What Not To Do When Starting Out as a Freelancer

Lately I feel like I have become an advocate on what not to do as a freelancer. I have been covering either the negatives of freelancing or other dangers that need to be avoided while freelancing. My intention with these articles is not to scare or divert you away from freelancing, but to make sure you understand that with added luxury and freedom comes certain pitfalls that we all need to be aware of.

Before we go any further, I encourage anyone thinking about freelancing to give it a try. It is one of the best move I have ever made, and I can gladly say I enjoy what I do (and there are thousands of other freelancers who will back me up). Of course, there are some pitfalls that come with freelancing, but what fun would it be without any challenges, right? Below I have outlined five things that I think should be avoided while starting out as a freelancer. Hopefully, you guys agree with me and if you have any suggestions please feel free to add more through your comments.

Don’t Make The Switch

Most freelancers start freelancing part-time and stick with it while holding a full-time job. The key reason for this is to make sure there is a regular income you can count on. However, many freelancers get so excited about “being their own boss” and “choosing their own hours” that they end up making the switch without adequately planning their finances. The first and foremost thing that you shouldn’t do while starting out as a freelancer is quit your day job prematurely. This is one of the most repeated points and the reason is simple: you need to make sure your freelance business can support you before you quit your job. If you are new to freelancing and just starting out, hold on to your day job for months, and in some cases years. Do not quit your day job unless you are 100% sure you can earn a living solely on your freelance income. If you find it difficult to manage, take a look at this article for a few tips for freelancing with a full-time job.

Don’t Give Into Temptation

When you start freelancing you’ll see that there are a lot of temptations to deal with. You might want to setup your home office with new computers and furniture just to make it look cool. Heck, you might be doing it just to get yourself seen on Gizmodo. Whether it’s the new gadgets, thousand dollar ergonomic chair or another monitor, make sure there is a legitimate need before diving into these expenses. Keep those temptations in check, it’s better to hold on to that money just in case your freelancing income takes a nose dive next month. That’s the thing about freelancing, sometimes you never know. Hold on to temptations and spend only on things that are a must for you to run your freelance business. Do not give in.

Don’t Be Too Friendly or Personal

This is another one of those things that many new freelancers get sucked into. A new freelancer usually gets excited when landing their first client and may feel that he/she needs to be extra friendly. Friendly is good, but over friendly isn’t. Many new freelancers get a little too comfortable with their clients and may share personal problems among other things. The client might stay while the contract lasts, but a lack of professionalism may eventually drive them away. As a freelancer, you should be friendly but a relationship is always better as a client and freelancer. Do not wreck the client-freelancer relationship by being too personal.

Don’t Forget To Create a Plan

Just because you will be working from home, setting your own hours, and without anyone to answer to doesn’t mean you don’t need a plan for your business. Many freelancers start out great during their early years as freelancers and then fail later on because they didn’t create a plan. Make sure you have a detailed plan that will give you an idea of how you will grow your freelancing business down the road, how you plan to land new clients, and so on. This is one of those critical things that your freelancing business will depend on. Do not forget to create a plan for your freelancing business. Just like any other businesses, a plan for freelancing is a must.

Do Not Procrastinate

Procrastination is a freelancer’s biggest enemy and should be avoided at any cost. As a freelancer you have the luxury of choosing when and where to work, and although this is one of the best outcomes of freelancing, it can also be one of the biggest challenges. Make sure you stay clear from procrastination. I have personally seen many freelancers lose out on some of the biggest gigs simply because they procrastinated and the job was either not completed on time or was not up to what was promised. Do not procrastinate, and make sure to get ahead in the game by doing things when they needs to be done.

What Else Should New Freelancers Avoid?

These are some of the things that I personally think should be given extra attention when starting a career in freelancing. I would love to hear your thoughts on them, as well as anything you might want to add to the list. Everything you add to this list is another chance at helping a new freelancer succeed.


  1. says

    I agree with the “too friendly” point for sure. One thing I have done to try to make the relationship with my client more professional is give my freelance business an actual name.

    If a client knows they are dealing with John from LaunchSmart Creative they are more likely to expect professionalism than if they are dealing with John from John’s Freelance.

    I have also written a tongue-in-cheek article titled “How to loose all your design clients right now” that has a lot of good tips for those who are starting out in the Freelance Design Business. I’ve linked to the article in my name. Thanks!

  2. says

    Thanks for this extremely insightful article.

