42 Business Experts & Freelance Consultants Reveal The #1 Mistake People New To Freelance Consulting Make When Starting Out

One of the most exciting and empowering business ventures an entrepreneur can undertake is starting their own freelance consulting business. Not only can a freelance business be a very lucrative business endeavor, but also in addition, it provides a number of other priceless benefits for the freelancing professional, such as freedom, autonomy, ownership, and increased professional and personal fulfillment in one’s work. But starting a freelance consulting business isn’t for everyone and it isn’t easy by any means.

From defining goals, creating infrastructure, setting rates, managing client expectations, marketing the business, and delivering consistent value, among other things, the issues that new freelance consultants face as they build their business can really be truly challenging.

As a company that works closely with hundreds of freelance consultants and experts, we at Zintro wanted to learn some helpful business tips for those who are just starting out in the freelance consulting industry, and specifically, how these professionals can avoid the most common (and avoidable) mistakes that might impede the growth of their freelance business. To do that, we asked 42 freelancing professionals and business experts the following question:

What’s the number one mistake people new to freelance consulting make when starting out?

We’ve collected and compiled their expert advice into this comprehensive guide to help new freelance consultants grow their business more confidently and effectively. See what our experts said below:

Meet Our Panel of Freelance Consulting Experts:

Dave DavisDave Davis

Dave Davis is the Founder and Director of Digital Marketing and Analytics Agency, Redfly Digital. Dave started the business 14 years ago as a freelancer. Learn more about Dave’s company and work at Redfly Digital.

The biggest mistake that people new to freelancing make is…

Not specializing.

There are freelancers for everything that there’s a job for. Trying to compete for every job going simply makes you look like a “Jack of all trades, master of none”.

Far too many freelancers try to be everything to everyone when in reality, specializing in the area that you’re strongest in makes you a large fish in a small pond. When you’ve reached this status, you can start to grow into larger areas and even hire in house staff to help. Your feedback and reviews in your chosen specialization will make you super relevant to employers looking for that skill.

Employers are looking for someone who knows their subject area inside out, not someone who can do everything including what the employer wants. If I have a problem with my car windows, I’m going to want a car window specialist, not a local car dealer to fix my problem. If I have a heart problem, I want a heart specialist and not a GP working on my ticker. Word of mouth and repeat business is going to be the mainstay for a new freelancer. Making sure you’re the “go to freelancer” for a single core competency is the fastest way to grow.

Zach EversonZach Everson

Zach Everson is currently the Travel News/Travel Buzz Editor at MapQuest. Previously, Zach was a freelance writer, contributing to The Wall Street Journal, Air Canada’s enRoute, Eater, USA Today, Condé Nast Traveller, BlackBook, Curbed, Gridskipper, Deadspin, and Fox News. Zach was also the founding editor of Eater Louisville. Learn more about Zach’s work at www.zacheverson.com.

The top mistake that people new to freelancing make is…

Not setting an appropriate pay rate.

When I started out as a freelance writer and editor, I set an hourly rate that was equal to one of my competitors. Turned out it was way too low. Companies didn’t bat an eyelash about paying it. Over a couple of years, I raised my rate 50 percent for new clients, but had a tough time raising it for existing ones.

Debra JasonDebra Jason

Debra Jason is a speaker, copywriter and founder of the Freelancers Freedom Playground, and has been quoted in several books about freelancing. Owner of The Write Direction, she empowers you to communicate your message in a way that captivates and converts your prospects into loyal customers even if you have been struggling with how to put your ideas into words. Find more about Debra’s work at www.writedirection.com.

The number one mistake people new to freelance consulting make when starting out is…

Lack of confidence.

I find that some freelancers who are new to the business aren’t confident enough about their skills and what they have to offer. And as a result, they give up too soon

When I first started my business nd people asked me “are you good at what you do?” I didn’t hesitate with an answer, I said “yes” right away. I actually surprised myself when I did that. I wasn’t being cocky or arrogant, I was CONFIDENT. Why else would I be going out on my own if I didn’t feel I had something to offer others? I will admit, it helped that my mentors boosted my confidence level. I was lucky to have 2 of them, both seasoned veterans in the field of copywriting. They were very encouraging about the talent they saw in me and it motivated me.

Remind yourself that you’re good at what you do – good at helping people, making them feel really comfortable, building their business, or helping them get out of overwhelm.

Get clear and then excited about doing what you do. When you feel yourself wavering, turn to your mentor, your coach, or a trusted colleague for support and they’ll remind you of the gift that you have to offer. They’ll remind you of your brilliance. So keep that in mind and believe in yourself!

For me, back in 1989, giving up was not an option! About 2 1/2 years into it, when times looked a bit shakey, I took a part time job. At first, I was embarrassed thinking people would see me working in a retail store and think I wasn’t successful.

However, I quickly let go of that when I realized the reason I was doing it was to keep my business going. And, here I am 25 years later. To inspire you to keep on keeping on, here’s my favorite quote from Calvin Coolidge:

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius w Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence & determination alone are omnipotent.”

Joshua McKenzieJoshua McKenzie

Joshua McKenzie is an experience web developer with 6-7 years of freelance experience. His skillset is general web development, from simple to complex, and ranges from applications such as WordPress, CakePHP, to Drupal. He currently works with Freelancer.com, and works around 50 hours a week on different projects, sometimes multiple projects a day for various clients. Find more of Joshua’s work at http://css.directory.

