Seven Lies Freelancers Tell Themselves

There’s no doubt that freelancing can be tough — freelancers face many obstacles. From finding clients, to meeting deadlines, to keeping skills and equipment current, all the way to being paid: freelancing just isn’t easy.

One of the biggest challenges that we freelancers face, however, is one of our own making. It’s the challenge of being totally honest with ourselves and accepting the reality of certain situations. Without overcoming this challenge, without learning to be totally honest with one’s self, it’s pretty tough to succeed.

You see, we freelancers have many excuses. Usually, we believe these excuses wholeheartedly — which is a bad thing. If we can’t recognize a problem, then we can’t take the steps necessary to solve it.

This posts lists the seven most common lies that freelancers use to fool themselves. Overcome these lies, and you’ll increase your chances for success dramatically.

Lie #1 — I don’t need to market my business

This lie is dangerous because it shortchanges your future ability to earn. Although you may have plenty of clients right now, that could change in an instant. All it takes to go from being to busy to needing clients is for one or two major clients to stop calling on you. Freelancers should be continuously marketing their services — even when they are too busy to take on new work.

Lie #2 — A high-dollar job is a good job

It’s important to always consider the scope of the work being requested with the amount of the offer. I’ve known of freelancers to commit weeks (and even months) of their time to a project that worked out to be less than minimum wage because they overlooked the scope of the work. A $1000 offer isn’t a good deal if the work takes hundreds of hours to complete.

Lie #3 — Clients don’t like being asked questions

Good client communication is crucial to running a successful business. Most clients understand this and are happy to answer questions if they are asked in an organized and respectful manner. If you can do so without compromising the project, try saving all of your questions to ask at one time. Asking questions shows that you want to get the project right, and is always good business practice.

Lie #4 — All that time spent reading blogs, it’s networking

So, you’ve been spending a lot of time reading a lot of blogs. Good for you! You can learn a lot from blogs. However, networking has two important elements: interaction and strategy. If you don’t ever interact with others and you don’t have a strategy, then you aren’t really networking. Actually, there’s another term for what you are doing. It’s called “websurfing.

Lie #5 — There is such a thing as a free lunch

Everybody would like to get something for nothing, and freelancers aren’t much different from anyone else. In fact, you’ve probably already read many advertisements that promise to teach you a “money-making system” that requires little effort on your part to achieve great success. Don’t believe it for a minute! Successful freelancers are those who realize that they have to work hard to earn what they have.

Lie #6 — I’m an expert, I don’t need to update my skills

No matter how much experience you have, how many degrees you have, or how well known you have become — there is always something new to learn. Don’t rest on your past experiences. If you do nothing to improve your skills, you won’t stay where you are. Instead, you’ll actually find yourself falling behind. No matter how busy or successful you are, always make time for additional training.

Lie #7 — What works for [Big Name Freelancer] will work for me.

It’s easy to believe this lie. You hear, or read about how someone else achieved success and assume that the same steps that he or she took will work for you. While it is a great idea to learn from others’ successes, you shouldn’t expect to have an identical experience. Each of us exists in our own unique freelancing environment. What works for one, won’t necessarily work for all.

Share Your Thoughts

What lies have proved to be obstacles for your freelancing business? What lies would you add to the ones above?

Share your experiences in the comments.

Top photo by Dyanna


  1. says

    Okay, #4 shamed me into commenting. I use an RSS reader to “streamline” my blog reading, so I still consider it functional — the same way a good book is functional.

    I don’t comment on every post I read, naturally, but maybe I should. At least, when I’m at a computer where I can freely do so in my browser — while riding on a subway train the connection’s a bit spotty for that.

  2. says

    Hi Rachel!

    There’s nothing wrong with reading blog posts. I surely didn’t mean to imply that. You can learn a lot by reading blogs (and I hope our readers who don’t comment learn a lot).

    It’s only when we fool ourselves by telling ourselves that reading counts as networking for our freelance business that it’s bad. Networking is an important marketing step and merely reading isn’t quite enough.

    Whatever the case, I’m glad you decided to step forward and leave a comment.

