Freelancing seems easy: you take a skill you already have down pretty well and offer to use that skill for any client who comes along. You get paid for the hours you work and, if you need to adapt your freelancing schedule to an employer or a family, you just take on the work that you can manage.
But right now, there are a lot of new freelancers out there, looking to fill gaps between jobs or even looking to permanently cut loose from the employment game. That means that if you’re just starting out, there’s less room for rookie mistakes than ever before. Even a little misstep can mean a client taking their business elsewhere.
Big Mistake: Thinking that You Just Need to Be Available
Despite the warm fuzzies that you might get from watching Field of Dreams, Hollywood is pretty much the only place where building anything is enough to get people to come to you. Deciding you’re going to freelance just isn’t enough. You have to invest time — and a little money — in letting people know you’re available for work.
You do need to build ways for clients to find you, like a professional website. But you also need to get your name in front of prospective clients, through networking, writing guest posts for blogs or any other method that will get you the access you need.
Big Mistake: Not Thinking Like a Business Owner
The moment you hang up your freelancing shingle, you are (legally speaking) a business owner. That means you’re required to have any local business licenses your state or city might require of you — and you can be facing fines if you don’t have them. You’ll hear plenty of freelancers say that they never get caught for operating without a business license, but the simple truth is that you should do things right and avoid potential problems.
That includes tax issues: as a freelancer, you’ll owe just as much money to the IRS as you did when you worked for an employer. The difference is that you won’t have your taxes automatically withheld from your pay check. You have to make sure that you set aside money to cover your tax bill.
I know one freelancer who failed to do so for an entire year and then, when he got his tax bill, he couldn’t pay it. He maxed out his credit cards, took loans and generally spiraled downwards in his financial situation until he had to sell his house. That’s the absolute worst case scenario, but it should serve as a good reminder that, no matter how you earn your money, the IRS wants its share.
Big Mistake: Not Acting Like a Professional
At the end of the day, the most important thing to remember is that you are a professional. It’s exceedingly rare that anyone will hire a freelancer for a project not associated with a business — the closest I can think of is maybe a website designer being asked to work on a personal blog or site — but most of the time, people hire you with the understanding that you’re going to help them earn more money.
That means that you have to be a professional: you have to be someone who a client can trust with their business and their money. Any other approach just isn’t going to get you much business. But if you can impress a client that you take your work seriously and that you’re incredibly responsible, you’re already ahead of the game.