There is a lot to love about the life of a freelancer. From setting your own hours to working at home, anyone who has spent time as their own boss understands the joys – and difficulties – of freelance work.
Starting your own business comes with a unique set of challenges, often leading to mistakes made during your entrepreneurial career. Here is a list of some of the most common freelancing mistakes, and how (and why) to avoid them.
1. You Don’t Know Your Real Value
For many entrepreneurs the “What do you do?” question is difficult and uncomfortable to answer. Even when they come up with an answer such as “I build websites” or “I’m a graphic designer”, it does not feel authentic or capture the true essence of your work.
Not knowing what you do (aside from the tasks you perform) means not knowing the value you provide your clients.
Are you building a website or providing the tools, confidence and security to start an online business? Are you creating a logo, or designing transformative brands that inspire and uplift?
To know your value, you must know what is unique about you and the product or service you provide. Most freelancers focus on the tasks (I build websites) as opposed to the outcome or results (I create a professional online presence for solopreneurs to launch their business).
Some questions to establish the value you offer:
- Why do people need your product/service?
- What is the pain or problem you are solving?
- What is unique about you and what you offer?
- What outcome do current and former clients get from working with you?
When establishing value, focus on the results. Clients are buying the results.
2. You Don’t Work with the Right Clients
Who is your ideal client? (Hint: it’s not “everyone”). At a minimum, your ideal client is someone who wants, needs and can afford your product or service.
Who you choose to work with says a lot about you and your brand. While you may initially feel the need to say yes to any business that comes your way, at some point you are going to come across a client you need to say no to. It may be difficult personally, professionally and financially, but when you are able to walk away from a troublesome client, you will feel a sense of relief and newfound commitment to building your business, your way.
As you become clear on the value you offer and the results people get working with you, it will be easier to identify your target client, because they are the people who need what you have to offer.
Some questions to identify your ideal client?
- Who do you want to work with and why?
- What similar products and services do they buy and where do they buy them?
- What are their demographics and how do they consume information?
- What pain are they experiencing that makes them need your product or service?
- What outcome (results) are they looking for from using your product/service?
The more specific and focused you are on your ideal client, the easier it will be to target and market directly to them.
3. You Don’t Communicate Effectively
Once you have determined your value and identified your ideal client, you need to communicate with them.
Effective communication will differ with each client. Some clients may need a lot of hand holding and information while others will be fine with quick summaries and overviews. Be aware of your own communication style and be flexible in how you communicate with others.
Communicating effectively means learning to say NO. This is one of the most important words for an entrepreneur. Although you may always want to say yes, because after all, you want to please the client, you cannot always meet their expectations. A “no” today will save headaches and frustration tomorrow. The most effective way to say “no” is to provide options:
“We cannot add that feature, but we can implement this plug-in that will provide similar functionality.”
“With the current budget and time constraints, we would not be able to include that new request, but if you are willing to increase the budget or delay the launch, we will gladly accommodate the added feature, or we can do so in a subsequent phase.”
When you give the client options, you are not the one saying no – you are letting the client make the decision.
Some rules to remember regarding communication:
- Establish your communication plan with the client and be consistent in follow through
- Be upfront and honest, especially when delivering difficult news
- Ask your client how they prefer to communicate and receive information
- Ask lots of questions to fully understand the problem
- Set expectations and provide options
Remember, your client’s don’t always know what they want or need. They know their problem, but you are the expert and should provide guidance on the best way to solve the issue.
4. You Don’t Manage Your Business
Being an entrepreneur means you are running your business, and this involves many tasks that have nothing to do with the service you provide. A web developer still needs to track billable hours, pay taxes, process payroll, order office supplies, market to new and existing clients, develop leads, close deals – and all of this is before doing any web development!
To properly manage your business you should know how much income you want your business to generate. From here, you can back out the numbers to understand how much you need to charge and how many clients you can handle at one time.
Managing your business also means managing your work/life balance. You cannot be a freelancer 24/7 – or you will quickly burn out. Schedule some down time to take a break and enjoy life.
Proper management of your business will help ensure success for you and your clients. Develop additional offerings and tiered pricing structures (people love options – just not too many). Now that you have established your value and price, go out and test it in the marketplace. Remember, as you are building your business, you can offer discounts in exchange for referrals and testimonials. This allows you to keep your rates high, but still charge less for your initial clients.
Finally, this is your business and you need to learn to trust your instincts for what will and won’t work.
Some rules to remember when managing your business:
- Setup and stick to budgets – for your business and for client projects
- Create a legal entity so you are protected (Sole Proprietor, LLC, Partnership, etc)
- Only start work after you have a signed contract in place
- Backup data and document everything
- Under promise and over deliver