Don’t make these five big mistakes that turn freelancers into failures

freelance-failure-mistakes-graphic-design-blender

I recently read this comment from a pessimist in the freelance community:

“Freelancing is a joke! There is no money in web design unless you are employed full-time by a company making a salary. Nobody pays real money anymore. They just go to any of the big template shops and pay $60 for a design, or hire some college kid for 100 bucks to build a site.” (If you disagree with this stance, please spread the word on this post with a tweet, or share on linkedin or facebook.)

That is a simple response for some, but to that I have to say… You get what you pay for.

Being your own boss and working independently sure beats the constraints of a regular 9-5 job, but is freelancing full-time a joke?

Here’s my concise answer: freelancing is not a joke, it’s just a lot of hard work.

There are naysayers in the freelance community, and it’s more than likely a result of their failed attempt at freelancing.

Success will not simply present itself to you. If you’re making the jump into freelance here are just a few mistakes to avoid that many failed freelancers have made.

Mistake #1: Fear of competition

There are countless cocky creatives out there starving for work, and yes your job can be replaced by a $30 template, so that’s why you have to convince your clients to work with you.

You can’t let fear or anything stand in your way of reaching your goals.

Perseverance, dedication and passion will get you to where you’d like to be in your career.

I read this somewhere and I absolutely love it: when fear is viewed in the right perspective, it’s actually a signal that you need to do something.

Mistake #2: Not enough motivation

Freelancing is definitely a self-motivating job.

If you aren’t promoting your latest project or searching for your next gig, then you’re going to go without a paycheck.

You need to be doing everything in your power to reach success, even if that means making a few sacrifices.

Every day you should be meeting deadlines, crossing off to-dos and producing some form of content.

Mistake #3: Poor service rates

One of the biggest and most common questions asked about freelancing is how much should I charge?

The hourly or per project rate you choose to charge should be unique to yourself and based off of your experience and the client’s budget.

If you’re underselling your services then you’re just setting yourself up for failure, and if you’re overselling, then you just might lose the job.

With some experience you’ll eventually be able to quote your time accordingly and negotiate projects effectively. Which brings me to my next point…

Mistake #4: Lack of negotiating skills

Be prepared for when the time comes to win the client over with your design services.

While it’d be nice to refuse negotiating rates, you’ll for sure need to find a win-win situation between the client and yourself.

If the client’s budget is nowhere near your rates, then reevaluate the project’s description and try to provide a solution that is in their budget rather than simply turning down the job.

Mistake #5: Giving up too soon

It’s too easy to just throw in the towel. Nothing comes easy. Especially something like your career.

I can promise you that if you hustle every day, keep creating and sharing, that with time you’ll see the growth and be rewarded for your efforts.

Put your passion before results, because results often follow passion. [tweetable]

What are some other mistakes to avoid that could set your freelance career up for failure?

Are you currently struggling with something in your freelance career?

Leave your comment on this post with your thoughts and/or questions!

There are a lot of smart readers here willing to help, including the GDB team so don’t be shy! :)

 

Comments

  1. Thanks for the great article! I’m just starting out as a freelancer this is an excellent reminder.

  2. I am a struggling freelancer, but I have not lost my passion. I did loose my car. Hence, this is a big obstacle in the way to getting clients. I really needed to get rid of my old car because of the rust. When I was in college, I was preparing to go into freelance work, so I bought all of the equipment that I could afford to get ready for my profession, but I did not have money to purchase a car. Now I have no car, so I am selling off items that I do not need, (none of my design equipment) to purchase a decent looking automobile.

    I was looking on line to get encouragement from freelance entrepreneurs who had obstacles to overcome when working to get their businesses off the ground. I am considering going into full-time work, but I know that it is not in my heart to go into full-time work. I am keeping my business afloat buy creating free design work for non-profit organizations and I am working on a full-spread branded design event for a friend. I want to keep my company relevant by having current projects on my resume, but I am not making any profit right now.

    Any stories about the struggles of starting a freelance business. I wish to persevere in my efforts to get my company off the ground.