As a freelancer of about 6 years I learned a lot, and in my experience, the biggest mistake freelancers make have less to do with the job and more to do with…

Client talk and human psychology.

For example, most freelancers make an entrance declaring all their skills and resume. That’s great, but a client really wants to know one thing: “Can you make it work?” If you can answer that question, you’re hired. If you can fulfill that question, you’re paid.

Communication is also key. Some clients don’t mind a lag, but more times than not, they want to hear your confidence and progress. They want to know their time isn’t being wasted, and their website or app is safe in your hands. A last mistake is bidding and accepting a job that cannot be completed in the allowed time. Having to cancel a job, or having the customer complain to support can take a lot, some from your time and some from your pocket.

Nikki ParkerNikki Parker

Nikki Parker is the Regional Director for North America at Freelancer.com, the world’s largest online services marketplace. Freelancer connects more than 11.2 million skilled professionals and has on average 4000 jobs posted each weekday. Currently freelancers work across more than 650 job categories with projects in diverse areas including; web development, content writing, pure mathematics and astrophysics!

The #1 mistake freelancers make when first starting out is…

Not planning for the ebbs and flows of being a freelancer.

Sometimes business is booming but it is important to save and plan for the times when jobs are not as forthcoming.

When working on a global online platform like Freelancer.com it is also important to understand the global market and how to work with clients who may be in another country and time zone.

These are my top three tips for winning proposals as an online freelancer:

1. Read the project description carefully and tailor your bid to the specific needs of the employer. Whilst there are thousands of jobs being posted every day each project is unique and the client expects you to treat it that way! It is important that you understand the project and that this comes across when you write the bid. Be clear, concise and to the point when writing your bid and make sure you articulate your unique selling point and why you are the best freelancer for the job. Remember, if you have any questions about the project don’t hesitate to write to the client and ask!

2. Samples and examples of previous work are great tools to get you noticed. Once you have entered your bid follow up with a private message of some of your previous work. It is important that the samples are relevant to the task that you are bidding on and remember quality, not quantity is the rule of thumb when submitting samples.

3. Know the market and be competitive with your pricing. By competitive I mean bid smart not necessarily cheap. Clients are more often than not looking for high quality work as opposed to the lowest price. Clients will always look at freelancers’ reviews and recommendations and will be willing to pay more for a service provider who has a great reputation and has produced exceptional work.

Jacob AldridgeJacob Aldridge

Jacob Aldridge is an international business coach with Shirlaws. In the past 8 years he has worked directly with more than 250 small businesses, and delivered presentations to thousands more, in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. He specialises in helping young, energetic businesses that are seeking rapid income and equity growth, and want to have fun along the way. Learn more about Jacob’s work at www.jacobaldridge.com.

In my own business coaching practice, I’ve worked with more than a thousand freelancers and SMEs through group coaching and event presentations. Most are clear about the basics, but make what I consider the number one mistake:

They only have a single price for their services.

Most freelancers have a very simple business model of selling their time for an hourly rate, which is based on the number of hours they have available each month. This is why so many freelancers find themselves back at a job within 12 months.

I built my business coaching practice from nothing to $400,000, twice in different countries, by using Variable Pricing. Let’s say I need ten clients to run my business. Most freelancers will set a fee, which is their monthly target divided by ten. My strategy was different.

My first two clients received a discount, and I told them that so they were delighted. The next four clients invest my normal rate, and that rate is based on being able to live if I only had these first six clients. This means that the last four clients are all profit, a challenge for me to demonstrate my value so strongly that they paid a premium over my target rate and a fee not based on hours delivered.

This was successful for two reasons. Firstly, it meant I was busy immediately and had clients at all times. There is nothing worse as a freelancer than having no work. Secondly, when those early clients finished their projects with me, new clients were coming on board at a premium rate. And the busier I get, the higher my rates go. Current clients are investing four times what those first clients paid, and receiving a significant return on investment so they remain delighted. It’s so much more sensible than fixed prices..

Michelle NickolaisenMichelle Nickolaisen

Michelle Nickolaisen is a freelance writer & marketer living in Austin, TX. She also teaches entrepreneurs and freelancers how to fix their productivity woes at her website, Bombchelle.

In my experience, the #1 mistake freelancers (including freelance consultants) make starting out is…

Setting their rates too low. People tend to do one of three mistakes:

1. Set their hourly rates based on what normal rates are for full time employees (which is a mistake because that doesn’t cover in things like insurance, taxes, etc.).

2. Set their hourly rates without considering in billable time vs. nonbillable time. Most freelancers are lucky to get 20 hours of billable time in a week (and that’s on the high end), so if you set an hourly rate based on a 40 hour work week, you’re likely to fall short.

3. Set their hourly rates without considering in the amount of admin time, etc. associated with each billable hour of work. For example, bill $100/hr for each hour consulting – is that still a good rate for you after you factor in the prep work, transportation time (if any), and so on?

Dr. Gayle CarsonDr. Gayle Carson

Dr. Gayle Carson has been a life-long entrepreneur and is currently a Certified Management Consultant (CMC) who works with small businesses conducting mastermind groups and with boomer women who want to reinvent themselves and their business. Gayle often serves as expert adviser to CEO’s and entrepreneurial managers around the world and if frequently called on by major media to comment on business, communication and service issues. Learn more about Gayle’s work at www.spunkyoldbroad.com.

The biggest mistake people make when beginning freelance consulting is…

Not having a strategic marketing plan.

