What are the 5 mistakes digital freelancers make?

By Dan Jacobs

The UK Office for National Statistics just released their latest employment figures for Oct-Dec 2012. The figures show a continuation in the trend of rising employment and a further fall in the number of people claiming job seekers allowance. This trend to me highlights the fact that there are in fact a growing number of people going it alone and creating their own businesses and opportunities for themselves. In digital this makes sense as a freelancer there are plenty of website and development projects to pick up, marketing & PR campaigns, affiliate programmes to manage and it’s become common practice to find linkedin awash with digital consultants capitalising on this.

Being a digital freelance has its benefits and its disadvantages. The benefits are you have flexibility with working hours and location, you don’t have to deal with office politics, no commuting or traffic jams and you can be selective about the work you do. As for the disadvantages there can be several depending on the mistakes you make as a freelancer. I have come up with a my top 5 based on past experience and conversations with Beth Wells, freelancer digital designer and Hannah Swift, MD of Bright Digital Minds, who uses freelancers on a regular basis.

1) Insufficient Promotion – digital freelancers often forget that they are businesses and as such they need to grow and develop their own personal brand. A simple starting point is for them to look at their online presence and decide whether they can improve their presence by either increasing their social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, handpicking their best pieces of work on somewhere like enthuse.me or having multiple profiles on various wide digital freelancer websites such as www.freelanceuk.com, www.freelancersintheuk.co.uk, www.prstarbase.com and www.peopleperhour.com. It’s important that make sure that as a freelancer your portfolio is presented in a simple and elegant fashion.

2) Poor Sales Skills – creative’s, programmers and writers often are the worst at selling themselves but when you decide to become a freelancer sales skills become a must have. None the less freelancers are fully aware of the fact that they need to be networking, so they often make sure they go to trade shows, seminars, breakfast briefings etc however these become a waste of time if the freelancer is not networking effectively and efficiently.

How do you ensure this? Freelancers need a proper game plan for networking. What is their 3mins pitch? Do they know how to ask open ended and close ended questions? How to they follow-up after the event? Should they send a proposal or request a meeting after? Beth Wells believes in the power of face to face meetings saying, ‘I have got alot of new business out of face-face meetings because you can chat, build rapport, read the body language of people, your instincts can tell you alot about whether you want to work with a person you have just met as a prospective client or let your instincts guide you as to whether this would be a mutually beneficial and lucrative association or not…".

3) Unrealistic Rates – many digital freelancers are not commercially minded or inexperienced when it comes to charging clients, they either over-charge or undercharge. This can be the result of not researching market rates or if they are over- keen to win a project or client they think they should charge a ‘mate’s rate’ to secure the business and then hope that they can increase their rate long term. This can have disastrous consequences for them as they find that they can often spend more time on a project then they anticipated and end up being short of pocket. Alternatively they end up taking on alot of low-value projects and then are over-worked to make ends meet.

Beth Wells suggest, that freelancers need to ask themselves, ‘What do I expect from this project as a final outcome? Will my time spent on this justify the cost? Will I learn new skills through this project? Is it something that will enhance my portfolio and will I enjoy working with the client or on this project. If not don’t be afraid to turn down work’. Hannah Swift who regularly works with freelancers as a client also picks up on this point, saying, ‘Alot of the freelancers I work with don’t have a decent hourly rate they are either way too expensive or too cheap. Digital freelancers sometimes don’t know how much work they can generate per hour.

4) Poor Admin – going back to the fact that as a freelancer you are in fact a small business or brand you need to make sure you admin is not causing you or your client’s headaches. Simple mistakes like invoicing you clients late or with incorrect details can not only make you appear unprofessional but can dent you pocket when you are not paid on time. Hannah Swift illustrates an example of how a website designer sent an invoice three months late which soured their relationship. Admin also includes makes sure you are upfront on your terms and conditions, working hours, deliverables, timings and asking all the right questions from the start of the project.

5) Forgetting to Invest Back – freelancers before anyone else in the working environment suffer from a serious lack of time, however if they take a little step back, breathe and think about what tools, people and resources they can invest in to help them manage their time better than they will find that they can actually increase their productivity tenfold. For example why do all your accounting for as little as £30/month you can pay an account to manage the stress? Why spend time on timesheets when you can use nifty tools like teambox (as Hannah Swift suggests) . Why create long 4 page proposals when in fact your clients need to know what you can offer, how it will help then, what you will do, when and how much it can cost in simply two pages. Finally you are a personal brand so make sure you invest back in your appearance, reward yourself and enjoy all the benefits that being a digital freelancer brings.

About the author

Dan Jacobs is CEO of enthuse.me.


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