  3. says

    With “Freelancer” it’s like with “Artist” = a pseudonym for “broke”, “unemployable”, “barely working”, …

    The best Freelancers are the ones that never need to apply the ‘Freelancer’-logo to themselves. They have their clients, who know they can rely on them. They deliver quality work and you don’t negotiate prices with them. You are happy to get them and pay them. And new clients have a hard time even getting them.

    Of course, getting there is hard work too. Your only message to clients should be: “I am reliable. You know, you can count on me and the quality of my work is transparent to you.”

    Some things are not negotiable. Have rules and be strong enough to stick to them.

    All this implies, that you know what you are worth and have no delusions about your skills, quality of work, reliablity. Being realistic, knowing the market and your competitors is a given – otherwise, don’t bother.

    See the self-proclaimed unemployed ‘experts’ on Twitter, who call themselves ‘marketing-gurus’, ‘social-media-experts’ etc, etc…pathetic.

    This of course, is just my humble opinon. (twitter: @buckybit)

  4. says

    Interesting comment Alex!

    I’m not sure that I agree entirely. The label “freelancer” isn’t necessarily bad in and of itself.

    When hiring an independent contractor (regardless of whether they call themselves something else) it’s important to conduct due diligence – check references, ask for samples, and so on.

  5. says

    I definately need to get better at number 1. I barely do any marketing except through my FB and Twitter. Unfortunately I have next to no followers. Hahah. I signed up for AdSense from google…not sure if that will help me get more traffic. I think that maybe if I narrowed down my subject matter I might be able to market better. But I am interested in so much…I guess that doesnt mean I should blog about all of it though.

  6. Julian says

    Hoo-ray! I passed all 7 lies except for #2 this one time earlier this year and #1 when I first started freelancing until I read another freelancefolder article about asking clients questions.

    It’s good to know that I’m doing something really right in this freelancing world.

  7. says

    Laura, what a great blog. Congratulations!
    You know that, while surfing it, I realised that eventhough I am a journalist for over ten years – three of which I write as a freelancer – I not only don’t market my business (nor myself), but also do not have a personal website or even a blog.
    This post made me think about these issues, and decide working on them.
    Thanks for the “light”, and , again, congrats for you work.

  8. says

    Great post!

    I love 6 & 7.

    It seems there’s always something new to learn and no reason to think that so-and-so’s strategy will work for me.

  9. says

    A “freelancer” is often seen as someone who “can’t get a real job.”

    The important part(s) of freelancing include;
    Being realistic when responding to the client’s specs–Don’t promise it in 2 days if you know it’s going to take a week.
    Be realistic in your pricing and billing–“low-balling” only hurts the rest of us. “Working for spec” only hurts the rest of us. Stealing images from online sources and calling them “public domain” only hurts the rest of us.

    Most importantly though, is to be honest and keep your word. Don’t make promises you know you can’t keep and don’t claim knowledge that you don’t have thinking “I’ll figure that out later.” A person without honour is nothing.

  10. says

    I think I liked number 4. It made me laugh.

    Anyway, this list will probably help my cousin who needs to learn better time management. Maybe these lies are the things costing him his time.

  11. says

    Great post, all very good points! Another lie could be “Any job is worth taking on for the money”…..definitely not. Interview your client as much, if not more, than they interview you!

  12. Rich Bailey says

    Great post and I enjoy your comment especially Herne. All to often we as designers are compared based on pricing and thats the one area I’m most upset about. Designing a 5 page website should in no way cost $200 with hosting when clearly the hosting itself would cost half of the price your working for. Plus spec work I feel is the new scam out now aimed to getting a free logo as a recent article on Smashing Magazine posted. My philosophy is if you either graduated from art school or are currently paying your tuition to attend school bottom line is you deserve to be paid for your services. Being a contract designer is no different from being a mechanic or plumber so in theory you deserve to be paid what you feel your worth. And about the HONESTY deal your absolutely right because I believe if you say you know a skill but you really don’t the universe has a way of making sure you pay dearly for it being you lose the work or the client altogether.

  13. Diego Ponciano says

    Wow, I’m just planning to become a freelancer, and I’m way too afraid of not getting success…

    I read a bunch of blogs (FreelanceFolder is a good example) and I don’t comment so often, now I realize I’m just websurfing…haha

    Hope I stop lying to myself…

    btw, great post.