Most people don’t like to market and when they get a contract of any kind, they just stop doing it. Then when they realize the contract is over and no business is coming in again, they realize they should have been marketing all along. You can never stop marketing!

Cody McLainCody McLain

Cody McLain is the CEO of WireFuseMedia LLC and is a serial entrepreneur. At 24, Cody has started and sold several startups ranging in the millions of dollars. From running web hosting companies, to an outsourced support company based in India. Cody has experience in running a multitude of companies with organization hierarchies setup to grow and optimize each companies growth with little to no input from Cody himself. He currently has invested in a few small startups based in Austin and blogs at mindhack.com where talks about productivity and entrepreneurship.

The number one mistake I noticed for new is people at consulting is…

Misunderstanding, or assuming, the client’s needs.

What I notice is, whenever they have a client, they are so eager to provide them advice, ideas and what not without really understanding the current situation of the client. Some of these advice works but most of them does not. These mistakes are often corrected on their next client or the next. The main reason to this is that, although these people are professionals, they tend to think of doing the job themselves which is very different in advising someone on how to do it.

Sara Sutton FellSara Sutton Fell

Sara Sutton Fell is the CEO and Founder of FlexJobs, the award-winning site for telecommuting and flexible job listings, and Founder of 1 Million for Work Flexibility, an initiative dedicated to promoting flexible work options for all. To help job seekers find work-life balance and professional satisfaction, FlexJobs lists thousands of pre-screened, legitimate, and professional-level work-from-home jobs and other types of flexibility like part-time positions, freelancing, and flexible schedules. Since 2007, FlexJobs has helped over 800,000 people in their search for flexible jobs. Learn more at www.FlexJobs.com.

The biggest mistake I’ve seen new freelance consultants make is…

Not knowing how to find job leads.

You need to know that companies are often hiring freelancers in a huge variety of fields, and that simply searching ‘freelance consultant’ isn’t going to get you to the job openings. Instead, identify specifically what you’re expertise is, and search for freelance consulting jobs that way. You might be a human resources consultant, or a web development consultant, or a nursing consultant. Be specific in your searches and you’ll find many more leads!

Ashli NortonAshli Norton

Ashli Norton is the Co-founder at Autosend, a marketing automation tool that helps web and mobile app teams and freelancers send event-driven email, SMS, and push messages to their app users.

I think the number one mistake freelance consultants make when starting out is…

Not automating.

There’s only a few things you can get done in a day as one person. But there’s so much to do when starting out. If you don’t create a simple, but scalable system to handle invoices, customer service for your clients, marketing, and proposal creation, you’ll get stuck doing a lot of boring, monotonous work that makes you hate freelancing.

Just once a week, choose a task you hate doing the most and find a way to automate it. For instance, if you hate doing invoicing use a free tool like Wave Accounting to handle your invoices and accounting automatically. If you hate following up with prospective clients using a tool like Autosend to automatically send them an email, push notification, or text message based where they are in the buying process.

David Zahn

David ZahnDavid Zahn is an active writer, professor and speaker, and is a veteran of twenty-five years of consulting for the FMCG and retail industries focusing specifically on organization design, employee development, training, competency enhancement and behavioral change. Zahn’s background includes a graduate degree from Stevens Institute of Technology in Instructional Design that allows him to focus on correctly identifying organizational, departmental, and personal training objectives and then develop appropriate materials to achieve the desired results. David is frequently interviewed in industry publications (BusinessWeek, Entrepreneur, Grocery Headquarters, and others) and e-zines to provide perspectives on topics as diverse as entrepreneurship, consulting, branding, sales skills, data analysis, etc. Learn more about David’s work at www.zahnconsulting.com.

The number one mistake made by those new to freelance consulting is…

Thinking that clients or customers know or understand how the business is differentiated or unique versus others in the market.

New Consultants often forget that customers do not spend nearly as much time or have interest in recognizing nuance or identifying competitive advantages if the Consultant cannot explicitly communicate it and tie it back to a need of the customer.

Neta YoffeNeta Yoffe

Neta Yoffe is the Founder of netaPR, a global communications firm based in New York with expertise in travel and hospitality, technology, food and beverage, entertainment, startup, non-profit, government, and lifestyle PR. A mover and shaker by day, communications mastermind by night, Neta Yoffe has spent the past decade producing creative campaigns, securing media placements, connecting brands and delivering stellar results.

The number one mistake people make when they start freelance consulting is…

Lack of research.

If you’re going to be a consultant/expert in an industry where represent/assist certain clients, you need to know the industry inside and out – if you service various industries, you must be on top of the industry and have the “know-how” in order to be prepared to answer your client’s questions and help them succeed.

Additionally, you also need to know what it takes to be a consultant such as: how much to charge, what services you should be offering, what type of website you would like to have, and everything else that goes into how to sell yourself and convince clients to hire you. Consulting is a dog-eat-dog business and in order to succeed you must be equipped all the proper information. Knowledge is power.

Drew StevensDrew Stevens

Drew Stevens is a practice management expert and coach with over 30 years of experience, 8 books and over 700 articles. Drew works with individuals that struggle with discretionary time and revenue. Learn more about Drew’s work at www.stevensconsultinggroup.com.

The number one mistake people new to freelance consulting make when starting out is…

Thinking they are going to kill it with easy access to markets.

