Whether you’re currently self-employed or looking to make the leap into the independent work life, it can be a seriously stressful time in your life. Whether you’re starting by necessity to break into an industry or being fed up of the 9-5 rat race. Graphic designer, web developer or coder – there is seriously relevant information in here for everybody.
I have been
I wish someone had told me HALF of what I’m about to share with you as it would have sped up the process a lot! Which brings me to my first
Not enough research
This like a few others is a catch 22 or like living between a rock and a hard place. If you’re reading this you’re already doing your due diligence before jumping into the
Research is vital to prevent seriously burning yourself & your potential clients. If you don’t research you can’t plan, if you can’t research and plan – you’ll almost certainly fail.
Understanding your industry as a freelancer is vital for securing work, if you can’t talk confidently about your work and industry you’ll find it harder to secure higher end work and you can’t become an expert in your industry, without relentlessly studying and analyzing it as well as leading by example by actually doing the work.
Passion for what you do plays a huge role here as if you don’t enjoy what you do, you’re not going to put in the extra work necessary. Without research you won’t be able to formulate a plan or set realistic goals
Failure to plan – No Goals – No Process
Maybe you have listened to a few motivational podcasts or youtube videos and now are super hyped to get started. That’s good – you need motivation, but without discipline, goals & planning, you’ll burn out quick.
Unless you want to live month to month for the rest of your life you’ll need to formulate a plan for
Ultimately the key thing that
Focus on money over work
I call this one the hustle effect. As much as I love listening to Gary V he’s inspired a new generation of
If you’re not passionate about what you do and money is the only motivator you generally won’t stick at your craft long enough to earn serious money at it freelance. This is a general rule and I’ve seen it happen time after time, however, there are exceptions like exceptional circumstances or a need to get income for more than just yourself.
From a mental health perspective
No contracts and bad clients
This falls into research and planning. If you don’t treat your income with a professional attitude, don’t expect others to either.
One of the main complaints I’ve seen across all sorts of freelance communities is stories of being burnt by a client pulling out, doing a disappearing act, constantly requesting additional changes beyond the initial agreed project scope or finding a lame excuse to not pay.
This is a reality of the freelance lifestyle and it really sucks sometimes but there are ways around this. Setting easy to follow milestones like 25% x 4 or my personal
Focus on perfection over money
This is the polar opposite of those who are only motivated by money and instead are relentlessly motivated by perfection of their craft. This is great for client testimonials and a strong portfolio but the problem freelancers like this often suffer is they don’t put enough focus and self belief in their income.
Freelancers like this often suffer from self doubt, taking peanuts for payment and in general not earning enough. The answer isn’t alway easy but that strong portfolio, a bit of emphasis on working out your hourly rate is and implementing a solid payment strategy and contract work will help you.
Most freelancers live off word of mouth work also known as referral work. This can keep you afloat if you do it right but why stop there or rely on all of your eggs in the one basket. If you really want to grow your client base you need to have multiple sales funnels.
wellwebsite with strong SEO showcasing your portfolio optimised
- An active social media
- Personal branding (if you are using a branded name instead of your own name for your freelance work)
- Traditional advertising
- Content marketing – using a blog, video marketing or writing articles for platforms like medium and LinkedIn will help you expand your network.
Avoid freelance websites that make you compete for work with those willing to do it for peanuts as the majority of these are either scammers or those living in countries with a much smaller cost of living than yours. There are some reputable sites but generally, they are few and far between and not worth the effort.
No Routine – Poor time management
Having no boss is great, your friends are all jealous that you’re out of the system and you have complete freedom. When you’re intitally starting you may either be completely focused until you hit a wall or you may procrastinate too much.
Either way if you don’t develop good habits and a good process for working you’ll not work hard enough. Working too hard will result in a burnout which will lead to even more procrastination so the solution? Work smart.
Find a method that works for you, for some this could be using a work method like the
Personally, I use an app called Rescuetime which
As a general rule of thumb
Failure to network
One of the most common freelance issues is the inability to network as the majority of freelancers are generally quite introverted. Networking is a vital part of the freelance lifestyle as it can keep you sane, lead to more work or collaborative projects. It can also help you establish yourself as an expert in the industry, should you do it right.
Not spending enough time Learning
One of the easiest ways to keep ahead of the competition is to never stop learning and improving your craft.
Learning can be reading articles, learning from others mistakes, taking in new ideas through books or something practical like taking a course. These new skills will help you have the confidence to further increase your hourly rate and attract new clients based on your ability.
There are a huge amount of free resources out there for learning a new craft, there are some better paid options and beyond that there’s a ton of. people trying to sell you on their webinar which will have huge varying degrees of actual usefulness.
Working for peanuts
This is one of the most common issues I see new freelancers make. Not understanding how to calculate your hourly rate, self-doubt in your ability or lack of experience usually will result in
The flipside of this is charging too much though many will tell you this is perfectly ok. I recently wrote an article about this specific for WordPress web development and it gives good insight to the thought process behind pricing a website package.
