A lot of developers (including members of Team Testomato) got their start working as freelancers. That’s why we occasionally discuss tips and tricks for freelance web developers on our blog.
Today, we’re going to talk about a topic that’s close to our hearts: mistakes.
We’re all human, and we all mess up once in awhile. As humans, it’s not only normal for us to make mistakes – it’s expected. There’s really no way to completely avoid them, and in our opinion, you shouldn’t want to.
Making mistakes is one of the best ways we learn. Getting to the other side of a problem, even if mistakes are made in the process, gives us the kind of valuable insight that’s best learned through personal experience. We develop techniques and methods that can be applied in the future and be incorporated in the way we work.
This goes for all programmers (actually, any web professional), not just freelancers. One of the advantages of being a freelance web developer is being part of an open community that is more than willing to share its experiences so that we’re able to learn without making the same mistakes.
So, in this post, we’ll go over 10 mistakes (some more obvious than others) we wish someone had shared with us when we first started freelancing.
Mistake #1 – Beware of making a bad first impression
The best portfolio in the world won’t get you a job if you fail to make a good first impression. After all, you only get one short window of opportunity.
In fact, one popular study showed that a first impression can form in just a few seconds. Additionally, PsychCentral notes once an opinion is formed, don’t expect to be change that perception easily. Even if you were able to prove someone’s first impression was wrong – it would only apply to that particular instance.
So, make sure you get it right at the first meeting, since you want to spend your time doing great work – not trying to change someone’s mind.
Here’s a couple tips to help you nail the good first impression:
- Be on time. No, seriously. Tardiness doesn’t really align with the goal of showing people how dependable you are.
- Be charming. This means something different to everyone, so we won’t elaborate too much. However, the best advice we can offer is be yourself and be comfortable. It might take some time, but eventually, you’ll figure out the best balance for dealing with potential clients.
- Respond to their communications. There’s nothing worse, as a client or a freelancer, than sending an email and getting a response days later. We’re not advocating a two-second response time for every email, but if you want to please a client, answer their emails the same day you receive them.
Mistake #2 – You’re portfolio is more about quantity than quality
Freelancers sometimes have a tendency to overstuff their portfolios with work. In this case, “the more, the better” doesn’t necessarily apply.
On the surface, it makes sense. A large personal portfolio can often demonstrate variety and also credible work. It could even, in some ways, flatter people or deflect problems when past clients see their own work has been included. Still, be careful about showcasing too much and make sure you have a good reason for adding a project.
For example, showing some older projects can help demonstrate how you’ve improved or creatively grown over time.
A portfolio says a lot about what a developer is capable of accomplishing, so make the most of what it can say about your skills.
Mistake #3 – You’re missing a bonus offer
Offering a free service can go a long way with clients. Giving a bonus away often gives clients a better experience and makes it more likely that they’ll bring jobs to you in the future.
We don’t mean giving away a complicated service. Keep it simple, quick, and useful.
For example, you could offer a free year of customer support. Websites and online applications are not much different than software these days, and sometimes, they stop working. Providing free support shows clients you care about the performance of the websites you create.
Depending on your niche and your resources, make sure you create at least one or more freebies. Just make sure it’s something that doesn’t require a lot of time on your part, but is still useful for your clients.
Mistake #4 – You’re doing everything in one go
Early on, it’s tempting sit down for a week or two, build a project, and deliver it with fingers crossed. Good project work often requires more flexibility and fast-action if a client isn’t satisfied with the way things are going.
The best way to avoid delivering something mediocre that no one’s happy about is to break your project into sub-deadlines and deliver project parts regularly.
This will help cutdown on the longterm length of the project even if you need to spend a little more time on each version that you send.
Mistake #5 – You’re working unprotected
Always make sure your work is covered by a contract, whether you’re working with a client you’ve just met or a friend you’ve known for years. A contract ensures you are always paid in the end and keeps both parties in line.
Six Revisions wrote a great post with some helpful tips about putting together a freelance contract.
To sum it up:
- Always have a written contract, don’t accept jobs by email.
- Don’t give up the rights to your work before you’ve been paid.
- Include a kill fee for unexpected changes.
- Have a good statement of work that outlines deliverables, required work, and deadlines.
- Make a contract that looks both professional and beautiful.
- There will be times you’ll need to consult a lawyer.
Mistake #6 – You let yourself feel intimidated by the competition
It can be difficult to think you deserve a job when there are so many other confident (even arrogant) creatives out there vying for work, especially when you start thinking about all the templates you’re up against.
Be ready to take on the competition and convince your clients they need you. Your work provides lots of benefits your clients won’t get with a $30 template, so keep that in mind when you’re feeling unsure.
Use that fear to motivate you to be more dedicated and more passionate about the work you’re doing!
Mistake #7 – You don’t educate your clients
You work with online tools and software every day, so it’s easy to forget that your clients might not have any experience with the solutions you’ve provided them with.
Offering self-created tutorials or information about where to find advice or information about technologies you’ve used will save you time in the future. The more your clients know, the less time you’ll have to spend providing support or solving simple problems for them down the road.
Mistake #8 – You don’t share the client love with your peers
Realistically, there are jobs, or there will be jobs, in your future that you won’t have time for. Instead of turning them down and keeping the information to yourself – send it to someone in your network. This also goes for other tools, like data back up services.
Sharing work with others will always pay off in the end or come back to you in some way or another. You’re part of a community, so don’t be greedy – be an active member and pass on the work you can’t do yourself.
Mistake #9 – You’re working conditions aren’t a priority
One of the best and worst things about being a freelancer is that you are your own manager. Remember that pacing yourself and prioritizing your time not only benefits your health, but your projects as well.
A big mistake freelancers often make is to overwork themselves, sometimes churning out 10 to 16 hours a day. (Don’t worry, we’ve all been there!) The problem with these hours is that a couple years at this pace will burn out even the best freelancer.
So, here’s what we suggest:
- Have set realistic working hours
- Give yourself some “leisure” days to do what you want
- Don’t work before or after a certain time each day
Creating a daily schedule that you’re comfortable with will allow you to make sure not a single day is wasted without exhausting yourself.
Mistake #10 – Your work is your life
Don’t let your work take over your entire life. Being productive and effective as a freelancer doesn’t necessarily mean working harder. Make sure you’re taking a break and doing something else!
If you’re working from home or have an office where you work by yourself, you risk isolating yourself. One way to fight this is to mix things up once in awhile. For example, working in your favorite coffee shop once or twice a month can be helpful. Or, if you want a complete change of scene, try out a shared co-working space.