    • Bobbi,

      It sounds like you’ve sacrificed a lot to freelance, which only shows that you’re passionate about it. Just keep producing work and making connections.

      I know I personally go through many ups and downs freelancing, and it always seems to get better if you stick with it.

      Just because you may not have a car at the moment shouldn’t mean that you can’t find work. Almost all of my client work is done remotely, so don’t let that (or anything) get in your way.

      Use your time wisely to build a portfolio / online presence, and market yourself.

      I wish you the best! Feel free to reach out and connect with me. You can find all of my links in the author section above.

      Thanks for taking the time to share your story and comment! :)

  3. I think it also depends on where you are located. I have found that in bigger cities like New York, LA And San Francisco, it is easier to be a successful freelancer. There may be more competition, but there is also more opportunities. Whereas in smaller cities, you may need to educate your client on what good design is and may find it harder to charge the price you are worth. In that case I somewhat agree with the quote from the pessimist. I also think the competition is getting more fierce. In cities like Miami where AIGA is hardly active, the support community is weak, which I believe makes it even harder for freelancers.

    • You’re absolutely right. Depending on where you live does play a huge role in how you run your business.

      Freelancing is definitely a struggle, but it’s all in how you market yourself. Your business is as successful as you make it. There are plenty of opportunities for client work and passive income, it’s just a matter of making it happen (and maybe a little bit of luck).

      Thanks for sharing! :)

  4. I recently had a great encounter with a fellow designer that changed my thought process concerning my prices. Recently, I was approached about a book design for a well-known author. When I quoted the client for the project, they let me know that they were “concerned” with the price and thus declined my services. During the meeting with the client, I let them know that I was able to negotiate the price with them. Unfortunately, I never heard back from them.

    I am learning that when you quote a project, you have to educate the client on why you charge X amount for a project. If you provide a service, you have to show them how valuable your services are. If they don’t have an good understanding of your services, it is very possible they will run away.

    Thank you for writing this article!

    • This is very true. I learned the hard way not to just quote a price and then just leave it, but to explain the price in simple terms and then after getting their response, possibly offer more cost effective options. Although that doesn’t work all the time, as with your experience, it’s a good formula with a solid track record of winning over potential clients.

    • I’ve definitely picked that up from experience. Usually when I’m quoting a project I breakdown the project’s tasks and what it is I’ll be doing. This helps the client understand what exactly it is they’re paying for.

      I shared a similar situation like this in a recent blog post where I was competing against a brick and mortar agency and won them over with a killer proposal: http://www.graphicdesignblender.com/how-i-beat-out-a-brick-and-mortar-agency-with-a-killer-proposal

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment!

  5. I’ve read that comment before, but i cant remember where. I agree with what Brent said that you need a lot of motivation to keep it going.

    Nice article as always Brent!

  6. Great post, Brent!

    I think #2 and #5 are especially good because many freelances just expect work to show up on their doorstep/website. When it doesn’t, they say freelancing is impossible.

    I know I work harder than I did at my regular job – but it’s because I care more and I am motivated to succeed. I love my job!

  7. Dan Coggins says:

    There’s a great saying I heard that encourages me to hang in there:

    “Everything looks like a failure in the middle.”

    Thanks for the post.

  8. Very true April. I think freelance work takes a lot of dedication. There will be set backs. The trick is staying positive and to not give up. There is a great book out by Margie Warrell titled, “Stop Playing Safe: Rethink Risk. Unlock the Power of Courage. Achieve Outstanding Success,” that points out this very point and teaches you how to bounce back from setbacks with greater resilience. This is an important concept for any freelancer. Thanks for this great post, I found it to be extremely valuable!

  9. Want to be taken more seriously?

    Double your rates!

    By increasing your rates, you’ll be keeping yourself away from time-wasters and you’ll be attracting a more higher quality client.

    But the main problem most freelancers are having is that they’re not getting many enquiries to begin with.

    That’s why you’ve got to promote and market yourself.

    Find a niche, create a blog and start creating good content. Or maybe even create posts for other design blogs.

    80% of most freelancers clients are from referrals.

