I was asked by QuickBooks to share my insights into the freelance life for National Freelancers’ Day on 8th June. Life as a freelancer can be great but it can also be tough. There will be times when you feel like you’re all alone and that you’re doomed to fail. There will also be times when everything falls into place and you feel like you have the perfect work/life balance. To help you feel more like the latter I’ve put together a list of some common freelancing pitfalls that you should avoid.
Being Afraid To Say No
Saying no in the form of turning down work or going the extra mile for a client is something that most freelancers will struggle with. Usually we’re so pleased to land the work that we will often go above and beyond what the client is actually paying for. It’s important to remember that you are running a business and as such you have to make your decisions based on what makes businesses sense. Sometimes that can mean saying no or sticking to your guns when it comes to pricing or charging extra for additional services. Yes you want to keep your clients happy but your time equals money.
As an SEO Consultant I know the minimum amount of hours I need to dedicate to an SEO campaign each month for it to be effective. Therefore I have a minimum monthly fee and to go under that doesn’t make sense either for me or the client as I will have to spend less time which wont be effective enough for them to see results so at the end of the day they will benefit more and see a return on their investment by paying a little more initially. You have to be brave enough to let the small fish who don’t want to pay your fee go in the hope of landing a bigger fish who you can have a good working relationship with.
Distractions can be the bane of any freelancer whatever field they are working in. If you work from home then you can become easily distracted with the lure of the TV, social media, random Googling, the fridge, personal errands etc. Often this can be the biggest challenge of freelancing from home and there’s only one real solution… discipline. You can of course put blocks on your computer that stop you from visiting certain sites during working hours and you can lock yourself away from the rest of the house but without discipline nothing will stop you from procrastination and distraction.
Work on your discipline and set yourself manageable working times for example, 2 hours at a time then a quick coffee break. Routine is important so try to start at the same time every day and stick to a daily schedule. If you are still struggling to maintain your discipline there are an increasing number of shared workspaces available which act like a workplace for you to travel to everyday and work in a traditional office environment.
As a freelancer you alone are accountable for the results you achieve for your clients, communication with them and also bringing in new business. This can be a lot of pressure as there is no one to share the load with. So what can you do to lessen the burden. I use lots of different tools, software and services from copywriters and website analysis tools to email campaign management software. This not only lets you work more efficiently, it also makes your process more manageable and organised. You can use pieces of software and tools whether they are free or paid to manage several campaigns at once.
Ultimately though you will still be accountable to your clients so make sure that you give them a detailed briefing on a regular basis. I send a detailed monthly report to each of my clients each month and I set aside one day each week where they can ring me to discuss their campaign. This creates a good working relationship and it gives you a chance to explain exactly what you have been doing for them and show them how it is benefitting their business. Never hearing from your clients may seem ideal but it can be a recipe for disaster as you may have no idea that they are about to pull the plug on your services.
Variable Levels Of Income
If you are considering entering the world of freelance self employment then you need to be prepared to experience variable levels in your income. We are used to thinking of our income on a yearly salary basis but when you’re working a freelancer you need to change your mindset to get used to a monthly or even weekly based income. It can take years of struggle to get to the point where you are earning a regular income but even then it will inevitably peak and trough as clients come and go. The best piece of advice I can offer to prepare yourself for the leaner times is to make sure that you put a little bit away when the going is good. It’s also a good idea not to put all your eggs in one basket with one or two big clients. Instead try to spread your income over a few different sources so that if one or two of them leave you wont be left with no income at all. Up-selling new services is also a good way of retaining clients and generating new streams of income.
Variable income is one thing but what if your clients don’t pay you at all? This is something that unfortunately happens throughout the business world but for some reason some people tend to think it’s easier not to pay a freelancer than a company. There are the usual legal avenues that you can go down to enforce payments but this can be ugly and time consuming. What I do to ensure that I always get paid is to make it clear at the beginning of a campaign that my invoice needs to be paid before I begin my work each month. This basically makes it clear that if I don’t get paid promptly I don’t do the work, it’s as simple as that. If you explain that you’re a freelancer and you can’t afford to wait weeks for invoices to be paid most clients will understand and any who don’t you don’t want to work with anyway. There are numerous tools out there that can help with this.
So there are a few pitfalls that you can expect to crop up but as I have hopefully illustrated there are ways to avoid letting them hurt your business. A lot of becoming a successful freelancer is trial and error so don’t be afraid to reach out for advice from those who have seen and done it.