Have you ever finished a project and a client refused to pay?
Have you ever promised a client something will be done in 10 days but it took 2 months?
This happens to a lot of new freelancers. So don’t worry if this ever happened to you since it’s pretty common.
Today I bring you the most common mistakes new freelancers make and tips on how to handle them.
Lack of Communication
Proper communication sets up the project on a great path.
Bad communication doom the project from day one.
I will not go over what the client can or should do improve communication.
I will provide you with tips on how to improve the communication yourself.
Use Proper Apps
If possible Slack. Slack is an industry-standard when it comes to business communication and a lot of people are already familiar with it.
For video communication just use whatever your client and you are comfortable with using.
Establish Rules and Expectations
Set up a schedule when you are available during the week. It’s important to have days off during the week or you will burn out very quickly if you work seven days a week.
I’d recommend you also set up a weekly or biweekly video call to make sure your client and you are on the same page as far as the project goes.
Drop Your Ego
When was the last someone asked you to help them with something very obvious and simple and you felt they weren’t that smart?
Can’t remember huh?
So don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself with stupid questions.
Feeling stupid for 5 minutes can save you hours if not days of unnecessary work.
This especially goes for freelancers that are charging project on fixed rates since losing time equals to losing money.
I don’t believe in such a thing as overcommunication. If you asked someone something, take a minute to explain them back to them and ask them if you got it right.
And no, you’re not annoying. I’ve been on both sides of this conversation.
If I’m the one asking, I’m worrying that I’m being pushy and annoying.
If I’m the one who is asked, I’m worrying that I didn’t express myself correctly and I confused you even more.
But it’s just not true.
It’s all in your head.
Take Notes During Video Calls and Send Them to the Clients For Review
It happened to me on multiple occasions that I have a video call with a client to build a feature or fix a bug only to find out later that it’s not what they’ve meant.
Now, I will not go into who’s fault is that or whether it’s intentional or not.
Instead, I want to recommend you to grab a pen and paper or open a text editor and take notes during video meetings.
Write down things like future goals of a project, technical details, how to reproduce a bug or customer issues.
After the meeting send them to your client and ask them to confirm that they are correct.
This way you can be certain that you’re on the same page as your client.
Lack of expertise
I live in a country where the average salary is around is $500-$600.
When people ask me how much I can make in a month, they are flabbergasted when I respond with a number a couple times the average salary here.
Mind you I’m freelancing in my spare time which amounts to around 50 hours a month.
People usually think I’m straight up scamming people which is just not true.
They also think they can learn everything they need in 3-4 weeks and start making the dough which is also just not true.
Now, I’m nowhere near an expert on this topic nor I want to sound like one nor I want this to sound like a humblebrag but it takes a lot of time and patience to reach this level.
For example, this time last year I was making around $200-$300 doing freelancing.
The only way I was able to accomplish this is by working on myself every day.
It’s truly essential to keep working on your skills daily.
Don’t Be Stubborn
The other day I was talking to this guy on Discord. He needed some help with where he could land more clients and I told him to give Reddit a try.
I casually asked with what he can do and he said he just learned HTML/CSS and wants to make some money with it. He also wants to learn Node.JS so he could stand out more.
Now, I’m not saying that you can’t land clients just with the knowledge of HTML and CSS. I’d consider it an advantage if you want to land a designer gig or something similar.
But he just wouldn’t listen.
Don’t be that guy.
Even if I’m not an expert I can still tell you about my experience when I started and give you some general tips.
As I said previously, drop the ego.
DO you want to look more professional?
Stop emailing your clients your PayPal.me link with how much they owe you and start making actual invoices.
Yes, I’m being serious.
Although this sounds really basic thing to do, I had clients genuinely surprised I’ve sent them an invoice. Don’t know why.
The invoice doesn’t have to be anything spectacular or flashy. It should contain your contact information, what you’re billing for and terms like late fees and disputable items.
I generate my invoices with Freshbook because it’s super easy and convenient.
No Rainy Day Fund
A couple of months ago there was a security breach at Payoneer. Now, that’s not something unusual. If you are online and you are a big service like Payoneer, it’s just a matter of time when someone will try to break in. It happens everywhere.
I know a couple of freelancers that were using Payoneer to invoice their clients. They were utterly scared because they couldn’t withdraw their money. Especially the ones that lived month-to-month.
Warren Buffet once said: ‘Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful’.
This can be translated when everything goes well, you must be prepared for the worst. For example, this Payoneer hack.
I always keep 3-6 months worth of expenses in my bank account and I hope I never need to withdraw that money.
A while ago, I reached out to a Reddit user who posted in r/forhire that he needs some help with Internet Explorer issues.
I’ve been working for the past two years on a B2B platform that must support Internet Explorer since a lot of its customers are huge corporations and can’t update every computer they have. So I possessed the experience and skills to resolve his problems.
We talked for a bit and he decided he wanted to move forward with me but when I said I take 10 billable hours upfront, he was reluctant to pay because he couldn’t trust me.
This is usually a huge red flag but he had a pretty good explanation.
I understood his position and he understood mine so we exchanged pleasantries and moved on.
Have I had a contract to send him over I am 100% sure that we would work together.
That’s the first reason you should have a contract prepared. Contracts build trust.
The second reason you should have a contract is that it puts everything you’ve agreed upon with a client on paper.
Both your client and you will know what deliverables are, when and how much will you be compensated for it and project milestones and deadlines.
Now, you don’t have to freak out if you don’t have a lawyer to write down your contract.
