Mistakes That Are Costing You Clients, Cash, and Credibility
“I started freelancing because I wanted to be my own boss.”
That’s what I always hear from freelancers I know.
“Great!” I would always remark; then I ask, “What are you working on?”
And the reply I get is almost always, “Oh y’know, client work.”
Duh?! I’m like: insert hash tag “BOOM! PANIS!” here.
Will somebody puh-leeze enlighten me how that qualifies as BEING YOUR OWN BOSS, when all you did was trade one boss for a few others—also known as YOUR CLIENTS?
Y’see, when I took a shot at being a freelance writer and photographer, my naïveté led me into thinking that freelance work is having the freedom to work on projects that can give me personal satisfaction.
I was in for a rude awakening.
First off, if you’re planning on taking reins of your professional career, you have to realize that freelancing is NOT a hobby.
Freelancing is not something you do because you’re bored at home or because you have nothing better to do, or maybe, you hate working for some ass wipe you call ‘boss’.
Freelancing IS a business; and the fact that you work your butt off day in and day out is proof of that! So, stop treating your freelancing like a hobby.
Again, freelancing IS a business. Think it. Say it. Tell it to anyone who cares to ask—maybe even those who don’t.
Truth be told, when I started in the freelancing business, I did make a ton of mistakes—and by “a ton,” I mean almost everything I did turned out to be disasters.
The truth is you can’t run a business without making mistakes. That’s how you learn. That’s also how you succeed. And they say, making mistakes is a good thing, PROVIDED you learn from them. Right?
Here’s the thing: When you dip your fingers in the freelancing gig, more often than not, you do not even know you are making a mistake–and that part can hurt your freelance business.
There you are, merrily working your ass off; when suddenly one client tells you they won’t need your services any further. You shrug it off, unperturbed. Then you lose another client just as abruptly, and then another. Most of them don’t even give a reason why they’re terminating your projects.
Hmmm, what’s going on?
I am very much tempted to come up with some kind of list enumerating the most common freelancing mistakes to guarantee that you will never make them, but you already know I can’t.
Instead, let me share with you a few rookie mistakes I made, and some personal insights that can help you catch similar lapses in time. It will save you from permanently damaging your business and reputation. Go through them every once in a while. Your chances for success increase every time you fix a mistake you weren’t even aware you were making.
I thought “the client is always right” is a good policy
Did you know that doing EVERYTHING your client wants—especially things you know are wrong—hurts you more than it hurts them?
Many freelancers don’t have the balls to say no to a client. Most of us simply choke at contradicting a client without feeling like the world’s biggest prick. This “yes sir” attitude often translates into accepting every request they have—and that’s just bad business.
Yes, you’re turning down money you need. But it will be more practical to just move along to more financially rewarding and interesting projects than trudge on for hours over a job that you won’t even want to touch with a ten-foot pole. Sure, on the surface it looks like it is none of your concern: the client wants what he wants. Your job is to deliver.
But don’t forget that YOU are their hatchet man… and when things go wrong—Murphy’s Law says they sure will—the shit bucket will land squarely on your lap.
So, do not let your client talk you into things that you know won’t work, or even something you don’t agree with, especially if it compromises your integrity as a professional. Be assertive, BUT respectful.
Don’t balk at explaining to them why you think their ideas won’t work. Let them know you are uncomfortable doing something because it wastes time and money—not to mention it puts both of your reputations at stake. Tell your client what should be done instead. Offer an alternative solution. If it works, they may even raise your rates. Just saying…
For instance, content development clients do not really understand what goes into a strong piece of writing. They only see a 1,500-word Web article; not the research, drafting, editing, and fact-checking that go into it.
If you want the client to appreciate your work and give it due importance, educate them about it. The more they understand, especially about content strategy, the better clients they will be.
Oh, another thing…
Watch out for a few warning signs when discussing a project with a prospective client. One sneaky bugger that is the bane of countless freelancers is scope creep.
It gets introduced innocently enough: The prospective client asks if you could, in the future, add something else into the project when it comes along, and you—being the nice, accommodating freelancer that you are—agree. After all, you want to nail this contract by throwing in some “extra service”.
Wham! And so starts your slide down the slippery slope of an ever-expanding project scope.
