The common problems with freelancing and how to tackle them

in Tips / Freelancing

Running your own business isn't easy. In fact, it can be one of the most challenging things you'll ever do. For that reason, it's understandable why many choose to stick to the safe route and be employed by someone else.

Being a freelancer can bring many headaches. In any given day, a freelancer can have anything go wrong, whether that's difficulties with clients or problems with workload and time management.

Overall, those who do take the leap and go freelance enjoy many benefits, including everything from being their own boss and having more freedom to working from home and discovering new things on a daily basis.

To ensure you're a happy business owner, we've put together these common problems with freelancing and offered some helpful solutions to tackle them...

Problem 1: You're too small for people to respect you

The most common problem of freelancing is being a freelancer. Many people don't seem to understand or respect those who are sole traders. As you're the only person on your team it somehow makes people assume that you're not worthy of your day rate or even capable of the services you provide. They'll try to knock you down on price or take advantage of you, suggesting you do things for free.

The Solution

If too many people are making wrong assumptions about you and your business, pretend to be bigger than you are. That's right. Pretend you're not alone. Change the language on your website and marketing literature to say 'We' instead of 'I'. Say you're an 'agency' – if you think it will help.

Alternatively, you could pull together a network of other freelancers to offer collaborative services. You could also consider paying for virtual services, having your own virtual PA answering your phone calls. There's no harm in pretending to be bigger if you think it will gain you the respect you deserve.

Problem 2: People assume you can do things for free

Because you're a small business and just operating alone, some people will try to take advantage by asking you to do things for free. They'll think you'll appreciate the 'experience' or projects you can add to your new portfolio.

The Solution

People will always try it on, exploiting your freelance position at every turn. Because you're a sole trader, they'll assume you're desperate and grateful for any work that might come your way. You're not, so don't let people treat you that way.

The only time you should do work for free is when you need to build your portfolio or if you think it really will lead to more work. For example, if a big name brand approached you and wanted some free services, you should weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of helping them. To tackle everyone else, just say no. But always be nice because you don't want to burn any bridges.

Problem 3: Family and friends take advantage

When you work for yourself, family and friends will assume they can call on your skills whenever they like. They'll assume you're not busy and can help them out. They'll also think you can provide your services for free.

The Solution

Family and friends should be ashamed of themselves if they're always asking for your help. Yes, the odd favour here and there is ok. But really, it's not right for people to take advantage of your skills. You'll undoubtedly be very busy and working all hours to make ends meet, so don't feel guilty if you say no to those you care about.

Explain gently that you simply haven't got any time to help them and that you're already working weekends to make ends meet. Subtly lay the guilt trip on them and they should get the message. Or better, treat them like a client! Ask them for a brief and an idea of budget. Once they realise that you're not going to work for free, they might leave you alone.

Problem 4: You're struggling to juggle all your business tasks

When you're a freelancer, you don't just have to find time to do your actual work – you also have to find time to sort your accounts, administration, business management, client referrals, phone calls and emails. Like never before, you'll be juggling a huge amount of tasks on a daily basis.

The Solution

With so much new technology, today's world is a different place for freelancers. If you're struggling to run your business then take advantage of all the resources available at your fingertips. Get a virtual assistant to answer your calls. Hire an accountant to look after your accounts. Employ a debt collector to chase your invoices on a monthly basis. Free up as much of your time as possible to make life easier and leave you more time to do what you love while earning money.

Problem 5: You're constantly worried about money

There's nothing worse than freelancing when it comes to money. You never really know when the next pay cheque is coming in. It's not like having the safety of a regular salary, that's for sure. There are also those quieter times when no work is coming in and your savings are going down, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and stressed.

The Solution

It's swings and roundabouts when freelancing, so make sure you save money to cope with those quieter periods. Have a healthy cash reserve, so you're not lying in bed at night worrying about how you're going to pay the mortgage.

