Only a few years back, freelancing was not even considered a career option. Thanks to the technology and 24×7 connectivity, today it is one of the most flourishing career options for professionals across the world. Today, freelancing is the buzzword and it’s no surprise that one-third of the US workers have done freelance work at some point in their careers. Out of this, 61% opted for this work arrangement by choice.
The trend is equally positive in India too. According to reports, one in four freelancers in the world is from India. The Indian freelancing industry is estimated to grow to a whopping 20 to 30 billion dollars by 2025!
Working in the gig economy gives a lot of flexibility and wider options. Not only that, but freelancers can also strategically work on polishing their skills to deliver the best value to their clients.
Despite all the apparent benefits, many freelancers fail to create a fulfilling career. Some even choose to go back to their conventional 9-5 work!
Does that mean freelancing is not as rewarding as it is shown? Certainly not. I can say that from my own experience of working successfully as a freelance writer. With consistent efforts and right intent, freelancers can have a flourishing career in a short time. If you are serious about your business, nobody can stop you. However, be careful of certain common mistakes that can damage your freelancing business.
Here are the common freelancing mistakes to avoid.
1. No Business Goals
I tried to switch to freelancing twice and failed miserably. It was since my third attempt that I have been going steady and strong. Today I realize that the biggest mistake as a freelancer was my failure to set goals for my business. Whether you decide to make freelancing a part-time or full-time career, the first step is to set purpose and goals for your business.
Invest time in understanding why you have taken this step and what are you aiming to achieve. Most people go back to their regular jobs after the failed attempts in freelancing is because they don’t set a purpose for their business. No matter how experienced or extraordinary you had been in your profession, establishing yourself as a freelancer will take some time. This is where your goals will help keep your focus intact.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when setting your goals.
Set short-term and long-term goals
Freelancing is a journey that requires lot of patience and perseverance. To keep steady and strong, you need to have a clear idea of your long-term goals. Goals such as purchasing your favourite car, or visiting your dream destination will encourage you to combat challenges with a calm mind. When the going gets tough (which happens in every profession), your long-term goals will help keep you on track.
But sometimes, long-term goals might seem too overwhelming or even unattainable. When you are struggling with your first gig, a long-term goal to earn 1 million dollars will not sound encouraging. That’s why designing short-term goals is equally important.
Short-term goals will make things look more attainable. Achieving such goals will also increase your confidence and will drive your better towards the long-term goals.
Keep your goals SMART
This is not rocket science! While your ultimate objective may be to achieve happiness, but that does not fit in the category of a SMART goal.
A SMART goal needs to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound.
Set objectives against your goals
Objectives are the measurable parameters against your goals. For example, you wish to increase your online visibility through blogging on three different platforms for the next six months. You need to meticulously divide this goal into simple objectives and make it more attainable. Let’s say you wish to do 60 blog posts in six months of time. For that you will have to write 10 posts each month – roughly 3-4 posts for each of the chosen platforms.
This is how you will achieve your short-term goal by creating a clear objective.
Follow a progress review system
No matter the number of gigs you have, reviewing your progress should be an integral part of the freelancing journey. A regular review of your progress against the goals will help keep you on track. Reviewing your progress will also help you understand what is working and what is not. If you choose to write on three different niches and realize that your audience and clients respond more for only one of the three, you might want to consider focusing on that specific niche. In the long-run, perhaps, that particular niche will earn you the reputation of a subject matter expert!
2. Too Many Niches
Selecting your niche is as important as setting your business goals. Just imagine, if you are looking for a photographer for your wedding whom would you select. A photographer with experience in food photography, wildlife and wedding? Or would you go for someone who has categorically been working and growing portfolio in wedding and related photography?
If we know what we want, the client too does.
Same goes with writing. Sure, there are several content writers out there who write for almost anything and everything. However, if you want to grow in your freelancing career and want to be seen as an expert, it is important that you don’t have too many niches. It will not only add value to your brand, but also help you earn better.
While it is not essential that your interest and niche should match, but try picking niches that you feel comfortable reading and researching about. I have specifically chosen my niches in parenting, wellness and social development. Though I want to write for several other topics like entrepreneurship, environment and branding – but I have thoughtfully selected the areas in which I have significant professional experience and also a deep interest.
With too many niches, you don’t want to spread yourself too thin. Building portfolio is a demanding work and it’s better that you focus on selected few areas.
3. Inconsistent Pitching
Pitching is one of the most underrated things in freelancing. While it’s true that a solopreneur has to handle too many things at time. However, consistent pitching is crucial and should not be neglected, especially when you are just starting out.
