Freelancing is a blood sport.
It first begins with the thought, “I’d like to do X full-time and nothing else. Plus, it would be great to be my own boss!”
So said everyone with the desire to unshackle themselves from the chains of corporate enslavement so they can skip merrily through a field of daffodils.
Soon after you make the leap, you realize that 1) this is hard and 2) this is hard and 3) this is really effing hard.
Because I have a bit of a den mother in me, I decided to share with you the five biggest mistakes I made and hope you can avoid making the same ones. Here we go.
#1 Depending upon one client for the majority of your income
When I launched my full-time copywriting business in 2012, I was working on several small projects for clients. Through a friend, I was introduced to my first non-start-up business. I remembered thinking, “Wow. They have an accounting department…” Yeah.
This business looked like it was going to be a copywriter’s “dream client.” Web copy, case studies, special reports, blog posts… I was giddy with delight. This. Is. Awesome. Or so I thought.
I spent time at this business’ location; interviewing people for the web copy re-design. I agreed to a lower fee because I anticipated repeat work. I exchanged emails with my contact as we worked out the phases of the initial project.
And then, I started to notice the communication with my contact was slowing down. Getting the stakeholders to agree on the mission statement was grinding to a halt. One owner wanted to go in one particular direction while the other owner didn’t agree.
They had to reach an agreement before I could move ahead with the copy.
It ended up that they never did and the project came to a complete stop. There would be no website re-design and thus, no need for the revamped copy, let alone blog posts or special reports.
Luckily, I had a kill fee in my agreement with them. They paid and that was that.
But I quickly realized that this now left a large hole in my revenue. It took a few months before I recovered but the lesson was learned.
Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.
#2 Believing this would be easy
Ever since I learned how to read, I quickly followed up by becoming a writer. The two are inseparable in my universe. After learning how to read, I soon started to keep a diary. I was entranced with the world and eagerly jotted down my observations. Observations gave way to insights and insights into dreams.
I always found a way to write no matter where I was in life – whether it was at school (high school and college newspaper), church (the monthly bulletin), or in the workplace (the monthly newsletter). Before long, I was writing marketing collateral for myself and others.
I also loved to persuade people to take action. So when I discovered that I could blend the two together into a marketable service, I was all over it.
And since I had been writing for so long, I thought this would be easy.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
First, copywriting isn’t easy. Many components go into a solid piece of writing and it takes time to think of creative ideas and then time to develop them (and test them).
But not only did I think the writing would come more easily, I thought getting clients would be relatively easy.
There are a few factors that will make things easier, but it’s still hard work to market yourself. Don’t let anyone kid you about that.
For instance, if you already have a large network of business associates, it’s a little easier.
It takes time to connect with people, to be there when they need you (not when you need them), and to find the right people who are a “fit” for what you offer.
It took time for you to acquire the skills you now offer to others. It’s going to take time to persuade them that you’re worth hiring. Don’t expect overnight success. It takes most freelancers an average of two years to find their groove.
I remember attending a job fair just a few short months from when I launched and I fully expected to get writing assignments from it. I don’t know why I thought it should happen that quickly or easily, especially when I was competing with dozens of copywriters who had been in the business for years, but I did. When it didn’t happen, I had to step back and examine my expectations. I realized they weren’t realistic at all. I also realized I simply had to try harder and not give up.
Yes, it’s hard but those who win are often not those who are smarter than you. They just refused to give up.
#3 Not using an agreement with clients
In my very early days, I was the type who trusted people to be true to their word. It didn’t take long to discover that not everyone was honest nor did they honor what they said they’d do.
Check out Amazon or do a search for your industry and type in the words “contract” or “agreement.” Then make sure you use it whenever you do business.
Stories about getting stiffed by clients abound on the Internet. Protect yourself by determining not to do one smidgen of work for someone unless you have a signed agreement from them.
If they refuse to sign an agreement, that pretty much tells you they weren’t planning to pay you, anyway. Move on.
The majority of clients out there will respect you and treat you as the professional you are. And professionals use agreements.
#4 Not getting a 50% deposit
This goes along with sending someone a contract or agreement. Unfortunately, there are people who will make you believe they’ll pay you for your work but then after you send the final version, they disappear.
This is why many freelancers require at least a 50% deposit to begin work. I didn’t do this in the beginning and yes, I was burned. If you get half the deposit up front, at least you have something in case someone decides to pull a disappearing act on you after the project is completed.
I don’t even think about a project unless I have the deposit first. Make sure that you request (and receive) yours. If there is any question about it, simply say, “This is how I run my business.” You are a business owner, not your client’s assistant. You can set your own rules for conducting business with you.
#5 Giving away my time to those who didn’t appreciate it
This one is a conglomeration of several of the mistakes I’ve made. It boils down to this.
You have two resources as a freelancer.
Time and skill.
You must guard and cultivate both obsessively.
It’s in my nature to give. My mother was a giver and I suppose the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. I’ve always loved helping people and in my copywriting and content marketing business, it’s no different.
There are people who will gladly take up your time and suck “freebies” from you without a second thought.
And unfortunately, some of these people are friends, family, and acquaintances.
I realize this may be a difficult exercise for you, but you’re going to have to learn to say no.
You can’t help everyone and goodness knows, you can’t help everyone for free.
I remember going back and forth with ten emails and a lengthy phone call with someone who said he needed help with building out his website and also revising an e-Book he wrote.
I answered questions. I gave him advice. I encouraged him.
After the tenth email and no response, I hoped he wouldn’t contact me again. I truly did want to help him but if he wasn’t ready to move forward, then it was only taking up my valuable time.
As they say, time is money. And nowhere is this more true than in the life of a freelancer.
I spent around eight hours with this person who never compensated me for my time.
That’s just one example. I have others but suffice it to say, you don’t want to spend time with “tire kickers” or those who just want to get something from you for free.
When you create your fee schedule, make sure to include a fee for consultation. Name your price for a half-day consultation, a full-day, and an hourly rate. It will come in handy, believe me.
Email can be a blood-sucker. The moment someone emails you to ask some questions, have a prepared list of FAQs and answers you can give them. You may want to consider a complimentary 30-minute phone call to gauge their interest and need. But let that complimentary phone call be the only thing you give away.
You need to move that person from being a prospect into a client. If they want your help, at the end of the conversation (or email), ask – “So what’s the next step? Are you ready to _____ ? If so, I can send to you a quote and an agreement and then we can hit the ground running!”
If the person suddenly stammers and stalls, saying they’re not ready to commit to anything yet, then politely say, “If you change your mind, let me know. Great talking with you but I have client projects I need to work on.”
You can do this very nicely. Just as long as you clearly send them the message that you’re not going to babysit them. Either they’re in the market for your services or they’re not.
If they’re not, again… send them along their way with a friendly “good luck.”
I lost hours and hours of income by trying to work with people who simply weren’t ready to make a buying decision. You can certainly keep in contact with them by sending email promotions and e-newsletters. Just don’t let them take advantage of you by spending time with them without compensation.
Those are my five main mistakes I made throughout my first year of freelancing. The upside of making mistakes is that it allows you to see areas that need improvement.
Over time, I’ve improved my client acquisition process, my agreement, and my fee structure. I know I’ll continue to improve over time. The terrible thing about being your own boss is that you’re in charge. The wonderful thing about being your own boss is that you’re in charge.
Own your business in your mind. Know that you’re worth your fee. Don’t ever feel that you have to apologize to anyone for receiving payment for your services.
It’s an exciting journey. Enjoy every part of it because truly, there is nothing more fulfilling than creating and running your own business successfully.