The top 7 freelance mistakes that you should avoid

Alți freelanceri
October 13, 2021

You’ve taken your career to the next level and launched a freelance business? Congrats! The excitement around becoming your own boss gives you the productivity boost to get things moving. But, once that high of having launched a business vanishes, it’ll likely feel more like a trial and error phase. That’s okay, because what better way to learn than from our own mistakes, right?

Well actually, there is one: “Learning from the other guys' mistakes” as american business magnate & investor Warren Buffet once said. So, we rolled up our sleeves and researched with experienced freelancers the top freelancing mistakes and how to maneuver around them!

Freelancing mistake #1: Skipping the contract-signing with clients (also trusted clients)

Picture this: You just landed a new exciting project, you are on the same wavelength with your client and you can’t wait to get started. Now, the last thing you feel like doing is killing the vibe with “some legal paperwork”: the contract! But, some of the consequences that can arise from skipping contract-signing with your client can range from sudden disagreements on the scope of work to not getting paid a dime for work that has already been done. And without any contract at hand, there is not much to do about it.

“The biggest mistake was to trust a collaborator that I had known for a while and that I started working without having signed a contract. Three weeks later and already having some of the materials delivered, he tells me that he doesn't like them anymore, even though I had initially received ‘ok’ feedback. After endless discussions, I decided to give up all the work that I had done up to that point and stop all collaborations with him. What lesson do we learn from this? I don't start anything until I sign a contract with clear clauses. In some cases, I request 50% of the total invoice in advance.”

Alina Canură aka Anghel, freelancer in content creation

Getting the first freelancer contract in place can create anxiety, especially when you are not passionate about the law. But luckily, there are many freelancers out there that started one day just like you and will be happy to help out a fellow freelancer. Our tip: Get social and join a freelance community on Facebook and ask for help. As a final resort, you can still ask a lawyer to get the draft you created checked.

Freelancing mistake #2: Not acting legally compliant & selecting “the suboptimal” legal form for your business

When it comes to typical mistakes that fresh freelancers make, this one can be particularly costly: Not thinking about yourself as a business and not researching on how to structure your business legally.

Once you start offering services or products in exchange for payments, even if you are just a single person, you are operating a business. While countries may have different laws that stipulate the responsibilities of solo-entrepreneurs, what most have in common is: the requirement of registering the business, keeping records of business transactions and becoming subject to taxation. Not acting compliant with the law is usually followed with stiff penalties by authorities. And getting fined before you even get your business off the ground will hurt your business financially! 

Another decision, which can prove costly if taken sub-optimal, is choosing the legal form for your freelance business. Most commonly, the country-specific law will leave you with several options, with each form having its own implications for your company’s organization, bookkeeping and taxation. So you’ll be well advised to do your research or even consult with a tax advisor which form is the right one for you and allows you to optimize your taxes.  

Looking back at his beginnings as a freelancer, stand-up comedian Mădălin Cîrje from Romania, only regrets 1 mistake: not having chosen the optimal legal structure for his business from the start.

“If I could go back in time and give myself a piece of advice it would be: Make the same mistakes you've made so far, minus that with the PFA, register the business as an LLC directly. Any advice for new freelancers? Throw in as many expenses as you can, it helps a lot (with taxes)“

Mădălin Cîrje, freelancer in stand-up comedy

Freelancing mistake #3: Undervaluing or overvaluing your services as a freelancer

Trying to find the right rate can be overwhelming for fresh freelancers. Setting your hourly rate too high, you won’t get the job, shooting too low, and you’ll be left emotionally stressed for feeling not being compensated fairly, and potentially struggling financially to break-even: yes, office supplies, taxes, social and health insurance are now on you!

While there is a general tendency to accept lower rates to win clients when starting out as freelancer, there needs to come a point where expectations on both sides, freelancer and client, are revised. Otherwise, the switch to freelance will not prove profitable. At this stage one important skill will make the difference: the art of negotiation. There might be clients that just accept your rate, no questions asked, but others will try in every means to get or keep a discount.

Our tip: Be prepared, join a freelance community, talk to your freelance peers that operate in the same industry and get a feeling of the common rates on the market and that match your experience. And when it comes down to negotiating your rate, know your worth and confidently negotiate for the rate you deserve!

“Trust yourself and your judgment, don’t question your experience. Your work is worth the price you ask for”

Alina Canură aka Anghel, freelancer in content creation

Freelancing mistake #4: Not automating or outsourcing tasks that do not bring value to your business

Just think about the many hours invested into dealing with repetitive tasks such as creating invoices, trying to get prepared for tax report season or to understand your freelance finances. These are tasks which you need to take care of as a business owner but which do not create value for your client. And this means wasting precious time that can be used to focus on your core activity or equally important, to take care of your well-being.