The easiest way to ward off scope creep is to have a SOW—no, not a she-pig, but a Scope Of Work clause in your contract. I believe that by now you’ve actually realized that freelancing is indeed a business and business transactions DO require some sort of a document that you can take to a court of law should things go sour between you and a client.
You may think contracts need to be drawn up in pure legalese, as I call it, to be valid. That’s not necessarily the case.
A contract can be just a simple email summarizing the terms and conditions you and your client agree upon. I must admit, that won’t be as airtight as something your attorney drafts for you, but it often doesn’t need to be. If you want to make it formal, put your agreement into a document, sign it, send it to your client, and ask them to sign it.
The following is an example you can use:
This is a contract for [whatever service you’re providing] between [name of client] and [name of freelancer].
Below are the terms of this contract:
After outlining the work a prospective client requires, you can insert the following clause in the SOW: Should the scope of the project expand, so will the deadline and the rates. Or something like that.
This way, when the client comes to you with new suggestions, you can say, “Sure, I’d be happy to do it; BUT the new deadline will be ‘such and such’ and it’ll cost you an extra X bucks.”
Also remember that just as clients have terms and conditions, so should you. Maybe you prefer payment through bank transfers only, or you don’t accept rush work. Whatever conditions you have, spell them out for your client so they know what to expect when hiring you.
Failure to do so may cause unnecessary strain on your client relationship, and you’ll either run into problems with your client—not being paid is the least of them—or find yourself making undesirable compromises.
I am not Superman
I know, freelance writers generally work alone—but, we’re not exactly loners, mind you. Control freaks, most definitely. We want to do everything ourselves. That’s why we’re in this business in the first place.
We have to accept the fact, however, that nobody can handle a growing business on their own—nobody human at least. So, do yourself a favor and outsource some tasks, whether they’re administrative tasks or your own. Make time for work you love doing by delegating tasks you don’t. For all you know, you could have two or three deadlines in the same week.
Freelance work is based on deadlines, remember that—and the more clients you have the more work you’ll be juggling around, each with their own deadlines. It follows, that the more you hog all the projects, the less time you’ll be giving between deadlines to get work done, and you’ll eventually miss one. A deadline is not a tentative date. When you commit to a deadline, you must deliver on it.
Make it a rule-of-thumb that when setting a deadline, leave room for life to happen. You’ll never know when your computer crashes on you or when you’ll get sidelined by a cold. This way, even if you’re running behind, you’ll have enough time to meet your deadline or at the very least, let your client know about the delay.
Bottom line: If you’re committing to a deadline, stick to it no matter what. Your clients will stick to you in return.
I let my clients dictate my rates
As I have mentioned earlier, your clients generally have no idea how much effort goes into doing what you do; and more often than not, they have nary an inclination as to how long it took you to become a capable writer—or photographer. Honestly? Most clients don’t care. They’re concerned only in getting the job done as economically as possible.
Hence, it falls upon you to charge a fair price, a rate that reflects the work you put into each project. If you don’t set your rates, your clients will do it for you by telling you how much they can pay. And that’s never a number to get excited about.
Also, avoid asking for their budget. I don’t know about you, but I find that impolite. Quote an amount instead. You can only do that, however, when you’ve figured out your rates.
Freelance rates are subjective, of course. A low rate for me could be high for you, or the other way around.
You know what’s worse than undercharging or letting clients set your rates? Not having your lowest acceptable rate figured out. This is the amount below which you absolutely will not work. Ever.
Having this figured out will help you make the right decisions when work is slow and you’re tempted to take on anything that comes along.
I put all my eggs in one basket
Never depend on any one client for more than 25 percent of your income. Well, that’s my own figure—some of my friends argue that it is too high.
Most freelancers are seduced by the prospect of going one time, big time—bagging a hefty paycheck without working for a bunch of people. Downside is when one day the client emails, saying: Hey, this project is coming to an end (or is being cancelled), and we won’t need your services anymore.
Cue: panic attack.
Suddenly you’re scrambling to fill this huge, gaping income void that has suddenly opened up.
Moral of this mistake: diversify your income streams.
So don’t be the freelancer who waits for his mistakes to hurt his business. Be the freelancer who finds and fixes them before that happens.
Take action today.
You owe it to yourself and the life you dream of living.