The biggest mistakes creatives make when running a business

It's been another slap-forehead moment. You've messed up, and you're kicking yourself for making a mistake. Welcome to the world of freelancing!

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

But don't beat yourself up – mistakes are inevitable. The important thing is to learn from those mishaps and ensure you don't repeat them. But sometimes we forget those lessons, so here's a helpful list of the biggest mistakes creatives make when running a business, so you can hopefully avoid them in future.

1. You make assumptions

You've been worrying about meeting a client for weeks. You just know they're going to say certain things about your work and you're dreading seeing them face-to-face. But when you finally have that meeting? Everything goes fine and you realise those assumptions were all in your head.

We all do it. Build up dramas and scenarios that don't exist. We assume anything. To avoid this, keep the communication channels open with all clients. If something's bothering you, pick up the phone or arrange a meeting to chat through your concerns.

2.You take on too much work

It's been a crazy month. New business has been swarming in and you simply can't turn any new projects down. The result? You end up working very long hours and you burn yourself out –jeopardising all your current clients.

Stop! You're not a superhero, so stop thinking you can work miracles! Only consider adding more work to your busy schedule if it's a client not to be missed, such as a massive brand that will lead to higher quality (and better paid) work. Don't fret about work drying up either. As long as you dedicate some time to your own business development and keep all existing clients happy, you should survive.

3. You allow the client to be right when they're wrong

You started off with a brief that you didn't think was right. You spoke up. But the client stood their ground and you backed down and did what they wanted. But now the work is complete, it's just not right – and you're kicking yourself for not putting your foot down.

Part of the process of freelancing is that you're a consultant. You have to stand up for what you believe in and advise the client on the right direction to take. Even if that means they don't agree. Be prepared to argue your case by having examples to hand, and make it clear that you're concerned about the project outcome, unless they follow your advice. If they still don't and things muck up as predicted? Resist saying "I told you so!" and just figure out a way to move forward.

4. You answer emails or phone calls out of office hours

There is always one client who thinks it's ok to phone you on a Sunday morning. But because they're one of your biggest customers and you can't risk losing them, you answer it! Only now the client is calling every weekend, and that's just unacceptable.

Never, ever send or answer emails out of office hours – or take phone calls either. If you do, you'll open up the floodgates to clients who don't understand boundaries and expect you to be on call 24/7. Unless you're getting paid to do so, you have to draw a line and make it clear that you're unavailable during evenings and weekends.

5. You underestimate your worth

When you work for yourself, it's difficult to know how much to charge or even know how much you're worth. And because you work alone, you assume you're not able to charge as much as you should. Which means you end up charging too little.

There are too many freelancers who don't know their own worth. They offer discounted prices and charge too little – all with the assumption (that word again) that clients won't hire them unless they're 'cheap'. Enough! You are totally worth something because you have skills and expertise that people need, so determine your worth and figure out how much you need to charge to cover time/costs. Clients only want to know how much something is going to cost them – you can set the price!

6. You get stuck charging too little

With long-term clients, it's all too easy to continue to charge them the same rate you started with. However, you've grown and developed your skills since then, becoming more experienced – so that initial day rate is now way too cheap!

As long as you can justify a price increase – i.e. more skills, expertise, growth, overheads or even just adhering to rate of inflation – your client will understand the necessity for increasing your rates. Just lessen the risk by tackling each client one-by-one, and never raise rates more than necessary. Read this helpful article on how to increase your rates without losing clients.

7. You don't know when to stop

You've been hunched over your desk since 6am. It's now 9pm, and you've not even stopped to eat lunch or dinner. You're exhausted, work is suffering and there doesn't seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel.

If you're overworking, it could be because you're not charging enough and are therefore having to make up as much time as possible. Or it could be that you're taking on too much. It could also be a positive sign that you could grow into a small agency by employing someone to help out.

Whatever the reasons, freelancing can lead to long hours if you allow it. Don't let work overtake your life. Yes, your business needs you. Yes, your clients need you. You also have to build up your reputation, attract new work and stay updated with your skills. But, most importantly, you need to take a break.

Enjoy regular moments away from your desk, set strict working hours and make the most of your evenings and weekends. Focus instead on being more productive, increasing rates and getting the most out of every working day.

8. You fall victim to slow business

You've been working like a dog for weeks, and finally – some respite. You take a few weeks to kick back, only occasionally doing some work. But by losing focus on your business, you suddenly find work isn't coming in, and the bills aren't going to pay themselves.

When work is slow, don't give up! Get straight on to your business development, i.e. marketing, PR and digital. Pick up the phone and call former clients, touting for business. Get on to Twitter and start networking. Send out a newsletter to everyone on your database. Read these 100 inspiring ideas to market your business.


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