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10 Mistakes I Made When Starting Out as a Freelancer

(Note:  Published in Huffington Post.)

Back in 2006 I began a freelance career as a Voice Over actor. One of the first things I learned is, that like many other freelancers in various fields from graphic design to video editing, I’d in fact have to run a “business.” While yes, there is artistry involved and I do have an agent, ultimately I’d have a company where I’d have to deal with clients directly.
While there were a few great moments in my early career there were also many mistakes I made along the way. Now that I have some distance from my first few years of freelancing, I’m going to share with you 10 Mistakes I Made When Starting Out as a Freelancer in the hopes that you will manage to avoid them.

Not Pricing Work Correctly

If you’re going to be a freelancer in any field you should have a clear idea of:
  1. How much people in your field generally make &
  2. How much you should charge based on your experience.
Go out and research on various websites proper compensation for your field then adjust. No matter the price, people will always want quality work, so set one you’re comfortable with.

Don’t Overbook Yourself

Sure, your marketing efforts may pay off with an abundance of job leads! However, if you don’t have enough time to do the work that you get, you’re not only going to drive yourself crazy but you stand the chance of underperforming for or under-delivering to the client.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you’re booking a lot of work, it may be a sign that you’re good but often times it’s a sign that you’re not charging enough for the work that you do.

Not Setting Hours and Stating Them Clearly

It’s a great idea to not only set hours for your business but to clearly state them in the signature line of your emails and on your website. This can inject some much-needed sanity into your life.
Note: If you take clients in other countries outside of your time zone then feel free to add, “or by appointment” at the tail of your emails as well.

Set Proper Boundaries with Communication

I once had a client that would email, text and call all within the span of 15 minutes. While I want my clients to know that I’m available to them during my normal hours, I often have to juggle several clients at once.
When looking for a solution on how to handle a client with a penchant for doing this, you have a couple of options:
  1. Limit your communication to a certain amount of time per client during the course of the day.
  2. Make it clear up front that beyond a certain threshold of daily communications you will have to include time spent responding to emails, phone calls, texts into the bill for the client.

Not Having a Clear Scope of The Project

Before you begin any project, you should discuss it with your client thoroughly. I’m a fan of doing proposals for clients even when they contact me directly to work with them with a clear idea of what they want. The proposal states the scope of what I am and I am not responsible for over the course of a project. It also clearly alerts them of deadlines we have set for delivery of the project and deadlines we as freelancers have given them to deliver necessary materials.

Not Setting Proper Deadlines

Know yourself as a freelancer and not only set deadlines that you know you can accomplish but also add a bit of time for any unforeseen circumstances that may occur. You may have to balance out a project with several other projects and believe me, I’ve been there before, when one goes off schedule it allows for the potential for the others to as well.

If There’s an Issue: Be Clear About It and Tell the Client

One common issue that can occur during the life of a project is that a client may make a last-minute change to the project specifications which may push you over the proposed deadline even if you’ve allotted extra time. Be upfront with them and let them know that it will as soon as you realize this. Never wait until the last minute to inform the client of a change in circumstances as it relates to the completion of the project.

If You Can’t Do Something Say You Can’t Do It

When clients approach you with unreal expectations for what they want from you, it is in your best interest to always be honest about what you can and cannot do.

Schedule Some Free Time

Don’t work yourself to death and beyond. It’s really easy to do when you’re a freelancer who makes her or his own hours. It’s important to maintain your mental health and to get enough rest. It’s also very important that you do not get sick. You can work 10 hours a day every single day and once you get sick that number can potentially go down to 0 for a few days at a time. Take care of yourself, even if that means going out with friends or a cozy night in away from your desktop. In many instances, you aren’t just the captain of your ship you’re also the first mate. Without you, there is no
business.

If Something Doesn’t Bring You Joy, Get Rid of It

While we all have projects that come our way that we’re not entirely sure we’re going to enjoy doing but it’s important to remember that you started freelancing because you like what you do and don’t necessarily need a company structure to work in. Maintaining the joy you feel from freelancing is of the utmost importance for longevity.
If you’re not sure freelancing is for you, then be honest with yourself. Not everyone can maintain their own schedule or has the discipline.

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