7 lousy habits ruining your growth as a freelancer
Freelancing is famous for its boom and bust cycles. Sometimes you are rolling in dough, other times you can barely put food on the table. Part of it cyclical. For example, during summer or holiday months work can be slow for some freelancers.
Often times, it’s the freelancer’s fault. Along the way, we develop horrible habits that curtail our growth and keep us in the feed-starve cycle.
Today we’ll explore some of these bad habits that hamper your growth and offer pointers on how you can shake them off and build a flourishing freelance career.
Poor time management skills
Time is one of your most valuable assets as a freelancer. Look at it this way; companies have various departments that handle things like marketing, customer support, billing etc.
Freelancers handle most of those tasks personally. You are your marketing department, accounting, tech support and everything in between. Of course, you can outsource some of the work, yet ultimately the buck stops with you.
Your focus should always be on billable hours. These are activities that put money directly into your pocket. You need cash to survive.
If you spend the bulk of your time on non-cash generating activities, eg, social media, chances are that your freelance career will not only stall, it will come to a screeching halt.
Coping strategies: The trick is to balance your business activities. Focus on your strong areas. Spend the bulk of your time on projects that put money directly into your pocket and spend the rest of the time on administration and business development. You can also outsource to other freelancers who are experts in your weak areas.
Poor money management
Closely related to dysfunctional time management is a weak handle on finances. The reality is, businesses survive on income. Let me repeat that.
Cash is king in business.
Most freelancers fall into the trap of treating their freelancing as a hobby. Something you do on the side or when you feel like it. I’d argue this is the wrong way to approach your freelance activities.
Coping strategies: Approach your side hustles like a real business and watch your fortunes turn around. Learn to keep proper books, invoice and bill clients appropriately, pay your taxes accordingly and build cash reserves for the lean times.
The lean times will undoubtedly come, prepare now and chances are your survival is almost guaranteed.
Failure to negotiate
Let me clue you on a little freelancing secret: Nothing is cast in stone! You have to learn to push back sometimes and draw a line in the sand on your rates, work hours etc.
Sometimes it’s tempting to take lowball offers to survive. Please don’t! It might seem like the prudent thing to do to survive in the short run. However, studies corroborated by research reveal that it’ll affect your morale, your work and strain relations with the client.
Also, some clients expect you to avail yourself to their every demand during odd hours. This can quickly ruin your work-life balance.
You don’t have to be unreasonable. Sometimes, you have to bend over backwards to accommodate your clients. This is especially true for long-term clients. But even then, learn how to push back expertly and draw the line somewhere.
Coping strategies: Learn how to negotiate effectively and establish lines that you won’t cross. Respect and communicate your business hours to your clients. You deserve fair rates for your work, breaks from work and reasonable work hours. Nobody will hand them to you. You have to negotiate for them diplomatically.
Working to the point of burnout
We’ve all been there as freelancers. We have a full roster of clients, work is plentiful, and we think we can handle it all. So we push, we stretch, we keep pounding until we drop in exhaustion.
Am a big believer in smart, hard work. You cannot thrive if you are a lazy freelancer. Exceptional work however takes time.
Working yourself to a pulp isn’t the answer. Exhaustion will negatively impact your work and might have dire health consequences in the long run.
Coping strategies: Learn to balance your work and take on projects that you can confidently handle given your time constraints. It’s tempting to take on everything, but that’s just a recipe for disaster. It’ll result in shoddy work and strained client relations.
Take breaks, reflect, strategize, go for a walk sometimes. It’s a scientifically proven method to boost creativity. You can rebuild your client roster, earn more and rebuild your career. Your health, unfortunately, is a bit fragile, so choose wisely.
Ignoring networking & new business development
It’s easy as a freelancer to fall into a dangerous “cozy” comfort zone. You have a full roster of well-paying clients, and you don’t see a need to expand your networks.
Then the clients suddenly fall off the grid or the economy tanks, and you are left barely getting by. It’s a tight spot to land. It’s scary if you don’t have a financial cushion.
Coping strategies: Business development and networking are vital activities that freelancers must continuously do. Whether you are raking it in or barely making your mortgage payments, keep expanding your network. Reach out to new clients and acquaintances, make inroads in new industries.
As the popular saying goes, you build bridges before you need them. Build them now, and you’ll not only always have fulfilling work but also a profitable freelance business. You can start by learning how to build networks the easy way from Keith Ferrazzi’s excellent book, Never Eat Alone.
Effective communication is the bedrock of any freelance career. It’s how you understand your client’s needs, negotiate rates, timelines and keep each other appraised on progress. This is especially true in distributed work environments.
And yet some freelancers take proper communication for granted.
No client ever complained because you over communicated. If anything, it’s the opposite. Look around top job boards and gig economy sites, and you’ll notice that clients insist on reliability and communication.
Failure to communicate effectively will quickly strain your relationship with the client. It’s more difficult landing new clients than satisfying existing ones. We’d suggest you work on your communication skills.
Coping strategies: Learn and practice effective communication. Keep your clients appraised on deliverables, timelines and any hindrances to the successful completion of a project. Be candid. Your clients are human too. They understand that sometimes inevitable life events occur.
If anything, err on the side of over-communication instead of dropping off the grid for weeks. Your clients will not only rest easy but be more accommodating and recommend you to their networks.
Failure to update your skillset
It’s no secret that technology is disrupting how we work at an exponential rate. Relying on outdated tools and ways of doing things is a sure path to freelancing oblivion.
Tools and platforms change. Improved ones come up, and that requires you to keep up if you’re to compete with your peers comfortably.
Not long ago we explored how artificial intelligence is impacting professional writing. It’s safe to say that it’s affecting professions as well.
A strong core skill-set helps you land better and higher paying clients. How you adapt your skills available technologies creates the difference and gives you that competitive edge.
Coping strategies: Set time aside to each week to learn new things and explore new technologies related to your field. Read a book on the subject. Immerse yourself in a quality blog post. Take an online course related to core your skill-set. Scan job listings and note which top freelance skills/platforms that you might need to learn and then set time aside to do it.
A strong freelancing career allows you to command better rates, get better clients, develop a solid reputation and continue to do what you love.
Examine yourself if you’ve fallen into a lull. Perhaps one of these horrible habits is blocking your progress. Make some changes. Slightly change course, and your business will get back on track.
Which other bad habits do you think impede a freelancer’s growth? Please let us know in the comment section below and share the post with other freelancers who may be in a rut.