This isn’t my first rodeo.
And by that, I mean it isn’t my first stint as a freelancer. This is approximately the third chunk of time in my life where I’ve had a roster of clients instead of a full-time job.
So I’ve had three terrifying periods in my life where I had to hustle to build a client list. The third time was easier, because I could fall back on already-established relationships. But easier doesn’t mean that it was easy.
As someone prone to catastrophic thinking, I remember the freelancing disasters more than I remember the victories. This is why I can say with confidence that you will probably make all of these mistakes (and more) in your first year of freelancing…
1. Working without a contract
I have a terrible habit of starting work with new clients without a contract in place. I’ll tell myself I’ll just do this one job, and then when things are a little less hectic, I’ll send them my service agreement.
Days turn into months and I feel more comfortable that this client isn’t going to screw me out of payment. So I still don’t send a contract.
This is a dangerous way to work, and it isn’t something I would advise. Get yourself over to Law Depot and use their independent contractor agreement template – you won’t regret it. This is an affiliate link, and you will get a cheeky 10% off when you use it.
2. Ignoring your accounts until tax season
When your invoices land every month, it’s easy to forget that you should actually be saving at least 20% from each invoice. While you might be able to reduce your tax liability in the first year of going freelance, in the second year, you’re also going to have to pay something known as “payments on account”.
This is a pre-payment for half of your following year’s tax bill. I guarantee this will creep up on you and cripple your finances. The best solution is to get ahead of your taxes and don’t wait until they are due to file. This way you will have a better idea of what kind of bill you are facing.
3. Being afraid to raise your rates
When you start out freelancing, every client that is willing to pay you any money for your work is nothing short of miraculous. And this mindset is difficult to shake. If you are consistently delivering high quality results, a little voice in the back of your head might start to ask if you could be charging more.
A quick Google will reveal that you could absolutely be charging more. This should be all the boost your need to confidently raise your rates. My advice would be to gradually raise your rates for new enquiries. This allows you to test the water and decide if you can raise your rates across the board.
4. Thinking like an employee
You don’t have to work set hours. You don’t have to be at your desk at 9am every morning. And you don’t have to carry over outdated practices that you were forced to do in your last full-time role.
You finally have the freedom to build systems that work for you. And you have the freedom to work in a way that allows you to create your best work. For me, that means not really getting started until around 11am, taking a long break for dinner and then doing a few more hours before bed.
Thinking like an employee will cripple your creativity and stop you from reaching your full potential. Don’t let it!
5. Not focussing on your own business
When you transition from being a full-time employee to a full-time freelancer, you have to stop thinking about just doing your job and start thinking about how you are going to grow your business.
Running a business comes with a lot of additional territory which may leave you feeling out of your depth. It’s important to spend time building your business and finding a way to generate new leads and new business. Your freelance business won’t survive without this mindset.
If you’ve made any of these mistakes, I hope this serves as confirmation that you aren’t alone. And more important, you shouldn’t let these mistakes stop you from building a freelance career. Learn from your mistakes and you’ll be a better freelancer for it.