There are two breeds of freelancer. The first, an experienced expert at the top of his game; A specialist in his field. With years of proficiency under his belt, he's in the enviable position of being able to branch out alone, after recognising the value of his particular skill.
The second is the talented maverick. Usually young and confident, these are the guys who have that certain something that no one else has. A true talent. And they're completely indispensable.
I'd say I'm a mix of the two, but then I am not a freelancer. I am an entrepreneur. However, in watching my users on PeoplePerHour I've learned a lot about how freelancers perform best. And, of course, the main mistakes they make...
Poor Time Management
Self-discipline is a common problem for freelancers. Whether you're checking social media or getting distracted by your cat, it's easy to stray from your work without a boss breathing down your neck, which causes all sort of problems. Everything from your motivation to your income starts to suffer, not to mention your reputation, but there's a very easy way to combat it. Taking the time to make a list of everything you want to accomplish each morning and rigidly following it will make sure you make the most of your precious time and keep those standards high.
Have a look at your day. What do you spend your time doing? Are you making sure you're including this in your fee? There's no point, for example, in charging by the word as a writer and assuming that's all you do. Think about the time you take researching, getting to know your client, swapping emails, and even the time it takes to write up the invoice itself! Suddenly the three hours you thought you spent on that piece actually becomes almost twice that amount, halving your hourly rate. So use that handy list again... Note down what you're doing for a certain client now and then and how much time you're spending on that project, and make sure you're actually charging for all your work.
Chasing Empty Leads
Finding new work and extra contacts is the freelancers lifeblood. Whether you're using a website like mine to pick up jobs in real-time or your skills require obscure contacts in need of your expertise, it's important to get it right. The biggest mistake on the list is this - chasing empty leads. Spending your time checking in with that contact you made a few weeks ago who mentioned he may need you sometime soon, or sending business cards and links to your website out to him daily. It's the business equivalent of a needy girlfriend texting on the hour every hour and then getting pissy when you don't reply. Don't be that guy. You're better than that. If that lead wanted your services, he's going to come to you, so don't be pushy. A quick email with your contact details in the week after you met is fine. Sending mugs with your business name and smiling face on it is not.
Forgetting To Grow
Don't settle with what you've got. Ever. If I didn't have a thirst for constant and almost irritatingly unquenchable self-improvement then I wouldn't be where I am today. Keep time free to attend courses, stay up to date with the latest innovations and best practice. Go to those conferences. Even if you're up to your eyeballs in work (lucky you!) and it feels impossible to slow it down, you'll find yourself losing out if you ignore this rule. Before you know it, your competitors will have snuck up behind you and stolen your clients, because they're in the loop and you're at home ignoring the essentials. Book time in your calendar to attend the events within your industry. It's where you're likely to make your contacts, and meet your clients, after all.
Know your worth, and know when to walk away. If a potential new client tries to over haggle with you on your fee, then simply turn down the work. Not only for yourself (you're worth more than that!) but for everyone in your field. If we all started undercutting each other then where would we be? Working for pennies to win that contract by lowering your fee won't earn you respect, or the rate you deserve. Adding value to your product (extra hours, more ideas, faster deadlines) is a good way to win that client, but lowering your price is not. Think of it like buying a car - you get what you pay for. In short, don't undervalue yourself or you may end up looking like a beginner.