What not to do as a freelancer

Burn your bridges
If a freelance gig goes wrong try to emerge as unscathed as possible. Remember, as a non-employing freelancer, you are your own boss and so you create your own publicity.

Holding grudges and bad-mouthing clients or contacts will serve only to minimise the future work you will be offered by commercial parties you haven’t even met. This is simply because word of mouth about a ‘bad’ freelancer travels quicker than tales about a ‘good’ freelancer.

The most obvious analogy is eating in a bad restaurant. One unhappy customer tells another potential punter about their negative experience, which is then relayed to even more people, who all respond by planning to stay away from the restaurant. It’s exactly the same for a freelancer. If the freelancer upsets a client and leaves them upset; then before the freelancer will realise, ten of the client’s contacts, who would have once hired the freelancer; would now refuse their services. It’s not just the chance of work with the existing client company the vocally disgruntled freelancer damages, it’s the chance of work with any commercial party the client may talk to.

Assume clients know about freelancers
The safest freelancers will treat clients with ‘kid gloves’ and presume they are naïve about how freelancers operate and with what resources until they demonstrate otherwise. I regularly get half-hour proposals over the telephone that end with the potential client requesting their product is delivered within three days. With the work required, this might be possible but only if I worked in a corporation with the associated staff and resources. Big-name companies with teams of personnel do churn out what I supply so clients may assume I, a non-employing business, have the same capacity.

Assume clients know about your service
The more niche a service or product is, the more room there is for a client not to truly understand what work the freelancer must undertake to achieve their requirements, on time and to the quality they specify. As a freelancer, honestly stating your capabilities and what’s involved in the work, in terms of time, materials and costs, that you are being commissioned for is vital if disputes are to be avoided.

Pay as you go without an agreement
A written agreement of what expenses you can charge the client is essential for ‘build and design’ type of projects. Unlike employees in a big company, most freelancers can’t draw on an annual bonus, incentives for performance or commission-based targets to cover project costs they discover the client didn't agree to fund.

Confessions from a freelance TV, Film and Design technician, specialising in special effects and model making for clients including public broadcasters and commercial design engineers.

Be unprofessional
The worst thing that any freelancer can do is to appear unprofessional in any way. We’re already on the back foot to a certain extent as some companies are wary of using freelancers, so if we do act in a way that could be seen as unprofessional, it not only undermines our own credibility but it also damages the reputation of freelancers everywhere.

To be more specific, being unprofessional can be just relatively small things like not answering the phone in a business-like fashion, or taking a call when you’re quite plainly in the pub, or the school playground! But at the other end of the scale, there are of course far worse things that a freelancer can do:

Play with prices
Not providing/sticking to a formal quote or agreeing a proper charging structure, leads to dissatisfaction when unexpected charges appear on invoices 

Forget the brief
Producing work that does not meet the brief or which is incorrect in any way 

Respond at leisure
Not returning calls or emails in a timely fashion

Forget time
Missing deadlines

Blame others
Blaming your failures on third party suppliers

Switch off
Being out of contact for extended periods of time

Forget ‘customer service‘
All of these mistakes could be attributed to any business as being ‘poor customer service’ but as freelancer it’s even more important to be whiter than white. If your main client contact is a marketing manager for example, then they have to justify their decision to use a freelancer rather than what might be deemed a ‘proper supplier’ to their marketing director if things do go wrong.

The bottom line is, if you are working as a freelancer you should provide exactly the same level of efficiency, customer service and professionalism as you would if you worked for a company. More so in fact, as if you lose a client you won’t get paid, whereas an employee still would!

Confessions from Gill Taylor, a freelance copywriter specialising in services to clients in the IT, Telecoms, Marketing and Design industries.

Be bullish on e-mail
The man who responded to a request for help with PR by sending an e-mail that said ‘I AM THE MAN YOU NEED’ and nothing else except his contact details. He then proceeded to bombard the prospect with phone calls – needless to say he didn’t make the short list.

Ignore the job spec
If the client says they need experience in a specific industry/tool/area and you don’t have it – don’t waste your time responding and telling them how marvellous you are. You’ll just look stupid and desperate. 

Give an irrelevant pitch
Keep your response to what the client is looking for – some people may be impressed by all those letters after your name and your 20 years of experience – if they haven’t asked for specific qualifications don’t go on about them. 

Be rude to hirers
A request on behalf of a hiring company was posted and one of the respondents to the job spent the first half of their email complaining and correcting spelling mistakes in the advert.

Be elusive
I got a call from a longstanding client recently who complained that he’d been trying to get hold of me for 3 weeks. One of my company websites was down, my old email address he had for me bounced and e-mails to the one he’d got from a directory I was on had vanished into thin air, plus the phone number was wrong! If there had been anyone else [other than him trying to get through] that would have been a lost opportunity! Most clients are definitely not so persistent.

Confessions from Gill Hunt, the founder of Skillfair, an online supplier of freelance consultants.


Jun 25, 2008
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