According to statistics, the United States alone has more than 5.5 lakh freelancers. In India, the number of freelancers is nearly 2.5 lakh. In such a vast ocean of self-employed brigade, it’s practically impossible for clients to reach out to you unless you have an extraordinary online presence.
Broadly, pitching is divided into warm and cold. To define these terms in the most simplistic way, cold pitching is when you reach out to a prospective client/client when the latter knows just nothing about you. Therefore, your pitch needs to be super-strong and impressive in order to convert a possibility into an opportunity.
Warm pitching is relatively time-consuming where freelancers invest some time in building a relationship with the potential client. This could be through online discussions, meeting them at conferences or commenting on their blog posts. When the client knows a bit about you, there is greater possibility of you being roped in for a project.
However, there is no golden rule to pitching and no one method is better than the other. While you can reach out to more clients through cold pitching, the recall value is better when you have established your network and then write to the clients. Whatever way freelancers choose, here are a few things to keep in mind when pitching.
Personalize your message
How many of us really read those mass mails which address you as ‘Dear Customer’ or ‘Dear Concern’? Sure, you don’t want your pitch to be landing in the spam folder of your prospect. Customizing your pitch to make it sound more personal has far better chances of conversion.
Personalizing the message and your pitch become a lot easier during warm pitching. However, this doesn’t mean that cold-pitching needs to be impersonal. Your pitch is a reflection of your thoughts and values. It’s also assuring for the prospects that you are willing to invest time for them.
Do your research, learn about the prospect’s business and the apparent challenges. Give them a few ideas of how you can add value to their existing operations or brand image.
It is proved that the abundance of information narrows our collective attention span. We are living in an ocean of information and content. Now that people have a wider choice, they will not stick to a particular content if it’s not interesting.
Your prospect would be receiving hundreds (if not thousands) of pitches every day. You can now imagine how one extra unnecessary sentence can lead your pitch straight to the junk folder.
David Ogilvy once said, “Five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.”
Keep your mail headline simple, short and crisp – and promise value. Your headline should focus on providing solutions. That’s how a great headline would grab attention. If I am suffering from severe back pain, I am definitely going to open a mail with this headline…
“Try these simple exercises to reduce your pain in a week.”
Always close with a call to action
What’s the use of pitch if your prospect doesn’t know what to do next? Give a clear call-to-action at the end of your pitch. You may ask your prospect to look at your portfolio, or call you to discuss a gig, or even sign up for your newsletter
4. Poor Online Visibility
The best thing about being a freelancer is that your services are accessible to everyone if you have displayed your portfolio on the internet. That makes your online visibility extremely important. However, just setting up your website is not enough and you need to be consistent with claiming your online visibility.
This doesn’t mean that you signup to lot of social media platforms, randomly comment on people’s blogs, or stuff keywords into your writing. To strategically work on strengthening online visibility, revisit your goals and choose platforms that will help showcase your skills to your target group.
Another common mistake that freelancers make is failing to update their content. Regularly updating content will not only help improve organic reach but also leave a positive impression on your clients’ minds. After all, who doesn’t want to work with a professional who keeps abreast of the latest trends?
As a freelancer, your online presence is your live resume. Invest in it thoughtfully.
5. Failing to Ask Right Questions
It’s simple. You need to pick your client’s brain before accepting their gig. And if you fear that your questions might annoy your client, believe me, that your risks are far greater if you skip asking the right questions in the beginning.
I had to face lot many troubles arising out of vagueness and confusion during my initial gigs as a freelance writer. I did not fix the number of revisions, payment cycle, timeline delays. This not only costed me in terms of time and future projects, but I also faced some bitter moments with the clients.
While I did handle the situation well and met deliverables to the best satisfaction of my client, I learned my lesson. I realized the importance of asking the right question – no matter what the client feels or says. Investing time in understanding the project scope, deliverables, audience and client expectations is far better than facing vagueness and confusion later. Asking the right questions is in the best interest of the freelancer as well as the client.
6. Low Rates
Let me admit – the hardest part of being a freelancer is negotiating the rates. There are two challenges that freelancers usually face in this context. First, every project is different. Even if you are doing a 10-page report for two different clients, the nature of work could be completely different and hence command different rates.
The second challenge is the ‘low-cost alternatives’ available in this highly competitive market. There are content writers who charge per hour and extremely low rates. Needless to say, the project quality will suffer although the client might save a few hundred bucks.
To grow in your freelancing career, never compete on your rates. A successful freelancer must strive to deliver the best value for her client’s investment.
7. Skipping Contract
This is one of the most common and most dangerous freelancing mistakes, especially by newbies. It is important to understand that signing contracts at the beginning of the project is not only beneficial for freelancers but also for clients. A well-designed contract clearly mentions the conditions, deliverables, timeline and payment terms.
