Want to Be a Freelancer? Avoid These 6 Critical Beginner Mistakes

Shianne Edelmayer 22-07-2019

For some, being a freelancer is a lifestyle choice. Maybe you like the adventure of “being your own boss” or the thrill of taking on a new project. For others, freelancing is something that was forced upon them. Given a chance, they’d rather be doing something else.


Regardless of the reasons why you’re freelancing, there’s a lot of work that goes into being a successful one. There are a lot of missteps that can happen, too.

Here are the worst mistakes you can make when you’re working as a freelancer.

1. Don’t Start Without a Plan

Have a plan for your freelancing career

Freelancing is a booming industry. As of 2018, over 56 million Americans were working a freelancing gig. Before you officially join the freelancing ranks, however, you need to study your market and plan how you’re going to make some money.

You need to know:

  • What you’re selling.
  • What the cost of your product or service should be.
  • Your competition, along with your weaknesses as a business.
  • Your strengths and your assets.
  • How to delegate your initial start-up costs, and
  • What sort of marketing you need to do in order to get the word out.

Are there a lot of people working in your field, but not a lot of demand? Are there a few people working, but a lot of need for that particular product?

If you don’t do this legwork, you’ll get stuck scrambling. Worse, you might end up losing money because you invested your start-up costs and your time incorrectly. Be cautious about how you approach your field and be logical.

2. Don’t Forget Email Etiquette

Email Etiquette

A lot of freelancing is done online. Not exclusively, of course, but with the emergence of email as one of our main forms of communication, proper online etiquette has become the #1 tool in the freelancer’s kit.


If you’re a remote worker like myself, email is one of the ways that you talk with your clients. If you’re a newly minted freelancer, you might think that you don’t need to worry about the customer service skills that go along with it. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

As a freelancer, your reputation and your ability to get new jobs depend heavily on three things:

  • The quality of your work.
  • Your ability to hit deadlines.
  • How easy you are to work with.

How will people know that you’re easy to work with when you’re not physically there? Through your emails, of course, and how you communicate.

If you’re rude or unresponsive when you’re talking to your clients or suppliers, word will get out that you’re not the best person to do business with.


Worried about sounding your best? Here’s how to write the perfect professional email How to Write the Perfect Professional Email (Backed by Data) Email remains the main form of communication in business. To succeed in that environment, you should learn how to compose effective professional emails. We show you 9 simple tricks that have been proven to work. Read More and make a good first impression.

3. Don’t Advertise With a Bad Website Design

Don't make a bad personal freelancer website

It’s true, you don’t need a super fancy portfolio to get things done. Sometimes all you need is a bio page, a contact form, and maybe a few testimonials.

If you don’t have a basic website, however—or worse, a bad one—it can really affect the ability of others to contact you. It can also affect your perceived professionalism in the eyes of the public.


If you’re selling digital services, how are you going to convince potential clients that you know your stuff when your webpage looks like it’s from the Web 1.0 era? How are you going to convince people you’re a good copy editor if your portfolio is full of errors?

You can’t, to be honest. The only option is to give that website a facelift. Make sure to get some feedback on it before it goes live, too.

4. Don’t Be Hard to Contact

Don't be hard to contact as a freelancer

When you’re a freelancer you need to think about how people are going to hire you. Specifically, you need to think about how they’re going to reach out.

Back in the “olden” days of the 1990s (we know, we’re dating ourselves), freelancers could list their services through phonebooks, newspaper ads, or business cards. These small snippets of information usually included their name, their location, and their phone number, so potential clients could ask them specific questions before visiting.

Even though a lot of freelancing is now online, many of those rules still apply. When freelancing, you need to have your contact details square and center. They should include:

  • Your name.
  • Email address.
  • Your phone number (if applicable).
  • Some sort of social handle, so clients can check out your profile to see samples of your work.

The downside to online freelancing is that there’s more competition: a hell of a lot more. Instead of competing on a regional scale, you’re now competing globally.

If you make it hard for people to give you their money, they’ll immediately drop you for someone who can. Everyone’s looking for convenience.

5. Don’t Lose Focus

Stay focused when you work as a freelancer

When you first started working as a freelancer, there might have been a point where you said “I can be my own boss. I don’t have to stick to a schedule or wake up early because I work from home!”

Oh boy, how wrong that is.

Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean that you can treat your “workspace” the same you would your bedroom. Sure, you can set your schedule so you can start later in the day, and you don’t have to commute, but working from home can bring a lot of distractions.

You’ll get distracted by chores, or watching TV. You’ll get distracted by your phone or running errands. Soon, you’ll stop keeping your workplace clean.

Your “office” and your “house” will become one and the same because your brain will tell you that you’re not on the clock. This is a surefire way to destroy your productivity.

Try these simple to-do list tools to keep you focused 8 Super Simple To-Do List Tools to Keep You Focused A to-do list is the simplest productivity system. These eight minimalist to-do list tools are for tracking your daily tasks without the fuss. Read More and get more done in the hours you set for yourself.

6. Don’t Forget Your Taxes

Do your taxes as a freelancer

Finally, the absolute worst mistake you can make when you’re a freelancer is not doing your taxes. Seriously, file your taxes! We can’t stress this enough.

No one likes tax time, of course, but if you struggle with calculating your taxes hire an accountant. Use a tax filing service that is local to your region. Be well aware of your local financial laws.

Just because you’re working for yourself does not mean that it’s not regular “work”, with deductions wrapped up in that. If you don’t do your taxes and you’re caught withholding money, the penalties for it can be extreme. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Do Learn From Your Freelancing Mistakes

These are some of the mistakes you can make when you’re freelancing, along with a few tips on how you should rectify them. If you follow these steps, you’ll avoid torpedoing your career.

Wondering what else you have to think about if you’re considering this job path? Here’s how to build your own online brand as a freelancer How to Build an Online Brand as a Freelancer Here are the steps freelancers need to consider when building an online brand on social media and elsewhere. Read More .

Related topics: Careers, Freelance, Job Searching, Remote Work.

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  1. J.
    July 23, 2019 at 2:09 pm

    Biggest problem? Doing hundreds of hours of work then spending hundreds of hours trying to get paid for the work, often unsuccessfully...

    • Shianne Edelmayer
      July 23, 2019 at 4:46 pm

      Definitely agree. The people I work for right now are great, but there were a few times after university where I had to chase down payments from others. There's no easy fix, but the best advice I can give is the method I followed:

      - Be cautious about which people you enter into a freelancing agreement with (and look for warning signs that may indicate that they don't have a budget).
      - Discuss payment upfront before you agree to do the work, and have your contract terms in writing/in an email.
      - Check out Glassdoor for larger companies that hire freelancers/contractors. It may give you insight into how they treat their temp, and if people are complaining openly about their work environment, you'll know it's bad.