The Biggest Mistakes Of My Freelance Career

I’ve been freelancing now for close to 10 years (has it really been that long?), along the way I’ve made some good decisions and I’ve made some absolute stinkers as well. In the hope that they might help you, here’s a look at some of my biggest mistakes to date…

Freelance Mistakes

Not going with my gut

This one still gets me from time to time and I kick myself when I let it happen. Right from the off when a new client approaches I get a feeling, sometimes it’s a good one, sometimes it’s bad. Every single time I’ve ignored that feeling and gone against my gut feeling, it has come back and bitten me. Like the time I was approached by a client who had fallen out with their previous designer and were taking him to court. It’s a pretty big warning sign but I ignored it and big surprise, it didn’t blossom into a fantastic relationship.

Not charging up front

For years I didn’t charge up front. I billed when the project was complete, I didn’t use contracts and it didn’t matter, all was great with the world. That’s when it happened, an invoice went unpaid and I chased it. It remained unpaid. I chased and chased and nothing. The client went into administration and I soon found out that I wasn’t going to be paid. I received a letter from the administrators detailing all the debts (I was very low down that list). I was owed a four figure sum, it wasn’t about to send me under but I wasn’t exactly ecstatic about it. There was another freelancer on that list that was owed close to £50,000. I have no idea if he ever got his money, I know I never got mine.

Saying yes to every project

When the sun shines make hay as the saying goes. For me the sun never stopped shining. That sounds great but I ended up bombarded with work that started spilling into my personal time and I started to feel the strain. It also meant that I wasn’t able to focus to the level I would have liked on the projects that I had taken on and as a result my work wasn’t up to the standard that I aim for. These days I’m a little more selective with my projects, only taking on the ones that are a good fit.

Not holding any time back

Following on from saying yes to pretty much everything, I found myself only ever working for my clients. I wasn’t investing any of my working day in my own business. I wasn’t working on any marketing material of any form for myself, I even left my invoicing until the small hours (at one point I accidentally left a zero off an invoice! I fixed that one by grabbing myself some online accounting software) I’ve learned to hold a little bit of time back these days, not only to help market myself but also to spend time learning new skills.

Freelancing is tough, you’re out there on your own most of the time. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way and I’m sure I’ll make more too. It’s important that you learn from your mistakes and learn quickly too. Here’s hoping my tips will help you out!


Joe Czucha:

15 Sep 2015 13:06:42

Hi Dave,

Great post! I remember that I was working for an agency in Leeds when I came across you on Twitter, and it was only really then that I (as a naive, straight-out-of-uni junior developer) realised that freelancing was a perfectly legitimate way to do operate (until then, my only real experience of freelancers had been the hideaway bedroom-developer types).

Anyway, fast-forward 5 years and I’ve now been freelancing myself for just under 3 and I’m loving it. But I can relate to ALL of the points on your list :)

A couple of others I can add, from a developers perspective:

1) Don’t let your client dictate the technology – often when a client says they want a “Wordpress site” they actually mean something that’s cheap, templated and content-managed. That’s all well and good, but if they actually want something that requires lots of bespoke coding, don’t let them pressurise you into using what they feel is the right tool; as a developer, it’s your job to choose and then to educate the client as to why you made that choice.

2) Work with your designer from the outset – I used to receive a lot of “finished” designs from agencies and told to build them. Only once they were built would usability or responsive issues come to light. By working with your designer throughout the whole process, you can ensure that these issues are ironed out early on (and if they ignore your advice at least you can then bill to fix it!).

Anyway, thanks again Dave.



15 Sep 2015 13:23:49

Thanks for the comment Joe and I’m glad you liked the post. You make a great point about not letting clients dictate technology – that happens a lot to me and I’m not the biggest fan of Wordpress in the world so I will often go against it.

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