7 Hard Truths of Freelancing and How to Overcome Them

I consider myself fortunate to work as a freelance SEO consultant. I’ve spent seven wonderful years working with passionate local business owners, had the opportunity to speak at a number of local conferences, and developed friendships with fellow freelancers from around the world.

However, it would be a lie to say it has been nothing but smooth sailing. In business, it is inevitable that at some point the waters will get choppy and things will go wrong.

Worse yet, in many cases the cause is completely outside of your control.

So, when you come up against these hard truths of freelancing, here are techniques you can use to overcome them.

1. You’ll spend a lot of time alone

It’s true, as a freelancer you’ll likely spend a lot of time alone.

Some enjoy the mental brain space that comes with the self-imposed solitude. For others, it can have a negative impact on their emotional well-being.

Humans are social creatures, we need interaction to stay healthy and happy. Even introverts like myself need to get out every once in awhile to enjoy the company of others.

For me, the solution has been to make social engagement part of my routine. This involves going to meetups, having cowork days with other freelancers, and simply making an effort to call/skype friends during the day.

If you’re the type of person who needs to interact with other people to be happy, then plan and schedule time for it in your day. For many people, it’s as important as completing project work.

2. You’ll get stiffed on payments

At some point in your freelance career, you’ll get stiffed. It happens to the best of us. For one reason or another a client will simply refuse to pay.

At best, nonpayment is frustrating. At worst, it can cause significant financial hardship.

I’ve attempted to mitigate the impact of non-payments in a few targeted ways.

  • I collect project deposits every time, no exception
  • I’m adamant in following up on overdue accounts
  • I use strict terms and conditions in my contracts
  • I discontinue services for late paying companies

If you sense a payment will be late, or that you may not receive it at all, address it as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will become to collect it.

3. You’ll receive a customer complaint

Shit happens – plain and simple.

At some point in your business career, you’ll receive a customer complaint. It is usually due to a miscommunication of the client’s expectations.

Whatever the reason, a customer complaint is never fun. But how you deal with it can make or break the relationship and harm/help your online reputation.

Here are a few tips:

  • If you’ve made a mistake, own up to it: You’re not a robot; mistakes happen. But if you have messed up, it’s best to address the problem and move on.
  • If a customer has complained online, attempt to move the conversation offline: Your digital reputation is one of the most important weapons in your marketing arsenal. If a heated conversation happens online, even if you’re right about the situation, it’ll still make you look bad. Take the conversation offline, and address it in the matter most suited to the issue.
  • Learn from it: If you’ve made a mistake work to fix it by developing better processes for your business so that it doesn’t happen next time.

4. You’ll lose a big account/project

This is never fun – but it happens.

You’ll be working on a large account or project then… BLAMO! No more project. No more income.

As a freelancer, losing a project is largely outside of your control. The company may hire a full-time employee, cancel your project, or find a lower cost provider.

At any rate, losing a project can sting your ego and put stress on your bank account. Especially if you maintain a small number of clients.

Here are a few tips:

  • Use contracts with firm cancellation terms. If a company would like to cancel your services, ensure it isn’t going to leave you high and dry.
  • Create a cushion by saving a few months worth of expenses. I know, saving money isn’t super exciting but if you lose a big client, it will be the lifeline you need to make it through hard times.
  • Diversify your client base. If you have a limited number of clients you may be setting yourself up for a big fall. Look for opportunities to increase the number of clients on your roster, so that when one cancels your services, it doesn’t irreparably damage your business.

5. You’ll miss a deadline

As Douglas Adams said…

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

You can do everything in your power as a freelancer, and some day you’ll still miss a deadline. It could be due to unrealistic expectations on the client’s part, issues collecting feedback, or that you get sick and just can’t work.

At any rate, missing deadlines can put you in hot water with a customer. Here’s a few solutions for cooling the burn.

  • Address the root cause: If it was your fault, explain to the client why you missed the deadline and how you intend to ensure it doesn’t happen again in the future. If it was the client’s fault, explain how their actions contributed to the issue.
  • Use project management software: Software such as BaseCamp can be used to better schedule your time. This simple suggestion will keep you, the client and contractors on task and on schedule.

6. You’ll work long hours

When I started freelancing, 12 to 14 hour days were the norm. I now work a comfortable 8-9 hours per day, only pulling the occasional all-nighter.

When starting, you’ll discover one simple truth, you have a greater number of hours of work then there are hours in the day. In addition to project work, you’ll be responsible for other tasks such as administration, accounting, invoicing, and project management to name a few.

And, as you continue to grow your business and your client base these items begin to compound, resulting in longer hours, later nights and less sleep!

Here are a few ways around it.

  • Work to increase your productivity: The more you’re able to accomplish during the work day, the less you’ll need to work. Check out these 50 tips for increasing your productivity.
  • Complete your most important work first: It’s a method I call Granny’s Rule, where you eating your carrots before you get ice cream. We tend to delay working on tasks we dislike in favor of ones we enjoy. The problem is, the projects we dislike never seem to get done. By doing them first, you wipe them from your to-do list, allowing you to move on to other things.
  • Use software to speed up and simplify your business: I couldn’t run my business without a few key pieces of software. I have software for project management, accounting, email notifications and to schedule meetings. The cumulative effect is that I waste less time and get more done.

7. You won’t receive feedback

Some people thrive on positive feedback. The knowledge that they’re doing a bang-up job.

When you freelance, you won’t have any of that.

It’s true: the buck stops with you. There are no gold stars, bonuses, or glowing performance reviews. You’re the head honcho of your one person organization. And, there is no one to tell you whether you’re doing a bad, good or fantastic job.

Here are a few solutions.

  • Find a mentor: A mentor can be life changing and I recommend every freelancer find a mentor to work with. Mentors provide feedback, help you to evaluate ideas and make suggestions based on their personal experience.
  • Create a mastermind group: A mastermind group is similar to having a mentor, however, it’s a collaboration between business owners as opposed to being a one-sided teacher/student relationship. Mastermind groups work exceptionally well because you’re sharing ideas with like-minded individuals who will keep you accountable for achieving your business goals.
  • Survey your customers: Another opportunity for feedback is to survey your customers, to find areas in which they perceive you as being strong, as well as areas that could use improvement. There is an entire industry dedicated to surveying software. Find the one that best suits your needs.

Your turn

I hope this post has provided tangible tips you can use to better your business, and minimize the impact of the “hard truths”.

Have I missed any? What are you struggling with in your freelance business?

Let me know in the comments section down below.

Written by: Calin Yablonski

Calin is a freelancer, local search marketer and founder
of the Freelance Business Guide.