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Almost a year into my freelance career, and it feels like I’ve been around the block a time or two. There are certain things I’m really proud of accomplishing. These are the things I did that moved the needle on my work in a significant way, like starting a blog to use as a portfolio, learning how to craft a great proposal, and establishing and nurturing client relationships.
And then there were the things that were a complete and utter waste of my time, energy, and money. (At a time when each of these was already in short supply.) These are the misconceptions I held as a new freelancer that, once broken, freed up a lot of my efforts to do the stuff that actually mattered in establishing myself.
Subscribing to services I thought I might need
My first freelance gig was performing quality assurance work. I signed up for a relatively expensive subscription with BrowserStack ($150 is a lot for a struggling newbie freelancer). My thought was, nobody’s going to hire me unless I can check their site on all browsers, all devices, and in every scenario imaginable. But here’s the thing.
I had no clients.
I could have gotten away using a free trial when a job came my way and purchase it if need be. Instead, I was suckered into the yearlong subscription price because I told myself someone would want that, and I’d be able to pay for it using my QA income.
What to do instead: Wait until a client requires a particular service (Microsoft Office, Adobe, etc.) before you sign up. If you need to sign up for a monthly subscription, consider factoring that into your price moving forward to make sure you can cover it.
Offering too many services
When I first signed up on Upwork, I meticulously created three profiles for quality assurance, content writing, and proofreading. I also made the same three gigs on Fiverr. In casting a wide net, I thought I was opening myself up to more potential clients. But what really happened is clients were confused.
I had a client say, “I hired you on a QA job thinking you were a QA professional, but your profile says, Content Writer. What exactly do you do?”
In time, I removed all but one gig on Fiverr and consolidated my Upwork profiles. But I wish I had just started smaller.
What to do instead: Niche down as much as you can and choose one path to pursue. You may decide to pivot in time. But when you’re establishing yourself, it’s important to practice consistency with who you are and what you’re looking to provide. Confusion is the last feeling you want to project to a potential client.
Working all the time
Starting a new adventure is exciting. When you have so many ideas in your head and visions of how wonderful your life will be, very little can get in the way of you and your dream. But after weeks of working towards your goal day in and day out, you might start to get burnt out. The truth is, clients won’t expect to hear from you on the weekends unless you set the expectation that you’re available 24/7.
I was pulling in my old software roots and mistakenly thinking that I had to be “on” all the time. With a freelance career, the work is never done if you don’t want it to be.
What to do instead: Create your downtime. This might be a weekend or a random weekday. But give yourself a chance to completely unplug and disconnect from freelance. Taking this time is so incredibly important for your brain and your motivation. I promise that the morning after a day off, you’re going to be more motivated than ever to hit the ground running.
Pricing my services low to get jobs
Slide this one into the top slot on my “worst misconceptions about freelance” list. For months, I thought this was true. I genuinely believed that I should undervalue my services in exchange for 5-star reviews. That couldn’t be further from the truth. All you do by performing high-quality services at a low-quality price is attracting the wrong types of clients.
There are so many clients out there who want something great for nothing. They will use and abuse your service at a fraction of the price. And they’ll probably be some of the most demanding people you have the displeasure of working for. You want to find clients who recognize quality and are willing to pay for it.
What to do instead: Price your services based on your worth. In my post on getting your start as a freelance writer, I discuss how to price your services. Price them based on your time and the quality of your work, which only you know. It’s OK to use other freelancers’ offerings as a guide, but if you know it takes 4 hours to write a great article, don’t sell yourself short by doing the job for ten bucks.
Putting too much emphasis on stats
In my early weeks as a freelancer, I overemphasized statistics. These included my reach in Fiverr and the number of proposals I saw accepted vs. those submitted on Upwork. The time I spent doing this could have been better served by applying to more jobs and doing more work. At the end of the day, it didn’t matter at all how many “impressions” I was seeing on Fiverr. My conversions were coming from clicks.
What to do instead: It’s OK, and maybe even a good thing, to have a general awareness of how your gig is performing on a site like Fiverr. If you have zero impressions after two weeks, you might have placed your gig in the wrong category or might want to review your offering to see if it’s something people want to buy.
But don’t get so caught up in clicks that you’re treating it like refreshing your social media feed to see how many likes you’ve received. That’s detrimental to your productivity and also, more than likely, your ego.
Mistaking quantity for quality
When I first started on Upwork, the name of the game was to put out as many proposals as possible in a week. Cast as many lines as you can, and you’re sure to get a bite, right? Not so much. When I began to submit only 1-2 targeted proposals for jobs that both 1) fit my skill set and 2) were paying within my price range, things started to come together.
What to do instead: Even if it means you’re only sending off one proposal a day, make sure it’s the best damn proposal you’ve ever written. A client’s first impression is your pitch or proposal. So make sure to proofread it, edit it, refine it, read it out loud, and make sure that you would be willing to hire the person behind that proposal before you hit send.
(Check out my Upwork review for more on creating great proposals.)
Plus, the one thing I didn’t do but should have.
Not following advice from those who came before
You’re here. So you’re already one step ahead of me. I spent minimal time reading success stories of others and figuring out how to be successful at freelance. That was a HUGE mistake! There were a ton of things that I could have known sooner if I had just used the resources available to me.
What to do instead: Use resources like this blog to accelerate your learning. I’m not just talking about the freelancers out there touting their six-figure incomes after only months. I’m talking about real freelancers who have seen a thing or two, maintained client relationships for a meaningful amount of time, and can remove roadblocks to your success.
Take note of things like professionalism, how to create an excellent Upwork proposal, and all of the other free content that I’ve put together specifically so you don’t need to experience the difficulties I did!