Mistakes to Avoid as a New Freelancer

Freelancing is a great way to earn some side income or create a flexible, work-from-almost-anywhere career, but there are lessons to be learned before you get too far into it. Here are the mistakes to avoid as a new freelancer.

Learn from me, friends, if there's a mistake to make as a freelancer, I've probably done it. Not intentionally, of course, but because this was a new venture and I didn't know better. Whether it be contract items, communication, or taxes, I've learned a lot since I started five (?!) years ago! And now it's your chance to learn from me before having the chance to make these mistakes yourself. :)


Set Aside Your Taxes Now

Ohh, taxes... They aren't a fun thing to spend money on but it's better to be safe than sorry. The downside of making a substantial amount of money as an independent contractor is that taxes aren't withheld when you receive the check, so you need to set aside money for it later.

I know some people that have an entirely different savings account for taxes, so they aren't tempted to touch it, and others keep it in the same account. Find what works for you, and exercise some discipline! I know, I know, easier said than done, but turning down extra expenses now will make April that much more pleasant.

You can also pay quarterly, which I believe is the best way to go. No untouchable chunk sitting in your account tempting you for most of the year, and it'll make April more manageable.

Side note: Take advantage of as many deductions as possible. In previous years I wasn't making enough and I didn't know enough about the deductions available so I didn't take the time to work them out. This year? You better believe I'm measuring out the space in my room my desk uses. Save your receipts, too! And if you're paying off student loans, like I am, that helps decrease your taxes owed, as well.

For more info, this article gives a good breakdown. It is, however, from 2013 so use this as a guide, not the rule.


Not Networking Enough

It's never too early to start networking, and it should be a priority. If you live in or near a city, there should be a wealth of events every month in and out of your industry. This is especially beneficial if you've recently moved, and don't have many professional contacts.

Make a goal of attending 3-5 networking functions a month, if you can. That's about one a week, and at most these take an hour or two not including driving time. Take the time to introduce yourself to someone new, reconnect with people you've met at a previous event, and make sure you hand out some business cards! Don't be obnoxious about it, of course, but make sure people remember you and can contact you afterwards. And hey, you may get some free drinks or food out of it. ;)

I've had some entrepreneur friends have great success with our local Chamber of Commerce, and though there's a membership fee, if you commit to it you'll find an ROI from the connections you make. This is something I wish I had committed to earlier, because I think it could have really jumpstarted my local client work. Since I'm moving soon, I may hold off and recommit to this once I move.

Some of the best connections I've made have been a result of getting involved in an event that's not strictly within my industry. Why? Because when a marketer networks with other marketers, you may make friends and some professional relationships, but not many actual clients. (Of course, this can vary, but it's the nature of the beast.)

I've been volunteering with unconferences in the area over the past year and a half, and that's helped me build relationships with people I otherwise wouldn't have met


Protect Yourself with Your Contract

I recently had an experience that taught me that I wasn't nearly as protected as I thought I was when it came to my contracts. It's easy for me as a perfectionist to get down on myself that I should have known better, and maybe I should have. 

But I had never experienced an issue like that, so I didn't know to ensure my contracts had terms regarding that issue. (I'm being purposefully vague because of the NDA.)

That being said, invest in a lawyer, and research others' contracts. Websites like Freelancers' Union have templates you can use, and that's the route I went at first. But if you're looking at a high-value contract, I'd recommend investing in a lawyer to review it and help you better protect yourself.

Protect Your Work Product

This is another one of those "Really Hannah? You didn't think to do that? Idiot." Yeah, probably. What you don't know you don't know. Anyways, with the variety of cloud platforms available today, it's easier than ever to protect your work product during the creation and revision process.

As a writer, I tend to send PDFs to clients and label the files "V01", "V02", etc. But upon client nonpayment, there's no way I can remove client access. Yep. I did that once. My new game plan is using Google Docs and sharing each version within a folder shared with that client. That way, if I'm ever involved in a tough situation and need to revoke access, I can.

Find Your Workplace

The beauty of freelancing is that you can work anywhere. But hardship of freelancing is that you can work anywhere. Without a dedicated office with coworkers and bosses in the same space as you, motivation can be hard to find.

Because of this, find your happy work place as soon as possible. Whether it's a certain coffeeshop, your dining room table, or a coworking space, having a space where you can focus is key.

Coworking spaces are popping up across the country, and many have affordable part-time memberships. This not only gives you a space to focus and crank some work out, but it also connects you with other creatives and business owners that may need your services. The potential ROI of the investment in a coworking space is high, if you fully utilize it!

Create Your Project Management System

Whether you're using an actual project management app like Asana, dapulse, Trello, or something else, or a physical calendar (what?), you need a project management system. Without a team, a powerful PM program isn't a necessity, because you just need to keep up with your own work, not what others are doing.

Regardless, you need to stay on top of each client's deadlines and where you are on each project. Try out different programs or systems and find what works for you. There's no "wrong" way to do this, as long as you aren't missing deadlines!


I've found that many freelancers tend to just start doing and think about the details later, which isn't necessarily bad, but it can put you in some tough situations. Whether you're dealing with client nonpayment or working to create a project management system that works, I hope this was a beneficial look into what to avoid as a freelancer! 


What was one mistake you made that you wish you could shout from the rooftops?