As a freelancer, you will make mistakes. There is a learning curve associated with working for yourself, and no matter how skilled you are, you will run into challenges that could end up costing you time, money, and peace of mind. This article will address three of the most common problems encountered by freelancers and what to do to solve them (or, ideally, avoid them altogether).
Trap One: Freelancing for Too Few Clients
With a traditional job, you usually receive a paycheck at regular intervals for a fixed amount of money. Freelancers generally don't have this same level of consistency, and their income often fluctuates. As such, it’s important to maintain a balance, with neither too many clients nor too few. Freelancers who don’t diversify and limit their client numbers are in particular danger of a financial crisis.
Example One: The Freelance Translator
Let’s say, for example, that you are a freelance translator with a couple of high-paying, steady clients. Things have been going well for several months, and you’ve begun pulling in consistent, dependable revenue. But one day, one of your translation customers announces they are going to start working with a large translation agency and forego your services, or they’re hired an in-house translator to work for them fulltime. Suddenly, you’re missing half of your monthly income.
Scenarios like this happen all the time. Although you may not have control over the whims of your clients, you can have some backup plans in place to quickly replace any lost revenue. How? By diversifying.
Successful freelancers make marketing themselves as much of a priority as they do working for their clients. Focusing on a few simple marketing tasks each week can make all the difference. A few ideas to generate new leads include:
1. Keep Your Freelance Portfolio Updated
You can quickly get so caught up in your work that administrative tasks like updating your portfolio fall by the wayside. However, this is a simple, cost-free way to market yourself on an ongoing basis. If you house your portfolio on your own website, you already know the value of fresh content, and an updated portfolio can aid in search results.
If you are a member of freelancing job boards like Freelancer, Upwork, or Fiverr, keeping your profile updated is an important task that shows you are serious about your career. You probably have some great work that you haven't taken time to upload yet. Why not do it now?
2. Use Your Social Networking Skills
When you need to generate leads for new projects, your social media accounts can be an invaluable tool, but they won’t help unless you let people know you’re available. Reach out and announce that you have some room in your schedule to take on a new client. Keep it short, sweet, and to the point, using keywords related to your profession.
Sticking with the scenario of the freelance translator mentioned above, you could say something like: “Hey guys, I have some availability for the next couple of months to work on some English to Mandarin translation projects. If you need help with this, drop me a line.”
Example Two: The Freelance Illustrator
Likewise, if you are a logo designer or illustrator, you could say something like:“Hey everybody, I have a few time slots available over the coming weeks for a bit of freelance work. If you need a beautiful, new, custom-designed logo, message me, and we’ll see what we can come up with!”
Such statements take under a minute to type, and you never know where they might lead.
3. Do Some Cold Prospecting
If you can Google and send an email, you can cold prospect. The fear of rejection can keep many people from going forward with it, but it’s really not that difficult. Do a Google search for the type of professional services you provide. This could turn up results for organizations that might take on freelancers to help out on a project-by-project basis. The freelance logo designer could send emails out to design companies; the translator could email translation companies; a web designer could get in touch with web design companies; and so forth.
Compile a personal email for each of your leads that explains who you are, what you can do, and a link to your portfolio or website. Keep the focus on the benefits that you can bring to the potential client. Explain that you would be interested in taking on some side work on a case-by-case basis and close with a question such as, “Is there a project I can help you with in the near future?” The worst that can happen is you will get no response. In your best case scenario, it could lead to a new client and steady, ongoing work.
Trap Two: Not Charging High Enough Freelancing Rates
Workers with traditional positions expect pay raises at regular intervals, to keep up with the cost of living, yet many freelancers go for years without increasing their rates. Essentially, this means they can be earning less per hour after two years of work than they were on day one. If you are working 15 hour days to make ends meet, you aren’t charging enough (or aren’t working efficiently enough, which is a whole other discussion!).
Freelancers who are just starting out may feel nervous about charging too much because they are afraid of pricing themselves out of the market. However, no matter how low your prices are, there will always be someone who can undercut you. Yes, you need to be reasonable, but burning yourself out by doing lots of work for low pay is probably one of the reasons you left your traditional job to begin with.
There are several ways to figure out what you should be charging to make a comfortable living wage. You can research forums or networking sites, or perform a search for the average salaries in your specific field. Sites like Indeed, Glassdoor and ZipRecruiter post average hourly or yearly wages for different freelance specialties. The average annual salary for a freelance translator, for example, is estimated at $59,149 on ZipRecruiter, whereas Indeed shows freelancers charge an average of $24.05 per hour for professional translation services. Freelance graphic designers are in the same range as translators, while copywriters are earning around $69,000 per year.
Keep in mind these are averages. Your rates will often depend on your self-worth. Are you average? Or are you reaching for something better than average in your life? Start believing in yourself and the high quality services you provide, and give yourself a pay raise.
Trap Three: Saying Yes to Every Freelance Request
While it can sometimes feel like you have to say ‘yes’ to every client’s request, or risk losing them to another freelancer, this strategy is counterproductive. Even though freelancing is often a feast or famine sort of deal, taking everything that comes your way and never declining an opportunity can pave the way for demanding clients and a poor work/life balance. It makes you the passenger of your own career instead of the driver.
When you know what you are worth and have decided the minimum amount you can accept, stick to it. There will be times when your prices are too high for a client. That’s OK. There are probably goods and services that are out of your reach as well. You don’t need to say yes to rates that make you feel uncomfortable. You have bills to pay too, right?
You can expect to negotiate your rates, but if you have a freelance client who is badgering you about it, trust your instincts and politely decline the work. The same goes for clients who want constant revisions or little tweaks. A good way around this is to build in a limited amount of revisions per project. If the client is still asking for more after you’ve revised your work the specified amount of times, you can (again, politely!) tell them you will be happy to negotiate your rates for some extra hours to polish things up, or just say no. Continually meeting every little demand from a problematic client will drain your energy and your time, both of which you need in order to create balance and happiness in your life.