At Wixel we consider ourselves a ‘Freelance Friendly’ company. We work with many freelancers. In this post, I try to highlight mistakes we’ve seen made and suggest how to avoid those mistakes. Despite the title, this post applies to anyone starting out on their own – not only freelance designers or developers.
Mistake #1 – Underestimating your clients
Generally clients tend to only care about *their* business – not the inner workings of yours. Still, it’s surprising how much attention they actually pay to what you are doing and saying. Never underestimate your clients. Period.
Mistake #2 – Taking your clients for granted
It doesn’t mean you can slack off once you’ve managed to get the business of a new client. They can just as easily take their money elsewhere. You need to make a constant effort to show your clients that they have made the correct choice investing in you. You need to show them that you sincerely appreciate their business. There are many ways to do this – most importantly… always be prompt, follow through, be accessible and easy to contact, be friendly and show a true interest in them and their business.
Mistake #3 – Not being transparent enough
Make sure your clients can see every aspect of their project whenever they need to and keep them in the loop at all times. There are some really great tools out there that can make customer relationship management a breeze.
Transparency doesn’t only apply to your client projects – in many instances clients want to know more about you and your business. They feel more secure with this additional information at hand. Provide a way for clients to “find out more” if they need to. Remember that you are judged by the company you keep. Make sure your online image is respectable – someone will eventually do a “Google Search” on your name.
Mistake #4 – Not maintaining consistent communication channels
This one could possibly fit in with the point about being not transparent enough, but it is worth repeating. You need to keep a reliable way for your clients to contact you. Communication is key in our day to day lives – make sure people can contact you. Mobile phones, Skype, email, fax, sms, social online applications and client management solutions are all very important so make sure you have a variety of contact methods readily available.
Mistake #5 – Don’t be the “yes” man
Think before you answer requests relating to work. If your gut is telling you that you don’t have capacity to fit it in – say so. Rather decline the work or reschedule than accept it and not deliver. The latter reflects worse on you and your business. Trust is something that you can only gain once.
Mistake #6 – Never talk negatively about your clients – especially online
Clients make outrageous decisions – deal with it. Don’t go on to public forums or other public places and talk negatively about them. You never know who’s listening and incase you’ve never heard of it, there’s “GoogleAlerts”. This can get you into a lot of trouble and mostly likely put a dent in your profits. Never talk negatively about your clients – it reflects badly on you.
Mistake #7 – Not balancing out your life
It’s great to run a business, dedicating yourself and enjoying the great rewards – but its dangerous to not do anything else. You need to find a balance between work and personal life. Your brain needs a break from the tough crunching it does during the week or eventually you will burn out… this will have a disastrous effect on your future and business. Humans are social beings – isolation can bring a bout of insanity. Spend time with friends or in a social environment. I should also mention that taking your vitamins, omega fatty acids, eating correctly and working out are very important. Keeping fit is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
Mistake #8 – Friends are bad business partners
No one will ever be as dedicated to your business as you are. Your dedication is based on your passion for what you’ve created. Someone else’s dedication will most likely be financially based – especially if they did not play a key part in establishing the business. I’ve seen this happen many times where friends absolutely destroy businesses. If you have a different story – I would love to hear about it.
Mistake #9 – Not keeping track of things that need to be done
Not every type of person can keep a well structured diary, calendar or TODO list and it’s exceptionally easy to completely forget important tasks. It is important to stay on top of what you need to do on a daily basis – how you do this is up to you. Managing to keep track of my tasks and TODO list has been an invaluable skill to learn – nothing works better than good old pen and paper, but there are awesome tools that can help you with this:
- Things (Mac)
- Remember the Milk
- iProcrastinate (Mac)
- MindNode (Mac)
- Google Calendar
- Google Docs
A good book on this subject that I can recommend:
- Getting Things Done – by David Allen
Mistake #10 – Not keeping your tax obligations on track
No one likes paying taxes, its like giving away a large chunk of your hard earned money to governments that don’t always do what they promise. Still there is no escaping it. There are ways in which you can minimize your taxes legally with certain tax cuts – but those are beyond the scope of this post and I recommend that you read a book called “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki. In most countries you are not required to pay tax if you earn under a certain amount per year. Be sure to keep systematic records of everything, there will certainly be a time where you need to review something or send proof of payment to someone and you will want that information on hand.
Mistake #11 – Stop trying to be perfect, nothing in life is
It’s quite easy to fall behind when you are obsessing about perfecting everything you do. I know that when you design or develop something, you tend to stress about every small detail… there is no point to doing this. You are less productive when you over-analyze. You can always revise your work once it’s done and make changes then. Plan well, design and develop the product well, have faith in your ability and get the product out the door – you make money when processes are flowing smoothly. Evolve projects according to client feedback and constructive criticism. Don’t take it personally.
