There are no mistakes. The events we bring upon ourselves, no matter how unpleasant, are necessary in order to learn what we need to learn; whatever steps we take, they're necessary to reach the places we've chosen to go. - Richard Bach. I believe in this quote wholeheartedly as it couldn’t be more true. Without trial and error, there is no reward and even worse, no experience gained. I’ve come across many mistakes as a freelancer and the mistakes discussed in this blog can relate to most professions. Remember that with every mistake, there is a lesson learnt, so do your best to recognise when you have made one yourself - that way you can take advantage of the situation and never fall short again.
1. Establishing the deliverables of an exchange.
With any freelance gig, you provide a service and that service is sought after by whoever is employing you - so at the very minimum, you and the employer have established a subconscious agreement that both of you need something from each other. This is the easy part. The more detailed part is distinguishing the difference between “ I need some stuff done” to “ I require a logo design for a juice bar being opened soon and ideally would like to have it finished within a few weeks, with 3-6 options to choose from.” You might think the latter is quite detailed but trust me, that is just the tip of the iceberg compared to what you really need to ask a client. A mistake I’ve made in the past is trusting someone I’ve never met (I know, what a jackass) with the over-simplification of the requirements of a brief and paying for it with sweat and tears later on do to the ACTUAL excessive amount of work that was required.
Ensure that you go into detail with your employer and establish exactly what they require from you and what you require from them. Another plus side from being thorough is that your employer will realise that you’re a professional who knows what he or she is doing and will think twice about overstepping their boundaries or being a straight asshole in future.
2. No contracts.
Silly ol me thought that the world was sunshine and rainbows when in-fact, we ain’t in Kansas anymore - this is the real deal. A big mistake many other freelancers and I have made in the past is commencing a brief without the protection of a contract stating the requirements of both parties and so forth. While being unprotected, clients tend to disrespect your precious time, pay you what they wish and sometimes - NOT PAY YOU AT ALL! Please young freelancers, realise nice and early that there are people out there who truly don’t care if they’re stuffing you around. There are quite a few websites out there that provide you with career specific contracts so please, do your research. Some freelancer platforms have built in contracts that binds you and the client until both parties get what they want, which is very useful if you do not have the funds to pay someone to write your contracts for you.
3. To charge too much or too little.
This one can be a bit tricky as everyone who has a talent they wish to use as a form of earning money have all different levels of experience, quality or sometimes - regrettably lack there of. When I graduated from design school I got told to charge at least 35 bucks and hour and although this sounds great, it is not realistic for someone who is inexperienced, does this full-time and needs to fucking eat. Designers who have a full time job and wish to charge this much on the side are on easy street - so they can afford to have a client say “nah, I think I’ll pass.” You’re a freelancer and your main form of income is yourself. On the other side of the spectrum, it is also a mistake to charge too little, as with any type of work you do, people can start to devalue your work, take advantage of your time and you risk getting taken to the cleaners. A perfect solution for this is for you to be honest with yourself and truthfully establish what level of expertise you have and charge accordingly.
Point blank - charge what you believe is a fair price for the time you will spend on the project. Charge what you think can pay your bills. From there, another client will come and you can charge accordingly to that project and soon enough - you’ll have enough clients at a reasonable rate - and you’re seeing your freelance dreams come to life.
4. Don’t think the work will come to you.
So you have a nice portfolio eh? Looking fly as fuck on your website? Guess what, nobody gives a shit. You know why? They don’t know you exist. They didn’t wake up one morning and go “Jee wiz Dorothy, I’m going to hire John Doe because his name popped in my dream last night.” That would be awesome but the sad truth is, this game is a hustle. You need to find work! You need to think of your niche as a big shelf of things that you specialise in. You need to realise that THAT shelf is filled with other people who do what you do and the toughest task is finding a space on that shelf and saying to whoever walks past it, “Hey, look at me and what I can do.” Its as simple as that. This is by far one of the most critical mistakes I have ever made as I not only didn’t earn money, I wasted valuable time in my marketing strategy to find clients and build my reputation as a designer. Find ways to get on the shelf. Figure out what you specialise in and make sure you find a nice cozy spot on that shelf because sooner or later, someone will walk past and go “Wow that's interesting.”
I really hope that some of these can help many of you out there skip these mistakes and progress onward to the road of success and true happiness. Life itself is all about learning and making mistakes. Went surfing on a big day without a leg rope? Ya fucked up. Went and did a number 2 at your crushes house? Ya definitely fucked up. I bet that if you did any of these, you didn’t do it twice and being a freelancer is much the same. Be vigilant of the mistakes you make and correct them in the process and I promise you, your road to earning as a free man or woman is much closer than you think.
Words - John Bresciani
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