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Mistakes to Avoid in a Location Independent Freelance Business

Written by Jessica on March 20, 2011

Fired! StampWhen you decide to uproot your laptop from the spot on your desk it’s been crusted to and live in a place, that well, just sucks less, there’s a few things you must never ever do. I really mean never. Ever. They will get you booted off the team. Sometimes immediately, other times in a slow painful way that will eventually see the end of your location independent freelance career.

Burning Bridges

I know, there was that one time, that one person who did something seriously stupid, inconsiderate, and downright rude. And you swear that even if you were starving under a bridge you’d never take work from them again. I get it.

I have at least three people on my “Never work for again” list. And another dozen on my “Don’t work for unless desperate” list. Keeping tabs on your terrible experiences is smart. Making those known via strings of never-heard-before curse words on your Facebook page, not smart.

Here’s why:

  • Bad clients don’t really matter. It’s who they know, or might know, or used to know. People are connected in ways you can’t imagine.
  • Cubicle walls aren’t real walls. Usually hearing only part of a conversation is worse than hearing all of it. Reading only the forwarded half of an email rant has the same effect. If you want to vent do it in a sound proof room, alone.
  • Clients are people. People make mistakes. And mistakes deserve to be forgiven. Not that every jackass move by your client was a “mistake”, but more often than not, the consequences aren’t intended. In the freelance world forgiveness goes a lot farther than drama and hatred.
  • And my father’s favorite: Because, two wrongs don’t make a right.

Lowering Rates Permanently

I love discounts. Deals. Sales. Bargains. My favorite price is Free. Can’t beat that. I also love giving my clients discounts. They need it once in a while. And it’s shocking to me how thankful someone can be for a 15 minutes of pro bono work.

There is one catch, though. The sale has to end. Prices must go back up.

It is imperative that when you lower rates, give freebies, or discounts, that you make it EXPLICITLY clear that this is a one-time, short-term, one-per-household, ends-next-Friday, only-available-before-midnight, never-to-return-again, DEAL. And it is that way because: you messed up, you missed a deadline, you need more work, you are inconveniencing someone, you need more clients. Pick one. Make it known. Stick to it.

Falling off the side of the Earth - without an Out of Office message

Easiest way to kill your business. Forget to show up.

Don’t be fooled. I have spent my fair share of months in a tent in a desert without any connection to anyone, especially my clients. I’ve always been able to return to my thriving freelance business, fully intact. The key: I politely told my clients that I would be gone. And I did this far in advance of my departure date.

My clients know that I need to unplug for a while. They know I have my working quota for the year. They expected there was going to be several months of void they’d need to fill. We all have to turn off the wifi every now and then. In fact, most people probably need to do it more often.

Here’s how to let your clients know you’re turning off the wifi, without losing them forever:

  • Tell them sooner, not later.
  • Be specific. When are you leaving? When are you coming back? Can they reach you at all and how do they do that?
  • Find a colleague or other freelancer to help out while your gone.
  • Give yourself lead time. Not everything in this world runs on time. Build in a buffer in case that taxi, flight, tuk-tuk or donkey you’re traveling on shows up late.

Making Stuff Up

You should have learned this in 1st grade. But sometimes we forget. Be honest with your clients. Here’s a few of things I’ve fibbed about and lived to regret, and some example quotes to make my point.

  • Location: “No, no, I swear I’m still in Seattle.” (About that in-person meeting next week)
  • Schedule: “Don’t worry, I’ve got time for everyone and everything.” (Except these two 40-hour projects that need to be done tomorrow)
  • Mistakes: “It wasn’t me, must have been the 6-fingered man.” (Oh, there’s no 6-fingered man on the team?)
  • Knowledge: “Yeah, sure I know how to make a seamless looping video background in PowerPoint.” (It’s not possible).
  • Experience: “I’ve done thousands of website designs.” (So, you want the URL’s, huh?)
  • Rates: “No, my rate really is $6 bajillion dollars. You didn’t get the rate increase memo?” (Oh, you did get the memo and it says only $5 bajillion.)

Keep it real. There are good explanations for all of these situations, and assuming you can still get the work done, it’s better to be honest from the beginning.

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