10 Top Mistakes That May Kill Your Freelancing Career

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How’s your freelancing career doing? Do you sometimes sit down and review your progress? Do you see any weak spots that need to be fixed?

Online freelancing is great. The freedom that comes with it is unfathomable. Opportunities are limitless. If you do it well, you’ll also be laughing all the way to the bank.

However, there are a few things that are killing people’s freelancing careers everyday. They are often left wondering what hit them. I admit I once made some of these mistakes as well, and learnt heavily from them. You don’t want to make them if you value your profession.

There are probably 100s of mistakes, but here I chose some of the worst ones.

Mistake #1: Getting into scams

The desire for fast and easy money is driving some people nuts. They can do absolutely anything to make that quick buck. However, this also makes them a target to some really bad scams that are sinking people into depression. Some of the current scams include MMM, PublicLikes, BitcoinSlip and D9 Clube among others. These simply promise you heavens with no effort.

Note that in life there are no rewards without effort. All these scams end in one way, and one way only. They come tumbling down and people lose millions (and even billions in some instances).

Do not get caught up in scams and do not refer people to scams as well. Learn to always earn from your sweat. It feels awesome to earn legitimately. And in future things also get easier as you set up semi-passive and fully passive streams.

Mistake #2: Wanting to first work under someone

“I don’t want to look for my own clients, I want to first work under someone, learn the ropes, then get my own clients.”

This is the sentence that some freelancers are now using to replace laziness.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some people who will take you under their wings and have you working under them till you can stand on your own.

But they’re rare. And even for the most kind-hearted people, this gets tiring and they stop making such arrangements. Sometimes the inexperienced workers even end up messing for these kind men and women. Trust me, I’ve been there, sacrificed much to give people free stuff, only to eventually get messed up.

I still give people lots of free stuff, but in moderation so that I don’t end up being misused.

If you’re absolutely new to online work, I recommend you get some training. And note that there’s nothing like free training. You’ll either pay someone to train you and show you the ropes or you “pay” by doing lots of online research and trying things out, which may sometimes mean making lots of rookie mistakes.

Both paid training and self-training work. It’s just that having someone train you can help you go faster and reduce your chances of making mistakes. But if you’re starting out broke, you can still take a few hours per day to learn things yourself.

Once you’re ready, go straight for the awesome clients. Don’t look for some knight in shining armor who will spoonfeed you. Why? Because, in most cases, that knight in shining armor does not exist.

Mistake #3: Over-dependence on accounts

“Hey Walter. Which is the best account to get writing jobs right now.”

“Apart from iWriter, where else can I get writing jobs without bidding.”

“Oh gosh! This account doesn’t accept people from our country.”

And on and on the “accounts” talk continues.

For those who don’t know, working accounts are different freelancing websites where people join to look for clients and jobs. There are “take” accounts like iWriter where you just log in and get jobs and “bid” accounts like Upwork where you apply for jobs and wait to get hired by clients.

Many people mistakenly think that “take” accounts are better. I however have stated before that “bid” accounts are the best because of the direct client approach.

Back in 2012, accounts were the in-thing. We would get hundreds or even thousands of dollars weekly from these.

But right now, things are different. Accounts are getting stricter by the day so it’s difficult for new freelancers to get into some without proper guidance. There’s also increased competition, therefore many people don’t earn thousadns or even hundreds of dollars from them anymore.

I’d still like to clarify that you indeed can earn well using accounts. One of my trainees is now earning $400 per week in Upwork, and it’s just a few weeks since she joined my training.

However, not everyone pays for expert training. Unlike 2012, most who join these sites without a good strategy don’t end up earning much.

Some clients in these sites pay peanuts. And scammers are on the rise. Let’s not even mention the exhorbitant rates some of these sites charge. Others are discriminatory, thus will not let you in just because you’re not from the “right country”.

In fact, there are many people worldwide who are campaigning against accounts. I don’t campaign against them. I just tell people to diversify their client acquisition strategy. After all, we’re not all blessed the same way. Some will succeed through accounts, others will succeed through getting direct clients.

So, how are people getting awesome clients today? What’s the future of online work?

The answer is direct clients. The very best clients aren’t just somewhere sitting in a site waiting for you. The best (in most cases) are out there in the online wilderness, and you need to find them, pitch and convert them. So you should diversify your strategy to include:

  • Online accounts
  • Job boards
  • Cold-pitching
  • Blogging
  • Social media
  • Your friends and family who are in a complementary business e.g. if you’re a writer, your web designer friend can get you to be the writer in all the sites s/he designs

Talking about clients, you need to really avoid working for the annoying ones.

