10 Freelancing Pitfalls to Avoid
Freelancing has its ups and downs. You get to set your own hours; you can work in your underwear (most of the time); and you get to do what you love, on your own terms. But it's not all wine and roses. Here are 10 freelancing pitfalls to watch out for.
Keeping your workflow steady can be difficult. Pets need to be fed. Family emergencies come up. Kids need to be taken care of. Hunger and the restroom and a million other things come calling to distract you from the work at hand. To be a successful freelancer, you have to develop the ability to either ignore those things or switch tasks quickly. It only takes one or two big distractions to kill an entire workday.
Lack of Benefits
When you're a freelancer, nobody's out to provide you with a retirement fund, insurance, paid vacations, or any of that. To stay afloat financially, you'll either have to budget carefully or marry rich (hint: you should start budgeting carefully). It's also a little disheartening that no matter how amazing you are, you're probably not getting a performance bonus from anybody.
Regularity is your best friend when it comes to productivity. Even if nobody's keeping tabs on you, keep a regular schedule for your own sake. Human beings are creatures of habit, and habit can help your freelancing career in big ways. A routine helps you recognize and fend off distractions; it helps you stay in a “work” mindset; and it helps legitimize what you're doing in your own eyes, which keeps you upbeat and plugging away.
Get an office—or at least play “office”. If you can't manage a physical office away from your home, walk around the block to “work” before you start up for the day. The more you make a distinction between work and play, the easier it will be to get things done.
One of the big enemies of the freelance employee is loneliness, and the depression that often comes with it. It can be quite isolating to never see another co-worker. To combat this, carve out time for your friends and family, and make sure that you leave the house from time to time. Wandering from the bed to the computer and then back to the bed isn't exactly what humans were built for, and it wears on you after a while. Go catch concerts, coffee, meals, drinks—whatever lights your fire.
If you work for a company that does tax withholding for you, awesome! If you work for someone (or for a lot of people) who pay you as an independent contractor, that's…less awesome.
For one, the tax rate for self-employment is higher. For another, you're supposed to file quarterly if you're self-employed. Both of those things can bite you at the end of the year if you don't pay attention to them, so keep your eyes open and your ledger ready.
Just as it's easy to fall into bad habits and not get work done, it's also easy to have trouble disengaging. Spending time with loved ones “after hours” is important—all down time is important. Just because you can stay up until 5:00 am writing articles about the pitfalls of freelancing, doesn't mean that you should.
Falling Behind in the Field
Just because your work isn't sending you to conferences doesn't mean you shouldn't stay up-to-date in your field. Take an online course, go to seminars, and read publications that have to do with your work—join Facebook or LinkedIn groups if you absolutely have to. Find places where people get excited about new ideas and engage with those places, because if you don't, you're gonna become obsolete in a big hurry.
Freelancing by definition means that you aren't guaranteed work. Going weeks or months (or heaven forbid, more) without work is an occupational hazard. During that time it's not uncommon to dip into savings, try to borrow money from friends, or break out the credit card.
Sometimes people just decide not to pay you. In fact, getting stiffed and being underappreciated in general are probably the two biggest things you'll hear about if you're so much as Facebook friends with a freelancer. Musicians complain about trying to pay their bills with the “exposure” they're promised for gigs. Graphic designers remind clients, “I spent ten years learning how to do it in ten minutes.” Web developers revel in revenge stories of replacing client sites with warnings not to do business with the client because they don't pay. Vet your client. Get a contract IN WRITING. Lay out terms. Stick to it.