The 20 biggest mistakes freelancers make and how to avoid them

Photo by Jose Silva from Burst

When you freelance, it's easy to make mistakes that can compromise your work and client relationships. With no one else to rely on, you could mess up entire projects, ruin your reputation or even rock the boat with other people.

It doesn't matter whether you work directly with your clients, collaborate with other freelancers or are hired by agencies – mistakes will only set you back and potentially damage your business.

But don't beat yourself up. Mistakes are made during those early years of freelancing. The upside is that you'll learn from bad experiences and become a much better entrepreneur. To help those of you who are just starting, I've pulled together the biggest mistakes freelancers make so you can avoid them yourself.

1. You're too cocky

First and foremost, some freelancers can get cocky. They think they've seen and heard it all, which means they come across as arrogant and self-important. They can easily gain a bad reputation on Twitter or amongst business circles because of their 'elitist' and unfriendly attitude. It isn't a great first impression and remember, people do talk. So if you want to be a successful freelancer, ditch the cocky facade.

2. You're a chancer

People see straight through any deception, so avoid trying to 'blag' your way through any work. It means if you think a project will only take two days and you charge for five, you'll eventually get found out. Or if you try and pull the wool over people's eyes after being caught out, people won't trust you. Don't be a chancer. Honesty is the best policy. Honesty will get you far.

3. You take too long

Deadlines are there for a reason. People want projects turned around fast. If you're mucking about and slow to deliver, you'll only damage any chance of securing any future work. Clients love reliable freelancers who complete projects on time, so be disciplined, stick to deadlines and deliver on your promises.

4. You don't communicate

Communication is absolutely essential for any healthy relationship. If you want to keep clients happy, keep talking to them. Phone them, arrange regular meetings, remind them why they hired you in the first place. Keep those communication channels open and be approachable, friendly and happy to talk at any time.

5. You take the money and run

You know the feeling – sometimes, you want to get a project done, get paid and move onto the next one as quickly as possible. But clients love to feel special and want you to care about their work. Don't give them the impression that you want to 'take the money and run'. Care about the project and go above and beyond the client's expectations.

6. You do the bare minimum

It's easy to fall onto a treadmill of work, but where's the enjoyment in that? If you take a little more care, creativity and consideration, you'll wow your clients. Don't just do the bare minimum – go that extra mile. It could lead to more work or even word-of-mouth recommendations.

7. You think you know better

Remember the old saying 'the customer is always right', well they are... most of the time. Listen to their needs and respect their point of view. Come up with suggestions by all means – they are paying for your expertise after all. Just don't always think you know better than your client, because sometimes you don't.

8. You spread yourself too thinly

Understandably, you'll want to be as profitable as possible, but taking on too many projects at once will only affect the quality of your work. If you spread yourself too thinly, your clients will notice. It will leave them feeling frustrated and unloved, mainly if you keep delaying the project or worse, delivering work that isn't up to scratch, lazy or rushed. Only take on work that you can cope with, so you don't compromise your work.

9. You don't charge enough

If you are spreading yourself too thinly, you're probably not charging enough for your time. Reconsider your day rate and start to put up prices. Test out your new rates on new clients. They can always knock you back down. Make it your mission to make more money for less time.

10. You don't understand the brief

Sometimes you might not understand enough about a project or the client you're working with. You might've done zero research or not asked enough questions and therefore messed up the work. Get to grips with any new brief by asking lots of questions.

11. You don't listen

If you don't listen to what your client wants, you'll miss important aspects of the job. If you don't listen during the initial brief, you'll set off down the wrong path. If you don't listen to feedback on your work, the client will have to repeat their thoughts. Listen to what your client is saying at all times. Listening is your greatest skill.

12. You don't organically grow

It's so incredibly difficult to win new clients, but once you've got them and you're keeping them well-serviced, you're on to a winner. So why make the mistake of stopping there? Why not grow the client and encourage them to hire you for other things? For example, if you're a web designer but you can also create brochures – make sure your client knows about it. It's a huge missed opportunity if you don't look at where you can organically grow the clients you already have.

13. You rely on too few clients

The biggest mistake you can make is relying on one or two clients to help pay your bills. That's because those clients could pull the plug at any time. It's always better to have multiple revenue streams and avoid placing all your eggs in one basket. Get out there and win more work, attract new clients and approach different agencies. It's up to you to lessen the risk.

14. You forget your integrity

Sometimes you can take on things that go against who you are and what you believe in. It's only natural you'll want to pay the bills, but if you're doing something that goes against your principles or doesn't fit with your style, then it will only lead you to feel bitter and resentful. Remember, you went freelance in the first place to focus on doing what you love, so try to turn down work that doesn't make you happy.

15. You get too personal

Sometimes, we like the clients we work with, and we might mistake them for friends. They're not, they're clients, and this is business, so keep it professional and stay within safe boundaries. Keep things friendly but formal – not too formal. Just formal enough to keep things on the right footing.

16. You show anger or negativity

A client doesn't want to hear your weird and negative opinions on politics. They don't want to hear the nightmare car journey you had to get to their meeting either. They want positivity. They want calm and friendly. So don't make the mistake of showing any negative emotions or traits. Make yourself someone other people enjoy being around. Keep things light, fun and friendly without losing your professionalism.

17. You get lazy and slack off

We all have days when we're not feeling a hundred per cent. But slacking on projects and becoming lazy is the fastest way to miss deadlines, let clients down and lose out on any future work. Keep yourself focused by retaining a productive attitude and stay motivated by having a healthy work/life balance.

18. You choose the wrong clients

It's easy to fall into the trap of taking on new clients that aren't good for you. There are many reasons why they aren't right, including whether they pay on time or if they hold you back. If you choose the wrong clients, you're always going to be unhappy, make less money and work longer hours.

To avoid such relationships, get smart at spotting potential nightmare clients. Figure out whether they're worth your time. Remember, it's a two-way process when you meet a prospect for the first time, i.e. it's not just about them deciding whether you're the right person for the job, it also works the other way around.

19. You forget to be profitable

It's easy to fall into the trap of doing free favours for friends, family and even clients. It's also easy to take on work that isn't going to make much money. Don't forget that you're running a business and need to make a profit.

You're not a charity, and you shouldn't feel guilty if you're ruthless and ensure you spend most of your time earning hard cash. If this sounds familiar to you, reassess your working week and see where you can make yourself more profitable.

20. You let work take over your life

When you freelance, it's tempting to talk about business day and night with friends and family, but this is the worst thing you can do. It's also tempting to work every waking hour. Don't let your freelancing take over your life and remember you still need to relax. If you think work has overtaken everything and it's affecting your relationships, perhaps it's time for a nice holiday, so you can change your work ethics and start fresh.