Freelancing offers the potential for unparalleled professional freedom, and when things are going well it's an enviable way of earning a living. However, the pressures are great, and if there's money to be made in your niche then you're going to be up against some tough competition. If you want to carve out a career that will support you financially and fulfil you professionally, you need to rise above the crowd, and this means avoiding the most common mistakes that condemn many freelancers to early failure.
Most disputes between a freelancer and a client stem from poor communication rather than shoddy work or bad faith. It's vital that both parties have clear and realistic expectations before a contract is signed or a project is begun, and this means paying close attention to both written and spoken communication from the outset.
Communication problems apart, it should be clear that once project terms have been agreed on, as a freelancer you should do everything in your power to deliver quality results to the agreed timetable. If there's a problem that could risk this, then once again communication is essential to reduce the potential for conflict.
Only Working from Gig to Gig
Especially at the start, it can be a struggle to gain enough work to make ends meet. It's very tempting to accept any halfway-decent opportunity that arises, but this can be counterproductive. To build a solid career, you need to have a vision of where you're going, and you need to give yourself space to develop this and put it into action. Don't be afraid to spend a little time working on projects which may only pay off in the future, rather than feeling that every working minute should be spent generating revenue immediately. Try to build foundations that will take you away from hand-to-mouth work over time.
Poor Back-Office Operations
Freelancing offers a high degree of freedom, but this doesn't remove the need for an organised approach to doing business. Clients will expect accurate and timely invoicing, proper documentation of the work you've provided, and ready availability should they need to contact you. Delivering a professional, businesslike service involves far more than simply completing a project to specification.
Neglecting Client Relations
One of the great benefits of a successful freelancing career is the way it allows you to pick and choose your clients. However, while being independent can provide a welcome release from the world of corporate schmoozing, client relations are still a vital part of long-term success. Good clients should be nurtured and treated well, whether by employing tactics such as preferential rates for regular work, or simply just touching base every so often to remind them of your services. Always remember that it's far harder to win a new client than it is to retain one, so never become complacent and take ongoing work for granted.
It's a fine line between professional confidence and tiresome self-promotion, but if you habitually hide your light under a bushel, your freelance career will struggle to take off. Recognise your own value, and ensure that clients appreciate it too. Don't undercharge for your services, and don't be afraid to bid for a project that's a step above your previous experience - you'll only progress by striving to break new ground.
Although freelancing offers you the chance to earn a comfortable living from your talents and ambition, it's an unforgiving career and you need to pay attention to every aspect of your business. Avoiding these mistakes will stand you in good stead as you head for success.