What on Earth Are You Doing Wrong with Your Freelancing Business? Find Out Here

Freelancing MistakesFreelancing sounds like an ideal “career,” one where you can earn six figures a year and never get out of your pajamas. That’s almost accurate–almost.

Let’s not gloss over the fact that freelancing is not a get-rich-quick scheme (far from it). You won’t become an overnight millionaire (I wish!). And even though you don’t have to shower before work, you will have to work hard.

And if you’re not careful, you could sabotage your own freelancing success. That’s because freelancing doesn’t come naturally. Just because you’re a brilliant designer or an outstanding writer does not guarantee your success in freelancing.

In fact, many freelancers make big mistakes that prevent them from succeeding in this business. There are ways to avoid the common pitfalls that cause freelancers to fail.

That’s what we’re going to examine in this post.

Are You Sabotaging Your Freelancing Business?

Here’s a list of common ways that freelancers sabotage their own businesses:

  • Treating freelancing as a hobby instead of a business. When you don’t have to leave your house, when you can work on your bed, when you can take naps any time at your leisure, it’s easy to think you’re not really working. Or running a business. Problem is, this attitude affects everything, from how you talk to others about your work, to how you manage your resources. If you treat your freelancing as a hobby, you’re not likely to take it seriously and neither will your prospects and clients. You’ll have a hard time charging the rates you want. You may find your income seems to flow through your fingers. You never seem to make enough. Even if you’re freelancing part-time, recognize that it’s a business, and you’re in charge of it. All of it. Like any business, it has many parts. You’re no longer just a designer, writer, coder or whatever. You’re now a financial manager, human resources manager, marketing and sales manager, and operations manager. Your freelancing business has all these different moving parts that need taking care of. So quit playing around and get down to business!
  • Trying to target everybody. Another big mistake freelancers make is not choosing the clients they work with. This can happen on many levels. One level is when it comes to targeting prospects. Are you trying to get work from anybody and everybody? If so, you’ll expend plenty of energy, time and money marketing your services and may still end up with bottom feeders. Don’t be afraid to limit your market by focusing on a niche! That said, do make sure the market you choose is: (a) looking for the services you offer; and (b) is willing to pay for them. Another way freelancers make this mistake is when they try to accommodate anyone who shows an interest in their services. Sometimes, certain prospects just don’t feel right. Or maybe this prospect wants you to do something you aren’t completely comfortable with or skilled at. Unless you’re about to die of starvation, just say no to those prospects.
  • Not having a marketing plan. Marketing is an area of running a freelance business that doesn’t come naturally to most freelancers. Fortunately, you can learn how to market your business effectively. Sometimes the hurdle is our attitude or fear of promoting ourselves. Marketing may feel slimy or obnoxious. It may make you feel desperate. Or you feel boastful. Whatever the case may be, I highly recommend you read Marketing for Solos or The Wealthy Freelancer to get the basics down. Freelance Folder’s own book, The Unlimited Freelancer, is another great resource.
  • Lack of follow up. Another big mistake freelancers make is not following up. This step is necessary in different phases of freelancing, such when: (a) A prospect has shown interest in your services–They may not need you right now, but they may a few months from now. Keep yourself top-of-mind through regular follow-ups. (b) You submitted a proposal–Make sure they received your proposal, for one thing, and that they don’t have critical questions that could make the difference between your proposal getting rejected or accepted. (c) You completed a project–A good follow-up will make sure you get paid on time, help you get referrals from a happy client, and get you more work from the same client.
  • Being too casual about finances. I have to admit, this is my weakness too. I simply hate looking at my finances. But the bottom line is, you can’t manage what you don’t see. If we keep our heads in the sand about our finances, we don’t see when we’re spending more than we’re earning. We don’t see what kinds of work and which clients bring in the most income. We won’t know which marketing strategies are working best. We may also miss areas where we can make more, such as by collecting unpaid invoices, or which services we should be charging more for. My advice for myself and for you, if you’re like me, is to get a grip, take a deep breath and take control of finances.
  • Thinking you’re not good enough. Some freelancers suffer from the I’m-not-good-enough syndrome. Maybe you don’t have the certification, degrees or experience your competitors have. Maybe you feel that other freelancer is so much better than you. And so you keep your fees low until the time comes when you’re “good enough.” You don’t try to get big projects or those clients you’ve been longing to work with…all because you’re still waiting to get the skills, experience and certifications you think you need to become an A-lister. Well, so what? You don’t have to be the best at what you do to be valuable to your clients. What matters is you know much more about your expertise than your prospects and clients do.
  • Raise Your Hand If You’re Guilty

    Which of these mistakes are you making? What will you do about it? Are there mistakes I left out?

    Let me know your thoughts below.

    Image by couragextoxlive


  1. says

    The last one was tough for me to get over when I started freelancing. I charged really low prices and had the attitude that I had no right to be calling myself a professional editor. Like you said though, eventually I realized that my clients saw my services as valuable and I needed to do the same. Everyone has to start somewhere. Thanks for the post, Lexi!

