Top 3 Mistakes I Made as a Freelancer (and How to Avoid Them)

newbie freelancer mistakesThis post is from Careful Cents contributor Erin, who owns the blog Journey to Saving. Over a period of six months she documented her backwards journey to self-employment. You can read her next steps here.

Approaching freelancing from a backwards perspective can be absolutely daunting when first getting started. More often than not, I was standing in my own way. I kept comparing myself to others that had been in the game for months longer than myself. I kept downplaying the value I could provide, telling myself that I wasn’t good enough.

It was hard to separate myself from the rest of the pack. I didn’t have the luxury of building a business on the side while working a full-time job, so I wanted immediate results. As I learned, there is no such thing as immediate success when it comes to being a freelancer.

I struggled to get started as a freelance writer and made my share of mistakes, but the biggest was simply not taking the first steps right away.

I wish I’d known that it wasn’t that hard to get moving, as I wasted a few hundred dollars on various memberships, courses, and books. I’m hoping that by sharing my mistakes, I’ll be able to save you some valuable time and money.

Mistake #1: Thinking there’s a magic formula

It’s easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing, and to lose focus on what you should be doing. For this reason, one of my favorite quotes is;

“Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” — @jonacuff

It’s the hardest thing to put into practice, but it will give you perspective.

Comparing myself to other freelancers is what fostered those negative thoughts I touched on above. There has to be something I’m missing out on, I thought. Some sort of secret everyone else is aware of!

Thus, the search for the magic formula began. I tried to become a freelancer by seeking all the answers from others in the form of courses, education, and books.

But in the end, what I learned was that: there is no magic formula. You’re not going to have that light bulb moment by trying to learn everything from others. Clients won’t magically appear out of thin air. You have to put in the work, the time, and effort. The path to success is full of experimentation and failure.

There are no secrets and no magic formulas to freelancing. Just get started.

It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to make anything happen. I know from experience that you’ll likely feel behind, or that you’re getting started late in the game, but it’s important not to give up hope. Things will get better.

It has taken me around three and a half months to finally hit my stride, and I know I haven’t reached my full potential yet.

Mistake #2: Overwhelming yourself

In the course of my search for answers, I made the mistake of trying to digest every ounce of information available on becoming an expert, on being a great writer, or on building a community. I signed up for newsletter after newsletter, wanting all the juicy details of becoming a successful freelancer.

That only led me down a dangerous rabbit hole. I attended webinars, purchased courses promising to have the answers, and went crazy trying to force inspiration in order to have a breakthrough.

Guess what? I never had the “aha” moment I was looking for. Instead, I became paralyzed by all the knowledge I had consumed. I didn’t know what to do with it. It felt like there were 10 million directions I could go in, and it was dizzying.

Don’t get me wrong, though. Resources can be a great thing when used correctly, as long as you know exactly what you need help with. Start with free resources if you feel lost, but don’t get stuck there like I did.

You will feel like you need more time, more information, more answers. But no one ever has all the answers; that’s just how life works. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll be able to take action.

Mistake #3: Having the wrong mindset

When you first start out as a freelancer, you might feel alone and insecure. That’s normal — we’ve all felt this way at some point in our career! The issue arises when you let these feelings rule and control you. Don’t let them get the best of you.

No matter how many books or articles you read, no matter how many classes you take on entrepreneurship, no matter how many words you write, you’re going to feel like a fraud at some point. There are no quick fixes, and the answer can only be found within yourself.

If I didn’t think I was worth it, then why would anyone else want to work with me? I needed to change my mindset.

I’m an introvert, so it’s hard to send an email, let alone call someone. I’m just plain nervous about reaching out to new people. But let me tell you — you’re not going to get very far being stuck in a freelancer vacuum.

Step outside of yourself and realize you’re probably making a big deal out of nothing. An email is harmless. People can choose whether or not they want to answer, and as annoying as silence can be, it’s far from the worst that could happen to you. Or it could pay off, like my cold email to Carrie who ended up hiring me to write on Careful Cents.

There are a number of opportunities out there waiting for you; don’t get caught up in the negative mindset of how you could lose. Focus on what you could gain!

Follow these steps for freelance success

Now that we’ve covered the 3 mistakes I made when starting out as a freelancer, I want to give you some other (more productive) avenues to explore. Starting out is not easy, no matter how much experience you might have with writing, but these tips will make it much easier.

