Whether you’re working on a side hustle in-between your regular day job hours, or you’ve gone out on your own to fully embrace the freelance lifestyle, there will be growing pains that most everyone experiences. If not recognized early on, tackled with commitment, and kept at the top of your to-do list, they can cause your earnings to plummet and your business to stall. Do you know what they are?
As a 10-year freelancer, I’ve experienced more than a few of these myself. In fact, some are a recurring nightmare problem that rear their ugly head every few months or so. Here are the most common (and troublesome) business errors that can happen in almost any freelance career.
1. Not Prospecting
Here’s the truth about freelancing: Even if you’ve never sold a single widget in your life, you’ll have to become an ace sales consultant just to wrangle enough business to survive. If you want to thrive and do really well, sales will be at the top of your to-do list every day. Those who leave prospecting to “when I have time” will almost certainly fail.
Set aside time every single day to move the needle on your sales funnel, or block out an entire day each week to work on your leads list and marketing plan. Don’t wait until you’re desperate for clients, either; the best time to sell is when you’re confidently making a living and can celebrate your success with even more great gigs.
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2. Worrying About a Niche
“Have you figured out a niche, yet?”
This question haunts me – and for good reason! Most marketing seminars and freelance success incubators swear by defining your niche. While the intentions are worthy, we often don’t have control over the kind of work that comes our way. I’m not one to turn down a lucrative freelance contract with an amazing client for excellent pay, just because it’s outside of my defined parameters.
Instead, consider your freelance brand to be values based, not industry-niched. Do you have a unique background that qualifies you to translate the most complicated tech-speak? Are you fiercely loyal? Do you captivate audiences with your witty prose? Define what makes you excellent, and work that into your elevator pitch. Whether you work in industry A or industry B is less important than we’d like to think. Plus, no one likes to leave work on the table.
3. Biting Off Too Much at Once
Goals are great. In fact, if you aren’t sure where you want to go with your freelance career, you’re not likely to get there. Having large milestones ahead of you isn’t very motivating, however, unless you’ve broken down the many steps to getting there. A 2002 study identified that manageable goals keep us focused on “goal-relevant activities and away from goal-irrelevant activities.”
If you’ve decided to grow sales by 20% this year, for example, it’s necessary to define where that business will come from. Are you going to raise rates? Will you ask for more business from existing clients? Are you implementing a referral system? Is your strategy to go out and get 20% more new clients? Be defining the “how,” setting up mini-goals for each step, and holding to several small deadlines, you are well on your way to crushing business goals.
4. Ignoring Business Credit
Whether you work as a sole proprietor, or with a team of 12, there are going to be times when you’ll need to fund your goals. A cash-only system is noble, but have you considered the impact that “opportunity cost” has on your business? If you’ve been given the chance to expand into more profitable sectors, but need additional tools or training to do so, can you pay for it, when needed? This is where business credit comes in, and waiting until you need the extra cash to check into your options is a bit too late.
In fact, building business credit is an ongoing process that you should be focusing on during the life of your freelance career. Start it before you begin freelancing, if possible. Be always aware of your personal and business credit scores, the amount of credit available to you, and the financing options you can get, if needed. Many freelancers do a quarterly credit checkup to see where they stand. Even if you never need to access a line of credit, having one open and available is a best practice that’s recommended to anyone wanting to stay competitive today.
5. Going Solo
Introverts, listen up. I know how you feel, and I’m here to tell you that it’s going to be a bit uncomfortable to do the things your business needs when all you want to do is stay in your home office and churn out projects. It’s very important, however, to build a support system – both for professional and personal needs. If you’re not engaged in an online business community, there’s no excuse to not seek one out. It’s easy to connect on LinkedIn or Facebook groups, various professional forums, or in the comment section of your favorite business blog. Find someone who shares your interests and goals and connect. It’s surprisingly easy.
Face-to-face time is also very important for your business. Get out to one or two professional events a year and say “hi” to the folks who you interact with online every day. Attend a speaking event (or sign up to give a talk yourself!), grab coffee with a client, or take that business mentor you appreciate so much for a quick bite. In a world where there are so many freelancers clamoring to stand out online, the human interaction that a personal conversation provides can make you memorable and easier to trust with future business.
Even the most seasoned freelancer will experience ups and downs (and even more downs), but there’s something about the freedom of the lifestyle that keeps us around. By being very real about your weaknesses, and refusing to put off the action needed to correct your business mistakes, you’ll grow further and faster than you ever imagined.
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