  2. says

    I’m totally guilty of the “I’m-not-good-enough” syndrome.

    I think that’s a big factor in why I’m not a full-time freelancer yet. I’ve actually turned a few jobs down because of it. I guess I just need to get the guts and do something about it.

  3. says

    “Don’t be afraid to limit your market by focusing on a niche!”

    I think this is a big one, but I always agree you need focus in a specific area if you want to excel.

    “Thinking you’re not good enough.”

    This was always in the back of my head when I had little skill. So I always pushed myself to the extreme in researching/practice/experimentation.

    One thing I do is make sure I’m established on a forum with mature people (not necessarily design/development forums). I go to forums with regular people and market my services in my signature. If you contribute regularly and engage people, they will think of you first.

    I have learned that establishing trust between people is the best way to sell. If the people you are selling to see your value, then you are valuable. They are the ones who are most valuable to us.

  4. says

    Great post! I can only speak for myself, of course, but I definitely think my own biggest mistakes when starting out was going too big (which made it harder for others to know what exactly I was doing) and not keeping track of what I did. So I very much agree that these are all common mistakes.

  5. says

    Awesome post!

    I need to work on the ‘Lack of Follow Up’ aspect of my freelancing. The few times I did stick to that, were very successful. I’m still a work in progress. And, like others posting, I suffer from the ‘I’m-not-good-enough syndrome’. I’m getting better though and that helps me realize my worth to my clients and I think they feel that confidence too!


  6. says

    Thank you very much for the article, it is useful and offers me the trust I was looking for.Like many others, I’m fighting with the “I am not good enough” syndrome but I am starting to accommodate with it:). My greatest problem is that I underrated myself because I’m not a native English. Even if I’m pleased with my native language work, I will always have this feeling, that I will never be able to express what I actually intend to if I am not using the language I was born with.
    P.S.: Like all your articles! Every time I receive your latest post in my email I can’t wait to read it.

  7. says

    Ah yes, the old thinking-you’re-not-good-enough. Two things that helped me get out of that mindset: firstly, the advice in Andy Maslen’s Write Copy, Make Money, which basically says that initially you just have to be able to do a better job than your client could themselves (and that won’t be hard, given they’re hiring a writer), and secondly, Scott Adams’ Rule of 12, which states that, to look like an expert, you just have to know 12 things about a subject when the other person only knows three or four.

    It’s not actually that hard. My main problem is doing the marketing and finding long-term clients, rather than one-off jobs. That’s probably because the follow-up is my weak point – I don’t like to feel as though I’m nagging people.

  8. Jason says

    On the topic of “Thinking you’re not good enough”

    FIRST thing you MUST DO is stop comparing yourself to others. That is the most unfair thing you could ever do to yourself. You can’t compete with everyone, that is not going to happen. You may not have had the same opportunities as the other person. None of us travel the same path in life.

    SECOND thing you MUST DO, is compare yourself to yourself. You have to constantly improve yourself in all aspects of life, don’t charge ahead in one area. Simple little improvements over 3 to 6 months are all you need. How do you compare yourself to the past? well you need to keep a log. Log your thoughts and actions, if you don’t your mind will play tricks on yourself. You need proof to show yourself.

    The first thing is a difficult habit to kick, I compare myself a lot less now than I use to but if you’re in a down mood you will focus on the people you perceive to be “better” than you. Do your best to reverse your thinking into “I can be like those people to”. Then of course follow steps to make that happen!

    Great article Lexi, you really hold this website up.

  9. says

    I’m guilty of a few of these. Too often when I don’t have client work to do I treat freelancing as a hobby. Taking the afternoon off is great occasionally, but there are always things I could be doing to market my brand.

    Marketing is another thing I struggle with. Not so much in developing a plan, but implementing it. Just today I was focused on creating a better marketing plan heading into 2012. I looked back at last year’s plan to see how much I’d accomplished in the past 10 months. There were several things that I had failed to execute.

    It goes back to the idea of following up. Not just with clients, but with yourself as well.

  10. says

    I think the start to my problems may have been not taking freelance work that seriously. Believe it or not, this affects the attitudes that your family and friends have about your work. If you start out at any time with the attitude that you can do whatever you want on workdays, etc., it will be an uphill battle trying to get people to respect your work.

    I’ve also fell into the “I’m not good enough so I’ll take what I can get” mindset. This is harmful for freelancers in a lot of ways – 1. it is difficult to break that thinking once you start 2. you risk having a client who either takes advantage of you or doesn’t take you seriously because you don’t charge enough.


  1. […] What on Earth Are You Doing Wrong with Your Freelancing Business? Find Out Here Freelancing sounds like an ideal “career,” one where you can earn six figures a year and never get out of your pajamas. That’s almost accurate–almost. Let’s not gloss over the fact that freelancing is not a get-rich-quick scheme (far from it). Source: freelancefolder.com […]

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