Running a business

The seven deadly sins of freelancing

A frustrated freelancer


    We try to keep things on the positive side as often as we can, but sometimes, like a nagging mother, we must remonstrate our readership. Today is one of those days.

    It’s not 1998. You’re not a “guru”. You don’t have to give your clients things for free. You’re a business, whether you like it or not.

    Sit up straight, take that gum out of your mouth. Is everybody listening? Good – let’s begin.

    1. Thou shalt not ignore late payments

    You know when you bung 28 day payment terms on your invoices? There’s not actually any legal reason to do that. What you’re doing, in effect, is giving your client a month of interest-free credit.

    Have you bought anything recently and been given a month of interest-free credit? Unlikely.

    Remember – it’s your client’s responsibility to pay you the second they receive your invoice. You’re not putting them out by chasing your payment – you’re exercising your right to be paid for your work.

    2. Thou shalt not be a hermit

    As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. I’m lucky enough to work in an office and enjoy regular social interaction – but my wife recently started working from home and has been enjoying the curious isolation that comes with a home office.

    The advantages of getting out there – moving into a shared workspace, going coworking – are numerous. You get to meet new people, network, maybe score some new work. It also gets you out of the house and gives you a reason to have a shower once in a while.

    3. Thou shalt not sell stuff you can’t do well

    Being a successful freelancer is all about finding your niche. You might be the best person at copywriting in your town, or a specialist pet photographer who finds work all over the country. Whatever shape your niche takes, embrace it and make it yours.

    Being a generalist works sometimes, but in the majority of cases it just means you’re providing a middling service doing something you don’t enjoy that much.

    Don’t be a Jack-of-all-trades; be a master of a few.

    4. Thou shalt not stop learning

    Diversifying your skills is a great way to offer value-added services to your clients but, as we learned in point #3, you have to be good at them to make it work.

    It can be tricky to find time for professional development when you’re working long days and weekends – but find time you must. Block out an hour in your calendar a few days a week, put your phone on silent and learn.

    It’ll do you a world of good. Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind!

    5. Thou shalt not pretend to be a big company

    As a freelancer you’re hired for your skills. Nobody else has these skills; it’s what makes you great.

    Nothing can confuse clients faster than pretending you’re a bigger company than you actually are. Thou shalt definitely not:

    • Say “we” when you mean “I” (unless you’re the Queen)
    • Use separate email addresses for invoicing, new business, support etc.
    • Use a virtual assistant service to make it seem like you have a receptionist (yes, I’ve met people who do this)

    6. Thou shalt not not make time for “the other bits”

    Lots of freelancers fall into the trap of thinking working for yourself is just doing “your job” – be it web design, consultancy, personal training or just about anything else. The truth is you’ll have many jobs as a freelancer, and you won’t want to do most of them.

    Finding insurance, doing your accounts, customer service, credit control, marketing and every other aspect of running a business are yours to manage – and it’s important to find time for every single one.

    Business development is especially important. This is the stuff that improves your current processes, reduces your expenses, makes your clients happier, scores you new business and increases your rates.

    Even setting aside an hour every week is a good start – just make sure you take care of it.

    7. Thou shalt not waste time reading lists on the Internet

    At the end of the day nobody knows how to run your business better than you do – and sorting the wheat from the chaff is incredibly difficult when it comes to business advice.

    Does the person writing know what they’re talking about? There’s no way to tell.

    Should you be taking business advice from someone who’s never met you and knows nothing about your business? Maybe not.

    The important thing is you’re constantly improving. Tiny changes in all areas of your business can add up to a profitable whole – it’s up to you to make those changes.

    Now off you go.