10 Fatal Freelancing Mistakes to Avoid

The benefits of being a freelancer have long been spoken about: bloggers and industry experts have written over and over on how to be successful and how to avoid common mistakes. However, as someone who was once an expert at committing these mistakes, I’ve realized the importance of sharing what I’ve learned. The most important lesson I found as a beginner was never to repeat the same mistake twice. Perseverance is essential to learn and grow from any challenge.

In this post, I’ll present some basic mistakes that you’ll want to avoid as you begin a career as a freelancer.

Fatal Freelancing Mistakes to Avoid

01. Communicating Weakly

instantShift - xFatal Freelancing Mistakes to Avoid

Seamless and constant communication, whether formal or informal, is key to any successful relationship. When I started out, I was ignorant enough to pay more attention to my girlfriend than to my client, and I paid the price. The communication process starts before you even begin working on a project with the client. Remember this: the client is king, and your attentiveness and assurance must win them over from the start. With your very first client, practice consistent and clear communication to avoid creating anxiety. Clients will no doubt have some level of stress regardless, and so being professional enough to keep them aware of the project’s progress is critical. Be accessible, no matter what happens; giving out your mobile phone number will go a long way to helping.

Do this, and you might lose your current client (as I did, though just once). Don’t do this, and you will have a permanent client.

02. Not Meeting Deadlines

Deadline: the word itself is dreadful. I’ve lost my fair share of assignments by not heeding this all-important “d” word. As freelancers, we often work from the comfort of our homes and are therefore surely aware of all the distractions and challenges that brings. However, just being aware isn’t a solution. Let me now offer some tips on how to beat these obstacles:

  • Agree on a reasonable deadline, with enough cushion time for research.
  • Don’t be shy about declining work if it would be too much to handle.
  • Never ever dodge a client’s phone calls or leave email unanswered.
  • Keep the client posted with any untoward developments.
  • Be proactive in extending deadlines.
  • When in a crunch, wake up early and burn the midnight oil.
  • Break down a project into small tasks, and then schedule an end date for each step.
  • Get organized and maintain a list of tasks and deadlines.

Do this, and you might lose your reputation. Don’t do this, and you will have happy clients.

03. Failing to Set a Formal Contract

For a taste of what not creating a formal contract can do, a simple search of the Internet will provide you with grievances from hundreds of freelancers. Freelancers today acquire clients from all over the world, and failing sign a formal agreement, especially with a new business, is the last thing you want to do. Be clear and transparent with your client, and humbly suggest that a contract be drawn up, in the interest of both parties. This will prevent embarrassing situations from arising at any stage of the project. If both parties live up to the agreement, life is good.

Do this, and you might have just thrown your hard work in the bin, because you might not get paid. Don’t do this, and you might have a nice dinner out with a date because you now have money in your pocket.

04. Not Knowing Your Worth

instantShift - xFatal Freelancing Mistakes to Avoid

How often have you wondered what your work is worth? If you are a beginner and anxious about it, as I once was, then you are in danger of quoting half of the going rate to nab an assignment. As a result, clients may doubt your capabilities, simply because you do not charge close to the market price. It’s a double-edged sword: your low fee might call your credentials into question and cause you to lose a project, and yet charging far higher might make your competitors more appealing to the client.

Don’t be a victim of either. Conduct research and decide on an ideal pricing rate. You’ll find that it depends on many factors, such as your skill set, line of work and experience. The point is that you should neither undersell yourself nor lose a project for charging too much.

Do this, and you might undersell yourself. Don’t do this, and you’ll beat the competition and get paid what you’re worth.

05. Not Fearing the IRS Gods

You might be wondering if I was ever a victim of this. Yes, I was. But thanks to my wealthy mom, I was bailed out, and my freelancing business was given a second chance. However, many stories do not end so happily; some freelancers have had to shut down and take up full-time jobs to reconcile their tax liabilities. Many fall into this problem due to the inconsistency of freelance employment. You might make decent money at one point, but the future for this type of career is always uncertain. To be safe, plan ahead for your taxes.

