I have a love/hate relationship with freelancing.
On one hand, freelancing is the fastest way to start making money online.
You don't need tons of traffic, massive amounts of content or a big budget.
All you need is a handful of clients who say "yes."
Nearly 54 million Americans participated in some form of independent work in 2015. [Source]
On the other hand, freelancing requires you to trade your time for money.
Of course, to make any money online you have to do SOME work, but freelancing work is different from other types of internet businesses.
When you stop working, you stop getting paid.
If you're like me, freelancing isn't the desired end game.
If it's your end game, great! More power to you, don't let me define your goals.
Internet entrepreneurs like me though want to make money 24/7 and we don't want to be shackled by the traditional hours-for-dollars constraints.
Although it isn't the "end game," freelancing can be an important part of your journey to serious wealth online.
I freelanced when I was building my first businesses.
Getting paid for my hours served a great purpose on my way to the lifestyle I have now (that doesn't require me to work set hours and does continue to pay me whether I work or not). I was able to keep my bills paid and get money to reinvest into my businesses.
I wouldn't have been able to reach my current levels of success if I hadn't first gotten my feet wet freelancing.
There were plenty of things I should have done differently during my time freelancing and the goal of this article is to help you avoid them completely
Mistake #1: Not Defining My Projects Clearly
I have made some huge mistakes while working on projects by failing to set reasonable expectations for clients.
You should work directly with the client to answer the following questions BEFORE any work begins.
1. What will define the project (or benchmarks/milestones) as "complete?"
You and your client need to agree on what a successfully completed project will look like. Failure to reach the defined end results can result in a refund to the client or a renegotiation of a fair wage for the work completed.
2. What date you will start working?
If you can't start immediately, make it clear when the client can expect you to begin working on the project. There should be no doubt as to how much time has passed since the project started and you do this by clearly defining when it will start and sticking to it.
3. Will the project be broken down into drafts or milestones? If so, how many and on what dates will you submit them and how much will become due after each?
Large projects should be broken down into milestones (also called drafts, benchmarks, etc). Consider each milestone as a mini project, financially and contractually independent of the other milestones. If you or the client decides to end the project after a milestone, you will still be owed the total agreed upon but not for milestones that you do not complete.
4. How long will the client be able to have to request revisions for each milestone (if applicable)?
Good freelancers want their clients to be satisfied with their work and should be open to reasonable revisions during a window of time. This is why milestones are useful and setting deadlines ensures that your client seeks changes now rather than much later down the road.
5. What is the final date of completion (the date where you will no longer work on the project unless more money is paid).
You must define the "end" or you risk working indefinitely without additional payments. Be firm with your clients on end dates as many will push you as far as you'll allow them too. Additional work is negotiable but will require more funding. If you enjoy working with a client, doing more work for them is a smart choice!
Failure to answer the following with your clients can lead to disaster.
Try to imagine how bad it feels to be working for money you spent months ago, with no end in sight for the project. It's awful (I know from experience!)
Also, never sell a project that includes "lifetime support" unless you are charging your client monthly, for as long as they require help.
Your clients will continually bug you for support well beyond the realm of reason if you don't draw a line in the sand.
Be sure to document all of these discussions and agreements.
Discuss and document things at the beginning or you may deeply regret it later.
Mistake #2: Charging by the Hour
This one shocks people, but I don't believe in charging hourly rates for clients.
There are two reasons for this… First, you’re trading your time for money again (sounds a lot like a j*b to me.) Second, it faces you off against your client.
Think about it. Are the best developers going to take as long as a lesser developer? If they are hypothetically producing the exact same quality in the end, the better developer should take less time.
As you improve, you become faster. Therefore, you should charge for the results you bring.
Some of the greatest copywriters in the world charge $100k for one headline.
And it's worth every penny usually. Why? Because they sell the results that headline gets (over $100k) to the client. If they said they wanted $50k/hr, they'd be slapped!
When you register as a freelancer on sites like Upwork you're asked to provide an hourly rate. That doesn't mean you are obligated to work on an hourly basis, it is just a way for those hiring to gauge what you're services might be worth.
