Working for a large company is easy. Horrible but easy.
You have a boss who tells you what to do and gives you feedback if you’ve messed up. Most probably other people make important decisions regarding budget, goals and growth.
There is a whole lot of procedures, guidelines and scenarios which make your life easier. Even if you do something wrong, you’ll still get your salary at the end of the month.
All you have to do is your job. At 5 p.m. you can turn off your computer, put on your jacket and go back home.
Working as a freelancer is a completely different story. You are on your own. One-man team. A lonely warrior. You should take care of everything mentioned above plus, let’s not forget, do your job.
You. Will. Make. Mistakes.
The earlier you accept this, the better.
What you will do with those mistakes is what will make the difference. I can give you three very important tips on this topic:
- Learn from your mistakes.
- Never make the same mistake twice.
- Learn from others’ mistakes.
Now that you have this basic but precious knowledge, you can get to know what are the biggest mistakes you can make as a freelancer. Hopefully, once you are aware of them, the chance you’ll actually make them will get insignificant.
This article may contain affiliate links, for more information, read the Disclaimer. If you click on any of them, I might get a tiny commission. I’ve tried all of the mentioned products and services, and my opinion is sincere.
Mistake №1: Accept every job
Every beginning is difficult and your freelance career is not an exception. Finding your first long-term clients or landing a well-paid project takes a great amount of time and effort.
This fact may tempt you to lower your standards and compromise which will make you unhappy. But in order to stay a productive and satisfied zen freelancer, you should learn when to say “No”.
Don’t work on everything, with everyone.
If you don’t like the project, you should think twice whether it’s worth it or not. Working on projects that don’t enrich your portfolio is a waste of time. Especially in the beginning!
You really need to prove yourself in your niche and not accept a job offer only for the sake of a couple of bucks more.
You should also allow yourself to terminate a project if you happen to work with a nasty client. The amount of time you’ll lose on dealing with poor communication issues or unrealistic demands is tremendous.
Related: 7 Types of Difficult Clients and How to Deal With Them
If you have a bad feeling from the beginning, it’s better just to say “no” and stay available for a project or a client that will actually bring value to your freelance career.
Mistake №2: Work for free
I want to give you a heads up regarding this mistake: many people throughout your freelance path will try to take advantage of you.
From friends who need your service and want to get it for free to clients who’re trying to convince you that the fact that you’ll be working with them is a reward itself. Unfortunately, exposure doesn’t pay bills, neither does friendship.
I admit, I also had this poisonous but tempting idea of working for free. I was saying to myself, “I’ll do an amazing job for this client and afterwards he’ll spread the news. A happy client might even come back to me and agree to pay a lot just because he already knows the way I work.”
I had this illusion that the clients were giving me a chance to do something for them. And that it was of my best interest to agree with their terms. To appreciate the possibility of working with them.
Now that I write this, I am perplexed by how insecure I had been. Or plain stupid. Please, don’t be like me. Learn from my mistakes.
It took me some time to realize that the only one who had any benefit from the situation was the client who’d get stuff done for free.
Believe in yourself and never let anyone take advantage of you. Once you start appreciating yourself properly, the others will begin to do so as well.
Mistake №3: Give up
This is something that can happen in every stage of your freelance life. There comes a crucial moment when you feel like you can’t do this anymore. You have too many tasks, too little time, you don’t earn enough money or you can’t find projects you really enjoy doing…
There are thousands of reasons why you might give up your dream of working on your own. As I said
In those situations, when you feel overwhelmed or hopeless, you have to take a minor break. Forget about the freelancer in you for a day or two. Defeat the desperation with positivity.
Related: 6 Helpful Tips for Being More Positive That Really Work
Don’t bring yourself down. You are doing great!
It might seem impossible to approach the darkest moments with optimism but trust me: you will get so much stronger with time.
Stay focused and don’t forget the big picture. If you’re struggling to remain positive about your freelance career, write down the reasons you started working as a freelancer in the first place.
Mistake №4: Burn out
You might say that this is not a mistake but an emotional and physical condition that cannot be controlled. I might have agreed if I hadn’t gone through a burnout myself (read the whole story).
Working under a lot of pressure, pushing yourself more and more through the abyss of stress and feeling a constant frustration towards the projects you are working on are all signs that you are running on the burnout path.
Most people think that burnout is a condition caused by working in the corporate world. It leads to frequent displays of unprofessional behaviour and a stubborn refusal to do anything at all.
