We all make mistakes. We’re human, right? We buy a giant bag of decaf coffee instead of regular because we’re in a hurry, or we use baking powder instead of baking soda and end up having to eat a big batch of weird, disappointing cookies. It’s life, and we deal with it. We learn from mistakes, and in turn pay closer attention so we’re satisfied with both our coffee and our cookies in the future.
There’s a good chance, if you’re a freelancer, that you’re well aware of the “Mistakes are good! Learn from those bad boys!” philosophy. And while I totally agree, I do think that certain mistakes can and should be avoided. Specifically the ones that are noticeable by others. When your mistakes start affecting clients or colleagues, they become significantly harder to smooth over in the moment. This is when you go from making a “new freelancer mistake” to committing a freelance faux pas.
So, let’s walk through a few big freelance mistakes that can be avoided… kind of like bringing floss or a toothpick to a restaurant that specializes only in dishes full of spinach. You don’t want to be the freelancer with a giant chunk of spinach between your teeth, do you?
Keep Your Feet Off the Desk
Freelance work is, obviously, a more casual affair than a typical cubicle/office/skyscraper kind of job. I mean, you could finish a project wearing only a “kiss the cook” apron and no one would have any idea.
It’s important, however, not to let this casual attitude go too far.
While a client might be looking for a less traditional means of getting work done, they certainly aren’t looking for something less professional.
You want to have a reputation that brings clients to you, rather than one that sends them packing.
Stick To the Freelance Work That Works For You
Life can send you a lot of reasons to experience a sinking feeling in your gut, and one of my least favorite of them happened regularly when I was a new freelancer, desperate for work.
When I first started copywriting, I’d take any work that seemed mildly relevant to my field, regardless of whether or not I actually enjoyed it.
“Social media management? Sure! Press releases? Oh, yeah, I can totally do those.”
So I did totally do those.I hated it. Let me tell you, “hate-working” on something is absolutely not going to produce your best work.
Now, I understand that sometimes you’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do… but if you’re even remotely in a place where you can be choosy about your clients, you’re going to be a much happier freelancer. If you’re as broke as can be and just barely scraping by, at least start thinking about your ideal clients so that you can work toward a client base you enjoy.
Don’t Be Willy-Nilly About Up-Front Costs
When it comes to freelance work, you’ve got about four hundred million ways that you can customize your payment structure, but only a few of them will be relevant to the specific work at hand. Have a few “up-front” options in your invoice repertoire that will be appropriate for each different kind of contract you encounter.
For example, if you ask a client to pay full price (or even 50%) up-front on a massive and expensive project, it’s not likely that they’ll actually pay it. If, for whatever reason, they did pay it, you’d have an equally massive amount of responsibility on your shoulders, with the risk of having to issue a refund if unexpected circumstances hindered your ability to complete the project.
That being said, you shouldn’t sell yourself short. If you don’t feel comfortable putting in the work without some form of payment first, don’t do it until you’ve agreed upon a down payment or payment milestone plan.
This one’s going to be short:
Get one. Use one. Don’t do any freelance work without one. A contract shouldn’t represent mistrust or negative feelings, it simply represents protection for all parties involved.
Taxes Are Inevitable
While mismanaged business finances might seem more like a “personal mistake” than a “faux pas,” the truth is that, if you’ve got a spouse or family depending on you, the “personal” aspect of this equation gets tossed out the window. Judgemental in-laws or family members who might end up having to loan you money make this a very social situation.
When you become a freelancer, your main focus is usually making as much money as possible, which is totally understandable.
It’s scary and exciting to be a new freelancer, but you’ve got to be able to dig some forethought and responsibility out of all that fear and excitement.
I’m talking about taxes here, folks.
The world of freelance finances is full of confusing, muddy water, but one way to avoid those murky pitfalls is to start a tax stash. Saving 25-30% of each paycheck will create a stockpile that will protect you from being blindsided when it’s time to pay up. Each freelancer has a different financial situation that can be affected by factors like family or health issues, so it’s always a good idea to hire or talk to an accountant if you can afford it.
A tax stash will keep you protected, regardless of your financial details.
Spend With a Plan
When it comes to spending money on your business, you’re the only person who can determine what is best. The point is that you actually take the time to determine it.
Spending too much money on your business will start you off in the hole, especially if you’ve just decided to become a freelancer. Take a hard look at what you plan to charge clients, how often you expect money to be coming in, and what you can actually afford to spend each month.
One way to balance your business spending is to create a plan that will allow you to gradually buy the things you need to help you get work done. Set milestones, such as being able to pay all of your utilities with your freelance work. Once you’ve reached that point, you might be able to buy a new computer, or pay for higher-speed internet.
It’s important to have the equipment and tools you need, but you’ve got to be able to actually afford them.
Be Nice to Yourself
Life can get messy, and even with the most detailed of checklists, it’s entirely possible that you’re going to commit a freelancing faux pas one of these days… and that’s okay. Keep your head up, do your best to avoid repeating those mistakes, and don’t forget to learn from them in the process.
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