    All you need is 1 good client. That 1 client will get you referrals, and their referrals will get you more referrals.

    I hope all the freelance designers reading this do well in their field and not get screwed over by their clients.

  10. Nice post Brent,

    I’m starting to embark on a freelancing path and all of these fears are definitely valid. Rather than fearing competition in the “There are tons of templates that do the job” category, I feel that my work provides a lot of benefits to the clients, and I’m glad I feel that way, although I don’t have any clients yet.

    #2, 3 and 4 are probably my killers right now and I’m trying to do something about it.

    How would you tackle the finding the your next client? I’m asking this because I haven’t had a client, and I’m not too sure how I can go about with this, but I want to get out of this rut.

    Thanks for your reply!

    • Zell,

      I checked out your website and you’re definitely headed in the right direction with blogging. It’s also good to see that you have an ebook to offer to your website’s visitors. It’s a great way to drive traffic to yourself. I would however recommend that you finish your portfolio and services page soon, because those are essential for any potential clients passing by your site.

      One of the best ways to start finding clients would be to simply ask your family, friends, and past contacts. Let them know what you’re doing.

      Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to local businesses that you see fit as a client. Either go in directly with a game-plan or simply shoot them an email introducing yourself and what you do.

      I personally have had some success with finding work on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, so use the advance search to your advantage.

      I hope this helps and feel free to connect with me using my links in the author section above.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment! :)

  11. Hi!

    My thoughts are that you’re setting yourself up to fail if you are not consistent… you should know what your brand is, what it is that you should be offering to clients every time – great design, great service, something that adds value to their business. Your work and how you present yourself should never fall below this.
    I also think you should offer something more to, to exceed a client’s expectations so they know that their business means something to you too.

    Enjoying your blog from the UK! Just returning back to design after 10 years of teaching and it’s nice to get that ‘buzz’ when a client tells you they love your work!

  12. Another problem is that designers often have poor service. The design is nice, but calls and emails aren’t returned, and when the client wants a change, the designer resists because he/she “knows better.”

    At the end of the day, the client-centered designer does far better than one that designs for his/her portfolio.

  13. Not impossible! I have been freelancing full time now for a year and I love it. Is it hard? Yes. Am I rich? No. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. My life is now really MY LIFE, and I get to live it just how I want to. Sometimes I can’t believe that people actually pay me to play on my computer :)
    The mistake I think too many freelancers make is that they think they know it all and don’t need outside help. Working with a marketing/business coach finally put me in a position to quit my part time job and freelance full time, and now, a year later, I’m getting ready to work with her again to keep the momentum going so I can continue to work less and earn more so I can do the things I love outside of work.

  14. #2 really resonated with me- self motivation is a definite must in the freelance world- & I’m glad that #4 is not a huge concern for me because it’s kinda difficult to learn how to walk that thin line between persuasive entrepreneur & used car salesman.

    I’ve also run into my share of not so much naysayers, but those who believe that because I work freelance that for some reason boat loads of cash is just dumped in my lap on day-to-day basis and I only have to work when I feel like, all the while still being able to pay my bills. Or, that if I have an unexpected bill or need some extra cash I can just simply take on more projects. o.0?? Obviously, they must know a heck of a lot more than I do, because I’ve never had any type of project just handed to me. I have experience in talking & pleasantly charming a prospect into a paying client, but that’s not the end result with every prospect AND I had to log the man hours just to drum up those prospects. I blame this attitude partly on general ignorance of the work it takes to be in this field & those work from home infomercials that portray being your own boss as being so easy, even a caveman could do it.

    Still, this is a great article Brent. I’ll be sure to share this with a few others that I think could benefit from reading this.

  15. I’ve been freelancing now for about 2.5 years. Prior to that, I was with a design group for 12 years making a salary. The company tanked with the economy early 2010 so in effect that was the springboard that led me to be a freelancer. The hardest part for me have been the peaks and valleys of income– it comes in droves all at once or dries up completely for weeks. This makes it hard to live your life (after having a steady salary) in a “steady” way. I’m slowly getting used to it, but I do miss the consistency of income and being able to plan around that. I never used to really worry about paying the bills, now that’s what it’s all about. I’ve successfully done that so far, but there’s very little left over. I’m not saying my experience in freelancing is bad; there are of course the perks of being self-employed, but I would say for me it’s been a little bitter sweet.