That simply isn’t the case for most freelancers. In order to be successful, freelancers must know:

– Who is their market
– How to create a community in witch to reach them
– What is the point of differentiation
– What is the channel mix in order to articulate the message

Lori OsterbergLori Osterberg

Lori Osterberg is a writer, entrepreneur and consultant. In her work she helps women give life to the Big Idea hidden deep inside, waiting to break out and become a successful business. Learn more about Lori’s work at VisionOfSuccess.com.

The number one mistake most freelancers make is…

Starting out way too generalized.

When you approach a potential new client in a general way, there is nothing there that gets them excited about why they should hire them.

Why are they different? What can they offer that they can’t get from somewhere else? The more niched you become, the more in demand you’ll be. It also helps finding potential clients as well, because you won’t go to generalized networking events. Instead, you’ll be very specific about the clients you target, and have a much greater response rate in the process.

Michael BecceMichael Becce

Michael Becce is the Founder of TechJournalists.com and President/CEO of MRB Public Relations since 1992. TechJournalists.com is a consortium of more than 30 experienced, well-recognized technology writers and freelancers that consistently publish stories with leading business and technology publications. MRB Public Relations has launched some of the most successful campaigns in the history of technology public relations.

The number one mistake people new to freelance consulting make when starting out is…

Not sticking to their expertise.

For instance in published media – write about what you are knowledgeable about. As a company who deals with technology media we sometimes see writers will accepts jobs just because they could use the work. However, if you cover a topic you not familiar with, it shows in your writing. When these stories, which are typically read by people with a background on the topic, don’t resonate with that audience, it will impact the potential for future writing assignments. Readers’ feedback is easy to gauge with comment sections and social media, so a story that doesn’t hit the mark reflects poorly in the media outlet and on you.

Another tip for freelancers: don’t be afraid to say no.

The media and/or clients will appreciate your honesty and it will keep the door open for future assignments. When you’re starting out, it’s important that your first bunch of stories is extremely well done. With fewer (published) materials for your prospects to review, it’s critical the one’s they see reflect your true ability. A few great stories will have more impact than a dozen average ones. Stick to what you know and broaden your expertise by covering related topics. You will pick up new coverage topics before you realize it.

Andrea BerkmanAndrea Berkman

Andrea Berkman, the Founder of The Constant Professional, has over 15 years of experience in the professional world and 5+ years of volunteer experience with a focus on job readiness. While the main part of her professional career has been in Digital Advertising and Sales, her skill set extends to Real Estate, industry and technical writing, Social media, networking, Business Development and Strategy, Marketing, Mobile and Social advertising, and Product Development. Her network consists of contacts throughout the USA, Germany, and England in fields ranging from Digital Advertising to Finance to Publishing, and beyond. In addition, TCP serves as a Consultant to executive recruiting firms nationwide. Andrea received her MBA in 2006 and is working on a volunteer curriculum in tandem with New Cares, Met Council and other organizations throughout the New York Metropolitan area.

The number one mistake people make when embarking on their careers as freelancers is…

Trying to be everything to everyone, rather than being an expert in one area of a larger industry.

People who hone their crafts are much more marketable in the long run than people who are just average at a lot of different things. Freelancers should be gurus – not Jacks or Janes of all trades, masters of none.

Aaron RehbergAaron Rehberg

Aaron Rehberg is the founder of Rehberg Careers, a career coaching business dedicated to strengthening the professional brand of individuals and small businesses. Rehberg Careers specializes in professional resume and cover letter makeovers, LinkedIn makeovers, and small business branding. Learn more about Aaron at www.rehbergcareers.com. Prior to launching his start-up Aaron spent 9 years in the fortune 100 in numerous leadership roles.

The biggest mistake a freelance consultant can make when starting out is…

Failing to identify and stick to a focus.

This seems like a simple concept but is certainly more difficult to accomplish in practice. Most freelancers are confident in their ability to deliver value for their clients; hence the reason they are in business for themselves. It becomes tempting for freelancers to dream of the dozens of ways they can earn a paid contract. I too fell into this trap.

When I went out on my own I wrote a business plan that identified 14 ways to get paid via products and services. It took me 30 days to discover that only 5 of these products and
services truly support my focus. The remaining 9 products and services had the potential of confusing my brand and wasting my time. I spent significant time developing prototypes for services that I would probably never use. There is certainly value in experimentation but a new freelancer should focus mainly on an identified niche and be disciplined to work on only activities that align with their focus.”

Nathan CorbierNathan Corbier

Nathan Corbier is currently Founder and President at Corbier and Associates Corporation in Saint Paul, Minnesota. A professional web developer for 10 years, he is active in the WordPress community and enjoys woodworking and pen making in his spare time.

In my experience starting out as a both a freelancer and agency owner,
the biggest mistake people make is…

Expecting business to come to you.

A great website, wonderful calls to action and excellent funneling that pushes everyone perfectly is nice, but it doesn’t get people to notice you. With eight new websites launching per minute, there’s a likely chance that even more competitors are coming online every day. You will be “lost in the crowd,” which means that you need to market yourself in actual “real life.”

I did this by Chamber of Commerce meetings where you weren’t meeting up with your competition, but your client base. Most of my clients are referrals from existing clients, ensuring that I have passive marketing through satisfied clients.

Randy Tudor is the Chief Executive Officer for Tudor Coaching Group, LLC. He has over 35 years of experience in financial services, real estate, and small business consulting. He currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona and
is a seasoned, senior coach, passionate about helping people to achieve financial independence.

