10 Mistakes Freelancers Make and Should Avoid Making Today

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Heather Sakai
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10 Mistakes Freelancers Make and Should Avoid Making Today

New freelancers can run into a myriad of problems. Without the support of a firm, freelancers hold a world of responsibility in their hands. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed right out of the gate. Some of our favorite freelancers are here to remind us that it’s only natural to make mistakes. Take note and try to learn from theirs today.

Go Media Asked, “What was the biggest mistake you made early in your career as a freelancer?”

Feeling Entitled.

The hard truth is that there are a myriad of mistakes you can make as a freelancer. We’re often drawn to this route because we have an aversion to authority in general, and people telling us how to do things. However, not having someone to tell how to do things sets us up to fall on our face over and over again. Beware of your own ignorance.

The biggest mistake that I’d like to warn up-and-coming freelancers about is Entitlement. We often get quite proud of our artistic abilities, and begin thinking that we deserve certain things, and that clients should worship the ground we walk on. The truth is that we are entering into relationships with our clients, relationships that we should focus on cultivating just as much as we focus on the work. Being a responsible, dependable, and likable person is often more important than your design skill. Resist the urges to take out your frustration on the client. Work on yourself. Be personable. No one owes you anything – it’s your job to keep client relationships enjoyable. – Brandon Rike

Blaming “Clients from Hell”

In my early days of freelancing, I used to think clients caused problems. It took me awhile to realize that this is how novices think. There’s no such thing as “Clients from hell,” because only designers from hell take on those types of clients.

Professionals seek responsibility. Every problem is the responsibility of the professional. That means every issue can be traced back to a shortcoming of the designer. It is your responsibility as the designer to ensure that there is thorough communication in the preliminary stages of the project. If a problem occurs, you need to be asking yourself how you could have prevented it. What could you have explained better? What clause could you have included in your contract that would have kept this from occurring? How can you find a way to accept responsibility for this problem? What will you do to prevent it with your next client? – Sean McCabe

Being Too Available

Looking back, I ​sometimes regret being too available.

​I was enthusiastic and eager and sometimes got taken advantage of, but more than that, I sometimes question whether I’d gotten more respect/been less scathed had I been tougher, less ready to jump in and do the work people above me would not. Those are my freelancing regrets – letting people walk over me.

I still struggle with that now I own my own business – would people respect me more if I was a little less available. At the end of the day, I just have to believe it’s OK to work it the way I work it – I just keep pushing through with the hope that my instincts + talent are enough. – Chrissy Jensen, Domestica

Not Standing Up For Myself

When I look back at some of nightmare client projects I landed as a Freelancer I now realise the main mistake I made was not standing up for myself. A lot of designers fall into the trap of being the client’s puppet, where you wind up making never ending tweaks and having the design process dictated to you. It’s important to remember that you’re the professional and the client is hiring you for your expertise, so be confident in your work and explain the reasoning behind your design decisions to avoid having your work butchered! Often you’ll find that the client will change their mind and agree with your ideas once the design theory has been explained to them, which is a win-win for both parties; they end up with great design work and you’re left with a project you’re happy to share and show off in your portfolio.

…Although sometimes the client still doesn’t care and you end up being a puppet anyway! – Chris Spooner of Blog.Spoon. Graphics

Asking for Money

I felt overwhelming guilt early on in my career about getting paid for my work. (I blame indie rock). I overcame that by studying businesses outside the creative sphere and how they handled contracting their work. It took longer than I care to admit but I finally learned the value of my work and to only deal with clients that understood that as well. I also realized being broke sucks and only stresses you to the point of not being able to produce good work or survive as a business. – Aaron Sechrist, OKPants

Not having the conversation upfront

“Very early on in my career, I was approached by a dream client: a new spa with money looking to build a unique brand. Needless to say, I was freaking out. I met with the client and talked through a scope of work. Something about this client made me feel a bit uneasy. They had taste, but hadn’t ever hired a designer before. They asked me about a budget and I told them I’d look through their requirements and get back to them. Honestly, I was a bit scared they might have really warped expectations of the cost, and as a young designer I was nervous the cost would scare away a really cool project. I just naively thought, “I’ll let my first round of logo explorations sell them on the cost”. We planned another meeting and I worked my ass off putting together a really strong first round of logos. The meeting went ok, they had a bunch of questions and were ALMOST sold on a few directions. I held off again on talking money (yeeeeesh) and scheduled another meeting to present round 2. I worked ever harder on round 2, sure that this work would make them realize they’d pay anything to have it. I sent round 2 with my final bid and waited with a sick stomach feeling like I’d lied to my parents. Of course they came back flabbergasted. Having no experience, they assumed a whole branding package couldn’t cost more than $300. My bid was somewhere around $1,500 and they thought I was crazy. It ended up just getting worse from there and we parted ways. I did a huge amount of work for free just to avoid a rough conversation up front that actually would’ve just saved me all that time and heartache. I look back and laugh at how easily I could’ve avoided this crazy situation, but also keep it as a little reminder of how not to start a project.” – Dan Christofferson, Beeteeth

Spending too much time seeking work

“I should have put less time trying to find work and more time simply creating work. For every hour I spent trolling Craigslist for random freelance gigs, I could have been sketching work for my portfolio, for sale as prints, fine art or whatever. I always felt so much pressure to justify any creative effort with the hope of a prospective paycheck, and never allowed myself the freedom to simply create, which is what I do best.” – Troy DeShano

Quoting Accurately

I noticed that for a while when a client would ask me for a cost, I would blurt out a number without taking some time to think through the design and the time it would take me to do the drawing. I think I would be worried that I wouldn’t get the job. Unfortunately I might quote them a bit low and then be angry with myself because I might not be covering all of my supplies or even taxes.

So now I usually take at least one day from the initial conversation, gather my thoughts, price out the job and make sure the cost is fair for me and the client. A great lesson learned. – Steve Knerem

Working on Spec

When I was first illustrating, a company contacted me and asked me to do work on “spec.” Spec work means any work done on a speculative basis. In other words, the client has you make work for them and there is no guarantee they will use the work or pay your for your time. In spec work you only get paid if they end up using your work. Not knowing better and wanting to take whatever work came my way, I agreed to make some designs for the company. I ended up spending hours and hours going back and forth with the company about what they wanted and adjusting my designs. I realized pretty quickly that I was in a bad situation. They were being really picky about what they wanted and I was pretty sure my designs weren’t going to get printed anyway. So I hedged my bets and decided to break the contract I’d signed with them and walk away before I wasted any more of my time working for free, even though that meant I’d never get paid work with this company again either. I also made the decision never to do work on spec again! – Lisa Congdon

…but one of the biggest mistakes just may be jumping all the way in.

Taking the Leap

I should have gone freelance way earlier than I did. – Aaron Sechrist, OKPants

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It’s your turn! What mistakes have you made early in your career as a freelancer? What are you most afraid of?

And for more on launching your freelance business:

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Click here to head to our popular post, “How to Launch Your Freelance Business: 9 Simple Tips”

About the Author, Heather Sakai

Heather Sakai

Heather Sakai is the Community Manager here at Go Media. She helps designers prevent design disaster over at MockupEverything.com, where she serves as the Product Manager. She's proud to work for the most passionate creative agency in the universe, the best in Cleveland Web Design, custom branding and print.

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