I use Bonsai to generate my contracts. They have different contract templates for different so most of you should be in green if you decide to use it.
You get the first two weeks for free and they don’t require a credit card upon sign up so you don’t have anything to lose if you sign up.
Note that this is an affiliate link but that fact does not have any effect on my recommendation.
Not Charging Enough
A lot of people ask me how to land more clients and they’re always baffled by my answer which is charge more. That’s right.
You wouldn’t believe how much the quality and quantity of clients changed once I switched from charging $15 an hour to $40 an hour.
Why does this work? Here’s an example.
Imagine someone came to you with the latest Ferrari or Tesla and offered to sell it to you for $1000. That’s way cheaper than most of them cost. Would you take it?
To be honest, I would. But the first thing that would pop up to my find is ' What is wrong with this car if this guy is selling it to me for peanuts? It must be either messed up or stolen.'.
A lot of clients think that way too.
I remember reading on some forum about this guy who worked in Amazon for 5 years as a software engineer and he couldn’t land a single gig on Upwork. Even though he charged just $20 an hour.
If someone said to me that he worked for 5 years in one of the biggest tech companies in the world and he would charge me just $20 an hour, of course, I would think to myself ‘He is obviously lying. There is no way Amazon software engineer would ever charge $20 an hour.'
Okay, makes sense right? What about people who think I’m too expensive?
Now, I’m not saying you should slap a price of $100 an hour right away. But fuck people who want you to work for peanuts.
You probably worked your ass off to get where you are today. If people can’t afford you, let them hire someone cheaper and see how much bad freelancers costs.
I had someone reach out to me via Linkedin asking if I’m available for a quick Zoom call. We talked for a bit and he asked for my rates and when I said $35 an hour he responded with
Well, could you reduce it a bit? I mean, I can pay $35 a day for a developer from South Africa.. Sorry folks from South Africa. These are his words, not mine.
You will agree with me if I say that a $35 hourly rate is pretty damn cheap for a software developer. Well, I’m not a full-time freelancer. I freelance on the side to earn some extra cash. Because of that and my lack of availability, I consider $35 an hour a fair rate.
You can guess whether I wanted to work with this guy. This guy didn’t appreciate my skillset nor years I had to put in to develop it.
So in essence, don’t worry about charging more. You are a professional and you deserve to be paid right.
Not worrying about taxes
If you ever had a traditional job, in most places, your employer would deduct taxes from your paychecks. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way when you are a freelancer. You’re on your own when it comes to tax obligations.
I’d love to help you more than just saying you should probably worry about the taxes but laws regarding taxes are very different by country and the amount you earn.
I’d consult a local accountant if you wish to be compliant with the local law and avoid going to jail.
Generalization versus specialization is an age-old debate in the freelance world.
They both have pros and cons.
Generalization is good when you serve the local market and there are not that many jobs to go around. Perfect profession for something like this would probably be photography because I’d guess you can only work with clients in your general area.
Specialization outperforms generalization if you are into a more ‘digital’ profession. I’m a software developer so I think I know a thing or two about this topic.
If you are a developer that knows just HTML and CSS, you wouldn’t be that hireable since there are already tons of people that already know it and the chances are they know it better than you.
And even if you did manage to land a client with just HTML and CSS (which would be pretty badass TBH), chances are that they wouldn’t be that eager to pay you a lot of money for your work.
On the other hand, I’ve talked with tons of clients that need really specific things done to them. E.g. I’m pretty decent with React so a guy messaged me one day if I could help him out. He created his version of react-router but it wasn’t working if you used server-side rendering. He was ready to pay me $100 an hour. Unfortunately, I was already overbooked at the time so I couldn’t work with him.
When you specialize as a freelancer and build up your status in that niche you become the go-to guy for people looking to hire freelancers.
You gain a good marketing advantage since you can target only people in one niche that are interested in your services.
Not only that, but you’d land more interesting and quality work.
So if you can, specialize in one niche. I’ve written a post on the best niches you can specialize in.
Working With Bad Clients
No clients is better than bad clients.
When I was a beginner it was really hard to judge clients right away since I didn’t have any prior experience to base from.
After a while, you develop this ‘gut’ feeling about potential clients and you should listen to it.
It’s important to say ‘NO’ to a bad opportunity even though you have nothing else to do.
Here are a couple of key characteristics of bad clients:
- They want free work
- They expect you to be always available even during holidays and weekends
- You get ‘urgent’ tasks very often
- They are bad at communication
- They always complain
- They consider you expendable and don’t value your work
- You get a bad vibe from them
- They are not clear with details and expect you to understand everything on your own
- They haggle for cheaper rates and offer you ‘exposure’ for your work
- They want to manage EVERYTHING and refuse to let someone else in charge
A lot of new freelancers just want to work, work and work since they will make more money right? WRONG!
You can do that for a short time but no matter what kind of person you are, you will burn out. Burnout happens to everyone. I’ve spent three whole months not freelancing because of burnout because I didn’t know how to manage time. Burnout is currently my number one nightmare. That and supporting websites in Internet Explorer.
You need to learn when it’s time to relax and take it down a notch. Go outside, hang out with friends and family, take a weekend trip somewhere or play video games for a couple of hours.
You will be more refreshed and motivated to work afterward.
I hope you’ve had fun reading this post as much as I had fun writing it.
Although my writing skills still need a bit of work I genuinely want to help anyone who wants to start or has recently started their freelancer journey.
If you have any questions regarding freelancing or you have a suggestion for this post, contact me via email or tweet at me.