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The 5 biggest mistakes that freelancers make – and how to avoid them

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Mistakes are easy to make. But when you’re starting out as a freelancer, inexperience can lead you into some common traps, which can hamper your progress as a business or cause you stress and delay. In this article, we take a look at the biggest and most common freelancer mistakes, and how to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Not having a contract

You’re eager to get going on a project, the client seems nice enough, so do you really need to go through all the faff of writing up and signing a contract? Why not just dive in and get started.

This is the thought process of many inexperienced freelancers. However, once you’ve experienced a client dispute, pushing the boundaries of the brief, or arguing about the deadline, you’ll soon wish you had spent that extra time drawing up a contract.

A contract is an important agreement between you and your client. It sets expectations, outlines key dates, offers payment terms, and agrees responsibilities. Without all this, you can leave yourself open to extra work and hassle for what should have been a simple job.

Top tips:

• Have a standard contract that you adapt for each job or new client.

• Make sure it contains space for you to add in deadlines, agreed deliverables, and a payment 
   schedule as a minimum.

• We have put together a helpful guide on what to include in a freelancer contract.

Mistake #2: Undervaluing your time

Many freelancers are undercharging. This can come about for a number of reasons: you haven’t researched the market properly, you don’t feel confident in your own skills, you’re worried about losing clients if you charge more, or you underestimate how long jobs will take you.

Undervaluing your time is a costly mistake to make as a freelancer. It can mean you have to work extended hours to make ends meet, upsetting your work/life balance.

Top tips:

• Research the market rates for your services and level of expertise.

• Compare with other freelancers.

• Know your worth – see our how to set your rates as a freelancer blog for more insight.

• Review rates regularly. You could think about increasing them annually, or in line with inflation, or as you gain additional skills and experience.

Mistake #3: Taking on too much

As a freelancer, if you are not working, you’re not earning. It is tempting to say yes to every offer of work that comes along, because who knows what next month will be like.

Unfortunately, if you’ve got too much on your plate – it is likely to all go wrong. You’ll have to work faster, which might lead to mistakes. You might start to miss deadlines, irritating clients. Taking on too much might actually lead you to lose work.

Top tips:

• Use calendars or diaries to plan your workload, and don’t overbook.

• Schedule in breathing space for projects that overrun unexpectedly, business admin, or just to take care of your own health.

• Learn how to say no when necessary!

Mistake #4: Being too nice

Trying to keep client’s sweet means it is tempting not to rock the boat too much when you’re a freelancer. Often freelancers let their boundaries get overstepped time and time again, feeling powerless in the face of larger organisations. Late invoices, for example, are a common problem.

Over half of freelancers have experienced late payments, according to research from IPSE. Freelancers are also vulnerable to scope creep, where the client keeps adding extra work onto the task without offering any additional payment for the time it will take.

Top tips:

• Challenge clients if they behave unprofessionally – you can be assertive without being impolite.

• Get Freelancer Assist – this service comes bundled with every Dinghy freelancer insurance policy and can help you chase unpaid invoices.

• Check out our blog for guidance on how to stop scope creep.

Mistake #5: Not having business insurance

Freelancers operating without business insurance are taking a huge risk. Being uninsured can leave you open to financial losses, which can come about if a client is unhappy with your work, or if there is an accident and someone is harmed as a result. Sometimes these claims can stretch into thousands of pounds, so not having business insurance is one of the costliest mistakes a freelancer can make.

Top tips:

Get business insurance sorted ASAP. We recommend these types for freelancers:

Look for insurance tailored specifically for freelancers – these will have policy limits suited to the scope and size of your business, and expertise in handling claims from freelancers like you.

Choose an insurer that allows you to pay monthly to spread the cost. Look out for unique features like the ability to pause your policy when you’re not working.

We all make mistakes. Sometimes mistakes are valuable – they provide us with an opportunity to learn, change and grow. But these common pitfalls can get in the way of your business flourishing.