06. Not Knowing Your Limit

Nothing seems worse to a freelancer than having a boss, someone who reigns over your time and work, constantly demanding more. In the same way, you don’t expect to spend your whole career working for one client. You alone are responsible for your business, and it’s your job to grow it sustainably. To do this, you must know your limits well and be able to communicate them clearly to your clients. To maintain a balanced work schedule, remember these two important guidelines:

  • Don’t over-commit on the amount of work you can handle.
  • Don’t over-invest your time with any one client.

Understand the requirements of an assignment before accepting it, so that you can create a strategy and set timelines accordingly. Leaving the matter open-ended could result in either a missed deadline or poor-quality work.

Do this, and you might develop insomnia. Don’t do this, and you will sleep well at night.

07. Not Building a Brand or Finding a Niche

instantShift - xFatal Freelancing Mistakes to Avoid

Walter Landor famously said, “Products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind.” All well-known bloggers and freelancers would not doubt that creating a brand or filling a niche is the best technique in the quest to be more competitive and successful.

Thousands of freelancers are out there, and the numbers increase daily. Ask yourself, what makes you the best choice? If you have worked with a client more than once, branding is essential to make sure you stick in their mind. If no professional history exists between you and a client, then a unique portfolio will distinguish you from the competition.

Rarely are companies successful without creating a brand name; it defines them and helps people recall what they offer. In creating a brand, ask the following questions. Do you have a niche? What is the first thing a client would think upon seeing your portfolio? Do readers know what to expect on your blog? Have you included pictures on your portfolio that would make sense to clients?

To beat the competition, you must consciously develop your own brand. It’s as if to say that hundreds might share your name, but you each have a unique and particular signature.

Do this, and you’ll be lost in the crowd. Don’t do this, and clients will seek you out, rather than the other way around.

08. Not Showing the Right Kind of Confidence

By this, I simply mean that you shouldn’t be overconfident. Learning is a process.

While we may not have remembered this from high school, understanding and applying it now is critical to professional progress. Committing to an attitude of learning is essential for an enriching career. If you are overconfident and negligent, you could make a mistake that ruins your hard-earned reputation. For instance, never forget to proofread twice, or else your professionalism could be called into doubt.

Do this, and you risk being labeled unprofessional. Don’t do this, and clients will love your happy-go-lucky nature.

09. Not Looking for More Clients

How often have you asked or been asked by a friend whether freelancing is a financially secure and stable career?

Tell your friend that it takes only one boss to get fired from a full-time job; but if one client takes their business elsewhere, a freelancer still has plenty of others to provide work as they look for more assignments. Of course, having a bucket-full of clients and projects is the key. Never be satisfied with the number of clients you have at any given moment; always hunger for more. The more clients you have, the more money and security for your business. And you can always outsource any work you can’t handle.

Do this, and you risk running out of income streams. Don’t do this, and you’ll prepare for a secure future.

10. Not Learning From Mistakes

instantShift - xFatal Freelancing Mistakes to Avoid

The most fatal of all basic mistakes is not learning to curb repeated errors. As a freelancer, if you do not strive for excellence, you will soon become a victim of negligence. Simply reading blogs and appreciating their ideas is pointless when no practice is involved. Be strict on yourself, and get into the habit of seriously reflecting on every mistake you make.

Do this, and you’d better find another full-time job. Don’t do this, and you’ll have to plan to grow your business.


My only hope in writing this article is that you heed the insights I’ve gained in my career as a freelancer. Remember, you’re running a business, and you are solely responsible for its development and growth. Don’t be content with mediocrity. Success and excellence don’t come easily either, so keep these 10 basic tips in mind as you proceed through your professional journey.

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  1. I only wish a lot of the freelancers I worked with read this article and go by its’ recommendations – the whole industry and ecosystem hat is freelancers + clients would do a whole lot better. Great article!

  2. Even I have been working as a freelance and almost go by all the points mentioned. I can relate with them…..Now I am regular office worker though….

    webmaster at service.ztronics.com

  3. Even I have been working as a freelance and almost go by all the points mentioned. I can relate with them…..

  4. These are indeed typical mistakes. And mistake in number 7 is something I’ve been committing for long…

  5. Even I have been working as a freelance and almost go by all the points mentioned. I can relate with them…..Now I am regular office worker though….

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