Mistake #12 – Not keeping up to date backups
This is a very common problem, as it takes time and effort to create backups – especially complex source code spanning over multiple projects, but what happens when something goes wrong and you’re stuck without your vital work? Does the time it takes to create backup outweigh the reward? No it doesn’t – even worse when your primary PC is a mobile laptop. I use a version control system called Subversion to keep all my source code in one place. I’ve also scheduled a backup task that runs once every 2 days that copies all my important files over to an external hard drive. There’s an endless amount of backup tools available, but here are the ones I use regularly:
- Amazon S3 (Online)
- Dropbox (Online)
- Genie Backup Manager (Windows)
- Apple Time Machine (Mac)
- SuperDuper (Mac)
Many great version control systems exist for your source code and files – some of these are:
Mistake #13 – Not knowing your business
It’s vital that you know exactly what it is that you are offering and what you do not offer. Don’t try offer something else in another field on the sideline, chasing after the quick buck. This takes time away from your vital core business and the “quick buck” is short lived.
Mistake #14 – Failing to network or collaborate with others
The benefits to networking with other people are not always obviously visible when you are overwhelmed with business and client requests. When you network – your social circle grows, potential to get new clients increases, your reputation is enhanced, your public image improves and you get to face new opportunities that you would have missed otherwise. Start networking by creating social profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, Behance, Virb, Twitter, MySpace, start your own website or blog, join Tumblr. The possibilities are endless. I make it a daily mission to network with at least 20 new people in different fields. The more people you know, the easier it is to find people to network with.
Mistake #15 – Not keeping a close eye on your competition
It’s arguable that there’s no business you can get into that hasn’t been done before. You will inevitably have stiff competition. You need to ensure that you keep an eye out for what the competition are doing – learn from them, study their tactics and improve on them. They will eventually be doing the same to you. Competition is great for a business, it forces you to be creative and continually improve your products or services. You won’t make it if you don’t constantly evolve.
Mistake #16 – Not doing any marketing
This is pretty much a no-brainer. You won’t get your share of the market if you don’t advertise. Marketing can be a very complex subject and involves a whole lot more than just putting ads in newspapers, on cars or websites. Your lifestyle, your public image and the way you talk can all contribute to your marketing plan. Be confident, be bold, stand out from the rest and find your niche. If your work is superb and your existing clients are happy, they will provide the most valuable form of advertising for you … word of mouth. Keep in mind that small business advertising and large business advertising differ. Small businesses and freelancers usually have very limited marketing budgets so you need to employ very creative tactics. Existing customers can provide you with invaluable feedback, so don’t be afraid to ask for their advice. A limited budget does not mean that you cannot compete with the bigger guys – it’s actually an opportunity to engage with customers on a more personal level. Concentrate on making great first impressions – not only on a personal level, but as a business too. If you’ve spent time on networking (point #14) , your chance of finding new clients and work is increased exponentially. Make sure you are listed on as many freelance job sites as possible. Useful links:
Mistake #17 – Neglecting your finances
Sometimes looking at your bank statements when times are tough can be a very scary thing – I know, but you have to be aware of your financial position at all times. Spending blindly can be addictive, especially when you know that your clients will be topping you up soon again, but what happens when something goes wrong and you lose that potential “top up”? I suggest hiring an accountant, a financial adviser and attorney from the start. You can learn from these people and they will take care of you and your best interests. It’s also a very good idea to read up on basic business accounting and law – this will benefit you in the long run and you will know how to read financial statements, balance sheets and ledgers. Useful links:
- Online accounting lessons
- Choosing the right accountant
- Choosing the right financial planner
- How to choose the correct attorney
Mistake #18 – Under estimating time required to complete projects
This is a very common mistake especially when you are trying to impress clients with how fast you can produce results. This is also a mistake that can hinder the possibility of landing any new projects from existing clients – some might be more forgiving than others. Ensure that you allow for enough time to complete the project – including mockups, documentation, margin for error, QA and bug fixes. It’s best that you do some more research on this subject – the better you, become at this, the better experience your client will have when dealing with you. Useful links:
Mistake #19 – Charging too little
Don’t feel guilty asking money for services you render. Put your bib away and throw down the numbers. Your client will respect you for being confident and direct. Human beings tend to be happier with the slightly more expensive product or service because we feel we’re getting more value and better quality. Make sure that you charge enough to cover all of your expenses and to make a profit on top of that. Let your clients know exactly what they’re getting and why your service has its price tag. If you find yourself in the position where you’ve charged too little, don’t be afraid to go back to your client and explain the situation. The value you are adding to their business far exceeds the amount they’re paying you and they know that.
Mistake #20 – Not learning from your clients
Most of your clients will be small to medium businesses – in some cases, large businesses. There is a lot you can learn from them and their business processes. Take it all in, use what you can ask for as much feedback about your service as you can.
Mistake #21 – Not having fun
Lastly … this is your business, you should be enjoying every moment at the helm, even the tough times. If you hate it or you feel that you need to step away … you are clearly not doing what you should be. There are tons of resources online that are free for anyone to access. I strongly recommend that you never stop learning and persist through the tough times. I hope that this post helped you in some way and I would love to hear your feedback. Happy freelancing!
Books that we’d recommend:
- The Long Tail by Chris Anderson
- Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
- Business Stripped Bare by Richard Branson
- The 10 Day MBA by Steven Silbiger
A few other interesting articles: