They say if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day. But any freelancer knows that if you do what you love, you’ll always be working.
Hitting that work-life balance as a freelancer is tough, and made tougher by challenging clients, who don’t know what they’re asking for, aren’t always willing to pay what it’s worth, or think they could probably save money by doing the work themselves!
Especially when I was first starting out there were a lot of difficult clients and many of them were taking advantage of the new girl on the freelance block. If you’re thinking about starting your own freelancing gig these are some of the pitfalls you need to be watching for:
The Reluctant Client
Cold pitching results in a lot of rejections over a career, and that’s pretty normal. But early in my career, I was searching for semi-regular work, and didn’t yet know how to tell a good client from a bad one. I approached a local business I loved about creating content for them. They loved the pitch I gave, and then when I emailed to follow up, suddenly they weren’t sure. Could they see some more samples? Maybe a free trial basis? They felt sure they could probably do this work themselves, but they wanted to see what I could do. In the end, I created two pieces for them, that I wasn’t paid for, and they decided not to hire me.I chalked it up to a learning experience I’m happy to use as a cautionary tale.
The solution: Have the confidence to walk away. It’s tough to turn a gig down, especially when you’re starting out. But the number one rule when it comes to freelancing? Don’t undervalue yourself. If a prospective client is looking for a sample of your work, direct them to your portfolio. If they want a ‘trial,” you can set a trial pay scheme that you can live with, and offer it in writing, so your clients won’t renege later.
No Technical Knowledge
Typically, clients come to freelancers to bridge a gap in their skills. But every once in a while, there are clients who really have no idea what they’re asking you to do. I was paid recently to set up a Facebook page for a client, who adamantly refused to connect her personal Facebook with a business page. We compromised. I set up a profile and connected it to the business page I created. Within a week, she called to ask if I could delete the profile. She kept confusing it with the page. This led to hours of extra work for me, as we transferred her posts and files across the platform.
The solution: Sometimes, it’s impossible to know what a client does know. But ensuring your client is aware of what you are offering is critical. Provide a detailed list of services that you intend to provide with each client. If they have a content team or marketing team ask to work through them when possible.
Constantly on Call
One of the major perks of a freelance career is that you get to set your own hours. One of the major drawbacks though, is the clients tend to believe that you’re always on call. I had a client fire me from a job because he asked me to make 3 edits in three different emails over a 12-hour period And I hadn’t had time to respond to even one email!
The solution: if you’ve been a freelancer for any length of time, you probably know that there are people who think we’re constantly available. Avoid the pitfalls of always being on call by setting regular office hours. Have the hours you are willing and able to answer emails visibly posted on your website, social media, and the signature in your email. This way, clients will know when and how they can expect an email back. This is a simple and professional way for you to set boundaries.
Meat Market Clients
As content creation grows in popularity, freelance job boards and content mills become more popular. They offer low rates for one-time jobs and a great opportunity for new freelancers. But it also leads to a lot of problems. On one memorable occasion, I had a client add me to their roster of freelancers, only to routinely underpay me for articles where the only instruction I was given was a couple of keywords.
The solution: I would never suggest avoiding these sites. They can be a great way to build a portfolio and meet your first clients. But beware of clients that offer low pay jobs with the promise of “long-term opportunities in the future.” Contact clients, and take note of how often they respond, and how reasonable and clear-cut their instructions are. Clients on these sites keep a list of creators they want to work with. You often have the opportunity to note down which clients you refuse to work with. Make use of it to weed out the bad clients ahead of time..
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Everybody wants something as cheap as I can get it and the competition can feel very fierce. This is also known as the “I will pay you in experience” plan. Anyone who’s ever taken an arts program in college knows what I’m talking about. Experience doesn’t pay your rent. Get used to reminding clients you don’t work for free.
The solution: There are plenty of cheap options for content on the internet. You are going to have to be able to stand up for yourself, and your work. A great way to do this is to find a mentor. Someone who can help guide you through how to set your pricing, how to make a business plan for yourself, and where to find your first clients. Once you have a better idea of what your expectations should be starting out and where you want to go, it will be easier to avoid having to “compromise” on your rate. There are some things you are only going to gain with experience. Over time you learn to separate their good clients from the freeloaders and learn when you’re willing to compromise and on what.
The Client Who Really Just Wants To Do It Themselves
Sometimes you’ll have a client with a background in marketing or interest in design. And sometimes this is great, as it avoids all the pitfalls of all the clients who don’t really understand what you do or why it is worth money to them. However, sometimes you can finish the job only to have a client turn to you and say, “What if we did this?” “I saw X yesterday, it was really cool, can we work that in?” “I’m thinking this might be a good idea, what do you think?” This can leave you wrestling with ideas and details for months, not getting paid, and not spending the time you need to cultivate new clients.
The solution: Some rewrites and revisions are expected. It’s perfectly normal for clients to want to make changes as we go. But a rewrite is not completely restructuring the project midstream. Before you take a job, have a sit-down with a client and ask them what they’re looking for. If they want to be involved in the creative side, sit down and brainstorm ideas with them and make sure you get their okay once you start. In the case of sudden, dramatic rewrites, your magic words are: “This is not what we discussed but.” As in that is not what we discussed but I’m happy to price your options for additions.” That is not what we discussed but if this is the direction that you want to go in we can sit down for another brainstorming session my hourly rate is…” etc. You want to keep things friendly and professional, but you also don’t want to be stuck in a job for 6 months of work before you see any payment. You need to make the extent of your commitment clear to the client. Your willingness to be flexible, while understanding your own value, can actually increase the value you bring to the team!
The Client Who Absolutely Doesn’t Want To Do It
On the other end of the spectrum is the client who really doesn’t want anything to do with the project. These are clients who just don’t get involved in content creation at all. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, provided they offer good instructions for the tone, the style, and any other aspect of the work they think is important. But not all clients do. Some may reference a blog-style they want you to emulate others may simply say “I want it a reasonable blog length”. They may give you a few words or phrases they want you to use but not tell you about the audience they are trying to reach. As frustrating as this is, it’s usually due to not being aware of what the freelancer needs.
The solution: When you take a job it is your responsibility to communicate with the client. Keep it brief and to the point and let them know any information that is missing in the original brief. Ask them to provide examples for style, tone, and audience if you’re having trouble verifying that. No one wants to hire someone and get the wrong content oh, so the more transparent you candies the more likely it is to confirm this tricky client into one of your regulars.
Freelancing is a rewarding career path for people who like flexibility and can self-motivate. But that doesn’t make it easy. If you spend any time in the world of freelancing you’ve probably come up against one or more of these clients. Some of them are genuinely difficult to work with but in most cases, it’s a matter of miscommunication that you can anticipate and solve before it ever becomes a problem. That means you keep your high-quality clients and let go of the ones who are only dragging you down.