5 Freelance Mistakes That Kept Me Stuck at the Rookie Level for Years

Mistakes are part and parcel of life. At some point in your life, you’re probably going to commit one. No matter how painful or seemingly stupid a mistake is, the key thing to remember is to learn from it. Don’t deny it and squeeze every ounce of knowledge you could get from it.

I’ve realized that over the years, I’ve been committing some mistakes that were preventing me from growing professionally and personally. Those mistakes caused me a lot of opportunities down the line. But looking at it now, I believe those blunders were necessary to give me the perspective I have now.

With the things I’ve learned, I can now say that there are inherently no wrong choices in life. It’s up to you to make it right. For me, that means owning up to my mistakes and to keep from repeating them again.

You can let mistakes paralyze or cripple you, but at the end of the day, a mistake is only worth as much weight as you place on it. With that in mind, here are some mistakes I’ve done that could hopefully help you with your own freelance journey!

Refusing to Put Myself Out There


I’ve always been the introverted type—an extreme one at that. When I was starting out and even after a few years of freelancing, I still had no portfolio or social media presence to show to potential clients.

Why? Because I kept opting for projects that didn’t require my name on it. I also eschewed social media because I wanted to keep a low profile. Looking back, I think I was hiding behind the comfort of anonymity because I felt safer. By living small, I also went on to reap small rewards.

Needless to say, you can’t charge premium rates if no one knows who you are and what you can do.

For the longest time, I depended on job-bidding sites to source work even if deep down I knew it wasn’t a viable long-term strategy. I hated sending out application after application because sending personalized ones eats a lot of time. I would’ve been a well-made woman by now if all those time spent on bidding went into actual work.

Every time I thought of leaving, I go back to where I started because I felt that I didn’t have enough credentials to pull off an application elsewhere. By the time I took the plunge, I had to start from scratch through guest post opportunities in order to start building my portfolio. It was a vicious cycle perpetrated by me and only me.

It pained me to see people who had the same experience length as me go on and enjoy much better rates. Nonetheless, I know there’s no one else to blame. I just took comfort in knowing that we all have our own journey in life. I might’ve taken some detours with mine, but it’s good that life is not a race. You can tread it on your own pace depending on what best suits you at that particular time.

What I took away from this is to make sure to grow with the times. There are ways you can be true to yourself without having to shortchange your own professional growth in the process. It always pays to ask yourself whether you’re using the ruse of self-authenticity as a way of staying in your comfort zone.

Not Niching Down My Services

When I was starting out, I applied to all possible jobs I thought I can do. This haphazard way of picking jobs if you’re looking to build your portfolio or get some feedback first. Sooner or later, you’ll have to niche down your services in order to charge more. Yes, I know it sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true. It’s like being a doctor and specializing in a specific area, you can charge more since you’re the expert on it.

I’ve read about this advice a lot, but I was skeptical. It was only years before I realized the wisdom it carried.

I thought before that narrowing down my writing expertise would also downsize my potential pool of client. It did—but for the better. Once I stuck to writing topics I did best, I got fewer clients, but better quality ones. Clients who know they’re paying for my expertise, and therefore know better than to lowball me with a $10 to $25 article rate.

This just proves that quality beats quantity every time. You can’t be everything to all people, but you can be the best to a select few.

Depending on Just One Site to Source Clients

finding clients

I’ve always been a big believer in diversifying. Diversifying ensures that you don’t get the short end of the stick if one of your sources fold up. This concept is pretty handy not just when it comes to investments, but for various professional and personal aspects as well.

For instance, when I was starting out, I actually used a job outsourcing site to find all my jobs. This is dangerous because anytime you make something your sole source for leads or clients, it would mean that they hold a lot of power over you. One tweak or change in the site can make or break what you’ve built over the years.

It took time for me to realize this. It was actually a good five years before I finally left what was supposed to be a mere “stepping stone” to my freelance career. I attributed this to the fact that I found it much easier to stay with what already works and what’s familiar. It’s like being in a crappy relationship, but you grit your teeth and stay, thinking there couldn’t possibly be a better alternative out there.

This doesn’t have to be the same for you.

If you’re starting out, snag a few projects from job bidding sites and invest in your own site once you’re able to set a budget for it. Take the time out to market it and soon enough, you’ll have your own site that generates leads for you.