    • Roth,

      I think many freelancers can relate to you here. I know I can. The inconsistent stream of income is a struggle, but in the end I love what I do and I just try to stay positive when times get tough.

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment!

  16. There’s two major points overlooked for self promotion. One is that you need to specialize in a certain style and promote that. Second is customer service. If your a freelancer then a large part of your success takes place during and after the job is finished. “Personalized Service” is important and creates customer loyalty which then radiates into more potential clients.

  17. You are just focusing your comments on web site designers. My field is packaging and label design. There are no templates to use In this area. Please include all possible scenarios. However your advice is very valuable for me. Thank you for sharing your knowledge
    LM

  18. If you want a good laugh, ask a freelance web designer to show you what they earned last month. Odss are they made nothing or a few hundred bucks.

    Web design is a horrible field to be in. I would never advise anyone to make web design their career goal unless you like being broke and living pay check to pay check. Go to school and get a real degree in IT where you’ll have a high starting salary and an abundance of job opportunity.

    Hell even a Road Striper job will earn you like $65k a year and all you need is your class A CDL and clean driving record.

  19. Great article! As with some of the comments above, freelance designers should never overlook the fact that it’s not always about income, it’s also about having more time in your hands to either

    a) live your life how you want it to be lived, as Theresa mentioned above and;
    b) use this time to market yourself,
    c) and learn a new design skill during your free time

    It is also a good move to try and have a focused niche market — instead of just “web design” one can narrow down his or her services to a certain specialization.

  20. Thanks for the post, am learning that to be a good freelancer you need to be a great at marketing too. One may have a ‘bad’ product and sell more compared to the other with ‘just great’ but not known enough
    Depending on where you live and the economy, freelance business can or may not work at start up but will surely flourish with continued effort fired up by passion and belief
    I hail from Uganda and from experience not too many companies/ organizations/ agencies are willing to pay huge salary for designers. Rather than wait for fat salary I do freelance *_*

  21. Luis M. Saez says:

    I am starting freelance design and it good idea to start freelancing on the Design Crowd website.

  22. LuckyLadyDesigns says:

    What are your thoughts on requiring a deposit? One of my biggest frustrations is that I’ll start a project with someone and after several rounds of edits (some would even be considered redesigns), they end up disappearing and/or deciding to go with “something else.” My time and energy went into disguised pro bono work. :(

    • That’s very unfortunate… I almost always have a contract or agreement in place, which covers that I require a downpayment. This will help protect yourself from exactly what you described. I hope that helps.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!

  23. What an excellent post, and (for me) an excellent time to read it. I’ve been freelancing as a graphic & web designer since 2011 and have recently struggled with both #2 and #5.

    Basically the trouble I was running into was securing some contract work and then basically being so wrapped up in that project I neglect to stay on task with actively marketing myself to others for more work – which in turn leaves me with the feeling of wanting to give up because pulling in 1 project every few weeks isn’t cutting it.

    Are there any tricks to ensure you don’t lose sight of outside marketing while busy with projects or does it just boil down to disciplining ones self better?

    • John,

      I think what helps me stay on top of the many tasks that need to be done is to simply make a to-do list every day. I even put the simplest of tasks on there – like to ask a question on my Facebook page, because if I don’t I’ll just forget.

      Think about what you need to get done for the day, write out the tasks, and cross them off once you’ve finished!

      I hope that little tip helps. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment! :)

  24. I think this is one of the biggest mistruths about full time versus freelance:

    “Being your own boss and working independently sure beats the constraints of a regular 9-5 job, but is freelancing full-time a joke?”

    Sometimes being your own boss and working independently ends up with many more restraints than a 9-5 job. Did you make enough money last week? No? Probably going to work on the weekend, probably through the night, probably through your unpaid vacation.

