It feels like it’s been weeks since I sat in the garden, soaking up the rays, raving to the sweet song of springtime as I tried to figure out what to do with my life post penning a big, fat cross beside my first attempts at building an online business. But a quick check of the calendar tells me it’s actually been 12-months since I became a new freelancer… woah!
Despite the last year feeling shorter than a British Summer, I’ve achieved a lot. Including launching a new website, core offer (with an email marketing focus) and multiple lead magnets. I’ve been a busy little cookie, for sure.
As many a new freelancer does, I’ve made a truck-tonne of mistakes. If you’re a new freelancer (or been doing this gig for a while) here’s hoping you can learn from my mistakes so you don’t have to make too many of your own.
Here are the mistakes I made and the lessons I learned during my wander down the walk of shame:
1. Putting all my eggs in one basket
Early on, I read a blog post or two recommending Upwork as a great platform for new freelancers. So I signed up, completed my profile and diligently applied for a few jobs. As a new freelancer on the platform, I was worried I’d be overlooked for more experienced freelancers.
Turned out I had good reason to be worried.
After submitting just 15 applications – 14 of which had yet to be allocated to a freelancer – I received an email stating my profile had been suspended as I had not won enough of the jobs I’d applied for.
Quite confused, I sent a polite email to Upwork support. I explained I was new to Upwork so unlikely to get a high percentage of gigs early on, and regardless, the majority of the jobs I’d applied for hadn’t been allocated as yet.
Instead of receiving an expected reprieve, into my inbox popped an email that stated my account was now suspended permanently.
I still don’t know what I did wrong, but it appeared I went from a temporary to a permanent suspension for simply questioning Upwork’s decision. After a quick Google search, I confirmed I wasn’t the only new freelancer who’d suffered from this treatment.
Thankfully, I hadn’t put a lot of work into the platform so I packed up and moved on. Can’t say I wasn’t irritated though.
Now I avoid most Freelancing sites. I tried a few but I became fed up with having to apply for job after job only to be overlooked for low paying offers or freelancers with many more positive reviews. That’s not to say people don’t have great success on freelancing platforms, because it’s clear they do. It simply didn’t work for me.
However, one freelance platform I still use is Fiverr. I like that I can upload a gig and people can contact me if they need what I’m offering. It’s not a consistent source of income, but it’s given me a helping hand a few times this last year.
No longer needing to pitch for job after job on freelance sites also means I can spend more time building my brand on platforms like Medium, LinkedIn and Pinterest, and drive this traffic to my email list.
Over time, I’ve found this style of inbound marketing has worked better than freelance sites so it’s where I will continue to spend my time.
Don’t focus entirely on freelancing sites; keep some of your eggs in a basket you control.
2. Saying ‘I can write anything’
This isn’t so much a mistake I made, as a warning to freelance writers of the future.
When I first began writing for others, I was willing to write anything. Mostly, because I didn’t really understand what I wanted to write, I just knew I enjoyed writing. I’d written blog posts, social media posts, website copy and emails for my own business in the past, so I figured I could write all of it.
Technically, I can… but that’s not the point.
The point is, when you’re a jack of all trades, you’re a master of none. As someone who wanted to charge high prices for a prestige writing service, I knew that would only come with mastering one style of writing.
In late 2018, I’d been thinking about my offer, and how I wasn’t entirely happy with the services I was offering. In December, I worked with my mentor on improving my emails (a course I’d been thinking about starting for months) and realised I enjoyed writing emails more than any other type of copy. From there, it was a natural progression to cut away everything else and begin focusing entirely on providing email marketing services to clients.
Since then, I’ve written thousands of emails, practicing my craft, improving my skills and ensuring I can write solid emails that’ll put smiles on your readers’ faces, tears in their eyes and gold bars in your bank.
So while I don’t get offers to write blog posts or social media content anymore, I am the first person a lot of people think of when they need emails.
Choose a niche offer and practice like you’re training for the Olympics.
3. Under-charging because I was a new freelancer
I built my own WordPress site – check it out here. I didn’t custom code it. Instead, I used a theme for the design and have a Thrive Membership to custom build pages and add forms to my site. But I still built it from a blank WordPress install.
After building one site, I realised it wasn’t as difficult as I thought. So I began offering to build WordPress websites to some of my connections.
The first project I received was changing the theme of a website. Like many a new freelancer, I significantly undercharged. I earned $100 from that gig (minus Fiverr’s 20% leaving me with $80). In hindsight, that was about $900 shy of what I should have charged as the job took me the best part of a week to complete.
But, you live and learn.
Now, when I begin a new project I use Toggl to track my work time. This allows me to assess each project at it’s completion to determine whether my pricing is correct, or I need to increase it.
While I don’t use an hourly rate to determine my costs, I am aware of how many hours per week I have to devote to client work. I also understand my freedom number – the amount of money I need to earn each month to survive. So I use these figures to calculate whether or not I have earned enough money from a project.
If so, I keep my prices as they are.
If not, I raise them.
