No-one really wants to ruin their freelance writing career. But sometimes, things tend to just happen and cause mistakes that in hindsight can make us feel like we’re shooting ourselves in the foot. That’s why I’ve decided to write this post. Without further delay, here are the things you shouldn’t do during your freelancing adventure unless you really want to be an underachiever.
1. Thinking that you can work anytime you want
This is probably the biggest misconception in the freelancing world. When I first realized that “Gosh, apparently I am a freelancer!” I thought that this new dream job of mine would allow me to pick whatever part of the day I wanted to work, and that I didn’t have to manage my time in any way. Well, if that’s your opinion as well then don’t be surprised when deadlines are missed and clients get angry. As it turns out, and as surprising as this might seem, restricting yourself to fixed working hours is a superior approach to just working whenever you feel like it. Remember that freelancing is still a job, so to speak, and that if we want to succeed at it, we need to remain disciplined.
2. Failing to back up or synchronize your data
Data isn’t the first thing freelancers worry about early on in their careers. The usual aha moment is when the first hard disk failure happens. But then it’s usually too late to do anything about it. If this still doesn’t sound scary to you then just imagine the following situation:
One day you wake up and all your client data, your projects, your proposals, your work in progress, your invoices, your software, and who knows what else is gone. I mean completely gone. Depending on the type of your business, and whether you’re a solopreneur or have a team working with you, this can set you back weeks (best case scenario) or even mean the end of your business. I am not exaggerating.
The solution is very simple, though. Frequent backups. Better yet, automatic backups. There are two sensible methods in the backup space for me:
- Manual backups to other hard drives or flash drives. You can do this through a tool like Synchronize It. One thing that the name itself already suggests is that the tool offers a synchronization functionality. This means that only the files that have changed will be backed up every time you fire up the tool.
- Automatic backups through Backblaze. The power of Backblaze is that it offers unlimited disk space. Yes, you’re reading this correctly, unlimited. You can set the tool to work automatically and send every new file of yours from your local computer to the cloud. A sort of hands-free thing with no supervision required. The price for all this? A mere $5 a month.
[Editor's note: and here's my personal backup solution (scroll to the last section).]
3. Handling your proposals incorrectly
There’s one very common way of dealing with client proposals in the freelancing world. And that is to create a Word file, put some tables, numbers, and content in it, plus a logo or some other branding, and then send it via email and hope for the best.
At first sight, there’s nothing wrong with this. But once you start encountering some other better solutions, you’ll understand why Word is a thing of the past (at least for this specific task). Firstly, let me tell you what a more modern solution is, and then we’ll focus on listing some of the reasons why it’s better than Word. The solution: Bidsketch. In short, it’s an online software application for managing client proposals. Here’s why it’s better than Word:
- It’s based online, so you can access your proposals from anywhere.
- It lets you to stop wondering if your client received your proposal or not. You can actually check which ones got accepted, declined, postponed, or are still pending.
- You can track how clients are interacting with your proposals. For instance, how much time the client spent looking at it.
- You can have the proposal signed online through the integrated electronic signature functionality.
- You can use a handy proposal creator, a kind of fill-in-the-blank thing with templates, easy branding and cool features for fine-tuning your proposals.
These are just some of the things waiting for you inside. In a word, this is a big timesaver for any freelancer. Bidsketch starts at $19 per month.
4. Not upselling
Upselling is a term that’s been used by various marketers to describe the practice of selling additional services to a client that has already bought something from you. However, the funny part here is that the selling does not take place after the initial deal has been completed and delivered. It actually happens while the client is still in the middle of your sales process (before the final deal has been agreed upon).
As it turns out, very few and I do mean very few freelancers do this, despite the fact that the effect can be great. The effectiveness of upselling has something to do with the fact that shopping for anything, whether it’s shoes or freelance writing services, makes us feel euphoric in general. And when we’re euphoric, we want to buy even more. That’s why selling like that – in the middle of another sales process – converts really well.
The only difficulty is to find something that it makes sense to offer as an upsell in your individual situation. This is different for each type of freelancing, but the general rule is to focus on another branch of your client’s business that you are still comfortable assisting them with. For example, a natural upsell for a logo design is a business card design. For a website design, it’s hosting management services. For freelance writing, it’s guest posting. And so on. The best part of upselling is that you get to make more money without spending any additional funds on acquiring the client. You still have to do the work, though, but that’s another story.
5. Mishandling deadlines
I don’t know why, but overshooting deadlines is a common problem with freelancing. Even the most experienced freelancers have to explain every once in a while why a deadline’s been missed… This is tightly connected to the very first item on this list – working without a daily plan, but it’s an issue serious enough that I’ve decided to treat it separately. After more missed deadlines than I’m comfortable admitting, I’ve set a (to this day) bulletproof method of always meeting the deadline. Here’s what I do:
- Pick the exact date when I’ll start working on a project.
- Estimate the number of hours I’ll need to complete it.
- Multiply this number by my personal “being-wrong” factor which is 1.5.
- Give the client the final deadline based on the number of hours I’m used to working in a day and the number I’ve arrived at in the previous step.
Let me just tell you that this 1.5 “being-wrong” factor is a lifesaver for me. As simple as this. But your mileage may vary so experiment with different values.
6. Disregarding marketing
There are two kinds of freelancers out there: (1) those who promote their business actively, and (2) those who rely on clients coming to them (through various channels). Both approaches work quite well, but if you’re planning to grow your business to be something bigger one day, like a freelancing agency employing a team of people rather than a one-man-band then it’s the first approach you should focus on. I’ve actually started doing this just recently and I have to admit that not marketing my services was probably the biggest mistake I have made in my career so far. The thing is that it’s really easy to get distracted if you have enough gigs to keep you occupied, so you might think that you don’t need marketing. But on the other hand, you do want to take your undertaking to the next level, don’t you? [Editor's note: check out these tips on speedy writer marketing as a starting point.]
7. Avoiding work for publicity (otherwise known as free work)
Well, the main flaw of free work is that it’s free (duh!). But that’s pretty much it. Free is the most powerful word in the English language as proven by Dan Ariely in his research and his book Predictably Irrational. In my opinion, for a freelancer, free is one of the best marketing methods possible. It’s also how I got my best paying client so far. What I did was I sent them my opinion about a thing they were doing on their site. They didn’t ask me for this. I just saw some weak points and decided to email them because “what the hell.” After exchanging two or three emails I was hired as their new content person. Let’s just clarify that it wasn’t my initial plan. I honestly emailed them out of a pure “what the hell” moment. In other words, I offered my work for free.
8. Doing projects for your family
Let’s end the list with the biggest motivation killer for many freelancers. Family is great for parties, not that much for freelancing projects. And I don’t even have any clever “what to do” -type of advice here. Most of the time, like 99% of the time, projects for your family are more stressful than glorious. And more a question of anger management than salary. Mainly because freelancing requires both parties to be in a business-centered mindset. And this is simply unattainable when working for your family. If you want to remain sane, stay out of this area of freelance work. But you know what, feel free to share your own story about working for a family member. Maybe you have a different experience and I’m actually wrong about this? What do you think?
Photo credit: Lari Huttunen