Why I Failed at Freelancing

closedThis time around, I have been a pretty successful freelancer if I do say so myself. My bills stay paid, my clients are happy and I’ve never been happier in a career.

Unfortunately, my first attempt at freelancing left me unhappy, in debt and desperate. I took several full-time jobs between my last attempt at freelancing and this one to teach me some valuable lessons and make my way out of debt.

I made many mistakes the first time around and, like any good freelancer, I learned from them and now I am a better, stronger worker. In this post, I’ll share some of the mistakes that caused me to fail as a freelancer the first time around.

Mistakes That Caused Me to Fail

So what were those mistakes that caused me to fail?

  • Too inexperienced. I don’t want to say “young”, because I know there are several successful student freelancers out there, but I was personally too young and inexperienced. At just 21 years old, I was forced out of my job as an animator and illustrator, and I decided to go freelance. Unfortunately, my limited experience and portfolio made it extremely difficult to get work, and client meetings left me looking young, insecure not nearly “expert” enough.
  • No focus. My training was in multimedia, animation and illustration. In my freelance career, I focused on all of those things as well as web design, video editing, drawing portraits and more. Anything that could possibly send a little money my way, I did it. I thought being a jack-of-all-trades would win me clients, but what it really did was ensure that I was a master-of-nothing.
  • Slippery slope” of slow business. When my business got slow, I stopped making demo reels to pass out and business cards to give away. I stopped shipping my illustrations to magazines because postage was too high. This made my slow business get even slower until I wasn’t working at all.
  • No savings. This one is a no-brainer, but my previous job left me in a position of being forced into freelancing before I was financially ready for it. I had to hit the ground running, or actually sprinting, in order to keep my bills paid. My dwindling bank account made me desperate to take any jobs that came my way instead of selecting quality ones.
  • A part-time job. I know many freelancers are only doing it part-time, but this was a balancing act I could never properly handle (maybe I should have read this article). When my business started getting slow, I found a part-time job to help me pay the bills. Unfortunately, it also got in the way of my freelancing. I wasn’t answering client phone calls while at work or replying to emails promptly. I started missing deadlines and just generally being worse at my “core” job of freelancing.
  • Debt. Between slow business, lack of savings and a low-paying part-time job, I racked up plenty of debt in a short amount of time. Debt made me even more desperate to take jobs I shouldn’t have and work more hours at my part-time position, which just spiraled into me doing worse and worse.
  • Client relationships. Because of all of the above, I was miserable at getting and keeping clients, much less getting referrals. I was a guy hard to reach on the phone, slow to reply to emails, desperate for work and without any area of expertise. Why would clients come back or refer me to friends? They wouldn’t, and they didn’t.

After trying and failing for almost three years, I finally recognized that I was not ready for a freelancing career yet and got a full-time job. My job helped get me out of debt and establish a bit of savings for my next attempt, but more importantly, it taught me extremely valuable lessons about life and business that prepared me for a successful freelancing career.

How I Learned from My Mistakes

So what’s different now that I’ve left my full-time job again and have been a successful freelancer for a few years?

  • Experience. After working full-time in the field for almost five years, I am professional, experienced and can speak with authority in my field.
  • Focus. I do web design and development, and that’s all. My clients know what they’re getting into, and I know I’m good at what I do.
  • Savings. Having a bit of money in the bank for the slow times makes me much more confident, secure, and less desperate to take any job, even in the slow times.
  • Great service. I take my relationships with clients very, very seriously. If I am happy with one of my clients, I do whatever I can to make sure they are equally happy with me. Happy clients are returning clients, and business owners know other business owners. This is a cornerstone of my success.

What About You?

I can’t be the only person out there who failed miserably at freelancing only to succeed later in life. What are your stories?

Image by jasoon