  14. says

    Lie #4 is brilliant. It’s similar to a web developer spending a lot of time with social media claiming its “research”. I’m sometimes guilty of that one! We do need to keep up with the trends though and it’s important to find a balance.

  15. says

    here’s my acceptance to lie #4 – I’m leaving a comment in order to interact. I find it a lot of times I just take what I read from blogs. Very seldom do I leave a comment. Thanks to your article – I will soon change that behavior. Thank you.

  16. says

    Good post.
    As a long-time freelancer I think I have struggled with every on eof them and still have so much to learn. That’s a process that never ends or if we think it does we are just being pretentious.
    Thanks for spelling it out so well.

  17. says

    Hi Laura, I’m really enjoying your posts. Been reading your past blogs here also.

    Great job! Thanks a lot for sharing…

  18. says

    What the sense of writing the things that are applicable to nearly any work that has salary? It’s not only about freelancing.

  19. says

    I would add…

    even you do not need to get up early every day,
    time management is very important.

    I love the “websurfing” and networking idea a lot.
    It is one of the lies for me.

    thanks for sharing it.

  20. says

    I definitely agree that updating your skills is very important. I am a web developer, and things are constantly changing. If I don’t at least keep up on the current trends I will have obsolete skills, and it will be more difficult for me to get work.

  21. says

    A great article. We really are lucky that we live in a time of blogs, iphones and the internet as we hace access to a lot more information that we would otherwise be without.

  22. says

    #2 is one i’ve had to learn from many a time.

    I would love to see a blog post about “Lies clients tell themselves”….it could include:

    An agency can do a better job than a freelancer
    Since the freelancer works from home, I can call anytime, even on the weekends.
    Freelancers struggle for work, so I can pay low and expect them to finish overnight.

    I’m sure there are plenty more to add to the list :)

    Another great article, thanks!

  23. says

    Great post! I’m definitely guilty of #4 (hence the comment) & also #1 I’m now suffering from a quiet period due to my big clients not needing any work at the moment. I guess it’s time to get out there & market.

    I hope no-one believes #6, the main thing that got me into this business was that it is forever evolving & changing. Thinking you know it all will as you pointed out lead to falling behind rapidly.

    I’m definitely bookmarking this site to come back and do some more websurfing ahem I mean networking ;)

  24. says

    Ouch — #4 hurt a lot. I’ve been feeling like I’ve been spending a fair bit of time reading design and productivity blogs in the name of expanding my business. Thanks for calling me on that!

  25. says

    great post!

    yes most of us have the same problem. i think there are more than 7 lies LOL .

    i started commenting on blogs and using twitter , because the “Websurfing” it is really good thing to do when researching but i agree , if you don’t say something …it is like if you never existed, no one will know who you are.
    thanks for this post Laura! =)

  26. says

    Oh wait; I shoulda clarified. I meant that I am guilty of reading blogs in the name of improving my *skills* rather than my *business*. Haven’t even delved into the idea of tackling the world of networking through blog comments.

    I find that I can read and read and read and read, and gather all sorts of useful information (and bookmark at least half of it), but what good is education if I don’t actually apply it? I mean, I’ve got clients I could be working on right now…

  27. says

    Good post; I know someone who had a major issue with lie #2 & I’m guilty as hell of lie #4- as seem to be a few other people here!

    I now put aside specific time to read newsletters & blogs, update my skills & learn new things. Time-management is the way forward I think – I used to waste whole days just pootling about whilst kidding myself that I was being productive!


  28. says

    Melek – so true! Maybe I’ll write that post on lies clients tell themselves (or, to be kinder and perhaps more accurate, misconceptions that trip up clients. Hmm…)

    I’ll add a lie: The job always goes to the most competent developer/designer, so I just need to show that I’m the best at what I do.

    No, the job goes to the best salesperson, and oh so too often, that salesperson is NOT the best man/woman for the job (or works for a company that is not qualified at all). And when you’re out networking with businesspeople, it’s a real challenge to base your value proposition on your expertise in standards compliant coding (I speak from experience). It frustrates me that the typical client does not understand or care why I am the best gal for the job – but that’s the reality. You have to craft a compelling message for your target audience and be a salesperson.

    Too bad for all of us, the world of web is an unregulated industry, and anyone with a copy of Dreamweaver can hang out a shingle. I hope this changes someday, but I don’t know how.

