There are many things you should never do as a freelancer. Here is the top 5, but bear in mind that you’ll learn many more as you go along. I had no idea about any of these things when I first started out. Sure, I could’ve just read about some of them online. But I was stubborn to learn stuff on my own, which is good and bad at the same time.
It’s good because you really do experience failure on your own, which lifts you up in ways a book or a blog never will. It’s bad because it can take years until you get a hang of these things. For me, my first year of freelancing was a joke. I earned a little over 1.000 bucks and barely made it alive. My second year of full-time freelancing, I made 20x more money.
This is my third year of freelancing. And the truth is, I’m still learning new things every day. Which is normal especially in an ever-changing medium like this one. Still, some things never change, and these 5 things you should never do as a freelancer will surely stay the same for years ahead. Print these out and put them somewhere you can see them.
In this guide:
1. Never work for less than you deserve
This was my struggle point all through the first year of full-time freelancing. I had no idea I was undervaluing my work. I did that, of course, not any of my clients. I simply asked for too little money for what I was doing. Becasue of poor experience, I was always fluctuating, charging less money because I thought that’s how I was supposed to grow. At the end of the day, I was charging $5 for a 4-page article about the thyroid gland that I worked on for a week and a half.
As I finished the article, I began to feel the need for a change. I was doing far too much work for far too little money. The way I was paying myself was a joke. I started charging a fixed fee per 1.000 words and that changed my life. If you’re doing way too much work for too little money, change that right away. Especially if your clients are happy with your work.
Raise the bar. If they stay with you, then fine. If not, there are always people out there who are willing to pay more for better services. You just need to look out for those people. Sure, it’s easier to work with the underpaying clients, but this is freelancing. You have to risk it sometimes. Charge more, and the right clients will come to you.
2. Never take too much work at once
When you’re at the beginning of freelancing career, you’ll want all the jobs in the world. And, sure enough, you’ll get as many jobs as you can dream off. Most of them will be underpaid and hard, but who cares? You have a ton of work to do and you’re happy. But then, you realise it’s 3 AM in the morning. And you’ve been working all day. For a $14 income.
That’s when you have to stop and reflect on the quantity of work you can actually do. Working as a freelancer is freeing, but don’t take that the wrong way. That means you can flex with your hours. It doesn’t mean you should work all through the night. That you should take every single job that comes your way. It means you need to balance work time with personal time, just like you’d do at a normal job.
It’s great to see you have a lot of work to do. But it will most probably turn against you. Having too many projects to work on turns into a burden. It gets overwhelming fast. Never, ever, ever take in more work than you’re comfortable with doing. Take things slow and yes, refuse a client or two. You won’t die. You’ll do better work for fewer people. But those people will stay with you for months, even years at the time.
3. Never take jobs on impulse
Would you just take a job the first minute it would’ve been presented to you, just because you liked the look of the paycheck? Of course not. As a freelancer, the urge to get jobs fast is great. It’s like all you want to do is to sit there and accept whatever job turns up. Or apply to whatever job you see on the many freelancing jobs platforms out there.
The minute you do that, you’re screwed. You have to take each and every job proposal as serious as you’d do a new full-time job interview. Read the requirements, be careful on the payment terms and try and get to know your employer first and foremost. You don’t want to get stuck with the wrong person for weeks, even months on end. This only happens when you take jobs on impulse. Don’t.
4. Never work on weekends
The weekends are specifically designed for free time. Leisure. Entertainment. Movies, brunches, sitting around the pool. Whatever it is that you like to do as pleasure, you do on the weekends. Working on the weekends is not going to be something sustainable in the long term. You’ll eventually run out of those juices and end up drained. Sick of it. You’ll end up hating the thing you loved doing. Just because you don’t know when to stop and relax. The weekends are the perfect time for doing anything else but work.
5. Never get discouraged
You’ll sit there and nothing will work for you. No new clients, loads of harsh current clients, low payments, delayed payments, no new milestones, the list goes on. You get discouraged and start thinking about updating your CV and apply for some local jobs. The minute you do that, your independence dream will burn around you.
The most valuable lesson I’ve learned after three years as a full-time freelancer is patience. I learned to be patient with difficult clients. I then learned to be patient with a slow week, even a slow month. Lastly, I learned patience a lot when my paychecks were delayed. And then delayed again. Patience is the most important virtue you can learn as a freelancer. Don’t get discouraged.
Be patient. The bad week will eventually pass. The unpleasant client will leave. The payments will go through. Patience. Learn it, embrace it, stand by it. It does sound cheesy and motivational, but it works wonders if you emrace patience. Stay vigilant. And patient.