Freelancers should not rely upon email conversations or verbal communication for projects. It is difficult to resolve issues between two parties due to lack of well-documented agreement. This could lead to frictions and eventually a long-term loss for freelancers.
To avoid the common freelance contract mistakes, here are a few broad points that must be included in your contract:
Scope of project and services provided
It’s important to define the scope of work that you are expected to perform. In one of my initial projects when I submitted the blog post to a client, I was given feedback to also include supporting images. Now that was not part of the agreed services. However, since I had no formal contract done, I decided to provide images too. The scope of the project will define ‘exactly’ what services you would be providing and eliminate confusion.
Deliverables and Timeline
Be clear what you are going to deliver and the time required. A target of dong five blog posts in a month holds better clarity than just mentioning ‘writing blog posts’. Clear-cut deliverables and timelines will make your job easy and will make it easy for the client to assess project progress.
Fee and payment terms
There is no business without money and the payment clause is one of the most important parts of your freelance contract. You may secure a high paying gig but if the money is credited to your account after three months of completing the project, you are at loss. Mention clearly what would be the fee against deliverables, any advance that you may need, the penalty for delayed payment, etc.
A project could be terminated for several reasons – change in management, revised goals or a cancelled event. Or sometimes, it is just that either the client may not be happy with the project progress.
Whatever the case, it is important that as a freelancer your interests are protected and you are compensated for your time and work. I remember when one of my clients had cancelled a project mid-way due to internal reasons, I was asked to consider adjusting the advance amount. Since I had already spent considerable time conducting my research, I felt it was unfair. However, since my contract did not mention any of this, I finally agreed to do another assignment for the client.
Learn from my experience and always put a termination clause that will guard you from such abrupt situations.
Ownership, Rights and Credits
While in most cases the intellectual and creative rights are owned by the client, this needs to be mentioned in the contract carefully. As a freelancer, you may like to showcase your work (as whole or parts) that will work in strengthening your brand. Discuss it thoroughly with your client and ensure to include it in the contract.
8. Not Leaving Employee Mindset
The first thing freelancers need to get rid of is their employee mindset. One of the biggest reasons people quit their jobs and switch to freelancing is to establish their own brand. Sadly, many of us fail to ever make it a reality because we are used to taking orders from our bosses.
Remember, once you decide to become a freelancer – YOU ARE YOUR OWN BOSS. Your decisions and actions will decide how your business will run. Failing to transition from employee to employer can prove to be disastrous for your career.
Don’t rush to take up a project just because it gives you good money. Analyze how it will help strengthen your position as a freelancer. You are not hired to work for your clients – instead, you collaborate with them. As a freelancer, you choose your gigs and then deliver your best to prove your worth and build a long-lasting relationship with your clients.
Start being assertive (not arrogant), work on your negotiation skills and network more. Unless you think like an entrepreneur, freelancing is not meant for you.
9. Poor Bookkeeping
Many freelancers, including me, want to work on our crafts and use our skills to create good work. Of course, doing our taxes and calculating our expenses is something that brings a lot of uneasiness to us.
When I began working as a freelancing writer, the expenses were almost negligible (just a laptop and good wi-fi is all you need). However, I made a mistake of treating my income just like my take away salary. And guess what? Soon I realized that I need ergonomic furniture, some good books to read and also have my taxes to pay.
Surprise! Soon my ‘imaginary’ profits disappeared at the blink of an eye.
That’s how I realized the importance of keeping a track of my finances. Just like any other entrepreneur, you need to do a budgeting exercise and set aside money for your personal needs, paying taxes and investing in your business. If you need to grow as a freelancer, you have to sharpen your skills – by attending conferences, buying books and courses, and also designing your workspace.
Whether you like it or not, it is very important to learn the basics of bookkeeping. Freelancers need to religiously keep a track of their expenses and earnings, at least in the initial phase of their business. Once you are comfortable with a regular income, consider outsourcing the job.
10. Not Upgrading Your Skills
Ok, you are a freelancer. So what?
Exactly this is the question many clients may ask. How would you prove yourself being different from others?
The best response is having a great portfolio and keep upgrading your skills. Whatever industry you are in, there will always be something new to learn. As a writer and blogger, I make sure to attend webinars, learn about the latest tools and trends and enroll for various courses. Upgrading your skills not only enhances your abilities but also improves your confidence. A client would always prefer hiring a professional who is updated and is more likely to deliver better.
By avoiding the common freelancing mistakes and practicing consistency in your efforts, no challenge is big enough to stop you from being successful.
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