People everywhere are more than happy to tell you the “right” way to freelance. But how much of this advice is based on fact versus regurgitating what the “gurus” are saying? Just because people are loud, it doesn’t mean they know what they’re talking about. And even if a tip is common, it might still be terrible.
I’ve been freelancing for over 15 years (and our team is filled with freelancing pros who have been doing it for nearly as long). Over those years, I’ve heard a LOT of advice from lots of well-meaning (but misguided) people.
Here are 4 terrible tips people give to new freelancers. I’ve encountered each one repeatedly—and I’m going to debunk them for you. Not only are these tips inaccurate, they’re also extremely likely to stunt your career growth.
Let’s dig in!
Myth #1: Choosing a niche as soon as possible is the only way to be successful.
This is one of the most common and most terrible tips I encounter, and there are a few reasons why.
First, as you begin your career, you don’t have enough experience to know which industries or types of companies you’ll enjoy working with. Casting a wide net—especially as a newer freelancer—opens you up to a world of opportunities. Take as much time as you want to discover all the great businesses out there, and to figure out which ones you’re most drawn to.
Second, you might end up shooting yourself in the foot if you choose the wrong niche. What happens if the industry you choose doesn’t have enough work to support you?
Third, you could inadvertently turn away some really cool work. The fact is, having a portfolio that’s overly focused on one type of business paints you into a corner. Companies outside of that niche might think you don’t want to (or can’t!) work for them—even if you’d love to try it out!
This is one of those tips people tell new freelancers that can really limit you, especially as you’re starting out in your career!
Do This Instead
Concentrate on creating a portfolio with as much depth and breadth as possible. This tactic will open up your career to some amazing opportunities. You’ll be able to show the flexibility of your skills and attract a wider audience.
After a few years, you might want to choose a niche. And, if your experience has taught you that there’s enough work for you, that could be a great option! But you don’t ever have to niche down.
Myth #2: Job bidding sites are the best and easiest way to find clients.
Sites like Upwork and Fiverr seem like a dream come true. They match companies looking for a service with people offering a service, after all! But this tactic will end up wasting your time.
The truth is, this is a great tip for the companies looking for workers since they get almost all of the benefits. Companies post one opportunity, and they get any number of people competing to offer the best service at the lowest price. It’s a race to the bottom for freelancers.
Relying on these sites for clients ends up taking up a ton of your time. You have to design a solid, personalized proposal. And you have to be “competitive” in your pricing. Ultimately, the likelihood of you getting chosen for the job at the rate you deserve… well, the odds are not in your favor.
And that’s why this is an especially terrible tip for most freelancers!
Companies that use these sites to find freelancers are looking for a bargain. You offer quality work, and you don’t need to rely on bargain-hunters to build your career.
Do This Instead
Flip the script! Take charge of the process and put the ratio in your favor. Instead of joining the ranks of countless freelancers vying for one job, be the ONE freelancer seeking out any number of opportunities. When you are proactive about pitching clients, you get to manage your rates and control your workflow.
Myth #3: Pitch templates are the best and fastest ways to land clients.
While I do hope the last point convinced you that pitching is the way to go, you can’t simply copy-and-paste one pitch letter and email it to as many companies as possible.
To a certain extent, pitching is a numbers game. The more pitches you send, the more likely it is you’ll get a positive response. But, you need to send good pitches.
Your pitches should be personalized, and should demonstrate all the value you bring to the company. They should showcase your expertise.
Mass email pitches don’t have any of those elements. They end up being about as effective as yelling, “Hire me!” into a crowded room. Pitch templates are lazy, and the recipients can tell the senders didn’t put much thought into their composition. They’re likely to be deleted and/or marked as spam (and therefore we mark this a “terrible tip”)!
But even if they were effective, think about this downfall: If you sent out hundreds of emails at a time, and by some miracle you got a response from 3% of them… Would you be able to take on that many clients at a time?
Do This Instead
Take the time to craft good, personalized pitches. Send out a few pitches each day. And be consistent about it! You’ll build your career on solid ground with companies that value you and the work you do.
Myth #4: Working for free is the best and only way to gain experience.
When you’re just starting out in your career, you’re running short on samples—and on confidence. And it’s tempting to think the only way to convince someone to give you a chance to prove yourself is to work for free. But instead of showcasing your skills, you end up undervaluing them.
Rather than your potential client thinking, “What a great deal!” they’re more likely questioning your talents. Offering to work for free is a subtle signal of inexperience.
Any advice that causes clients to wonder whether you’re worth paying for is a terrible tip.
This tactic gets you started off on the wrong foot. If you start off a client relationship with an offer of free work, what incentive is there for them to ever pay you? Or, why would they pay you the rate you deserve? When you’re communicating that you’re thrilled to work for free, they’re not going to offer $50 an hour instead. They might feel like they’re doing you a favor by paying you $10 an hour!
Do This Instead
You’re freelancing because you’re good at what you do and you know you can make good money. You’re not doing this so you can work for free!
Create a portfolio that demonstrates the value you bring to your clients. You can show potential clients what you can do even before you have many (or any) paying clients.
If you’re good at what you do, there’s absolutely no reason you should work for free. You can command a reasonable rate, even when you’re first starting out.
Your turn! Is there another terrible tip you have heard? Are you wondering if it’s true? Let me know in the comments below!