Continuing on a theme of getting into good freelancing habits to kick off 2022, this episode looks at 7 bad habits or pitfalls that you might be accidentally falling into when you're working with clients. Get ready for some tough talk about why ditching these habits is important if you want to build a successful freelance business.
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Louise Shanahan is a freelance health copywriter and a big fan of finding your freelance niche. She's on a mission to help others build a freelance business that feels easy and works for them – in weekly snack-sized bites.
Welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, your snack-sized guide to being your own boss and building a business and life you love. I'm your host Louise Shanahan. My LinkedIn bio says I'm a freelance health copywriter. But for the next 15 minutes, I'll be tickling your ears with practical strategies, behind-the-scenes stories, and nuggets of wisdom so you can create a freelance business that works for you. Whether you're just starting out or you've been self-employed for a while, I'll be right here with you to help you navigate the ups and downs of freelancing life. So grab a coffee relax and join me for 15 minutes of freelancing fun. Don't forget to hit subscribe.
Hello freelance friends, how are you today? In last week’s episode, I talked about my approach to setting goals for my freelance business in 2022. Today, I thought I’d continue on that theme of getting into some good business habits to kick off 2022 on the right foot, so today we’re going to remind ourselves of some of the bad habits we can get into as freelancers, and why ditching these habits is important if you want to build a successful freelance business. Or maybe we’ll call them pitfalls rather than bad habits, bad habits sounds a bit mean doesn’t it? I don’t want you to feel like I’m telling you off for picking your nose or wasting your pocket money on sweeties. Here are 7 freelancing pitfalls to watch out for in 2022.
Number 1 is not leading the process. What do I mean by this. Well, I notice that a lot of freelancers seem to feel like passengers on their projects, like, the client gets in touch to say they have a project, the client decides if they want to work with you and how much they want to pay, the client decides if the work meets the standard and then the client decides if and when they’ll pay. And the freelancer is just along for the ride, and takes whatever they can get in terms of payment and time to do their best work. That’s not really how it should work. You are a business owner. You are running your business, not your clients.
This isn’t about getting all stroppy and demanding and unleashing your inner diva on your poor unsuspecting clients, it’s just about leading the process with confidence and setting boundaries so you can provide a great service to clients while running a busines without feeling taken for granted. When a potential client makes an inquiry, you should have a process for determining whether they’re likely to be a good fit. Then, you lead the process for having those initial conversations. Maybe you send a calendar link, you tell them what to expect on the call, you set out your step-by-step process for what happens next. You’re not waiting to see what they want to talk about. It’s not a job interview. You ask the questions and you answer theirs without feeling pushed to make decisions you’re not ready to make. You’ll want to make sure your process and expectations are clear in your proposals and contracts. If a client needs to push a deadline or change the scope of a project, you decide if and how you can make that work. You don’t just accept that it has to change and you have to make up the shortfall.
There doesn’t have to be any emotion or drama to this – it’s just logistics, really. It’s not being rude. And to be honest, a lot of it doesn’t need to be said, you can do all this in a super professional and friendly way. I see a lot of freelancers treat their clients as if the client is their boss, which they are not. You’re partners or collaborators. Obviously you want to be helpful and give them the best possible result. But they are hiring you as an expert, not as a seat-filler for hire. One of the biggest shifts for me came when I started to think of myself as leading the conversation. I think clients like to work with someone who seems to know what they’re doing. When you lead the process or the conversation, it’ll help you better manage your time, set expectations and deliver the project to the best of your ability.
The second bad habit or pitfall is being reluctant to talk about money. I know it feels icky sometimes. Lots of us find this awkward on both sides, freelancers and client. But you’re running a business, so quite frankly, you have to have these conversations. I have said time and time again that it doesn’t make sense to waste time writing proposals for clients who were never going to be a good fit because they don’t have the budget. You don’t want to be giving precise quotes on calls with new clients unless you have fixed prices, but you absolutely want to be talking ballpark budgets. It does get easier with practice. You can give yourself little scripts to make it easier, so you have some handy go-to phrases for the common questions you might be asked.
Number 3 is putting all your eggs in one basket. If you have a single client that accounts for a majority of your income and time… you’ve basically got a job. It might feel quite secure and reassuring because you know you have a certain amount of work and income coming along, and it can be comfortable to work with the same team that you get to know well, but ultimately this is a false sense of security. If they decide to move on for whatever reason and end the contract, you’ll be in a world of stress. Things can change suddenly for all sorts of reasons, so you need to be prepared.