Some clients insist on hourly rates, you can choose to give in or you can work to sell them on the results your going to provide for them rather than the work your going to do.
If you're creating a sales funnel, you could pitch your service like this...
"I will create 5 pages for your site. One upsell and one downsell page. They will be done in a professional design and within 48 hours."
That sounds like hourly work that could be outsourced to the lowest bidder to me.
If you're really hoping to sell a client on the results, you'd should pitch your service like this...
"I will create a high converting funnel that will increase your sales by at least 20% thanks to one time offers (downsells and upsells)... If I can't do this, you don't pay!"
That pitch is much better.
It sells the results (20% increase in sales) AND puts the risk on the shoulders of freelancer.
It is much easier to spend a flat amount of money when you are guaranteed results. Many people hire hourly because they are unsure what they are getting, so take the risk off of them and onto you.
Obviously, you can't do this sort of thing unless you are able to get these results so, don't get too crazy here!
If you’re building them a website, what will it look like when it's "finished." What are they expecting you to have done?
How long it takes is irrelevant as long as you provide the promised results.
Mistake #3: Working with People I Didn't Like
In life, we all have to do things we don't want to at times, but working with shitty clients doesn't need to be one of those things.
Unless you're desperate (like, children are starving, toilet paper is gone, desperate), you shouldn't work with people you dislike.
You don't have to love all of your clients (at first anyway) but if you have a problem with someone, you disagree with their business model, etc., don't take their business.
When you work with bad clients, you’re sacrificing time you could be spending working with quality clients, (or at least trying to find them.)
Take a long hard look at your client and ask yourself, "Is dealing with this jerk going to be worth the money I make?"
For each such experience I had, I wish I hadn't taken on the gig and would have absolutely not taken their money if I could go back in time.
Mistake #4: Only Accepting "Safe" Gigs
One of the great things about freelancing is that you get paid to master your craft. Everytime you do something, you should be getting better at it.
If you're doing something difficult and out of your normal comfort zone, that is probably an amazing growth opportunity.
Don't turn away gigs because they are "too big" for you.
I made this mistake only once and I regret it greatly.
This is why many freelancers get stuck at their current rates, doing the same gigs with the same level of clients. They stop growing.
Now, I'm not suggesting that you lie to clients to get work. If you can't code, don't promise you'll develop an iPhone app for them in a week.
However, if a client wants you to say, ghostwrite a book for them, but you've never done it before, don't turn it down just because you're scared.
You can certainly turn down ghostwriting books if you'd like though 🙂
I can't imagine doing that as a service myself.
If someone asks you to do something and you aren't sure if you can make it happen, try this...
Explain to them you don't know everything about it, but are willing to figure it out.
Hire help if you get desperately stuck.
You are going to find that you learn things at accelerated levels whenever you are under pressure to perform.
Mistake #5: Not Asking My Clients for Feedback and Referrals
Feedback is critical for two reasons:
- It lets you know where you can improve.
- It lets you gain positive testimonials which will help land further clients.
When I realized I had let too many clients go without feedback, I researched some methods for gathering it from clients without seeming awkward.
I created my own process for generating positive testimonials.
Also, as a freelancer you have lots of competition. This is a good and bad thing.
It's a bad thing that there are others out there who are willing to compete with you for clients BUT it's a good thing because many people are overwhelmed when looking for help.
When we are overwhelmed, we turn to people we trust. In business, this is where referrals come in.
If you work with an influential client, it can easily result in a steady stream of new clients IF you remember to ask for a referral and if you do work that is worthy of being referred.
Mistake #6 Setting My Prices Too Low
“The moment you make a mistake in pricing, you're eating into your reputation or your profits.” -Katharine Paine
I cover pricing your services in another article that I highly recommend you read next.
As a rule of thumb, avoid fighting to be the "cheap" option. If you feel you only merit being the cheap option, you should get better at your craft. Being the cheapest is the worst, most fleeting competitive advantage you can have.