The number one mistake that we see new freelance consultants make is…

Not fully understanding or preparing for their year-end taxes.

More specifically, they don’t fully understand that they will have to pay Self-Employment (SE) tax on the net income earned from their consulting business. This current tax rate is 15.3 percent and is on top of the federal and state income tax they will owe on their bottom line. This whopping 15.3 percent tax covers federally mandated Social Security and Medicare taxes.

As an employee, they were used to having 7.65 percent FICA tax withheld from their wages. However, most people aren’t aware that their employer has to match that FICA tax and pay in another 7.65%. This means that the total tax is 15.3 percent (7.65% times two.) As a freelance consultant they will be required to pay both halves of the FICA (called SE tax for self-employed individuals.) If the consultant is operating as a corporation then this tax will be treated differently, split equally between the employer (the corporation) and the consultant (the employee.) However, the overall tax rate will still total to 15.3 percent.

The first time the consultant meets with their tax accountant, they are usually informed of a rather large tax bill and they are stunned by the news. As it is with most bad news, it usually hits when the consultant can least afford to pay this chunk of tax dollars. We make sure our clients fully understand their tax obligations on any type of self-employment income so there are no surprises. They need to understand the impact of taxes before they launch their business in order for them to correctly determine the consulting rate to charge.

Anne MinerAnne Miner

Anne Miner is an entrepreneur, author, speaker and professional mentor. She is the founder and President of The Dunvegan Group, a company specializing is customer care and customer retention since 1987. Miner is author of several books in her area of specialization and co-author of “Succeeding in Spite of Everything!” a collection of stories about the challenges that entrepreneurs face and how they overcame them.

The number one mistake that freelancers make when starting out is to…

Undervalue their services.

Often freelancers start out with an hourly rate that may have been derived from the wages they received at their previous job. This is completely inadequate, as it does not take into consideration the following facts:

1. You will not be “employed” 2000 hours per year – ever. And, definitely not in the first year.
2. You will need to pay for supplies, gas, phone, internet, parking, business cards, advertising etc. out of the fees you earn.
3. In the event that you grow a business that needs to expand into offices, you will have to raise your fees to pay the rent – your clients will not be interested in paying more so that you can have an office.

Be sure to research competitive rates. And, consider charging for the services you will deliver based on the results/outcome (e.g., web site for $1000 rather than trying to estimate the # of hours).

Gavin RozziGavin Rozzi

Gavin Rozzi, is one of New Jersey’s leading independent IT consultants, being in the business for over 10 years. Gavin serves both residential and business clients in the greater Ocean County area, assisting with cyber security, online presence and technology integration. Learn more about Gavin’s work at www.gavinrozzi.com.

As a freelancer, the number one mistake I have seen others in the field making, and that I have also been guilty of earlier in my career, is…

Overpromising or making lofty promises to woo clients early on.

The most important thing when first starting out any freelance career is building a solid reputation and a high quality base of clients, overpromising can only help to sully your slowly growing reputation and prevent you getting word-of-mouth referrals. Through my experience, I have found the best policy for customer relations is being upfront, and even under promising, so as to have the maximum room for a customer satisfaction.

This also benefits the freelancer, as not overselling yourself or services will not have you feeling that you’re in “over your head” or unable to meet the needs of your clients. Be straightforward and be realistic in line with your business goals and your clients needs and the rest will follow. Leave the “used car salesman act” on the car lot.

Steve GuidrySteve Guidry

Steve Guidry is the President of Nightlife Consulting LLC, entrepreneur, and business consultant. His extensive professional career includes many roles, including Doorman, Security, Barback, Bartender, DJ, Amateur Vocalist, Emcee, Floor Manager, Sales Manager, General Manager, City Liaison, Costume Coordinator, and now, President and Owner. Learn more about Steve’s current work at www.steveguidry.com.

The number one mistake freelancers make when starting out is…

Feeling bad having to charge people, and thinking that offering free advice in hopes that they’ll call you back after a free couple of hours for the big “enchilada!” I can’t begin to tell you how many times I got burned and people taking advantage of relationships when I first started out.

Alli PolinAlli Polin

Alli Polin is a former senior executive with deep experience in change management consulting and personal leadership. As a coach, consultant and speaker, Alli helps small business owners and leaders at all levels create more success and fulfillment in their life and leadership. Learn more about Alli’s work at www.breaktheframe.com.

The number one mistake that people who are new to freelance consulting make when starting out is…

Filling their practice with enough work to create a full-time assignment and then they focus all of their time, energy and effort on the work (and nothing else).

In today’s freelance economy, networking, marketing and sales must be an on-going practice. The client work that creates a full book of business today will eventually be gone. It’s imperative to continually be networking and building a pipeline so that when the current work ends you’re not left asking, “What now?”

Garry PolmateerGarry Polmateer

Garry Polmateer is the Managing Partner of Red Argyle, an application development services company. Garry spent the past 15 years working freelance contracting jobs until ultimately co-founding Red Argyle.

The number one mistake that freelancers make when starting out is to…

Not charging enough.

I did it, and I’ve seen it done over and over. People new to a business do not charge enough for the value their services are providing. You shouldn’t feel sorry for taking someone’s money. If you’re offering a value, and it’s worth the money to the other side, you’re doing yourself and the customer a service.

Danny GronerDanny Groner

Danny Groner is a freelance journalist based in New York City. Find more about Danny at @DannyGroner.

