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6 Common Career Mistakes Freelancers Make

They say that career mistakes make for great learning experiences. But let’s face it: while they may be educational, those blunders are never fun.

This is especially true when it comes to freelancing. As glamorous as some people make the freelance lifestyle seem, the road can get rocky at times—meaning newbies and veterans alike have had their fair share of trial and error. Fortunately, learning from the career mistakes of others can be just as enlightening (not to mention far less embarrassing).

Here are six common career mistakes freelancers make, and how you can avoid them yourself:

Setting random rates

Oh, the dreaded rate conversation. It’s enough to have any freelancer huffing and puffing into a paper bag. Money talks are awkward. And, as a result, many freelancers find themselves relying on this pricing strategy: pick a random number out of the air that you think will sound good to that particular client. Sure, that fly by the seat of your pants approach might land you some gigs. However, it likely also means that you’re undervaluing your work and not contributing to an overarching strategy or objective. So, rather than landing on prices willy-nilly, set an income goal for yourself, whether it’s for a month or for the entire year. That way, you can have a structured approach to setting your rates that actually pushes you closer to a larger goal.

Neglecting to ask for referrals

Word-of-mouth marketing is huge. That doesn’t just hold true for brands and products—it applies to your freelance career as well. Scrounging up new work can be tough. And, far too often, freelancers leave a large well of opportunity completely untapped—their past and existing clients. If you work with someone who was happy with what you produced, don’t hesitate to ask them to pass your name along to anyone else who might be seeking your services. It’s a great way to actively market your freelance business, with barely any investment in time or money.

Working without a contract

I know, it’s not fun to think of all of the potential negative things that could throw a wrench in your dreamy freelance life. But, unfortunately, there are a lot of them out there. That’s why it’s so important to establish a contract with every client that you work with. Yes, each and every one. That extra step and all of that legal jargon may seem like it’s not worth your while. However, a contract can offer so much protection to you as a freelancer. Whether a client skips out on paying you or the scope of work begins to snowball out of control, having that signed document in your corner will be a huge asset. Whenever you onboard a new client, make sure to get a contract ironed out first. Create a simple template that you can use each time—that’ll take a lot of pain out of the process.

Piling your plate too full

There’s that notorious “feast or famine” phenomenon that comes along with freelancing. When things are good, they’re really good. But when they’re bad? You’re eating ramen noodles for every meal and wondering where your next paycheck is coming from. With that in mind, it’s tempting to take on as much as possible—to pile your plate full with any and every assignment or gig that finds its way into your inbox. But that’s not necessarily a smart strategy. Your reputation is everything when you’re a freelancer, which means you need to be able to do a high-quality job with every single task you take on.

If you spread yourself too thin, your work can quickly transform from solid to shoddy. So, get a realistic handle on how much work you can accomplish during any given day or week. That will help you maintain a more manageable workload.

Forgetting about taxes

Ask any freelancer the most brutal part of their career, and they’ll likely let out a groan and then mutter this one word: taxes.

When you have a traditional full-time job, your taxes are automatically taken out of your paycheck. When you’re a freelancer, however, you’re responsible for cutting large tax checks—typically quarterly. It’s painful, but it’s necessary. The best thing you can do to ensure you’re staying on top of your tax obligations is to find a tax accountant that you trust. Having that resource to guide you through the murky waters of freelance taxes will be more than worth it.

Assuming work will find you

When your plate is full of the client work that actually pays the bills, it’s far too easy to lose sight of those other necessary activities that don’t necessarily equate to billable hours—you know, things like marketing. While it’s tempting to assume that work will find you after you’ve established a reputation in the freelance world, that’s not always the case. It’s important that you make the time to actively market yourself and your business in order to secure new clients. Set aside a couple of hours each week that you can dedicate to marketing, relationship building, and business development. Even if you don’t necessarily need new work now, investing that time will be a huge benefit if and when you do need to scrounge up some new gigs—as you won’t be starting from square one!

Whether you’re just getting started or have been freelancing for a while, there are plenty of mistakes you’ll make. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m guilty of several of the ones listed above. But, at the very least, you can learn from the freelancers who have come before you and avoid these six blunders for yourself. Do that, and you’ll be off to a better start than most.

This article by Kat Boogaard originally appeared on FlexJobs.


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