For a few years now, the words “freelance” and “digital nomad” have become part of mainstream work vocabulary. More and more people are taking full advantage of the many benefits that these modern ways of employment bring. One of these people is our friend Ambroise Debret, a freelance digital marketer and digital nomad expert. Having gained several years of experience in these fields, Ambroise is currently a coach for anyone who is curious about or who wants to become a freelancer. His expertise includes coaching on how to find clients, how to work while traveling from place to place, and how to fully take advantage of the internet to thrive remotely and independently. Of course, experience does not come without a few lessons learned, and that’s why he has also written about mistakes that freelancers make and how to avoid them.
Ambroise is French and has lived both in French Canada and France. His website and blog are thus only available in his native tongue at the moment. We want to make his incredible advice available to even more who want to dive into freelancing. This is why, with his permission, we are presenting you his guide to the seven mistakes you should not make as freelancer – as well as what you should be doing instead to start on the right track. This article appeared originally on his blog and has been fully translated by our team with Ambroise’s permission.
The top mistakes freelance digital marketers make
Being a freelancer can be incredibly satisfying and we always talk about its perks: traveling when and where you want to, working on your own schedule, and choosing the gigs that interest you the most. However, we rarely talk about the negative aspects, including the mistakes you may sometimes make and that can cost you dearly. We present them structured by themes, including client targeting and prospecting, communication during projects, as well as the project delivery processes and getting paid. These are by no means unique to digital marketing jobs: graphic designers, proofreaders, translators, and many other freelancing professionals will surely find them useful too!
Freelancing Mistake #1: Not identifying or targeting your clients correctly
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This is an area where beginner freelancers make a lot of mistakes. If you need to find new clients, you need to leverage the power of the internet. The old school “knocking-on-doors” approach to prospecting will bear little fruit within the digital world. There is no point of approaching people physically: talking to opticians, veterinarians, or restaurant-owners will not likely turn them into a client. If you work in a digital environment, it will be hard to find people who will see the value in a digital presence among traditional businesses.
The lesson learned is to never force things nor to propose your services to a company that does not already express a need for them. Your network is key for finding clients, and you will make a better use of your time by reaching out and pitching your freelancing services. Speaking from experience, this will help you find customers a lot more easily and productively.
Freelancing Mistake #2: Not getting in touch with the decision-maker and being sure of their needs
Once more, this one comes from experience. Miscommunications happen, even within companies. Imagine you get approached by the Community Manager of a company telling you they are looking for a Growth Hacker. You go through telephone and in-person interviews, and you dedicate time and resources to put together a service proposition. Things keep going in circles until you meet the decision maker for the company’s project who lets you know that, in fact, your services are not what they needed for their project! When we say this comes from experience, it is because it is exactly what happened to Ambroise!
The lesson learned here is that you need to get in touch with the decision-maker as early as early as possible in the process. If not, you will be losing your time. You must make sure that they have an urgent need for your services so you can quickly move on to collaborating with them instead of being stuck talking about how you could collaborate with them.
Freelancing Mistake #3: Ignoring your client’s budget for the project
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The third mistake to avoid is working with companies that do not have the correct budgets or sufficient commercial activity. The result of doing so is that these companies will not be sure of what they need from you and will try to negotiate disadvantageous conditions and payment for your services. Expectations will shift throughout the project, and conditions will get unclear and frustrating as you try to progress. Working like this can lead to you agreeing to something, getting started, and then not being able to continue because of lack of budget or because the client did not know what they really wanted or needed for the beginning.
The takeaway here is not to work with companies who do not set a clear budget from the very start or who do not seem to have an active commercial activity that justifies the work they want you to do for them. (On the other hand, it is also a bad idea to work with companies that treat you like a guru who will solve all their problems. This will also create issues in the long run).
The best thing to do is to set clear minimum budgets that you will work across the different services you offer. You can do this by task or at an hourly rate. When it comes to negotiating the project, make sure to clearly ask what their budget is, see if it corresponds to what you are willing to accept, and then make a list of deliverables for the specific tasks agreed upon.
Freelancing Mistake #4: Failing to limit the exchanges with your client
Freelancers can always expect a few back-and-forths with their clients. This is especially true if you work in design, website creation, or digital marketing. However, if you do not set limits, you risk that the client will contact you dozens of times and ask for rebuilds, major changes, or even several small changes that will start to add up.