The number one mistake that people starting out with a freelance career is…

Being too picky about who they accept as a client.

Everyone has grandiose dreams of building up their name and their portfolio, and becoming an industry leader, but you won’t get there overnight. It takes time and patience to reach your potential.

Kerrie HopkinsKerrie Hopkins

Kerrie Hopkins is an Onomalogist, Consultant, Author and founder of Name Zook. Kerrie is an expert who has had years of academic study, elaborate research, and practice on the correlation between a person’s name, and his or her behavior and personality traits, and as such, is considered one of the foremost experts on personality profiling in the world. She consults in 5 Continents with anyone from Billionaires on managing their clients, networking more efficiently & managing their employees, to expectant parents who want to name their kid for success, to singles who want to find/ commit to the most compatible partner, etc. Kerrie has been interviewed on Good Morning America, The Today Show, Fox & Friends, among many other popular TV and Radio networks nationally and globally, and has published three books based on her skills in analyzing the name-trait correlation and her years of experience, titled ‘You’re SUCH a Dave,’ ‘How to Never Meet A Stranger,’ and her most accomplished book, ‘Breaking The Name Code: Define your name, Design your life.’

The number one mistake people new to freelance consulting make when starting out is…

Not focusing on what the client wants.

In other words, don’t sell people what they NEED. Sell people what they WANT.

Michelle GarrettMichelle Messenger Garrett

Michelle Messenger Garrett is a public relations consultant and award-winning writer with more than 20 years of experience working with companies ranging in size from small businesses and startups to enterprises such as Adobe and HP, assisting them in crafting and carrying out a PR strategy that will help them get the word out, get noticed and lead to an increase in visibility, prospects and sales. Learn more about Michelle’s work at http://www.michellegarrett.com/.

I believe the number one mistake people new to freelance consulting make when starting out is…

Failing to plan appropriately.

They may not consider setting up accounting/invoicing/taxes, having clients in place from the get-go, having their office systems (phone/email/equipment) set up, establishing a web site, printing business cards, etc. This sets them up for struggles that don’t need to happen.

Before hanging out one’s shingle, they should be prepared with all the necessary pieces in place for them to focus on client work. There are great resources to help with all these things, but the best piece of advice I can give is for them to talk with other successful freelancers to find out what they’re doing. That really helped me get the systems I needed in place before I started consulting.
One other recommendation is to have at least six months of savings to live on and to make sure you have health insurance lined up-perhaps through your spouse, if possible, or through an agent who specializes in working with the self-employed.

Wayde GilchristWayde Gilchrist

Wayde Gilchrist is a freelance technology and business consultant. He is also the host of Tech Start Radio. Some of his clients include Frito-Lay, Quizno’s, and Nortel in addition to numerous smaller companies and startups.

I believe the number one mistake freelancers make is….

The idea that “If you build it, they will come.”

I’m referring of course to a web site. With all the competition in the consulting space, getting traffic to your consulting website is a very expensive proposition. All of the main search engine keywords for your industry are likely bid up to a very high price. It is rare that a web site will directly bring in new clients. Instead, new clients are obtained through intensive networking through both social media and person to person. Most of my clients have come through referrals made by former customers.

Amy MetherellAmy Metherell

Amy Metherell is a Virtual Assistant with 15 years of administrative experience. Amy thrives on juggling schedules and focusing on logistical details. When she’s not managing calendars, she loves hanging out with her family, which consists of her husband, 2 rowdy kids, and their little dog. Learn more about Amy’s work at www.amymetherell.com.

I would say the biggest mistake people new to freelance consulting make when starting out is…

Not identifying (and sticking to) their ideal client.

I personally made this mistake in the beginning when I was just freelancing and it made for some miserable moments. I had 1 client who was definitely not my ideal client, but because I didn’t identify what made an ideal client for me, I didn’t realize it until it was too late.

I would suspect the main reason for people to go into freelancing is to find more enjoyment in their work. They can’t do that if they will work for anyone just to get paid. Yes, getting paid is important but more important is making the time you spend working more enjoyable. Otherwise, you may end up quitting and missing out on the benefits of freelancing.

Oliver JamesOliver James

Oliver James is the Marketing Director for Realize Internet Marketing and specializes in HTML5/CSS3, JavaScript and SEO. Realize Internet Marketing is based out of San Diego, CA and services government sites, non-profits, corporations and small businesses. Oliver is also a member of the Freelancers Union.

The number one mistake freelancers make when starting out is…

Spreading themselves to thin.

The easiest and quickest ways for this to happen is by offering too many products or services. But I see many freelancers also get overwhelmed by spreading themselves out on too many sites or marketing avenues. If you’re all over the place in the services you provide and how you get your clients you’ll never find a rhythm to your work.

You don’t want to brand yourself as a “Jack of All Trades”. This will just lead to sleepless nights learning how to do the work instead of actually getting the work done and moving on to the next gig.

The key is to find the 3-4 products/services that bring in the highest margins(profits) and can be easily full filled. Your goal is to make an assembly line for these 3-4 products/services.