By knowing what I need to earn to make a living, it also makes it far easier to stand by my pricing and not allow potential clients to negotiate for a lower rate.
Calculate your rates regularly and increase them often.
4. Spending too much $$$ in some areas & not enough in others
I learned this lesson before I became a new freelancer. As an online personal trainer, I spent far too much money on systems and flashy websites. This left me with hundreds of dollars in costs each month that wasn’t providing value to my business.
At the time, I told myself the flashy systems were important because they were providing value to my clients. But unfortunately, I wasn’t earning enough from my clients to pay for the systems let alone make a living. It’s one of the reasons why I burned the best part of a house deposit throughout my first three years in business.
All this spending left me with so little cash, I couldn’t spend it where it was really necessary; most notably, getting help in areas where I’m inexperienced.
I now have very little outgoings in my business because I’ve focused on cutting back my expenditure. I have the necessary costs such as an email system, website hosting, domain name and email account using my website url, and spend money on little else.
There are, however, two things I spend a lot of money on.
The first is Pinterest management. I don’t know a lot about promoting a blog on Pinterest and I don’t have the time to learn, so it’s more valuable for me to pay someone who does know what they’re doing. I get a solid return on my investment for Pinterest management, so I’ll continue to purchase it.
The second, and most expensive investment within my business is ongoing mentorship. I work with two mentors. One focused on copywriting while the other is an expert in health and habit setting. Together, they help me make business decisions, understand my audience, develop products and they read almost every single piece of content I create. So this is, without a doubt, an investment worth making.
Keep your spending simple, and make sure all spending gives a return on your investment.
5. Writing whatever I wanted
For 12-months now, I’ve sat at my laptop and written whatever came to mind. As long as it was in some way related to my business, I wrote it. I didn’t always write with my reader in mind. Often I wrote a journal entry rather than a traditional blog post. And I damn well enjoyed it!
But I’m trying to earn a living as a new freelancer, which often means writing what I need to write, instead of what I want to write.
It’s not necessarily a mistake to have put my head down and focused on simply writing for 12-months. I developed a solid writing habit and I’m confident I’ve discovered my voice and my niche.
But I now realise I could have put some effort into creating a content calendar sooner. Had I done so, I would have been reaping the benefits of content creating much earlier than I will for having left my planning so late.
I’ve recently developed a plan to ensure I consistently write content for ideal clients. This is the key to transitioning your writing from a hobby to content creation that’ll form the building blocks of a sustainable business.
I also complete SEO research before I write my blog posts. While I’ve been using the Yoast SEO plugin since I built my website, researching post SEO prior to writing is the next step in ensuring I’m producing content that will improve my Google rankings and thus, my site traffic.
Write for your intended reader and make your content easy to find.
I learned this lesson while running my now defunct fitness business. Incredibly, I had more than 10 different social media accounts. I effectively turned social media into my full-time job – no wonder my business didn’t succeed.
I spent so much time trying to create the quantity of content that was required, that I neglected to focus on quality. I’d also find myself falling down the rabbit hole of scrolling through my multiple social media feeds whenever I logged onto the platforms, leaving more important work undone. The result, cash stayed in other people’s pockets as my client list failed to grow.
I’ve recently switched focus to two main social media networks – Medium and Pinterest. I focused on LinkedIn for the first half of 2019, but I wasn’t getting enough return for the amount of work I put into the platform, so I reduced my content commitments.
As mentioned earlier, I also hired someone to manage my Pinterest. This allows me to put complete focus into building my Medium following so I can increase my email subscribers and earnings from the platform.
Choose 1-2 platforms and go all in. Don’t forget to reassess regularly to make sure you’re still on the right platform/s.
7. Subscribing to too many email lists
Wandering around the www, it’s easy to find new information to read. But it’s also easy to get swamped by a wave of information. There’ve been times when I’ve received 20+ emails per day from the email lists I’ve subscribed to. If I read every one of those emails, and the posts many of them promote, I’ll easily waste away an hour or three.
I also have significant anxiety relating to opening my email inbox (stemming from an anxiety diagnosis and dealing with an abusive client in the past). The more emails in my inbox, the worse my anxiety gets.
I have a bad habit of checking the ⭐ beside an email because I want to come back to it. Then I leave it to sit there for weeks because I have more important things to do. When I start to feel overwhelmed by my inbox and anxious that there’s emails lingering, I know it’s time to unsubscribe from a few email lists.
To keep my inbox tidy, I now have a new rule. If I let an email sit, unattended in my inbox for more than 2 weeks, I delete it. This doesn’t mean it didn’t contain worthwhile information – often the emails do. But it does mean it hasn’t been a priority for me for 2 weeks, so it’s unlikely it will become so in the future.
Unsubscribe from unwanted email lists regularly.
How to avoid making too many mistakes as a new freelancer
There are so many mistakes you can make as a new freelancer. I made these mistakes and many more during my first 12-months. The mistakes aren’t actually that important – what matters is you learn from them.
While I can’t protect you from making your own mistakes, I hope that sharing a few of mine will help you to avoid some of the mistakes I made as a new freelancer.