  29. says

    My wife laughed hard at me after reading the #4!

    I spend from 2 to 4 hours reading blogs (design, programming and startups) everyday and I claim to her that it is part of my work to gather new ideas, skills and so on (actually I changed the focus of my company thanks to some startup readings!). Although I rarely comment.

    Am I still a lier?? xD

  30. says

    Since someone already added a lie, I’ll call mine Lie #9:

    I am a successful freelance, professional, business writer; I don’t need to proofread my work before publishing it to the Internet.

    See initial seven lies to spot examples.

    (I’m just saying…)


  31. says

    I found this post to be fantastic. However, I do agree with the reading is not networking. In order to network, you would need to put yourself out there, and just reading is not enough.

  32. says

    Sounds more like Seven Lies Bad Freelancers tell themselves. Would be more fun if there where Seven Lies Good Freelancers tell themselves.

  33. says

    Yeah, disclosure is liberating, ain’t it — for the one who discloses, and for the people who are encouraged that they’re not the only ones.

    After reading this article, I’ve started to put into practice a few things to help me stay focused — in part, something called the ‘Pomodoro technique’ (look it up on the Internet; there’s a free e-book to download) which clearly delineates work and pleasure, breaking work up into half-hour chunks and inserting a mandatory five-minute break in between each one.

    It’s certainly helpful, but it still requires discipline! But dangit, by the grace of God I’ll get there! :-)

  34. says

    Guilty as charged on a lot of the above. I think as freelancers, we are always looking for answers, I read blogs to learn what others are doing and to better my skills. Blog comment sometimes provide more real world content vs. the actual article. I personally hate using the term “freelancer”, I call myself a business owner.


  35. says

    #4 is making me nervous, one more point can be added most freelancers claim they are working but actually not and some fake promises. After that go vanished if it takes too long.

  36. That Guy John says

    “Lie #6 — I’m an expert, I don’t need to update my skills”
    I hear and see simlar attitudes all the time. Particularly from college grads. Many people think they are going to take what they learned in college and be able to keep up with what is going on without trying to learn anything new or trying to keep up with what is going on.

  37. Dana says

    Got a question for you guys — how are you making photos come up next to your names? Is that something only enabled for WordPress blogs?

  38. says

    Guess I am most guilt on counts 1 and 4 though I would have to change that one to read “All that time spent reading blogs and social networking sites, it’s networking” to be most accurate to me but the spirit is the same.

  39. says

    #4… Interacting I’m finding is important not just for the sake of interacting, but for the sake of changing myself into feeling like someone who interacts.

    Thanks for sharing this
    @Clombings and @Elliottdesign

  40. mixa says

    Great post with great tips, but the best comment so far I found @Alex

    So be honest with yourself first, and then with the rest. This is very hard to achieve – You will do ANYTHING not to look in the mirror and point your finger at that face there. Throw away all etiquette’s and start to work on yourself.

    @Dana: It’s a WP feature. You need an account at where you can associate your avatar/s with email/s. When you type that email in WP blogs (if gravatar is enabled) the picture will show in the comments. Happy “networking”!

  41. says

    1. I agree with Alex. Loose the freelancer title, it paints you as unreliable. Get your own domine name and pay $ to get your site hosted. Register it with the state and get a EIN number. Inc. it if you can. Computer have given birth to many “freelancers”.
    2. I disagree with the writer in this: Freelancer will never lie to themselves. What ever they tell themselves is their business. But if they were to give the advice to someone else, most will be a lie.
    3. You don’t read blog post to network, you read it for real world ideas.
    4. There is a thing as free lunch. Look at all the expert real world advice we received from freelance folder and other blogs.

  42. says

    This is a good articles for all the girls who act needy to their boyfriend. They nned to spend their time too with their friend. They not live only for you

  43. says

    lol a few things i have learnt over the years…. Clients are not web designers and certainly not search engine optimization experts either. When you lias with your clients keep your questions and your answers simple. Don’t go over their heads with technical information that means absolutely nothing to them. It only complicates and confuses the client. Your primary focus is on providing a solution for their needs. Assess their need entirely before attempting to provide a solution…

  44. says

    Well, I guess I should look at #4 carefully. Not like I’m the only one here, but I can definitely see how it happens. You google for something you’re struggling with (in the hopes that someone else figured it out — and similarly, I always post when I do figure something novel out in the hopes that someone else will do the same.). You use that suggestion, but it’s all to easy to forget that even just saying “thanks” can put a link back to you on their site and open the door to more contact and cooperation. Well worth the effort paying attention to it.