Mistake #4: Working for annoying clients

“But this is the only client I have. I won’t make it without him.” So you kid yourself. If you are dealing with a bad client, these are some of the things you’ll be handling:

  • Insults
  • Unwarranted revisions
  • Late payments
  • Low pay
  • Unreasonable deadlines
  • Poor communication

These are not people you want to work with. If you come across such, fire them immediately. They can make your life so miserable that you may even want to give up on online work completely.

Yes, I once worked with such a bad client for a month. And after all those nasty words, crazy revisions etc, I realized that I wasn’t really moving anywhere with him. I fired him and went on to look for awesome clients. He keeps trying to come back but that ship has sailed.

I never ever again tolerate bad clients. All my clients now value me and my work. We have awesome working relationships. So, yes, you can do better without that nasty client. You’re the one in charge of your success.

Mistake #5: Bad proposals

Remember above I told you the world is changing? Great jobs are no longer just found in different freelancing accounts.

Now whenever you’re looking for a job, you need to actually interact with the client and show them you’re the best person for the job. This is either done through a proposal e.g. in sites like Upwork, or a pitch when you’re reaching out to direct clients.

And this is where many people fail.

Writing proposals is a skill that you need to work really hard to acquire.

Social media has gotten people used to short responses such as “Interested”, “I’m in”, “Give me the job” etc. That doesn’t cut it. Even if you’re a super-freelancer, a client won’t get convinced by a simple “Interested” comment while there are dozens of guys, probably not as qualified as you, who are sending in mouth-watering proposals.

Did you know that Upwork is now kicking out people who keep sending too many proposals without winning jobs? Yes, they figured out that it’s messing up the client experience in their platform. They are trying to reduce those comments you see in groups and forums stating, “I tried getting a freelancer in Upwork but didn’t manage. Where else can I get one?”

These comments come from people who posted jobs and got literally useless proposals.

Whoever told you that it’s a numbers game lied to you. Nowadays it’s more of a quality game. Instead of sending too many half-hashed, regurgitated, impersonal proposals that don’t appeal to anyone, send targeted, impressive, assuring proposals that make it so easy for the client to scream “yes” to you.

An awesome proposal should simply respond to the client’s deepest needs and assure them that you’re the right person for the job. Take your time and think carefully whenever you’re approaching a client with a proposal or pitch. You can even research and learn from the best before giving it your shot. Clients are busy, they only want your best shot.

Mistake #6: Putting all eggs in one basket

“My Upwork account was terminated. That’s all I have. My life is falling apart.”

Ever heard such a cry online?

Cut-throat competition is forcing everyone to try work smarter. Sites are also pushing in powerful algorithms and smart detection measures to ensure they only have the best people aboard. This may sometimes mean that your account may get in the cross-hairs whether legitimately or due to a false alarm.

This does not only apply to freelancing websites such as Upwork. Anything can fall apart. Even the most foolproof plan. For that reason, you need to always diversify. Always.

Below are some diversification suggestions:

  • Use different client acquisition methods as discusssed above
  • Mix up freelancing (such as writing, transcription, graphics) with internet marketing (such as affiliate marketing, selling online courses, writing and selling ebooks, advertising)
  • Get a financial expert to advise you on ways to save, invest, insure, budget etc.
  • Start an offline project

There are no limits to what you can do. But never put all your eggs in one basket.

Mistake #7: Not focusing on growth

This is one of those mistakes that sadly most people don’t even realize they’re making.

Do the words below describe you:

  • Have you been doing the same job at the same pay rate for the last 2 years?
  • Do you always dwell in your comfort zone, never trying out anything new?
  • Are you still afraid of approaching direct clients since you love your Upwork job or top rated status?
  • Are you scared stiff of starting to create legitimate passive or semi-passive income streams?

If your answer is yes to any of the above, you may be doing great now, but you’re not focusing on growth. This means that in no time you may be overtaken by today’s newbie, or even become irrelevant.

I once balanced tears when I saw a writer who started writing before me back in 2011 still charging $3 per 500 words now, all these years later. My thought was that she’d have grown to the $20s (or even $50s) per article. Or at least $10s. But she’s still charging the same amount she did when she was getting started years ago.

Life is all about growth. You were once a baby, then started school, became a teenager, and are now an adult. Your business should also grow from toddler stage to adult stage – and keep growing till it ages gracefully.

