Leaving Work Behind

3 Mistakes I Made When I Started Freelancing (And How to Avoid Them)

Written by Alexander Cordova on May 30, 2017. 0 Comments

A boy with his head on his hands.A lot of people jump straight into freelancing in the hopes of striking it big quickly and quitting their day jobs – myself included. However, what they often find is people looking to take advantage of their work, which causes them to feel disillusioned.

My first year or two as a freelancer wasn’t what I would call ‘peachy’. I made a living, but if I didn’t make certain mistakes along the way, the whole process could’ve been much easier. There’s no doubt they’ve impacted my income over time.

In this article, I’m going to walk you through the biggest mistakes I made when I started freelancing, tell you why you should avoid falling into the same traps, and how to go about doing things in a smarter way. Let’s get started!

1. Looking for Jobs in the Wrong Places

Let’s kick things off with some timeless freelancer wisdom – stay away from content mills. In short, they’re mostly full of clients with small budgets and enormous expectations. Had I known to stay away when I started freelancing, I would’ve saved myself a lot of stress. Almost every job I received required a lot of work for little money.

In addition, there was always someone willing to provide the same service at a lesser rate. It was a race to the bottom all the way through. Not only that, whenever a payment dispute arose, none of those platforms had my back.

If I had looked for work in better places, I would’ve have firstly learned about contracts sooner. I would’ve also been able to set a more viable rate, and look for work based on them. In turn, I could have set a schedule I was happy with, instead of working my fingers to the bone.

Now, if you’re new to freelancing, getting to this point isn’t easy, but it is doable. Here’s what you should do:

  1. Figure out what your starting rates should be (we’ll talk more about this in a moment).
  2. Make a list of high-quality job boards by looking for suggestions in your niche.
  3. Check the details for every job posting to see what they say about their work conditions, and to check if they match your rates.

In short, I’m a big fan of freelancing on your own and building a portfolio. You’re in full control of your career, your rates, and your conditions – which is something no content mill will offer you.

2. Not Researching (and Setting) a Suitable Rate

Your rates will, of course, vary depending on which field you’re in. However, as a rule of thumb, you should never take a job that doesn’t support your standard of living, and it’s doubly true for freelancing.

As a freelancer, you’re also going to be responsible for your own healthcare, taxes, and ‘bonuses’. It means you need to be picky about the jobs you take on, rather than looking to simply pad out your portfolio. If you start saying yes to low-paying gigs, it could have an impact on your work-life balance.

This is something that took me a long time to figure out, since I believed better paying work didn’t exist. However, I developed a decent portfolio after a long time of working in content mills, which then led me to get my first gigs off job boards. It even got me a stable writing gig that I’ve been at for over a year, with excellent coworkers.

In retrospective, here’s what I should’ve done from the beginning to get there sooner:

  1. Research what other freelancers in my field were charging using job boards, work communities, meetups, or anything else suitable.
  2. Check out what type of experience those types of gigs were looking for, based on job listings.
  3. Start pitching to those employers and explained what value I could’ve brought them if they hired me instead of someone else.

This last point is crucial in the freelancing market. Chances are you’ll always face stiff competition, so you need to ask yourself what differentiates you from everyone else – and make sure clients know it too.

3. Taking on Dead-End Jobs

Last but not least, you’ll also want to avoid long-term clients with no prospects of advancement – or what I call dead-end jobs. When you’re new to freelancing, any sort of long-term gig can look like a dream come true. However, if you’re getting paid next to nothing for long hours, you need to line up a better job as soon as possible.

The real takeaway here is to start thinking about freelancing as a career. This means sticking around for jobs that would look good on your portfolio, doing a great job to earn a referral, and networking to drum up more business. If you’re good at what you do (and I’m sure you are!), you can make a living and keep improving your lifestyle as your client roster grows.

For me, it took one of the worst dead-end jobs I could imagine to jolt me into start taking freelancing more seriously. I’m talking about long hours for a laughable amount of money, which often came late. After putting up with that for a little over two months, I sat down and started pitching clients seriously – here’s how:

  1. I found a standard contract I could use for jobs that didn’t come with their own.
  2. For every job I pitched, I made sure my responsibilities were clearly outlined.
  3. I started saying “No” to jobs I couldn’t reasonably handle, or that paid too little.
  4. My WordPress portfolio site was updated regularly.

If you still haven’t landed your first long-term clients, this last step is crucial. After all, a good pitch and a solid portfolio are more often than not the difference between getting hired or ignored as a freelancer.


Being a freelancer isn’t all rainbows and puppies, but it is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. When I look back on these mistakes, I still wouldn’t trade that time for an office and a rigid schedule, and I’m sure many of you feel the same way. That’s why it’s important to start freelancing in the right way by carrying out some preparation.

To recap, these are the three biggest mistakes I made when I took my first steps into freelancing so you can avoid them too:

  1. Looking for jobs in the wrong places.
  2. Not finding out what I should’ve been charging from the start.
  3. Taking on dead-end jobs.

Have you ever made one of these mistakes during your freelancing career, or maybe you have another mistake to share? Share your stories with us in the comments section below!

Image credit: Pixabay.

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