By Georgina Laidlaw

Seven Steps to Freelance Failure

By Georgina Laidlaw

While success can be difficult to define, it’s usually pretty clear when we’ve failed. It’s also very easy to do. There are a number of behaviors you can adopt that, if you stick with them long enough, will almost certainly cause you to fail. And if you’re looking to wind up your freelancing operation really soon, take all these points on board for the swiftest possible decline.

1. Undervalue yourself and your offering.

Before you begin even looking for clients, make sure the way you describe what you do is purely operational, and as low-level as possible. Don’t think about the value you add, the unique skillset you offer, or the innate talents you bring to your work. At all costs, avoid considering the benefits you can deliver to clients. Instead, come up with the shortest, least descriptive explanation you can: “I’m a web developer. Like, PHP and stuff. You know.” That’s good, but if you want to, you can build on that description to really seal your fate. “It’s all open source. Anyone can use PHP, so there are heaps of developers like me out there.” Perfect!

2. Work for organizations you don’t respect.

In the search for freelance work, tell yourself the organizations you long to work with would never give you the time of day. Why would they? There are heaps of developers like you, right? Instead, restrict yourself to approaching companies whose work, industries, or clients you’re either ignorant of, or actively dislike. The more ignorance, discomfort or actual loathing you can summon for the organization you’re approaching, the less likely you’ll be to win the work, and the faster you’ll fail.

3. Work with people you don’t like.

Tell yourself you can’t afford to pass up any work that comes your way — even if you have a sneaking suspicion that you’ll wind up hating the potential client. The less you like your clients, the harder it will be to establish rapport and a respectful working relationship. Bad blood will swiftly surface, and the job will become a nightmare! Not only will you hate the client, you’ll seriously start wondering if this freelancing thing is really all it’s cracked up to be.


4. Forget to chase up your invoices.

Once you have a few clients, you have a chance of success. Nip that in the bud by adopting an it’ll-take-care-of-itself approach to invoicing. Send all your invoices late, don’t bother to check if they’ve been paid, and never, ever chase them up. Put all your faith in the client’s accounts department to pay you when they see fit, rather than on the terms you set. After all, they’re the client, and the client’s always right. Right?

5. Don’t bother upskilling.

Freelancing is tiring! At the end of a long day working on projects you dislike for clients you despise, the last thing you’ll want to do is your own research, or — heaven forbid! — read, experiment, or take a course in a topic related to your work. Forget about professional development, and don’t aim to be your best. Instead, take as much time out from your discipline as you possibly can. Skills are overrated, and they’ll only empower you to succeed.

6. Don’t tell anyone about the work you’re doing.

When you do finish a job, be sure to keep that news to yourself. Don’t tell prospects, contacts, friends or peers within the industry. Don’t update your LinkedIn profile, your folio, your website or even your Twitter status. No one wants to know what you’ve been doing, do they? In any case, telling people about the work you’ve done might cause them to realize that you have the kind of skills they could use. That might lead them to hire you, which will only prolong your success. If you must promote something, make it a job you’re not proud of for one of those companies you don’t respect. That way, the only chance you’ll give yourself is to attract more work you don’t want to do.

7. Don’t keep in touch.

Once you finish a job for a client, forget about them. If you meet someone and exchange business cards, don’t follow them up. If a prospect contacts you through your website or blog, ignore them. Don’t keep in touch with prospects, clients, recruiters, or industry contacts — especially if they’ve made the first move and expressed interest in what you’re doing. Those guys are most likely to consider hiring you — and that’s the last thing the failing freelancer wants!

These seven points are sure-fire steps to failure. Do you have others you can add?

Image by stock.xchng user nazreth.

  • NetNerd85

    Nice idea behind the blog post, poorly executed.

  • A kind of backwards how-to.

  • anonie-mouse

    Good form. But that isn’t really a comment is it.
    NetNerd and halfasleeps added so much to the conversation they get a harrah! Seriously….
    Another tip might be — Be as unprofessional as possible in email. You might do this by using as your email signature something like, “emo gerls r hot!”
    hOw AboUt reDICulous spEEElins unt SprEcheN unt caSe.
    Let’s not forget, of course, to call everyone dear and remind them to wear clean underpants and vote at the end of every article or post.
    Use, of course, as much as possible, of course. Of course, it will make you sound so pleased to be sharing your knowledge.
    Thanks Georgina!

  • Revital Agency

    I get the humor in the article. Great read for the morning coffee.

  • Anyone else have trouble reversing this article to understand what you SHOULD do….

    …. nope? Just me then!

  • Anon

    I resemble this post! Thanks for the reality check.

  • Wardrop

    Yeah I can’t say I’m a big fan of these how-NOT-to types of posts. It’s good if your only goal is humor, but when you’re actually trying to teach someone something, it just becomes an unnecessary obstacle.

    After just listening to the SitePoint podcast on user experience design, you could say that this post is a UX fail!

  • Good teachers use all kinds of methods to reach all kinds of people. I, for one, appreciated the twist in this article.

    And really? Not that hard to see the point:

    1. Undervalue yourself and your offering.
    1. (for real) VALUE yourself and your offering.

    Just reading through the headings and taking the time to come up with the opposite makes one think more about that particular idea, I think. If you delve deeper into the points and come up with opposites, it will tend to grab you.

    You know. If you’re not too lazy to do it. ;)

    Being successful means thinking, and thinking makes us all better. All points are VERY welcome reminders! Thanks, Georgina!

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