In fact, a good business lives beyond the owner. Think of businesses such as Coca Cola and Apple which are still there despite of the demise of their founders. Keep growing.

Mistake #8: Not opening your eyes to opportunities

What’s hot right now? Is there any new challenge sweeping the online space?

All those challenges bring forth heavy opportunities for people who open their eyes and cash in on them.

For example, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp started Uber simply because they couldn’t find a cab in Paris. This led them to want to start something that would enable people to easily find cabs nearby.

Noah Kagan started AppSumo (and SumoMe) simply because he wanted free software.

All these people are now making millions and changing the way things are done.

In Kenya, for example, the government is pushing for people to work online. Whether or not their motives are good, the fact is that they’re pushing for it and will keep doing so.

You can therefore either keep complaining about how they’ll mess it up, or take it up as a very very lucrative opportunity, if only you open your eyes.

I’ll leave you to think about this yourself, though. How can you benefit from this influx of people hungry to make money online? What are their needs? How can you solve these needs for some profit? Smart people are already taking swift action.

Mistake #9: Not making proper use of free information and offers

One thing’s for sure – most people look down on free stuff. I don’t.

Below are some things I got absolutely free (or through an offer):

  • My first blog review was done by a an awesome guy called Steve Watson. He was giving a freebie in his blog where he’d look at your blog and do a video on what you need to improve. I grabbed that opportunity and managed to really make my blog professional.
  • The first online course I ever bought was AffiloBlueprint. At that point it was going for a one week launch offer at $77, after that it went to $197. The returns I got from that training are just too many to count.
  • I solidified my knowledge about cold-pitching from a free challenge by a guy called Bamidele Onibalusi. I already knew about cold-pitching before that, but his free training gave me more meat.
  • I recently bought an amazing course from a guy I’m following for only $1 (instead of the regular price of $49). He had a few days’ promotional offer. Of course he was using that as a tripwire but I knew it was a tripwire, and never fell for the bait. Look up “tripwire” to know what I’m talking about.
  • I got an email marketing trick from Neil Patel’s free webinar. This little trick really skyrocketed my earnings from something I was promoting via email.

The list goes on and on and on.

When you get something free but valuable, take it and run with it. Also keep an eye on good offers. Be cautious though, there are times where everything may look appealing and you may find yourself spending too much time or money on things you can never implement.

Therefore limit yourself to a course every 2 to 3 months, then after taking it, try and implement everything before jumping to the next one. Don’t keep jumping from one course to another everyday, whether it’s paid or free. You’re human and definitely have a limit as to what you can successfully implement within a certain timeframe.

Mistake #10: Not spending money to make money

Afraid to spend a dime on some knowledge or tool?

I was once there too.

I kept wondering why I’d need to spend on a blog while I could get one for free.

I just couldn’t comprehend why people were paying lots of cash every month for their email marketing programs while I could just use free email.

It was even crazier for me to buy a course. Why pay for something I could easily find free by searching Google or YouTube?

The same goes for many other things including an online support desk, a training website, social media tools, productivity tools, virtual assistants etc.

I’m so happy that I squashed all these myths and started paying for knowledge and tools, as long as they had significant returns on investment. And they did. A lot. In fact, some of the above give me more than 100 times whatever I put in.

As you saw in my example above, a lady paid me Sh. 2,000 ($20) for my freelance writing training (note that this price will go up soon, never goes down, no discounts) and in just a few weeks, she started earning $400 (Sh. 40k) per week in Upwork alone. Funny thing is that people pay millions to schools and universities and according to recent statistics, very few make it to the $400 a month mark, let alone a week.

But still, you’ll find people who are not willing to invest even Sh. 500 ($5) on a course. Here I’m not talking about those who don’t have, but those who have but prefer to spend it to eat out on a weekend instead of doing something that will help them earn more and build their career.

I want you to succeed

…and that’s why I’m telling you all these mistakes that you shouldn’t make.

This is all from the heart, based on some mistakes that I personally made and learnt from, and mistakes that I’m seeing other people making. I hope you won’t be one of them. I hope you’re one of those who listens to advice and takes action with what they learn.

See, these mistakes are critical. Over the years I’ve seen many a freelancer quitting online work for good, just because one or more of these mistakes messed them up completely. If you find yourself in that position, I wouldn’t tell you to quit. Instead, you need to learn from your mistakes and use them to build a solid career.

What mistakes have you made in your online career? What did you learn from them?

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