How to avoid 7 common mistakes new freelancers make

Find out how to avoid the most common mistakes new freelancers make, and never get burned by a bad client again.

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One of the most stressful aspects of freelancing is making sure your clients will actually pay you for your hard work.

Most freelancers are optimists, but that optimism can fade pretty quickly when you realize that you live in a world of fixed expenses and variable income. There's nothing more frustrating than when a client keeps asking for more work and you still haven‘t gotten a check!

With that in mind, here's a few ways to ensure that you get paid on time and avoid some other classic mistakes many inexperienced freelancers make!

1. Research your prospective clients first

No need to go undercover, but at least check out your potential client(s) before you agree to do any work. Here's a few things to check out:

  • Their online presence
  • Customer reviews
  • Their associates and partners
  • Their readiness to answer your questions
  • Their concerns about your work (especially as they relate to price)

Don‘t hesitate to ask questions, and even ask for a reference from a previous client or freelancer.

2. Don’t work for free

If you‘re just getting started with freelancing, occasional pro bono work can help you build your portfolio and brand. But if you‘ve already got some experience under your belt, you can’t afford to spend valuable time producing designs for free.

Always make sure you get something up-front so you’re never left in that uncomfortable position of a client using your comps without paying you for your efforts.

Clients who appreciate your talents will take the time to review your public portfolio and make a decision based on that. Clients who want free samples will also look for free work.
Take the Joker seriously: never work for free.

Note: this applies mostly to situations where a client is asking for comp work as an “evaluation of your skills.” Occasional pro bono work for a charity, nonprofit, or a project you just love can be both rewarding and help build your brand. Just be sure to budget your time and headspace appropriately.   

3. Get a deposit

Always get a down payment before you start working on any project, especially when you’re working with a new client!

Many inexperienced freelancers don‘t do this, either because it just never occurred to them or because they don‘t want to threaten this brand-new professional relationship. But getting a down payment will help ensure that your client’s serious and able to pay.

Your clients should know that you can only schedule their project if they‘ve paid a deposit. This totally reasonable request is a guarantee that you’ll get paid for your work.

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4. Invoice properly

Proper invoicing procedures are vital for freelancers since they save time, legal hassle, and help you keep track of finances. Download some quality invoice software to streamline your payments management so you can focus on results and deadlines.

How you manage your business revenue can make or break your business, so that‘s why you should produce professional, timely, and accurate invoices for your clients. Consider setting up Webflow Client Billing to set your clients‘ monthly charges and charge them directly, and stop wasting time on old-fashioned manual invoices.

5. Raise your rates

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: raising your rates not only gives you the opportunity to work on fewer projects for more money, but also to attract a better class of client. They consider your work a good investment, so if you are a hard worker and talented at what you do, there‘s no reason shouldn’t charge like a boss!

6. Always — always — use a contract

Contracts are power.

Without a written contract, your client has no legal obligation to pay you — and gets free rein to add scope creep, ask for excessive revisions, and more. Take this seriously. Your contract should answer myriad questions about your role in the project, including:

  • Scope of work
  • When and how you‘ll be paid
  • Whether you retain rights to your work
  • Deadlines

If you’re contracting for an established business, they should handle the contract creation, but be sure to review it carefully and ask any questions you might have. And if you’re creating the contract, take the time to understand what your contract should include. AIGA has a very thorough design contract template you can use as a foundation for your contract.

7. Consult!

Increase your income by sharing your knowledge with others and, of course, charging appropriately. Offering your expertise through consulting services can be an effective way to expand your network and grow your business, but be strict about the time you devote to these sorts of prospects.

It‘s OK to spend half an hour with someone who could help spread the word about your business, but don‘t get caught in a discussion you can’t get out of! It pays to be polite, because it can positively affect your business, but be careful not to get stuck in a time sink.

Be the professional you want to be

Remember, you‘re working as a freelancer to make a living, and as unpleasant as finance and administration work may be, they‘re essential to ensuring that you get paid properly and on time for your work. Treat yourself like the professional you are, and clients and companies you work with will treat you like one too. Understand what you’re worth, what you'll do for your client, and when and how you'll get paid and you’ll succeed.


November 16, 2016



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