We hope that this guide will help you avoid these freelancing banana skins. A flexible insurance package like Dinghy’s will help protect your business and livelihood against other slip-ups, accidents, and threats. To get covered, answer a few quick questions about your business to get a no-obligation quote straight to your inbox.

What do I do if a client is unhappy with my work?

It’s a situation every freelancer dreads: a client isn’t satisfied with the way their work has been done. But mistakes and misunderstandings are part of everyday working life and there’s no need to panic. How you respond to the situation makes a big difference. 

The best outcome is for you to work with your client to fix mistakes and make sure they’re satisfied. That might not always be possible, but it’s a goal to work towards. This guide will show you how to turn a client dispute into a happy customer in just a few easy steps.

Stay calm

When you receive the news that your client isn’t happy, it can be a shock. Take your time before responding. Definitely don’t email or enter into a conversation if you’re feeling angry or upset. It’s fine to tell the client that you will review their feedback and be in touch shortly with a solution, to give yourself some breathing space.

Offer to fix the problems

Review the feedback – is it reasonable? Is it fixable? If you think that the client’s feedback is something you can fix, offer to make good by re-doing or amending the work. It’s usual practice to fix these on your own time if the request is reasonable, especially if it’s down to a mistake you’ve made.

Get feedback

Work hard to open up a dialogue with the client to get concrete ideas about what they want changed. It’s no good plunging in and changing the work without a firm idea of what needs fixing. Having a positive fix-it attitude will help smooth over the relationship when your client is unsatisfied. Focus especially on the idea that you are all working towards a shared goal – a completed project that they are happy with.

Go back to the original brief

If you’re not sure that what the client is asking for is reasonable – for example, it seems wildly different to what you thought had been agreed – revisit the original brief for the project. Does what you have provided match the brief? If what the client is asking for now isn’t what was agreed, and you think it will take a lot of work to fix, refer them back to the original brief. Explain that this is what you quoted for, and outline the extra work involved in delivering their new vision. Offer to do the additional work, but quote a price for it. 

Prepare ahead

Much of the protection that you need in place for situations like this needs the groundwork laying before you start on the project. Make sure you have a clear, agreed brief for each project: you might need to refer back to it later. It’s also a good idea to specify in your contract how many rounds of amendments your rates include, and the price that any extra remedial work beyond this would cost.

Give advice – but be flexible

You are the expert in your field, but the customer is in control. This means that even if you think the amends they want will make the piece worse, you might just have to do it to keep them happy. Definitely put forward your view, giving your professional advice and reasons, but it’s up to them to take it.

Handle the financial side carefully – but make sure you get paid

Knowing that a client is unhappy might trigger a worry that you won’t get paid. You might want to hold off on sending an invoice until the mistakes have been fixed and the client is satisfied. If you’ve attempted a fix and the client is refusing to pay, refer them back to the brief and the contract that you’ve both signed. Freelancer Assist from Dinghy can help freelancers chase unpaid invoices and also has a legal helpline you can consult for support. It comes bundled for free with every Dinghy insurance policy.

Get covered

Make sure that you are protected by professional indemnity insurance at all times when working as a freelancer. This crucial business insurance protects you in the case of freelancer mistakes or client complaints. If a client tries to bring a claim against you, Dinghy’s professional indemnity insurance for freelancers will step in to support you. Our legal team will take over the case, taking the worry off your shoulders. 

Professional indemnity insurance also covers any costs and compensation due to the other side, up to the value of your policy limit. Knowing that these costs are covered in the event that something goes wrong on a freelance job gives huge peace of mind to our freelancers. We’ll advise you on the best package for you, based on the nature and size of your freelance business. Getting insured is easy – just head to our website for a quote straight to your inbox.

Almost every freelancer will face some negative feedback or a disgruntled client at some point in their career. Sometimes it’s just down to a communication error or misunderstanding, sometimes the client might have unrealistic expectations or be under pressure at their end. The good news is that most problems are easily resolved with a bit of listening, understanding and openness to feedback. And when they’re not, freelance business insurance from Dinghy can step in to take care of things.