    A 9-5 job can also loosen constraints on your life by introducing stability.

    I say this not to dissuade freelancers but to make it clear you need to really understand the life this leads to. Your work becomes everything. If you’re not making the $$$ you need to be, it becomes extremely difficult to draw lines that make it possible to remain sane. Freelancing can be very freeing. It can also be enslaving. It depends on the individual, their personality, and the opportunities they encounter. Know thyself! For me it was not an easy road but led me to a wonderful full time opportunity I would never trade for my freelance life.

  25. Good post. Self motivation is huge. You don’t realize how unique a trait this is until you see others around you trying to be self-employed also and just not being able to pull it off. Nothing wrong with that though, people are just motivated by different things.

    I wrote a post about this same topic back in 2008, might be a fun read for some on here:
    http://www.brianyerkes.com/50-reasons-why-you-will-not-make-it-as-a-freelancer/

    (excuse the very outdated design etc, cobbler’s son syndrome ! )

  26. Great, great article!

    One thing I can definitely mention is finding one’s niche and running with it to set your business aside from the competition (I liken it like running an Italian restaurant while others may run a burger joint in the food service industry). This can also aid in being a source of direction for the growth of the company and if the unique service is worked well enough to receive the right attention, it can be the “bread and butter” of the company to guarantee either consist income or specific clients looking for that unique skill or service.

    For example, at my former firm I worked for, we produced general design and print projects, but specialized in producing obituaries. My former employer was contracted out by a few big funeral homes in the city. We had so much business with that service alone that it became an entity in itself. She now markets her services for that nationwide and is he’s definitely made her mark in it.

  27. Hi brent, I really liked your Blog. I am doing a full time job and side by side i sometimes do freelance work. My concern is that i always keep pitching for new clients and there are very few who give back there reply. Right now i am using my online portfolio to show to my clients, but here i want to ask that should i really need a website to do freelance jobs ? What else i need to do to be stronger in my freelance career. I always try on sites like Elance and others to get the work but i didnt got any work from there. I need ur suggestions. Thanks

    • saurabh,

      I think having some sort of online presence should be established. I see you have your portfolio set up on Coroflot which is great.

      If you’re struggling with clients responding to your enquiries, then maybe try a new approach… They aren’t responding to you for some reason. If you’re shooting out emails – make them unique to that specific client. Quickly introduce yourself and explain your interest in working with them.

      Landing your first client can get a little discouraging sometimes. My best advice would be to never lose hope and use your time effectively.

      I hope that helps. Best of luck!

  28. From a social media perspective to see someone write about that post and trying to force a user to like their post of Facebook is like trying to teach an old dog new tricks. I was honestly thinking that this article would have something to do with Caffeine intake from the photo, however I’ve been mislead.

  29. Nice post here but… the truth is in the last months Elance is bombed with fake indian profiles says “9years of experience, very strings skills, expert in Photoshop and illustrator, thousands of satisfied costumers” but they have a few months experience and 1-2 complete projects… using free tutorials or some clip arts they now are highly-experienced designers “with 9years experience”. People are easy too fool around the internet, and yes they get what they paid for… but after paying for some cheap stuff they will use it instead of searching for a good designer again. So good designers loose and fake low-life designers win.

  30. Thus far, I have had 2 failed graphic design businesses. The first time, I was doing lots of free assignments to fill my portfolio. Once I was ready to start getting paid clients, I was unable to find any paid clients. Everyone wanted “free” or deeply discounted services.

    The second go around, I simply had a rough time finding clients. I did bids for jobs on job boards and did word of mouth marketing. It was not successful and the tax burden became so great that I had to work extra hours at my retail job so that I could pay to dissolve my business.

    Times are tough and I am still living with my parents while working as a mail room courier, not making much more than I had at my retail job. It is time to try to start another business but I am not so sure that it is graphic design that I should be trying to pursue anymore. After 5 years of trying to freelance and 3 of trying to find a full-time job in the field, I have began to question if this is something that I should continue to try. Any advice would be helpful.

    Thanks

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