But luckily there are solutions too. And no, it’s not immediately outsourcing your whole financial management to an accountant ;-) Our tip: Start by making technology your best friend, automate repetitive tasks and save precious time by simplifying more complex ones. Our app Fairo is a champion at automating & simplifying tasks related to freelance business admin: from invoicing, bookkeeping, tax calculations to client payment tracking. You can check out all of its latest features here. And the best thing is that you can use most of our features for free.

No strings attached!

Freelancing mistake #5: Leaving things unsaid with your clients

Another common mistake that freelancers make is to assume that something about a project, may it be an objective, a deliverable, a deadline, is “just obvious” and clarification or reconfirmation with their client is not necessary. But, in a world where clients live across the globe and come from diverse cultural backgrounds, taking on a “it goes without saying” approach has great potential to mess up even the best kind of collaboration.

“What happened to me and I won't soon forget is a feedback session on a visual where my views and the client's were diametrically opposed. We realized after a few minutes that each of us was talking about a completely different visual, at this point we both started laughing. The conclusion here? Make sure you discuss the same thing, before the discussion escalates. It didn't happen to me, but contracts can also be terminated if you find a more difficult client.”

Alina Canură aka Anghel, freelancer in content creation

Instead of going along with “it goes without saying”, start moving along with an “everything is worth saying and sometimes best put into writing” approach! To make sure you understand goals, deliverables and deadlines, you can rephrase the discussed and reconfirm with your client. Also on the other hand: Be available for clarifications! Let your client know the best time and way (channels) to reach you. This will save energy, time and costs on both, your and your client’s end.

Freelancing mistake #6: Not continuously developing your skills

While you’ll reach a point at which you’ll feel confident in what you have to offer as a freelancer, becoming too comfortable and neglecting advancing your skills will leave you lacking behind your industry peers in today’s competitive landscape. Technology and knowledge is evolving at lightning speed, so is your field. And the truth is: Taking one course once every couple of years isn’t going to do the job in keeping you at the forefront, especially if you are claiming that you are an expert. Much more, it takes a strong long-term commitment to continuously learn, stay up-to-date and not losing curiosity in your craft.

Freelancing mistake #7: Doubting yourself and becoming a perfectionist

As a business owner, naturally you want to deliver the best work that you can for your clients and to earn yourself a positive reputation. In a nuthsell: Just doing what you love successfully. But even the most experienced freelancer will recall moments or periods of times when the pressure of wanting to do well translates into doubts about oneself or perfectionistic tendencies. While it is natural to experience it at times, it is important to not let these thoughts or habits spiral out of control. Self-doubts can negatively impact your creativity and problem-solving skills and as a perfectionist you will have a hard time sticking to deadlines.  

How to manage self-doubts and perfectionistic tendencies? Keeping things in perspective. It is easy to fall into that workaholic state and to try to have everything sorted out from the start, but keeping your mental as well as physical health intact and dedicating time for yourself is essential to staying effective at work and to not burn out. And why not see freelancing and its challenges as a continuous learning process?

“A lesson for those who want to become freelancers: you don't need to know everything before opening a PFA. I didn't even know what the tax declaration was, I didn't know how to issue an invoice. All this can be learned in time, if you are interested.“

Alex Galben, freelancer in graphic design & professor of informatics

The truth about freelancing: mistakes are part of the "job"

As you are starting out and even after you have become an established freelancer, you will inevitably make mistakes from time to time. But it is not as scary as it sounds and mistakes are usually followed by growth and resilience. And honestly, becoming your own boss is totally worth going on this crazy ride called freelancing!

A special thanks goes out to our Fairo customers & freelancers from Romania Alex Galben, Alina Canură & Mădălin Cîrje who shared with us their freelance experiences and the learnings they’ve taken from it. If you are looking to hire or collaborate with experienced freelancers in the area of graphic design, education in informatics, content creation or stand-up comedy, get in touch with them :-)

Alex Galben, located in Iasi (Romania) teaches informatics to children and teenagers across several academies and works for multiple companies as a graphic designer (Adobe Illustrator & Corel). He is passionate about technology, business and tennis and always tries to surpass himself. What he loves most about freelancing is the freedom to work & travel: he has already worked online from multiple cities, including Paris, Milan & Rome.

Alina Canură aka Anghel (as the world knows her online) opened her business as a content creator in 2011. Her blog has just been nominated for the Digital Divas Award 2022 in the Most Active Beauty Blogger category. Together with her husband, who is a freelance photographer and graphic designer, she just recently opened a studio, where she writes for and her husband photographs most of the time. Alina is passionate about digital marketing, has over 5 years of experience in sales and can imagine adding business consulting or social media strategies to her portfolio. .

Mădălin Cîrje's dream always was to make people laugh. Now, 4 years later, he has made a lot of people burst into laughter with his stand up shows, made it to the iUmor Romania TV show and gained a significant following on Facebook (over 14k Follower) & Instagram (over 30k Follower).