The best friends of Mr. Burnout are Ms. Apathy and Mr. Anxiety. They can do disasters even with the strongest person in the world.
“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”, Confucius said a long, long time ago. And there are a lot of people who believe that working as a freelancer is the easiest thing to do. You choose the projects you work on, you define your working hours and most probably you work from home or another cool place like The Maldives or Bali.
While all of the above can be true, it’s also very easy to slip and to become obsessed with your job. You start being online 24/7, checking your email and social media all the time and having the constant feeling that you’re always one step behind.
Related: The Ultimate Guide to an Effective Digital Detox
Why is it so easy to burn out when you are a freelancer? One month you might make 5000 euro, the next month – 500 euro. As you don’t have a stable income, you strive to take all the work you can. Therefore you make the mistake to achieve complete exhaustion from overworking. And guess what – that’s the anteroom to burnout!
Try to approach your freelance career in a sustainable way. Don’t ignore the other aspects of your life. Your work is important but not the most important thing in the world.
Mistake №5: Work with no plan
If you started working as a freelancer without having a plan, it’s time to seriously reconsider this. You can’t go anywhere unless you know where you are going.
Setting goals and making a plan how you will achieve them is the most important condition of succeeding as a freelancer. Without a purpose, you’ll easily make mistake №3 and eventually give up.
Here are a couple of questions that may help you find your way:
- How much money do you want to earn and how many days off do you want to have per month?
- What skills would you like to develop?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- How do you measure success according to you?
Use your answers to set ambitious but realistic goals.
Don’t forget to take into consideration what you actually like doing. For example, maybe you prefer having two or three long-term but boring projects instead of a new and exciting project every month. Whatever it is, set it as a goal.
Then take the time to write down a plan which will help you achieve your goals. This plan will draw the bigger picture and will also allow you to celebrate every small step you make towards being a successful freelancer.
If you often feel overwhelmed and you tend to procrastinate your most important tasks, you can also try The Productivity Planner (affiliate link). It will help you to prioritize and accomplish the tasks that really matter.
According to me, this is the best personal assistant – using The Productivity Planner also leads to avoiding distractions so, in the end, you end up performing better in less time. Or, in other words, you’ll start working smarter, not harder!
Having a structured plan will change the way you perceive the whole endeavor. When I quit my job and started working as a freelancer, I didn’t have a clue what my goals were. I was working chaotically on random projects. My mindset was completely wrong.
Thoughts like “Let’s start and we’ll see where this path will lead me” or “I just want to make some money and will adjust my expenses to my income” were purely bringing me down.
Once I sat down and took the time to create a business plan, things changed drastically.
I started taking myself seriously, and so did my clients.
According to research made by Harvard psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert, the human mind is wandering 46.9% of the time which means that our natural behaviour is quite chaotic. That’s why, if you have too many things you want to achieve, do one thing at a time.
Split your goals into mini projects and use milestones to track your progress. This will allow you to stay focused and will prevent your mind from unnecessary wandering.
Mistake №6: Bad time management
Time management is one of the most important skills you have to master if you want to be a successful freelancer. Without it, you’ll start feeling overwhelmed in no time.
If you struggle with using your time effectively, there are a couple of things you can do.
Start tracking your time via a software or just rely on the good old notebook. Write down each activity and the time you
After a week you’ll have a good overview of what are your biggest time-wasters. Maybe you are checking your phone too often? Or you do small things in the household all the time?
Eliminate all distractions to boost your productivity.
Implement your own rules of keeping your time under control. Be honest with yourself and write down everything you do. Log your activities when you switch between them.
For example, I am writing for my blog from 3:45 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. Then at 5:15 p.m. I want to prepare dinner. So at 5:15 p.m. I will log “Writing for my blog, 1:30 h” and will start cooking. If I cook until 6 p.m., I will log this activity then – “Cooking, 45 min”.
In order to take the best out of this practice, review your time log every morning. You’ll
Evaluate each of the activities so that you have a better overview. You can use categories of your choice, such as “Work”, “Study”, “Sport”, “Household” or “Relax”. If you’re working on multiple projects, you can also track how much time you invest in each of them.
This technique is also helpful if you’re striving for a habit change. Realizing how often or for how long you’re doing a certain activity (for example, “Watching Netflix”) will most probably motivate you like nothing else in this world.
What is the biggest mistake you have made as a freelancer? I’ll be happy to hear what you learned from it!
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