So let’s say that right now your list of skills on your favorite freelancer site looks like this:

  • 100% Custom Websites: WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, and every other CMS(content management system) out there
  • Email Marketing: Aweber, Mailchimp, Constant Contact and more
  • Marketing Services: SEO, Google Adwords, iAds, AdColony
  • Social Media: facebook, twitter, linkedin, pinterest, instagram, folkd, tumblr, livejournal, and more

To be effective and get the highest ROI on your time, your skill set should look like this:

  • Experienced WordPress Developer
    • Theme Installs
    • Plugin Integration
    • Contact Forms
    • Plugin Conflicts
  • Aweber Email Marketing Expert
    • Set Up Multiple Lists
  • Website Form Integration
  • Database Management
  • Google Adwords Certified (make sure you actually are)
    • Keyword Research
    • Set Up
    • Budget Management
    • Optimization
  • Social Media and Viral Content Mastermind
    • facebook
    • twitter
    • Consistent increase in user engagement.
    • Business Page Optimization
    • Content Generation (memes, quotes, industry facts and more)

While the second set of skills has more info and detail it actually limits you to specific frameworks within certain fields. This helps to lower the amount of time you spend on your gigs and helps brand yourself as an expert in your niche at the same time.

Termeh MazhariTermeh Mazhari

Termeh Mazhari is an experience independent PR and marketing consultant based in New York City. Learn more about Termeh at http://linkedin.com/in/termehmazhari.

The number one mistake people new to freelance consulting make is…

Not having contracts with their clients.

Requiring clients to sign contracts will help freelancers protect themselves and their work. Apart from the client’s basic personal and business contact information, you also need to state – as specifically as possible – what the client is paying for (how many hours of consulting, the project’s scope, how many revisions, how many client communications and status reports they can expect, etc.).

You also need to outline your billing procedure: how you invoice, how you prefer to be paid, payment due dates, etc. Finally, outline the project’s cancellation policy! A cancellation clause will protect you in case your client backs out before termination of the project.

Matt InglotMatt Inglot

Matt Inglot is behind the free FreelanceTransformation.com newsletter for freelancers. Matt helps freelancers earn more and find clients that they love to work with. He has spent the past 8 years building a dream lifestyle through his website development business.

The number one mistake new freelancers make is…

Not understanding what clients they are targeting.

Instead many freelancers take a “shotgun” approach, promoting themselves everywhere and quoting any work that may come their way. This leads to time lost chasing projects that you are unlikely to win, or taking on projects at a lower rate than your goal.

The time lost on unlikely sales opportunity or poorly paying projects is time that could have been spent pursuing the quality opportunities that will help you grow your business and reach your income goals.

To earn higher rates and get more work, it is critical to identify what types of clients are the best fit for your services. Think about ideal client size, types of industries that are likely to desire your work, and of course, willingness to pay for your services.

Put all your focus and efforts on targeting this type of client. Learn how to best reach them, learn what their priorities are, learn what types of budgets they typically have, learn everything you can. Once you know how to find your ideal clients, and how to create solutions they want, it becomes far easier to find work and earn higher rates.

Hugh TaylorHugh Taylor

Hugh Taylor is President of Taylor Communications, and is the author of the book “B2B Technology Marketing”. He writes white papers, web copy, articles, blog posts, and case studies for many large technology companies as well as venture-backed startups.

In my experience, I’ve noticed a mistake that new freelancers often make is…

Not understanding the value of the work portfolio.

When you’re a freelancer, you need to work hard on business development. However, you shouldn’t have to be selling yourself too hard.

What’s that? Develop new business but don’t sell yourself? Many new freelancers misunderstand the value of having a great portfolio of work to show. Your work should do the selling for you. You have to find out who’s hiring and what projects are available, but if you find yourself trying to justify why you should get the assignment, you’ve probably made a wrong turn somewhere in the process.

People that hire freelancers want to have a lot of confidence in you before they give you the work. They can get that confidence from references, but nothing is better than the work itself, especially if it’s from brand name clients. In my work, which mostly involves writing long-form content for technology companies, I can approach a new client and say, “I write white papers for Microsoft and Advanced Micro Devices. How can I help you?” I don’t get into, “Please, please trust me. I’ll do a great job.” My work speaks for itself, or at least I hope it does. But, having a great work portfolio changes the nature of the freelance hiring discussion. The confidence building occurs up front. The conversation is about how you’re going to do a great job, not if you’re going to do a great job.

Now, of course, the big question looms: How do you develop a work portfolio? The answer is you have to be flexible and creative when you start your freelance career. It took me years to put together an A list clientele, often working at low rates and doing special favors for people so I could assemble my sample set. There’s a great value in the portfolio. It’s worth foregoing high fees in the beginning to put your portfolio together.

Jackie PetersonJackie B. Peterson

Jackie B. Peterson is a writer, speaker, and business coach based in Portland, Ore. She is the author of Better, Smarter, Richer: 7 Business Principles for Encore, Creative, and Solo Entrepreneurs, and also acts as a career adviser at Portland Community College’s Small Business Development Center. Affectionately known as “Raise Your Prices Jackie,” she was named one of the 100 most powerful women in the Northwest and recently one the Portland Chamber of Commerce’s prestigious President’s Award in recognition of her years of working on behalf of the small business community. You can find her online at

The number one mistake that people make when doing freelance work is…

Not charging enough.

People are afraid that no one will hire them if their prices are high, but, in fact, higher prices = greater success. If you don’t charge enough for your work, people won’t take you seriously. When you charge more, you can* take time off to renew yourself, improve your skills, and hire the help you need. You will be able to provide higher-class services…and that will attract higher-class jobs and higher-class clients.