If you go back to the episode with André Spiteri, he talks about how he always aims to have no more than a third of his income coming from any one client. Because if you have too many eggs in one basket, then you’re financially vulnerable, and it probably also affects your decision making. You might feel like you can’t push back or say no to things so easily. Taking time off might be trickier. So while those big juicy contracts are very tempting, do make sure you consider how secure they really are and whether they might force you to compromise on things like your autonomy, flexibility, which are probably part of the reason you became self-employed in the first place. Having multiple revenue streams, whether that’s multiple clients or other side projects, will put you in a much stronger position.
The fourth pitfall is only marketing when you need clients. What’s that saying – fix the roof when the sun is shining? Well, that’s something for freelancers to live by, isn’t it? Just because you’re booked up for the next 3 months, doesn’t mean you should stop putting yourself out there. As with the previous pitfall, if any of those projects fall through, you may find yourself with a gap to fill. And if you are busy for a while and start to get a bit cazh about your marketing, you might find yourself scrambling to catch up if you end up with a quiet spell and suddenly need to drum up interest. Instead, if you keep marketing yourself regularly – and yeah, you can ease up a bit if you’re busy – but if you maintain a visible presence, you’ll have a nice stream of leads to turn to when you do have an opening. It also means you can keep raising your rates because you’ll be confident of filling those spots, and you won’t be marketing or saying yes to projects from a place of desperation.
Number 5 is the old comparisonitis! I know it’s tough when we go on Twitter or LinkedIn or Instagram and we see all the amazing work everyone else seems to be doing, and we imagine that they must be rolling in cash, or we see them talk about their streamlined processes and we wonder why our to do list is a giant scribble of stress. But comparing yourself or comparing your business with others is not usually super helpful.
I love seeing what other people are up to because a) I’m quite nosy and b) it can be inspiring or give you new ideas or you can learn from what’s worked from them. But we should still stay focused on our own work. You only see the highlight reel online. Focusing too much on what everyone else is doing feeds imposter syndrome, puts you off self-promotion, and might lead you to set goals that don’t really mean anything to you personally. You might forget to congratulate yourself on what you’ve achieved, because you’re so focused on someone else who seems to have done more. So let’s kick this one to the kerb in 2022.
Number 6 is not asking for help when you need it. When you work alone, I think it’s pretty normal to feel at least in the early stages of your freelance career, that you need to do everything yourself and you shouldn’t be seen to be asking basic questions or struggling in any way. It’s not really the case. Sure, you are ultimately the one that’s responsible, but you’re not alone! Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s simply good business sense. That might be outsourcing some of your client work to other freelancers, it might be seeking advice from a professional like an accountant, or getting practical support from a VA. It might be asking for help and moral support from other freelancers. Or sometimes you might need to ask your partner or family or friends for help, whether that’s watching the kids or taking on more of the burden with household chores or just giving you a hug after a hard day. If you go back to the episode with Sophie Cross, we talked about online freelancing communities, so that might be a place to start if you need some help to figure out a freelancing conundrum or just want to connect with some like-minded folk.
And number 7 is forgetting to look after your health and wellbeing. Now, I had to include this one as a health copywriter. Health may be top of mind given everything that’s happened over the last couple of years, but on a day-to-day basis, when you’re lost in your work, it’s really easy to forget to eat proper food that will fuel your brain, or get outside for some fresh air, or get enough exercise, or make sure you sleep enough. So this is just a wee reminder to take care of yourself. The work will wait, I promise. I’m thinking of doing an episode on my daily routines and health-focused anchor actions so if you’d like to hear how I try to manage my health as a health copywriter, let me know.
So those are my top 7 freelancing pitfalls or bad habits that I encourage you to look out for, and hopefully a few ways to turn them around so 2022 is plain sailing.
Thank you for listening and good luck with leading those conversations! See you next time.
You've been listening to 15 Minute Freelancer with me Louise Shanahan, freelance copywriter and content marketer at thecopyprescription.com. If you enjoyed this, please hit subscribe, leave a review or share it with a freelance friend. And if you've got a freelancing question you want to be answered on the podcast, find me and say hi on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram. Thanks, and until next time, happy freelancing.