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3 Fatal mistakes that all freelancers should avoid

Written by Tom Ewer on 22 July 2013

The image of freelancing for a living has often been perceived as a casual, easy way to make money without putting in the hours. As any good freelancer knows, this assumption is totally incorrect. Freelancing requires hard work, dedication, drive and the overriding desire to help your clients as much as possible. With so much competition for work, building a great reputation, staying ahead of your competitors and providing an outstanding level of service is vital. In this post I'm going to discuss three fatal mistakes that all freelancers must avoid to stay on top of their game.

1. Not Submitting on Deadline

Submitting work on time is vitally important to your reputation as a freelancer. In an industry that often relies on word-of-mouth, proving that you can be punctual and trustworthy when it comes to deadlines is key. Remember that your clients have deadlines too, and your inability to meet the agreed timescale could have a wider impact on a larger project. As a freelancer, part of your job is to make life as hassle-free as possible for your client and they should never have to chase you for work.

Use your time management skills to ensure you don't take on work you can't manage or know you can't complete by the agreed date. Time-wise, always allow yourself some breathing space in case something unavoidable crops up, and if you aregoing to miss a deadline, contact your client as soon as you can. The strength of your working relationship is built on trust. Being timely when submitting work and providing updates or responding to contact from your client can go a long way in securing repeat business and a boost to your reputation.

2. Not Following Instructions

Next to missing deadlines, freelancers who fail to follow instructions are the biggest headache a client can have. Not reading guidelines properly -- or at all in some cases -- inevitably leads to time wasted on revisions after work is submitted. From the client's perspective, not following instructions gives the impression of laziness, incompetence and arrogance. Instructions are there for a reason, and when you pay attention you are sending out an instant message that you care. Clarify the scope of the project and question any points you don't understand before commencing work.

Inevitably there will be occasions when you disagree with a client's plans, or can see a more productive way of implementing them. If this is the case then approach your client diplomatically with suggestions; don't ignore the brief and do things your way. Offering advice over criticism or blatantly ignoring guidelines will impress your client every time. And I'll keep saying it: reputation is everything in freelancing; it goes before you giving an indication of skill, reliability, and quality of work.

3. Acting Unprofessionally

Although your client may not be your boss in the traditional sense, you should still afford them with the same level of respect. Whilst freelancing gives you the freedom to have a more relaxed approach to working relationships, there is still a line you shouldn't cross. Don't try to be cool or over-friendly with your client; this is, after all, a business transaction. If you want to be viewed as a professional, act professionally from the outset. Whether it's on your own blog or CV, or within work you complete for a client, carelessness in the form of typos, grammatical errors or incorrect information is unacceptable. It projects a sloppy attitude.

Similarly, pretending to be an expert in something you're not, will never work. Clients expect the best and won't appreciate being let down or receiving sub-standard work. And lastly, try not to burn bridges. If you find a client impossible to work with, or you feel unhappy about the level of pay received for the work produced, then chalk it up to experience and deal with it in as professional a manner as you can. You might vow never to work with that client again, but it is a small world in which the most unlikely of people are connected, and finishing a project with your reputation intact is worth more than any fee or bonus you'll ever get.


It is inevitable that at some point in their career every freelancer will make a few mistakes. After all, we are only human. If these mistakes are not the norm then clients will understand, especially if you have consistently remained professional in your approach and provided an impeccable level of service throughout previous projects. In freelancing the buck stops with you. You are your reputation, so work hard to achieve and maintain it, and always keep striving to be the best you can.

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