Eric GuerinEric Guerin

Eric Guerin is the founder of Adelie Studios, an award-winning animator and a noted expert in all things video marketing. He launched the agency in 2002 – at a time when video marketing was only a dream – and has since helped hundreds of brands tell a more compelling story through a wide range of animated explainer videos. In 2007, Eric was selected by the Worcester Business Journal as one of their “Forty Under 40” – a distinction reserved for forty business people (under the age of 40) from Central Massachusetts, based on their business accomplishments and ongoing community service.

The number one mistake people new to freelance consulting make when starting out is…

Feeling desperate to land a project and thinking they need to undercharge to start building their business.

This can set a dangerous precedent for them because what they are charging now may not be enough to cover their operating costs or be able to allow them to grow their business.

Shmuli RosenbergShmuli Rosenberg

Shmuli Rosenberg is the CEO of fwd/NYC Marketing, a creatively led and strategically driven full service marketing firm providing 360 degree solutions for clients.

I have years of experience as a freelancer prior to growing into a self standing company. I find that the biggest mistakes freelancers make are…

1. Time management. It is very hard to say no to a good project. So, you convince yourself that you’ll pull a few all nighters to get it done. This doesn’t work all the time. many times your work suffers and clients don’t use you again.

2. Biting off more than you can chew. A freelancer don’t have the resources large firms have. A freelancer has to realize that they are limited in resources. It is important to be up front about this right away with your client so tha expectations are accurate.

3. Professionalism. Just because you are a freelancer doesn’t mean you don’t need contracts, agreement, proper paper work and project briefs. This helps you stay organized and prevents all sorts of problems in the long run.

Edward HaletkyEdward L. Haletky

Edward L. Haletky is an independent consultant in the virtualization and cloud worlds, and is the President, CEO, and principle consultant for AstroArch Consulting, Inc. Prior to his current position, Edward worked in the Virtualization, Linux, and High-Performance Technical Computing teams at Hewlett-Packard. Edward is a very active analyst, writer, and blogger with in the virtualization space and has helped other freelancers/independents set up their businesses throughout his career.

The number one mistake I see freelancers make when starting out is…

Not planning enough to handle legal (such as writing bad contracts), financial, tax, and other normal business issues.

The freelancer is great doing the work, but not necessarily running the business. That takes some planning so they are not a financial burden to their family or themselves.

Joey SargentJoellyn “Joey” Sargent

Joellyn ‘Joey’ Sargent is the President of Claravon Consulting, where she provides the clarity, vision and insight leaders need to create powerful momentum for growth. Joey is the author of “Beyond the Launch: The Practical Guide to Building a Business that Thrives.” She speaks around the world and is regularly quoted in the media on strategy, leadership and branding. For more information about Joey’s work, visit www.Claravon.com.

The number one mistake people new to freelance consulting make when starting out is…

Not expressing their value.

Every independent consultant needs a clear, distinct and compelling value proposition. Instead of focusing on skills or talents, show prospects the positive impact you’ll have on their organization. Clients care more about results than what you do or how you do it.

Barry MaherBarry Maher

Barry Maher is an Author, Consultant and Speaker, and has appeared on the Today Show, NBC Nightly News, CNBC. Barry is also frequently featured in publications like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the London Times, Business Week and USA Today. His books include “Filling the Glass”, which has been cited as “[One of] The Seven Essential Popular Business Books,” by Today’s Librarian along with books like “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” and “The One Minute Manager”. Learn more about Barry’s work at www.barrymaher.com.

I’ve worked with thousands of freelance consultants and the biggest problem I
see with consultants just starting out is…

They spend themselves out of business before the business has a chance to grow.

You’ve simply go to have sufficient seed capital to last long enough to generate enough business to stay afloat. Then budget that capital strictly, being sure not to spend more than your pocketbook and your revenue will allow. No one can predict the future, if you don’t have a way a surviving past your worst (reasonable) case scenario, you’re just rolling the dice. And the odds might be better in Vegas.

Ed McMastersEd McMasters

Ed McMasters is the Director of Marketing & Communications for the Flottman Company in Cincinnati, Ohio-Northern Kentucky, a communications company that specializes in marketing solutions, printing and miniature folded product literature. Ed has been with Flottman for over 2 years and has 20 years of combined market experience for Cincinnati’s Travel and Tourism, Jack of All Games, Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Schaeffer’s Investments and Sterling Jewelers.

The number one mistake people new to freelance consulting make when starting out is easily…

Not charging what their work is worth.

It is hard to price your own efforts especially when you are fighting for a client. More often than not you will put more hours in than you bill for and bill at a lower rate than you should. Be competitive but be fair to yourself!

Susan PaytonSusan Payton

Susan Payton is an Author, Blogger, Entrepreneur, and President of Egg Marketing & Communications. Susan has written several books and e-books, including “Lifetips 101 Entrepreneur Tips”, “Internet Marketing Strategies for Entrepreneurs”, and “DIY Press Releases: Your Guide to Becoming Your Own PR Consultant”, and has contributed to publications such as Small Business Trends, Mashable, CorpNet’s Startup Starting Line and BizLaunch. Susan began her marketing career working for private companies, and headed marketing departments in both manufacturing and investor relations before founding Egg. She has helped small and medium-sized businesses in software, technology, and business services by providing copywriting and social media services.

In my experience, the number one mistake make new freelancers make is…

Being so eager and insecure that they take on any project that comes their way.

What they should be doing is getting really good at a particular niche and owning it. It seems counter-intuitive, but by limiting the types of projects you take on you’ll actually end up with more business, as you become known for that niche.