    It was great to read this, as I am currently trying to figure out a way to go out on my own as a freelancer and leave my full time job, with which I have become sincerely disenchanted (to say the least).

    Right now the primary struggle I’m having is trying to figure out how to have a steady flow of income each month. I’m hoping to keep building up my clientele, but even with clients there’s no guarantee of steady work each month.

    It’s a struggle but I’m hoping that I can make it happen!

  3. says

    Awesome points, all very true. We’ve worked with a lot of designers who were freelance and part-time and then switched to full-time. They weren’t realistic in their estimation of the work, i.e. they assume that the work is there now, so it will continue to always be there.

    Without the networking and marketing plan, you may end up looking for a job because you ran out of dough and then must settle for a job where it is harder to freelance on the side.

    I’m not saying don’t follow your dreams but don’t look at it through rose colored glasses.

  4. says

    I second the part about not working with friends or family. And if you do, pull out a contract immediately. It may seem tacky, but believe me, things will get ugly otherwise.

    Second, time yourself for experimenting or exploring. I know a lot of designers who don’t procrastinate, but end up rushing anyway because they spent too much time trying this or that in their design. Before you start, set yourself a number of hours / days to work out styles, allocating time to code / render / output if necessary. You’ll thank yourself later.

  5. says

    @Erin : Glad you found the article helpful. By the way, don’t hope. Know that you can make it happen :)

    @Mark : Good point. But it depends how you really handle it, for most it doesn’t work but a few really build a good business relationship even though they are friends or family members.

    @Arif : Agreed.

    @boss_hoss : haha that’s a good point but I think you commented on a wrong blog

    @Ash : thanks for sharing your thoughts and tips with the rest of us

  6. says

    I think new freelancers should also be careful with scams. Be wise enough to distinguish what’s legitimate from the fraud ones. Don’t let your effort and energy be wasted by these jerks. If the job sounds too good to be true- take an extra caution. For example, if the ads or offer says you can make thousands of dollars in one day without really doing anything, well you better think again. Usually it is intended for people who wish to earn instantly in the net.

    On one hand, I can’t agree more with the thoughts about procrastination. This behavior will ruin your image as a professional, so better stick with your word and follow deadlines. Don’t shower your client with alibis, to their stand point that is really annoying. ss

  7. says

    Don’t get too comfortable with one main client providing most or all of your income. Keep networking and seeking new jobs.

    Don’t undersell yourself. Set rates that represent a realistic compensation for your time and talents (in keeping with the market).

    Don’t coast on the skills you have. They’ll be outdated sooner than you think.

  8. says

    Vitamin C is the most important one – no matter if you’re going to become a freelancer or looking for another fulltime job. I’d even go that far and say that networking anc connections are one of the most important things to do if you’re into the IT or design business.

    cu, w0lf.

  9. says

    Great advice!

    I would add:

    – Take some time to acquire some business management skills. Lots of great books, courses, etc.

    – Don’t be a flake: If you have made a commitment to a client, then do your professional best to stick to it. If your client phones and leaves you a message, call back in a reasonable time-frame, and don’t be too casual in e-mail responses either. Remember, you’re managing your own business now – presentation is everything.

    – Don’t oversell your abilities – confidence is great but being dishonest about your abilities and skills will get you nowhere fast.

    – Learn when to say “no”.

    – Just because you work in your pajamas at home doesn’t mean that you should show up at client meetings looking like a slob. Dress appropriately, comb your hair. ;p

    – Listen!!! Pay attention to what your client is saying, take notes during meetings, phone calls, etc.

    I could go on and on. Much of it is really “learn as you go along”.

  10. says

    Freelancing is such a great experience for every type of person. No matter if you’re like me, a young girl who wants to make a career of this, or somebody who doesn’t want a 9-5 job, freelancing is great.

    My biggest “What Not To Do” tip is Do Not Undersell Yourself. Coming into the freelancing world is hard. You know there are better designers/writers/developers/etc than you, and those people charge for their quality. You may be tempted to charge much lower, but I would suggest avoiding that route. Charge appropriately for your services, and never undersell your skills.

    When I first started out, I undersold myself to get clients, but it wasn’t worth it. I would get clients who wanted it done quick, cheap, and be quality work. You can not have all three. I also picked up clients who asked for a billion revisions, and I didn’t charge appropriately for those revisions. Nonetheless, I changed my price, I learned how to say no, and learned how to deal with revisions. I am much happier with the clients I have, and more satisfied with freelancing.

