The Seven Deadly Sins of the Freelancer

Every now and then we freelancers make mistakes. We shouldn’t be ashamed. Mistakes happen, and there are ways to seek penance for the sins we commit. As freelancers who rely on our personal business to earn a living, we must be vigilant and do our best to correct these mistakes, and when we do commit them, we should seek penance to make the sins right. Below, I’ve tried to present some of the most common mistakes freelancers make, which I’m calling The Seven Deadly Sins of the Freelancer. Hopefully, you can avoid making these mistakes, and if you have committed one of these sins, don’t hesitate to seek penance!

Miscalculating the Job

Perhaps one of the biggest sins of the freelancer is failing to appreciate what exactly a job might-entail. Certainly, veteran freelancers generally have a good sense of how much work different jobs will take, so this is a sin commonly committed by newer freelancers. As a consequence of underestimating a job, freelancers can get into all sorts of trouble. They can underbid a job. They can commit to a job when they’re already over-committed to many other projects. They might take on a job that isn’t exactly right for them.

Seek penance by renegotiating your contract. Don’t be afraid to meet with your client to speak about how the job is going.

Being Excessively Prideful

This sin is sort of the other side of the same coin as the above sin. Basically, some freelancers might overestimate their own skill sets, which can make it incredibly difficult for them to complete a job on time or to deliver something of high quality to a client. If this happens, it can be embarrassing for a freelancer to have to back pedal his or her way out of a mess; it can actually be damaging to their reputations in the long run.

Seek penance by renegotiating your contract and/or seeking out subcontractors to do the work you cannot complete. Hopefully, you’ll learn something new along the way.

Lacking Business Sense

Many freelancers are very good at completing their jobs and delivering a quality product, but they do not often take care of the business aspects of their career as freelancers. Being a freelancer means you have to do more than provide a product: you also have to manage your own finances, income and expenses, commitments to projects, and long-term business objectives. Without the business side of things running smoothly, your freelance opportunities will dry up fairly quickly.

Seek penance by using productivity tools to manage how you do business. Organize your work. Use a filing system or online billing system to track your money.

Failing to Network

Freelancers sometimes, but not often, forget to pursue networking opportunities, especially when those opportunities are right in front of them. It’s definitely a sin to sit back and simply do the work without lining up connections that could lead to future jobs. A good freelancer knows that jobs don’t come to them; they have to seek out contacts and then work to get awarded jobs through those contacts. This means that once a freelancer has completed a job, he or she should maintain contact with a client, seek out more jobs from that client, and ask if the client would be willing to help connect to other potential clients.

Seek penance by being aware of how business connections between clients work; keep a file that lists potential connections and how each connection is linked back to you. Use this file to drum up work.

Online Presence

Sometimes, freelancers don’t control their brands very well. These days, everything is online, so if you don’t have a good, solid online presence as a freelancer, then you’re significantly hurting your brand, which is what helps you get work. If you brand yourself wrongly, or if, for example, another name shows up when people Google your work, then you’re going to have a hard time impressing people.

Seek penance by hosting your own website, constantly monitoring the kinds of news out there about your work, and actively modifying your brand and online presence through social networks like Twitter and Facebook.

Limiting the Portfolio

Some freelancers find that it’s easiest to continue to do the jobs that they know best; however, this can lead to a lack of diversification in their portfolio, and it can also keep them from learning more skills. It makes sense, certainly, to do what you do best as often as possible, especially if you can make big bucks, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore other opportunities or fail to expand your portfolio, as doing so will make you into a well-rounded freelancer, someone who can tackle almost any task for a client.

Seek penance by occasionally taking on challenging jobs within your means so that you can represent in your portfolio a variety of skills and services.

Sacrificing Integrity

Finally, don’t sacrifice your integrity in order to earn a job. If you feel as though having your name on a certain project would go against your values, then you should be willing to pass over that job. In the short run, it will be painful to miss that income, but in the long run, as your reputation builds, it could benefit you to not have that odd job on your resume. Be careful when you choose jobs; create a cohesive vision that expresses who you are as a designer.

Seek penance by minimizing the impact a sketchy job has on your reputation and resolve to never compromise your values again.

2 thoughts on “The Seven Deadly Sins of the Freelancer

  1. Hi Lauren,

    I’m just starting out as a public relations practitioner… And I’m a little scared of these sins because they are so easy to commit. It can be so hard to know how long something will take you, what you should charge. And it can be uncomfortable to negotiate with a a client. Another barrier is poor confidence: what if you don’t feel good enough to earn $20/hour??? A target for manipulation, I guess.

    Good post! Thanks for these reminders of what to consider if and when I freelance.


  2. Wonderful. You covered so many essential points. Networking and expanding one’s skills (not limiting one’s portfolio) require real dedication– it’s so easy to get lazy and let those things slide.

    And I was enormously impressed with your caution to never sacrifice one’s integrity just to get a job. It’s one of life’s great temptations, especially when you’re starting out and feeling desperate for work. Give the sordid stuff a wide berth and be true to your ideals– it will be worth it.

    Great post, thanks!

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