Just remember you’re earning for yourself and
Working for peanuts is generally only ok if you’re doing pro-bono work for a cause, community or charity that you believe in and are willing to spend time on to build your porfolio and build new connections. You should make clear in these instances your available working hours and that this isn’t full time.
Not handling your finances – Treating income like profit
It’s easy to look at the self-employed lifestyle, the practically unlimited potential for earning and get over excited about it. Whilst it’s true you can earn way more in a month than you’d earn in your regular job (not as easy as you’d think) – it’s also very probable that you might earn nothing. With no ceiling comes no floor so remember that!
One of the most important aspects of being self-employed is understanding a fair amount of the money you earn, you’ll have to reinvest into your business. Whether this is for new equipment, software or training – staying ahead of competitors and growing takes time & money. I’m sure you have heard of the old saying – you’ve got to spend money to make money – well it’s true.
Budgeting is vital as a freelancer and prioristing is one of the best skillsets you can have. There is a million different services & products claiming to be amazing for you but in reality you can probably make do with a couple.
One of the most common issues is when you’re first starting out is to splurge out on the best equipment. If you’re buying a computer and it’s expensive you should ask yourself questions like, how well does this model hold it’s value, how many years is this going to last me and perform well, how reliable is this model? If your work is all digital having a reliable and fast PC / Mac will save you time and heartache.
Spending too little or researching poorly can result in a low performing machine unsuitable for your work or unreliable. I could write in depth about specific models to pursue but as this article targets multiple freelancer careers it’s important to just be aware about your needs. IE a freelancer videographer or 3D model designer will need to spend high on software & Equipment early on. A coder or website designer can generally make do with something cheap and reliable.
A lot of freelancers for the first few months don’t even earn a wage and a few years of experience has taught me to enjoy the highs but save for the lows and of course… taxes
Comparing yourself to others
I call this one the Instagram effect as it’s as about as a good a use of your time as staring at someone else’s profile, either
Comparing yourself to
Forgetting about taxes
In the UK at least, we don’t normally have to do our own taxes the government forces our employers to do it for you. The pay-check you get is after taxes so you’ve nothing to worry about.
For the self employed – taxes are a burden and a relief, whilst it’s true we can technically pay less taxes than our full time counterparts thanks to reinvesting money into the business – it’s still money spent and not earned for personal income.
The best advice is to learn what counts as business expenses and what doesn’t so you can spend your money most efficiently and save on tax costs expenditure.
That’s not even getting into the complications of VAT should you earn that amount or the numerous types of
If you don’t seriously believe in your work or your own ability, you may suffer some serious anxiety or depression over the
- Graphic Designer
- Website developer
- Social Media
If you can’t do all of these you may need to learn to focus on the parts you do really well and either work with someone else or hire someone else to help you. Spreading yourself too thin is a real problem with being a freelancer but the main skill you’ll learn is how to focus your time.
Spreading yourself too thin
As the above point alludes to, you have a fair amount more work to do than the average person and a lot of it may be out of your experience level so extra time is often spent trying to figure out how to do all this properly. The problem with this is, is the same any other business owner soon learns trying to do everything by yourself is you lose out on a lot of time that could have been spent earning.
It’s easy to get lost in neat spreadsheets or organising client results, staring at analytics or whatever is relevant but not relevant enough to your work. A good rule of thumb is to spend 80% of your time on the 20% of clients or work that earns the real money and find software to automate or outsource the rest.
Failing to back it all up
This one is relevant to every
Nothing breaks your heart quite like losing a huge amount of work
Not creating real value
What is real value? Well it’s real worth to your clients and this can be subjective. A great graphic designer will create art that is relevant and eye catching for their clients and not rely on templates. A great website designer will understand user experience, optimisation and SEO and incorporate them all flawlessly wheras a bad developer will use a template or design a basic website and leave it like that.
Pricing high and working tirelessly will result in good clients, churning out multiple cheap copies will result in more cheap clients. Work for the client you want in 5 years.
Not getting testimonials
Referral work is one of the best
Asking for a referral before or after launch when they’re extremely excited about their new project launching is usually the best time.
Not having a niche
If I had a time machine this is would be the first thing and the most important point of emphasis I would have given myself. Those who try to sell to everyone often get no one in return.
If you do work for one or two niche sectors you will gain respect and a reputation in there. You’ll also develop extensive knowledge of it. It’s also a lot easier to gain word of mouth referrals as you will tend to find business owners in these niches talk.
The Freelance lifestyle offers you many benefits including uncapped income, flexible working hours and the ability to expand and create your own business but it can be brutally hard on your income and mental health.
If you’ve read all this and aren’t put off in the slightest it’s definitely for you. Feel free to share this article with anyone else you know who is struggling