Also, don't spend beyond your means and remember that freelancing makes you rich in other ways – like having the freedom to do your own thing and be your own boss. Money isn't everything, so make sure you save up enough to cover your outgoings for at least three months. And try and keep those outgoings reasonable. More importantly, don't rush out and buy that expensive car if you've had a good month – you might not be able to afford it in future.

Problem 6: You're struggling to get clients in the first place

One of the biggest challenges you'll face when freelancing is trying to win new clients. From the very moment you start out, winning work will be the most important aspect of your business but it's incredibly tough to do so. Especially if you've never had any experience in marketing before.

The Solution

The web offers endless training and education and there is a wealth of free e-books, training tutorials, forums and online communities teaching you everything you need to know about marketing and winning work.

If you're just getting started, you'll need an online portfolio or web presence of some kind – so get yourself set up and start shouting about your services and some of your successful projects. Make sure you understand SEO and how to use social media. Consider cold-calling, mail-drops or even informing friends and family about what you're doing.

Then spend an hour every day working on your marketing. Never rest on your laurels. Read this article on 100 inspiring ways to market your business for some extra ideas.

Problem 7: Your freelancing is taking up too much time

You're working all hours, evenings and weekends to make ends meet. You're slogging because you're afraid of the work drying up. You're making hay while the sun shines. For these reasons, it means your freelancing is taking over your life.

The Solution

If you're working too many hours, ask yourself this – are you charging enough? It's one of the first questions to consider. Because if you're too busy, it might mean you're too cheap. If you're confident you've got enough steady work to cover the bills – test the water and start to increase your day/hourly rate.

Secondly, are you just working all hours because you feel obliged to? Be strict with yourself and stick to normal working hours, i.e. 9am-5pm. And if you really must work out-of-hours, limit yourself to one hour of overtime. Don't underestimate the importance of downtime. You have to recharge your batteries otherwise you'll suffer burnout and then you won't be able to do any work at all.

Problem 8: There are too many freelancers competing in your area

You've launched your business, got your website out there and contacted nearby agencies to offer your support – only to find that your local area is saturated with freelancers, offering exactly the same services. You're struggling to infiltrate the market and no one wants to hire you because they've already got the support they need.

The Solution

When your local market is saturated with other freelancers, the best thing to do is analyse the competition and see what you could be doing that others aren't offering. Is there anything bespoke you could do? Provide that specific service and shout about it. Or you could run a unique offer that allows people to try you out for a discount price.

Also, make sure you go to local networking events. Be friendly, go without expectations and arm yourself with business cards. Just because people use other freelancers, it doesn't mean they'll stick with them forever.

If none of these ideas work, consider expanding your geographical location and look at markets in neighbouring cities, counties or regions.

Problem 9: You often lack productivity and inspiration

Staying productive and inspired is a daily challenge. There will be many times when you're staring at your computer screen or a blank piece of paper, struggling to make your next move. This can be a huge frustration, particularly when you've got deadlines and can't afford to waste time.

The Solution

To ensure you're at your very best, get your work/life balance right and spend regular time away from your desk to recharge the batteries. Equally, if you've hit a brick wall – get outside for a nice walk and some fresh air. You might find it clears your head and helps you move on. Don't underestimate the power of downtime.

And if you're feeling uninspired? Go on websites like Creative Boom to seek new ideas and be inspired by other creatives. Read this article on some other inspiring blogs for creative inspiration.

Problem 10: You thought it would be easy

You've got your degree, some decent experience under your belt and you've launched your website – the work should be flying in, right? Wrong. You're quickly discovering that running a business isn't easy. You might feel like giving up.

The Solution

Don't quit now! All freelancers start with the same negative feelings. Yes, it's challenging but you should try to persevere. You have to expect that it could take up to two years before you've properly established yourself and the work is trickling in nicely.

Bottom line? There's no quick fix. The success of your business relies on you, and you alone. Hard work, ongoing marketing, being passionate about what you do and having realistic goals will put you on the right track.

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