FreelanceShack I spoke about my mistakes when I was starting up. One of these mistakes was that I took the advise of a jealous “friend” who envied the success I had achieved.

    It caused total procrastination, made me think less of myself and lose inspiration.

    I would say that honest criticism works and means a lot. Criticism with its roots in jealous should never be listened to. This is a big mistake.

  9. says

    I think when we leave jobs for the last minute — and that’s not the norm — that can signify you don’t like the work or working with the client. So you may want to investigate the relationship and gig.

  10. Muca says

    Glen, thanks for sharing. By the way, “to try and” should instead read “to try to”, and “as if I was” should read “as if I were.”

    As for my own mistakes with clients, there are many, after seven years as a freelancer. Just yesterday I made the mistake of expressing frustration with a client’s constant delays in communicating. On reflection, there was nothing to be gained from doing so.

  11. says


    Yes, I’ve experienced the “giving away too much information”. I’m a freelance writer and I’m amazed at what people will blatantly copy.

    I recently wrote a book and sent it to what I thought was a “respectable” online person only to find that some of the info is now in their latest guidebook – including one of the pictures! Can someone battle so much with originality?


  12. says


    Onno and Luke are correct… I think the biggest mistake you can make when working on a project, is being distracted by other things! I have a weak point for television, internet, game consoles and I know that when I’m working and these distractions are nearby, I will start time with one of those. This way the project is always delayed and this is bad thing. When the deadline comes closer, I start to panic a bit and then I work sometime until 4 in the morning to finish the job.

    So I’ve created a workspace with only a desk, window, computer and I try not to open firefox or internet explorer when I’m working. I try to surf the web at noon and and from 17h until 18h.

    Regards and nice post!

  13. says

    #1 and the comment made by Amber about not spending money on things you don’t need to do your job really sum up my initial experience. You want to impress your clients with what you know, but you have to be careful that in doing so you don’t give them everything up front eliminating the need to hire you. Buying fancy things to make your office look extra spiffy can also be a good waste of money many times. Nice post!

  14. says

    Great comments for folks getting started. I learned some of these early on…procrastinating doesn’t work for me. I can’t stay awake to work or study after 1 am so all nighters are non-starters.

    I think the hardest to learn and really apply is being yourself and letting that show through in your work and interactions. It’s taken longer than I would like to gain the confidence to be myself. This is working better than any front I could have dreamed up. Thanks for the positive advice.

  15. says

    From my limited experience in freelance work, I think the biggest mistake was not tying down monetary issues down early enough. I’m still chasing one client. Other projects went more smoothly but I like to think that if I did these projects again with more experience now I would do a better job then I did several years ago.

  16. says

    DP, the original title was based around my four mistakes, but someone here at FF changed it so thats why it might seem like there aren’t many. These are just the mistakes that I have made, not all the possible ones out there.

  17. says

    What a great service to others to openly share some of the mistakes we’ve all made. Another take on number one – the clients who try to get it cheaper were not your ideal client anyway. They were bargain hunters and we can do things to filter them out so that we never get to the proposal stage.As for my own mistakes, good golly got a year? LOL! One mistake is abandoning tried and true for new and shiny. When I first started out I wasted time and money chasing the new shiny gadget/tool/technique when what I had was working. I have learned to test new things and add when they truly add value but to keep using the tools/tactics that work.

  18. says

    I completely agree with all four and I think they are common mistakes many freelancers make. I would add one to the list, and that is don’t promise more than you are willing to deliver. I still have a previous freelance employer contacting me to do upgrades to a application I created for him. Just remember you may be able to hook the employer by promising the world but that doesn’t mean it is in your best interest.

    Great Blog by the Way!!!

    Andrew Christen

  19. Alexey says

    Andrew, I agree with you that it is very important to not fake client that you can do everything in the world. You should be as honest as you can be.
    Thank you for the article!

  20. says

    I have to agree with Amber on this one too. In translation the tool that every client requires you to use is Trados, a piece of software that I find pointlessly counter-intuitive and frustrating, as well as costing over a grand US. After a bit of searching I found out that Across is available for much much cheaper (free for me while I’m studying) or there is also quite a few open sources solutions I could use much more successfully. Knowing the popularity of Trados, they’ve supplied conversion software.
    So I saved over the cost of almost three uni papers and have software much easier to use!
    Nic at CrossLingo

  21. says

    Well, to be frank, I did both Mistake #3 and #4. :( Ethics do play a major role in becoming a successful freelancer. I changed my way immediately and thereafter there is no going back in my career. It’s been a happy freelancing since then. I’m yet to make myself right on mistake #3. I think I just need to put an extra effort on this.

  22. says

    I have seen the problem Ono put on the table, too much time spend on the web or checking e-mail my former boss take almost 3 hours a day reading and answering e-mails that has nothing related to the office, to avoid that I have a separated e-mail just for work stuff and another for personal use, the one for work give me alerts to read the nail as they arrive, since is work stuff is important, the personal one is chacke early in the morning or by night.

    And about Amber’s comment is a big mistake spend too mucho money in forniture and other supposedly “needed” thing, you don’t need a conference table and half a dozen fancy chairs when you have just one or two clients and all your staff is yourself, one again my former boss spends a lot in the office stuff and many times we don’t have really needed stuff to work, we become a very neat and comfortable ineficient office with a deffectibe printer and faulty computer monitors and outdated software.


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