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The number of freelancers continues to grow in the U.S.  As a full-time freelancer for nearly two years, I’m grateful to have enjoyed steady work and continued success since making the leap.  That hasn’t been by accident, and not all freelancers are so fortunate.

Why Freelancers Fail

The data on freelancing is in.  Freelancing is becoming more and more prevalent.  Here are some recent, key statistics from the Websitebuilder site:

  • 56.7 million Americans do some type of freelance work
  • 61% are freelancers by choice
  • Approximately $1.4 trillion is contributed to the U.S. economy by freelancing

What does this data tell us?  Well, for one thing, there is some serious earning potential for freelancers.  That’s good news.  But, that’s not the entire picture.

If you’re an aspiring, or active, freelancer, you probably want to succeed.  Of course, you do!  No one wants to fail. But, it’s not uncommon for freelancers, especially first-time freelancers, to fail.

While there is little quantifiable data out there about how many freelancers fail on their first attempt, there are reasons for that failure.  More importantly, there are ways to avoid failing . . . if you approach freelancing with the information and tools that you need to succeed.

Let’s examine some of the most common reasons freelancers fail.  Then, we’ll take a look at what you can do to improve your chances for success.

Failure to Commit

Make no mistake.  Freelancing is a career.  In fact, it sometimes feels like two careers – at the same time.

There’s the actual work that you perform as a freelancer.  Then, there’s the management of your freelancing business.  Failure to commit to your freelance business is one reason freelancers fail.

From the beginning, I’ve treated my freelance work like a business – my business.  I give 110% on every project, every time and make my clients glad that they hired me, which makes them want to hire me again.  I fully commit to the work that I do and who I do it for.  I’m all in!

With managing my freelance business, I make it my job to stay current on any changes and trends in my industry.  If I need to learn how to use a new program or platform, I do that.  I build professional relationships with others in my field.  Most importantly, I always keep growing and learning.

As a freelancer, there’s no one around making sure that you’re “keeping up” with the skills and tools that you need to do well.  You are responsible for checking that box.

Failure to be Consistent

What ever job you do, and who ever you work for, it’s just good practice to be consistent.  (As long as it’s consistently good, high performing, etc.  You get the picture!)

Don’t be a flaky freelancer.  Flaky freelancers make it tough for the rest of us.  Maybe they take on projects, but don’t deliver as expected.  Or, they overstate their abilities and leave their client scrambling to save a project.  Please don’t ever do this.

Freelancing is such a gift.  In the same Websitebuilder article mentioned earlier, 51% of freelancers stated that they would not return to a traditional, 9-to-5 job.  I didn’t participate in the survey, but I’m in that 51%.  Being consistent will help me reach this goal.  I choose to be consistent with every client and project.

Lack of Perspective

Freelancing can sometimes feel like you’re working in a vacuum, especially if you work remotely.  It’s very different from working in an office.  You can’t drop in on others to clarify questions or project requirements.  This can make it tempting to focus on your own perspective, and easy to lose sight of your client’s perspective.

To combat this, I keep two things in mind throughout every project that I work on:

  1. It’s not my project. Let me clarify.  While I take ownership for the success of every project that I work on, I never forget that I’m creating the work for someone else.  I’m not the sponsor or end user.  The client is.  So, I always stay focused on meeting and exceeding the client’s expectations.
  2. My client is counting on me.  What I do and how well I do it is a direct reflection on my client.  I want them to shine and succeed.  That drives me to deliver stellar work to them and for them.

Every project and client is unique, but lacking perspective about your client can harm your freelancing efforts.

Neglecting the Numbers

I implore any one who is thinking about freelancing, especially on a full-time basis, to get real with your numbers.  And, by numbers I mean finances.

There are three areas that you need to focus on when it comes to your finances as a new freelancer.

  1. Your Emergency Fund – Really everyone should have one, but as a freelancer it’s a non-negotiable.  A good rule of thumb is to have at least six months worth of expenses saved up before you make the leap to full-time freelancing. (YMMV depending on your individual circumstances.)  If you’re not there yet, consider freelancing part-time and save some of those earnings to build up your emergency fund.
  2. Your Monthly Budget – If you make the move to full-time freelancing, your expenses are going to change – maybe a lot.  You might need to start buying your own health insurance, and that’s a sizable expense.  (Still so worth it in order to freelance!)  The key here is to create a written budget that includes all of your monthly expenses.  You need to know how much you need to earn in order to cover your expenses every month.
  3. Your Earnings Goal – Because you don’t want to get stuck in a survival mindset, think about what you’d like to earn in your first full year of freelancing.  This might be just enough to cover your expenses, or maybe it’s more.  Whatever the number, you’ll never know how to get there if you don’t know where you want to be.

Another overlooked reality for new freelancers is the time it takes between invoicing a client and actually getting paid.  This lag time can become stressful and problematic if you don’t properly prepare financially.

How You Can Be Successful

Fortunately, when you know what pitfalls can occur, you can also work to avoid them.  Here are a few practical strategies to help you be a successful freelancer, instead of one of the freelancers who fail.

  • Choose to commit.  Make a conscious choice to commit to your own success and that of your clients.  By doing your best work for them, your doing your best work for yourself.  Create a freelance business plan to guide the business aspects of your efforts and give structure to your freelancing endeavors.
  • Choose to be consistent. Just like committing, consistency is a choice. Consistently give each client and project your best efforts.
  • Keep it in perspective.  Take time to consider your client’s point of view.  They are counting on you and your work to meet their expectations and goals.  Put yourself in their shoes, so to speak, to gain insight and understanding.  Let this insight and perspective guide you and the project to success for your client.
  • Crunch the numbers.  Before you even get started, make sure that the numbers “add up”.  You’ll be glad that you spent time on this task ahead of time, and it will help you to feel more secure and in control moving forward.


Related Posts:

How To Budget As A Freelancer

7 Things Not To Do As A New Freelancer

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