  • Get a coach or a mentor: After going through so many courses with little to no direction, I decided it was high time to get more personalized help. A coach (or a mentor) is someone who has been there and done that. They can tell you what works and what doesn’t. They can also identify your weaknesses and create a plan to help you with them. This was hands down the best decision I made, as having a coach keeps me accountable, and it’s much less time consuming than getting lost in courses. Having your own personal cheerleader doesn’t hurt, either!
  • Reach out to others: Even though you might be a solopreneur, there’s no reason to go it alone. Talking with others that are experiencing the same things as you are is incredibly valuable. Other freelancers are able to offer different insights from their experiences, and you’ll never feel like you’re alone. The Careful Cents Community has been a great resource for me! But you can also join a mastermind group, which is a more tight-knit group of like-minded individuals.
  • Put yourself out there: It sounds so simple and logical, but fear can be a huge roadblock for any freelancer, and it was for me. I was terrified of rejection, of sounding silly, and of stepping on toes. Opportunities are not going to fall into your lap, though. Put a “Hire Me” page on your website, start applying to gigs, and email anyone you might be interested in working with. You’ll never know unless you try.

If you take nothing else from this post, please take this: Just take the leap. Don’t let anything hold you back. Not fear, not yourself, not others. Have faith in yourself, and surround yourself with support. I know you’re capable of creating your own success.

What’s your biggest hurdle as a freelancer? What’s hindering you from taking that first step?

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  1. Paige says:

    Thank you so much for this post! It was full of great information, and while I’m not in the freelance position just yet, I hope to get there someday (soon!). I love hearing about other people’s experiences and lessons they’ve learned from it firsthand. Thank you so much for sharing!

    Paige |

    • Erin says:

      Hi Paige,

      Glad to hear my lessons are valuable for you! I’d rather other people learn from me and not have to go through too many struggles. =) Good luck on gaining traction with freelancing!

  2. Tope says:

    Thank you so much for this honest post. I tried using freelancing website but i really didn’t understand the whole process so i quit. I will give it a try once more.

    • Erin says:

      Glad you liked the post, Tope! If you’re having trouble finding good resources for free, there are a lot of invaluable blogs and communities out there (like this one!). If you ever find yourself stuck, just ask others for help!

    • Erin says:

      That’s a great way to put it, Jenna! I was definitely doing far too much research out of fear of failure. It’s easy to feel insecure when starting out, but going through the process is how you learn.

  3. I love reading about your path, Erin! The idea of just jumping in and getting started really resonates with me. I hemmed and hawed for so long before actually starting to write my blog because I was trying to do it just right and with that magic you mentioned :). I’m really glad I finally just published something and got myself going! I was looking back at my archives the other day and realized I published something like 3 posts in the first 2 days… clearly I was a little over-excited and needed some pacing. Of course, since my only reader then was my mom, no foul :).

    • Erin says:

      Thanks Mrs. FW! Yes, I spent a little too much time hemming and hawing over all the details, as well as doubting myself. But we all have the ability to accomplish what we want. We don’t need to read a dozen books or take courses to start out. We need to go through the experience and find our way. No book or course is going to be able to give you that type of insight.

      I am glad you started blogging, though. Your writing and thoughts have been such a nice addition to the blogosphere!

  4. Elna says:

    Great post Erin!
    As a new freelance writer, I’m starting to realize that there’s a lot to it than just making a business website and contributing to your blog. I have to make sure to dedicate my time to all the necessities like social media, pitching, guest posting, article writing, blog post writing, reading other blogs and commenting, reading ebooks and other free resources, and of course, editing my work for publication.
    Of course, that’s life as a solopreneur! Oh yeah, and I’m a mother to twin toddlers!

    • Erin says:

      Yes, there’s definitely more to freelancing than writing! It can get a little overwhelming at times. I know I don’t always have the time I want to dedicate to my own blog with the writing that I do for others. Then again, I’m still getting time/energy management down. =)

      Oh wow! Cat at Budget Blonde (she’s also a writer here) has twins that are 7 months old, and she started freelancing full-time at the beginning of the year. I give you guys all the credit in the world!

  5. Jessica says:

    I so needed this article as a reminder to just DO THE WORK! I’ve recently been wrapped up in all sorts of courses and articles like you were and it’s really just distracting me from building new client relationships and doing great work to get myself closer to the day when I can be a solopreneur. Thank you 🙂

    • Erin says:

      I’m so glad my post was timely for you! Courses and ebooks have their place, but if you’re not careful, you can definitely get too sucked in and stuck on all the little details. Freelance writing isn’t rocket science, and if you already have a blog or a few clients, you’re well on your way to getting there. You don’t need to read about it, just do it! =)

  6. Melissa says:

    Erin, this post was amazing! It’s funny how you can get paralyzed by too much knowledge… it’s definitely happened to me, and I see it as another form of procrastination. It doesn’t -feel- like procrastination, because you are -doing- something, but all it is is delaying you from just jumping in and doing it. Glad to see I’m not the only one who’s gone through that!

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