take charge of your career

Piecing together steady work as a freelancer depends on building up a list of clients. And accumulating clients hinges on having a solid reputation in addition to offering the necessary skillset to meet clients’ needs.

Unfortunately, in our modern internet era, one virtual misstep can derail a possible partnership. That’s precisely why freelancers should beware of these five “red flag” behaviors. They could cost you clients (both current and future).

Unprofessional Correspondence

A single email or phone call is the first contact you’ll have with a client. What signals are you sending out? Sure, you might be at home working in your pajamas—but you don’t necessarily want anyone else to know that. Make sure you take a highly professional approach to correspondence, lest you alienate a potential partner.

An up-to-date resume and personalized cover letter are a must anytime you’re reaching out to an organization or individual with a pitch. You’ll also need to perfect the art of succinct, compelling email messages. “Hey” is a greeting better suited for friends than professional contacts (at least until you know them very well).

Going Back on Your Word

Trust is the cornerstone of any productive relationship. If you quote one rate to a publication or organization, then turn around and bill them for another, you’ll tarnish your reputation and ruffle feathers. Whether you charge by hour or by project, you need to know how to create an accurate estimate at the outset so both parties know exactly what to expect. That way, you’ll never have to turn around and say, “Actually…”

Be realistic about the amount of time you’ll need to finish a project. Sure, exaggerating up front may earn you a job, but it will all come crumbling down when you have to inform your client you need much more time to complete it. Creating a crystal clear contract will hold both parties accountable to their word, so it’s a great way to keep you on track and protect your freelancing business.

Late Invoicing

The key to super effective online invoicing is timeliness. If you bill a client for a project you completed six months ago, they’ll either be confused or annoyed. They may even send the invoice straight to their junk folder. Just like you want to be paid in a timely manner (somewhere between a week and several months, depending on your contract), your clients need to have the virtual paperwork in front of them as soon as possible after project completion. By sending out electronic invoices on time, you’ll ensure you stay top-of-mind. 

Inaccurate Invoicing

An invoice should never be a surprise. After all, you hashed out payment and timeline details in your initial contract, right? Make sure your invoices match your contract exactly, or else you’ll have to spend time and energy apologizing to your client (plus it makes you look dishonest and/or disorganized). For example, if you outlined a rate of $20 dollars per hour in your contract and your invoice bills for five hours, the amount due should be $100 (before taxes, if applicable). If the amount due is off, clients will have no choice but to raise their eyebrows at your business practices.

Inaccurate invoicing (no matter how unintentional) also stalls the accounting process, meaning you’ll receive your payments later.

Exaggerating Experience/Capability

Lying is not a good look on anyone, least of all professionals. Padding your resume, exaggerating your capabilities and fudging your references are all huge business no-nos. Even small fibs will eventually come to light (and weigh on your conscience). Be honest—if you don’t know something, either offer to learn it or turn down the project until you can deliver a great product. Know your limits and your worth.

As a freelancer, these five red flag behaviors could cost you clients. Pay special attention to invoicing, correspondence, client contracts and honesty to get ahead in the freelancing world.

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