5 Typical Mistakes All Freelancers Should Avoid

We all have a good grasp on how to perform our craft. We’re all good at our profession; we learn about it, we perform it on a regular basis, we think about it constantly, we get paid to do it.

But acquiring a business-centered mindset and learning how to manage clients and their expectations is a whole other story. And these two things are important in any entrepreneurial endeavor such as freelancing.

Most freelancers don’t come from an entrepreneurial background. We went to school to learn the skill of Design, not to manage a business or to work with clients. This is one reason why most novice freelancers face a lot of business- and client-related problems.

Thankfully, most of these issues can be avoided if we just don’t make the common mistakes covered below.

1. Always Doing What the Client Says

“The customer is always right” is a popular motto in the service sector.

Not true, though.

If the client were always right, they wouldn’t need to hire you for your expertise, knowledge, and experience.

This change in mindset is difficult to make at first, but the sooner you realize that you’re the expert, the sooner you can deliver superior products to your clients.

The main challenge for most freelancers is learning how to gracefully and professionally say “No”.

Just because your client wants their logo to be bigger or just because they want to add a useless feature on their website doesn’t mean that such a change would do any good to the overall product.

Always listen to and evaluate what the client suggests, and if it just so happens that they’re wrong, part of your job as a web professional is to tell them.

When pushing back on a client’s request:

  • You need to be professional about it
  • You should use facts, case studies, usability research, secondary resources, and sound logic to support your reasoning
  • Always suggest more suitable/preferable options

Not always doing everything the client demands is one great way to earn your clients’ trust. This will make them confident in your abilities and knowledge. This shows that you care about your craft, and that you care about their project’s success.

2. Failing to Break Up a Project into Milestones

A common situation in freelance design projects is to deliver the final product right before the deadline, and then work on improving it together with the client. This, in my opinion, is a bad practice.

The whole point of a deadline is to have the product delivered in its polished state, without any flaws; not to have a half-baked result that needs to be tweaked and then approved by the client.

A much better approach is to set milestones (sub-deadlines) and then deliver the website in parts.

Each part should be spelled out in the initial agreement and carefully described, so that there’s no doubt about what to expect.

Then, as you deliver each chunk of the project, you can work on it directly with the client.

In the end, when the deadline arrives, you won’t have to worry about whether the client will be pleased with the result or if you need to make significant changes that will move the deadline drastically.

Creating milestones and listing down your deliverables makes the project a collaborative experience. Breaking up a project in chunks also makes the project more manageable.

3. Not Educating the Client

Nowadays, everyone wants a website. But not everyone knows how to work with a publishing platform (such as WordPress, Drupal, Shopify, etc.).

Chances are, you’ll be blasted with questions and requests in the first few weeks as your client is getting to know their website.

One way of dealing with this is to simply send them over to the official documentation of the publishing platform or whatever web service they’re having trouble with. (E.g. if they’re asking about WordPress, you send them a link over to the WordPress docs page, if they’re having trouble with how Twitter or Google Apps works, you send them over to the Twitter FAQ or Google support pages).

This isn’t good service, in my opinion.

A step above the official docs is to educate the client on the technical aspects of owning a website.

Some ideas for educating the client:

  •  Use video and screencast tutorials; they can often be easier to follow
  •  Create customized documents, guides, howto’s for the specific company you’re working with
  •  Make modifications to the user interface of the system that avoids common issues in the first place: Use tool tips, in-line hints, etc.

4. Not Following Up with Clients

This is one of the biggest mistakes in the web design world.

The situation goes like this: Once a project is finished, the designer loses touch with his clients. They likely won’t need another website anytime soon, right? So, then, why would you need to keep in touch with them when your service is done?

First of all, selling to someone who has bought from you in the past is much easier. A significant portion of your income will hinge on repeat business.

Secondly, if you remain in touch with a client, you will automatically become their go-to person for anything related to web design.

There are two main ways to stay in touch with clients. Either sign them up to your newsletter (which you’ll have to create first, and I suggest using email marketing software such as MailChimp or Constant Contact) or contact them directly every once in a while with a tailored offer they might be interested in.

An email newsletter is a great way to stay on your client’s radar. However, make it content-driven, not promotion-driven. The point is to provide relevant information about website management, promotion and other important tasks from a website owner’s perspective.

It’s actually a lot less work than it seems at first. Whenever you stumble upon an interesting piece of advice on the Internet, let your clients know. Just compile a short personal message, link to the source, and send it through your newsletter management service.

Contacting a client directly, on the other hand, is a perfect opportunity to make sure their website is working fine and to offer updates or any new services you’ve since developed. Because the client knows you well, they are likely to respond positively.

5. Estimating Too Generous a Deadline

Very often you’ll encounter a client who wants results and want them now.

Of course, now is not always an option.

But even though we know this, we tend to be too optimistic and sign up for unrealistic deadlines anyways.

This is why you’ll end up working late nights for two weeks straight. No matter what the financial reward is, it’s not worth your health and work productivity. Do five to ten projects like this, and you’ll burn out completely.

Fight the temptation to set a deadline too soon. Remember that you are the expert — if you think something cannot be done sooner, then you are right.

What Are Other Mistakes Freelancers Make?

What other common issues do freelancers make? Have you made any mistakes of your own that you’ve since learned from? Please share your experiences with us in the comments; it will help other people that are reading this article.

Source of thumbnail image: “occptn_graphicdesign.jpg”

  • Hello, I wonder what to charge per hour and does one charge differently for illustrations and photos. I mean it takes time to do a background for ex. When I do websites for people they don’t want to pay for anything I think. Should they have to pay half in andvance then? Sincerely Gunvi

  • Kali

    I found a really good calculation tool at: http://freelanceswitch.com/rates/
    You might want to look at that.

  • yogesh

    I m new at freelancer and so its good to know about it in better way..so this article was very helpful to me..thank you

  • I can really relate to 5 – I find if the client needs a project ready like yesterday you will likely end up in trouble and the stress is probably not worth it. I try real hard set a realistic deadline and where possible add a little extra time on top of that, then I can really enjoy my work and do a better job. I suppose the main mistake people make is saying yes to anything and everything and then struggling through a project.

  • Hi Gunvi,

    Half in advance is always a good idea, no matter what type of work you do. It ensures both you and your client that the deal is on and that both parties are engaged.

    You can prepare different per-hour rates depending on the type of work you do. This is all about your comfortability. what I mean is that your specific per-hour rate should make work comfortable for you, so you’re actually happy to exchange your time for money. Some clients will say that your rates are too much, but other won’t, and they are the ones you should be working with.

    I hope it helps, cheers.

  • Very comprehensive. Good resource for anyone who wants to get some actual idea on how their business is going. Thanks!

  • Sure, the problem of saying “no” is very common in the freelancing world. And we all have this issue. Even when you are aware of it, it’s still hard to fix it.

  • Hey Karol,

    I came across your post – 8 mistakes to finish your freelancing career – at Linkedin and found it very apt. These are the kind of potholes which are never visible but can hit really hard !!

    Cheers !

  • Robert Soriano

    Hello Karol,

    Should I half in advance my client? He is a priest here in our city and also our neighbor. Thanks!