  45. says

    Great article, I regularly don’t comment but your article made me feel that I have to comment, another lie ” Convincing yourself that you understand the project requirements, to avoid nagging the client by your questions”.

  46. says

    Wow. If there are freelancers/designers telling themselves these lies, then they aren’t professionals. They are amateurs. Those lies tell me one thing…these are freelancers with big egos and they are cocky as hell (‘cuse my language).

    I don’t know what profession out there you can tell your self you don’t need more education.

    Also when is asking client questions such a bad thing? How can you do your job properly if you don’t ask questions?

    Now the ‘High paying Job is a good job’ lie, I can believe that in some cases – In my personal experience, my first high paying job was great sort of. I couldn’t have asked for a better client. Totally understanding, gave me a good amount of freedom and liked almost everything I did, which made for very few revisions. However, I should have gave a better time frame. I knew it was a large job, but I didn’t quite correctly estimate how much time I would really put in. This I took as a learning experience, but I don’t think I actually believed that a ‘high paying job is always a good job’ and I don’t now, however they certainly aren’t horrible jobs, unless you under price.

    Great article, very informative to those that are just starting out.

  47. says

    Great article! It’s great because it’s true. Many of us claim to be perfect professionals, but we slip & fall here and there. Being able to bounce back, make the proper adjustments and be open to bettering yourself will make you successful in the long-run. It troubles me to hear others say that freelancing is only a fancy term for being broke. It only says to me that this person enjoys working with new projects, new clients and loves what they do so much that they want to do it all on their own terms. Freelancing is not a well-defined “Do A then Do B” sort of gig. It takes practice to define your own formula; to do what works for you. I’ve been freelancing since I was 15 years old and I’m learning new things everyday.

    Keep reading blogs like these and learning new things all the while implementing them into your own workflow. You really hit the nail on the head…ask questions, market yourself, respect what your client wants, but have respect for the work that you do — don’t cheapen yourself for a quick buck.


  48. says

    “There is such thing as a free lunch” LOL. A big lie if I’ve ever heard one. Yet the majority of people still believe that this can exist somewhere.

  49. says

    I really enjoyed the read. Truly made complete sense to me. I’ve only recently started to market myself in my local area and I know first hand that you have to market yourself. Although word-of-mouth is great too.

    Currently I studying Sams Teach Yourself Java in 21 Days and I’m loving it. I truly thought that updating my skills to learn another totally new programming language would be too tough and take too long for me.

    I’m bookmarking this article for future reading.

    Thanks for sharing.

  50. says

    This is very interesting, You’re a very skilled blogger. I have joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of your great post. Also, I have shared your website in my social networks!

  51. says

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  52. says

    I read that a few people were struggling with marketing (only doing it through FB & Twitter). If you need a hand with sponsored advertising on Google feel free to get in touch with me, I’m a partner of Google and can offer you a A$75 Google AdWords Voucher to try out their marketing. Let me know guys :-)

  53. says

    All these are exactly the truth. Freelancing isn’t an easy task at all. I had came across clients who never paid the agreed bid even after completing the job.

    But being a freelancer, you could know much better than a salaried employee

  54. says

    My comment on #5 about free lunches is that you work so well with clients that after the job they give you a free lunch, dinner or treat as a nice gesture and you earned a new friend in addition. That is what I call a nice free lunch on top of the good relationship you have with clients.

    On #1 – I have been subconsciously marketing myself for some years as a freelancer, but wish there are more resources about marketing for freelancers. Are there any on this site? Thanks a lot!


  55. says

    I really get inspired by such amazing things you write on this blog XD

    What always bothers me is that i cant make money because I am under 18.

    I write blog posts, code html 5 and JavaScript, Photoshop, sustain a YouTube tutorial channel. I also make animations and comics for fun. But again all of that and I can’t make one dollar online because I am under 18.

    So my question, is there hope or shall I wait until 18 (by then I will loose the interest)?


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