The freelance “bug” has bitten, and you have decided to scratch the itch and strike out on your own. The good news is that you are not alone – economists predict that, by 2020, more workers will be freelancers than not.
Yet no matter how skilled you are, and no matter how much those skills may be in demand, you could be dead in the water if you are not smart about marketing, client relationships, and your business structure/organization.
I asked some business leaders what mistakes they see freelancers make when they hire or work with them. Here are 12 of the most embarrassing ones and how to avoid them yourself.
1. Making it all about you
“Your potential clients have problems to solve. You can solve those problems, but you need to make the right pitch. Don’t spend time telling them all about you and your wonderful skills. Instead, develop a list of questions for potential clients that make it all about them. Then, provide a summary of solutions you have.”
— Seth Morrisey, President of Oregon Web Solutions.
2. Not communicating enough
“You cannot function as an island. Take time out of your schedule to touch base with every client – a brief email or phone call to summarize progress. Otherwise, you will have anxious clients who lose confidence in you.”
— Alexander Bychkov, CEO of Bananacoin.
3. Failure to say no when you should
“It’s tempting to say ‘yes’ to every potential client. You want to please. But people will take advantage of you. If you sense that a potential client will be difficult, your written agreement must ‘rule.’ Far better to say no than to say yes and not deliver. Your reputation is at stake.”
— Adam Boalt, CEO of Passport Renewal.
4. Accepting projects that are beyond your skill level
“Never take on a project for which you lack the skills. Be honest with yourself and with the client. Far better to turn down a project than to complete it poorly. Unsatisfied clients destroy your reputation.”
— James Goodnow, Founding Partner of Lamber Goodnow.
5. Becoming a dinosaur
“No profession remains static. You may have done amazing things for your clients, but becoming complacent is a huge mistake. Competitors who are more current will have more to offer. Continuing education is a part of your job. Take coursework or a program like an MBA to enhance your skill set.”
— Ryan Dewett, Director of Best 5 Supplements.
6. Not following up
“You have finished a project and the client is happy, or so you think. What if he isn’t? Avoid this situation by following up. Ask for honest feedback. Is there anything you failed to do, no matter how small it might have been? You will ‘buy’ a lot of goodwill and leave the impression that you want to improve.”
— Peter Stevenson, COO of Check People.
7. Not outsourcing when you should
“You know your skills. If a client needs more than you can provide, don’t just take the project and assume that you will do what you can. If you are lacking a specific skill, find someone who has it and who can deliver that piece of the project for a share of your established fee. Better to earn a bit less than to deliver lower quality.”
— Daniel Joelson, CEO of Car Title Loans California.
8. Not keeping track of competitors
“Do you know what others in your niche are charging? What do their portfolios look like? How about their social media accounts? You cannot gain a competitive advantage unless you know what is actually going on in your niche. Schedule time on a regular basis to ‘spy’ on competitors and see how you can offer more value.”
— Hob Khadka, CEO of Xcel Trip.
9. Agreeing with a client above all
“A client has hired you because you are the expert. Act like one. When a client wants things done ‘his way’ and not yours, do not bend to that will against what you know is right. Be diplomatic, but also be firm. A great line is, ‘I can’t in good conscience do what you are asking, because you won’t be happy with the result. Let me finish the project as I envision it, and then we can talk more.’”
— Ron Brock Managing Director, Sheaff Brock.
10. Underestimating time requirements
“Beginning freelancers have a tendency to underestimate the amount of time it will take to complete a project. They think they can go without sleep and forego other aspects of their lives. A good rule of thumb is to add two days to the deadline you think you can reasonably meet. If you deliver ahead of schedule, you have a thrilled client.”
— Steven Adams, founder of Not Guilty Adams.
11. Relying on quantity over quality
“Most freelancers have websites with portfolios of completed projects and references. A big mistake is listing every project for every client. No potential client wants to go through all of this. Prove your value by displaying fewer projects which really highlight your skills and accomplishments.”
— Rob Lundquist, CMO of Henriksen Butler.
12. Not figuring out your hourly rate
“The formulas are pretty simple. Take you monthly income and divide by the number of hours you worked. Are you happy with your hourly pay rate or is it equivalent to a fast-food worker’s? Make the changes you need. Raise your rates, find higher-paying clients, or increase your skill set to offer more.”
— Michael Hennessey, CEO of Diathrive.
If you see yourself in any of these mistakes, you can take the steps you need to correct them right now. Freelancing is a complicated endeavor and requires a learning curve. Do it right up front, and you will save yourself time, money, and embarrassment.
This article was originally featured in the USA Today.