I’ve been a freelancer for more than 15 years. I’ve had great success (through hard work) and I’ve been lucky to work with a lot of wonderful clients.
But a necessary part of being successful is learning from mistakes. Mistakes are a natural part of life. No one is perfect, after all. But what separates successful freelancers from those who struggle is learning from our mistakes to ensure we never make them again.
Here’s a little anecdote about one of my biggest mistakes as a freelancer. Hopefully, you can learn from me and avoid following in my stumbling footsteps!
A Thrilled Client
Several years ago, I received an email through my website inquiring about my freelance services. (The emailer said they were referred by someone but didn’t give out a name and I never learned if there was an actual referral. It pays off to get your name out there!)
The emailer said she was a business owner who coached other business owners to grow their businesses and revenue. She was super successful and looking for help.
We agreed on a few projects I could do for her, we agreed on the price, and she loved what I delivered. She was also one of the easiest clients I had ever worked with. Sounds like a dream, right? (More like a nightmare…but I’ll get to that!)
After those few projects, she’d reach out every couple of weeks or months with another small project. Then I stopped hearing from her. I figured she was all set for the time and that I’d hear from her in the future should she need anything else.
That’s exactly where I went wrong.
My Major Freelancing Mistake
Fast-forward a few years, and I learned that this client was preparing for an event for several hundred people for her company. I decided it was a good time to reach out to her, and she was glad to hear from me as she had a couple projects she could use my help with.
Those smaller projects turned into a few larger ones as well as some work for her business owner clients.
One day on a call, she said, “I feel like I should tell you something.”
“Let me know if this is unwanted advice,” she continued. “But as a business coach, I thought it might be something you should hear.”
My stomach dropped, but I encouraged her to continue.
“A few years ago when we kind of stopped working together it wasn’t because I wasn’t happy with your work. I was really happy with it. But another freelancer pitched a large proposal for me, about $8,000 worth of work, and I figured if you had been able to do this larger scale of work that you would have mentioned it so I hired her. If you had pitched a project like that one I would have worked with you in a heartbeat.”
I was flabbergasted. I had approached working with this client completely wrong! Instead of waiting for her to feed me projects, I should have been the trusted partner she needed me to be, evaluated what I could have done to improve her business, and made the pitch.
What That Mistake Really Cost Me
I’d lost out on an $8,000 project—but not just that. As I said, this client is a successful and popular business coach and she often referred her clients to me for other freelance work.In addition to that $8,000 plus any additional work I could have done in the meantime, I lost out on at least five YEARS’ worth of referrals to other clients.
Conservatively, this one mistake easily cost me anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000.
And it was 100% my mistake.Instead of fulfilling my role as an expert who helps her clients build their businesses and increase their revenue, I was lazy and passive, just waiting for projects to come to me.
No wonder she worked with another freelancer! No wonder another freelancer could entice her to work together with a well-crafted pitch and proposal.
I absolutely deserved to lose her as a client.
This is an all-too-common, biggest mistake freelancers make—passively waiting for work to come to them. Learn this costly lesson from me!
How to Avoid Making This Same Mistake
I happened to get lucky and won the client back. I was also lucky that she’s the kind of person who was willing to share with me what I’d done wrong so that I could learn from it. (That must be one of the reasons she’s such a successful coach!)
Don’t be like me: Don’t be lazy, waiting for the work to come to you, and forfeit a potential $100K+ worth of work.
Be proactive, responsible, and a partner for your clients to help them perpetually grow their businesses.
Don’t be a lazy freelancer. Be the partner who’s always coming up with new solutions and ideas for their clients.
AND…be the smarter freelancer who can nab a client away from the lazy one.
What has been your most expensive freelancer mistake? Do you have a lesson others can learn from? We’d love to hear from you! Leave us a comment below!