  11. says

    Another tip is to create a daily schedule for yourself. You don’t have to follow it to the letter, but too many of us get caught into the trap of working 12 hour days without a break, meal, shower and time for ourselves and family.

    The more you wear yourself out, the less productive you will be.

  12. says

    LOL.. I have to totally agree with damon… although Jack Canfield said that sometimes Ready, Fire, Aim was better. Get going and take a shot and learn as you go, adjust and keep fine tuning your aim. Or maybe as Yoda would said, “Try not, do!”

    Thanks for looking at the real world of Freelancing.

  13. says

    geez…. add to the Freelancers tool box the ability to read. Sorry damon I didnt read your comment right, but I totally agree with the meaning. In the past I have often spent too much time putting together a nice wonderful plan. Get the right font and color and steps etc… then the plan gets filed away and never really used. lol… it drove me to write a series on time management and planning… maybe/hopefully I am finally getting it.

  14. says

    I really like your first point about not making the switch to full time freelancing. Unfortunately, in my case, the switch was forced upon me and I am in the midst of determining how best to proceed. The rest of your points are invaluable. Thanks for a great article and a lot of advice that should be just common sense.

  15. says

    Thanks everyone for sharing your thoughts and for suggesting tips. This is what makes freelancing so much more fun – the tight knit community of people who are willing to share what they know.

  16. says

    I would also like to add that you don’t need to offer a dirt cheap price just because it is your first time freelancing. You might feel inclined to do so since you have no prior clients to list, but you should still charge a reasonable price to your client. Your hard work and time is worth a certain amount regardless of how new you are. At the same time, don’t get carried away. :)

  17. says

    One very important thing I think was missed.

    Do not forget your holiday! You will probably work 12 hours a day in the beginning so plan for time off (away from your computer).

  18. says

    I think you forgot one very important point: DO NOT forget about taxes! When you start your own business full-time (and yes, this includes freelancers) you will be liable for paying Uncle Sam on all that wonderful income. I made that mistake my first year as a full-time freelancer, and boy did I pay for it. I think you get so excited that you’ve started your own business and you’re doing what you love… that sometimes little things like taxes can slip through the cracks. :)

    Do your research, get a decent accounting program, and put money aside from every job.

    Good article!

  19. says

    Brilliant article! Very helpful and well explained. Probably someone already added this, but I’ll say it: family, relatives = bad idea.

    There is something else: it is necessary to grow business relations with providers and other fellow freelancers (networking) but beginners should be cautious about who they’re associating with.
    Many freelancers get too excited when working together with other guys and fail to recognise procastinators, among other things.
    I know it ’cause I’ve done it :(
    Thanks for sharing.


  20. says

    keep your personal entertainment (such as tv, video games, movies, books, magazines and any sort of other distractions) far away from your home office. When you are working, take it seriously… someone is paying you money to do their work, so be honest to them and yourself. However, make sure you also take time for yourself and have breaks. When I started out, I worked over 15 hours a day (sometimes forgetting to eat, or take any breaks — then when I realised that this was bad, I sort of over-did the opposite.) It took me some time to find a good balance, so pay attention to your habits and tweak them as you go along. You will be glad you did.

    Before you end your day, make a TO-DO list (or plan) for the next day and allocate some time for each task. Prioritise.

    Make sure you can’t see your bed from where you work.

    Don’t multi-task! Even if you think you are good at it! The most multitasking you should do is taking notes while on the phone, or listening to music while working. If you think you can watch TV while working, don’t do it anyway!

  21. says

    I would add “Specialize” this has been a long theme to discuss but actually it works. most of us, designers, have a lot of abilities: we design, we brand, we flash, we website, we photograph, we do books and editorial work… a lot of things You can get a lot of clients from different projects, but sadly, doing a lot of different stuff won’t let you focus on your main freelance goal: get satisfied with the work.

    So, take your time, analyze your skills, discover the opportunities and plan your way into it.

  22. mcnuggets86 says

    Don’t forget that no man/woman is an island.
    I highly recommend finding other designers and programmers who can help you out in a pinch. It’s fine to go to forums or blogs for help, but it’s better to find someone who can physically be there for support during crunch-time or come to client meetings with you if need be.

    Don’t be afraid to network, the easiest part of freelance is the stuff you love doing, the hardest part will be everything you must do away from your computer… which is actually just as important. There is no modesty allowed in marketing yourself!

  23. Abhijeet says

    great points for me …..

    just started as free-lancer didn’t get any project yet….

    i ll keep points in mind….

    Thank you once again


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