The most important thing here is to set limits and make them clear before you start. As an example, if you design someone’s website, you can set the limit of iterations as follows: You present a draft, you present a working prototype, and you present the final page, each step with a maximum of two revisions before advancing to the next one.
Another important thing is to stick to your expertise and put limits to yourself, too. If you agree to tasks that you are not familiar with, you will then force yourself to expect extra revisions that will cost you time and money. You can always delegate parts of the project that are not your strenght to another freelancer and avoid falling in a spiral of endless emails and calls with the client.
Freelancing Mistake #5: Taking on too many projects with overlapping deadlines
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This point will spare you a great deal of nerves. It is inevitable that your work will be planned around deadlines and launch dates. If you take on clients who let you know they want their results around the same dates, you will just be making things difficult for yourself. You do not know how long the tasks ahead of a deadline are, or how long the launch will take, or what unexpected issues you may run into. The moment you find yourself with simultaneous deadlines drawing closer, you will simply regret having taken on all the projects that you did.
The takeaway here is to make sure to space out your clients’ deadlines. As a consultant, you can even exert some influence over deadlines and help clients set them around what is best for you. In this way, all the work and stress will not take place at the same time. It is also a good idea to get to know your own work rhythm in relation to each type of project you take on. The more you do, the more you will be able to estimate what time and effort your projects more or less take.
Freelancing Mistake #6: Not setting boundaries on your availability
Something aggravating that happens frequently is that clients will ask you for too many things. Some clients will respect you and make collaborating a pleasure. Others will start abusing your professionalism and goodwill. They can start contacting outside of established working hours and via personal communication methods. They will then ask you why you are not replying. This will in turn ruin the line between your professional and personal life.
There are a few tips to this point. For starters, start by clearly stating the details of your professional relationship in your contracts (this applies to all the previous points, too). You can state how, when, and how often communications will take place. You can specify, for example, that you will use a project management tool which you will update daily at end of day, with the possibility of a weekly 30-minute call. Make sure to leave an urgent contact method, but precise it is for absolute emergencies only. Avoid creating precedents too. If the client sends you a voice clip on WhatsApp and you reply, they will think it is an acceptable communication method and continue doing it in the future.
Secondly, you can assign a specific date to your different clients and let them know about it. For example, you can tell one of your clients “I will work on your project Mondays and Wednesdays and can therefore answer to emails and offer updates on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This will lay out things clearly and precisely for both you and the client.
Freelancing Mistake #7: Being disorganized with your bookkeeping
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This is the final topic of this guide, which happens to be where you can find yourself losing the most time and money in your journey as a freelancer. This is best illustrated with something that, once more, happened to Ambroise. For some years he had a project with a marketing agency where he helped increase social media followers for several of the agency’s clients. The main issue was that he was sending a generic invoice at the end of the month, without fully breaking down the work made for each of these agency’s clients, whose workload varied month by month. The issue is that one of these clients had stopped paying the agency, and Ambroise was not getting paid for the work done for them. This is something he was not realizing because he was just sending generic invoices without any itemizing. After running the numbers, he realized he was owed $4,000, but then the marketing agency went out of business and this money was nowhere to be seen.
The lesson here is to be extremely careful with and strict about your bookkeeping. In business, anything that touches money and payments is of utmost importance. The most important takeaway is to keep track of your accounting to the last penny. If anything does not add up when writing your invoices or getting your money, communicate it with the client immediately.
Another lesson: set clear payment deadlines and extra fees for late payments. The usual payment period is net-30 (payment is due 30 days within the invoice being sent to the client). You can therefore set a penalty of 25% of the owed amount for each week that passes after the payment deadline. You do not have to always enforce this, but it gives you an excuse to chase clients for payment, which you can expect doing a lot as a freelancer.
And there you have it. These are some of the main mistakes freelancers make and which they should avoid. Freelancing has a lot of benefits, but as outlined here, you will have to wear a few extra hats as part of your business, including being your own human resource manager and accountant. Thank you, Ambroise, for these tips. Make sure to consult Ambroise’s guide on becoming a freelancer. It is only available in French at the moment, but you can still use a translation tool and get a great idea of his content.
And if you are already a freelancer, why not read about 10 ways in which you can leverage ChatGPT for your marketing, as well as 7 ways in which ChatGPT can help you in your businesses. This tool is the talk of town in digital marketing, and as a freelancer you can also save lots of time and money in your gigs by leveraging this technology.
Cover photo: Glenn Carstens-Peters via Unsplash