Taking on Projects With Less Than Acceptable Rates

In an ideal world, money wouldn’t matter as much as it is today. But alas, reality is a different beast.

It’s good to be able to love your job and all, but love isn’t enough to keep you fed or the bills paid. More than just the bills, however, you also have to think of your own worth. What is the rate that you would be happy and comfortable working with?

Whatever it is, that should be your rate as long as you know you can deliver.

There was a time when I would accept less than my value is. For the most part, it was out of need. I needed money at that time so I did what I have to do. But it’s the times that I compromised on my value even when I didn’t have to that I kinda regret.

At that time, I was operating from a scarcity mentality. That jobs were few and far in between, and I might not be able to snag a job as fast as I wanted to.

This isn’t true, of course. When you turn down small offers, you’re only opening up yourself to projects with better opportunities. Every hour spent on a poorly paying job means lost time working for one with a pay that better reflects your skills and experience.

Taking money into account doesn’t always mean you’re a greedy wolf out to just make money. For the most part, an underpaid person isn’t often motivated to work. Either they’re rushing through the job or cutting corners wherever they could. The result? Subpar work that takes more time and money to clean up.

If you want quality clients, one of the factors you should screen for is whether they appreciate the value of quality. If they do, no doubt they’ll be willing to pay for it too.

If you have money or time to spare, pass it up and find a better alternative. The market is on your side. In fact, more freelancers saw an increase in demand in 2014 according to this study published by Freelancer’s Union. About 32% experienced higher demand versus 15% who have seen a lower demand for their services. So if ever you’re tempted to accept a lowball offer from a cheapskate client, stop and think if this is what you really need right now.

Accepting Jobs That Don’t Fit My Interests

accepting jobs

The best part about freelancing for me is the flexibility that comes with it. You can choose your projects and the clients you work with. This is why I think it’s such a shame to not take advantage of it.

Case in point is when I accepted projects that didn’t particularly interest me. After five years of freelancing, one thing I noticed about myself is that I have difficulties finishing projects that I found boring. This means any project that doesn’t give me enough creative leeway to do my own thing, is too technical, is too detail-oriented, or is too repetitive for my own taste.

What I mean here is that it’s okay to have standards, especially when it comes to the projects you work on. After all, it’s you who has to finish the job, right?

As a freelancer, you have more power than the average employee to choose what, how, and to whom you will work with. That’s something you should want to take advantage of because there are very few jobs out there that will give you that power.

Given, not all freelancers are in the position to do so especially if money is a big concern for you or if you’re just starting out. But barring those factors aside, I learned to choose projects that I know I can learn from and that I’m thrilled to work on.

Upon recognizing this, I made sure to steer clear from projects where I have to grit my teeth or threaten myself just to finish it. Life is just too short for that, don’t ya think?

How to Make the Best of Your Mistakes

As one of my favorite quotes goes, “It’s wise to learn from your mistakes, but it’s wiser to learn from the mistakes of others.” I hope that by sharing these mistakes, it can hopefully save you a lot of wasted time and effort.

Although a certain degree of mistakes is essential for learning, it definitely won’t hurt to learn from the knowledge of others. This way, you’re harvesting the lesson without the necessary pain that comes with it.

Not all mistakes can be learned from others, however. At one point or another, it’s inevitable that you’ll commit some yourself. That’s okay. No one ever lived a mistake-free life. If someone did, either they’re holed up in the ends of the earth or they’re living like a ghost.

Moreover, the purpose of making mistakes is that it brings color to our lives. It’s the struggle that tests your character.

We all have our own journey. Sometimes, people need to commit their own mistakes before they can learn. This is also reasonable since they’re only doing what they think is best for them at that time.

When you remove your fear of mistakes, you open yourself to a fruitful, meaningful life. One that accurately reflects the highs and lows of life as well as the vital lessons that come with it.

More importantly, get help if you need to. You don’t need to go through everything alone. Seek out a mentor and ask them what they will do if they were in your position. In the end, analyze if it’s something that fits your goals, character, and personality.

You don’t need to enact every advice out there—only the ones that you feel are in line with your values. This ensures that you’re making decisions that not only feels authentic, but one you can feel responsible for even when shit hits the fan.

Have you had similar mistakes? How did you deal with it?

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