Ask the cubicle expat: What are the biggest mistakes that newbie freelancers make?

July 31st, 2007

Doh!Toward the end of Sunday’s live chat on Writers Revealed about how to be a successful entrepreneur, one woman asked what mistakes newbie freelancers make and how that hinders their success. I talk about this a lot in the book, serving up many of my own wildly embarrassing gaffes from my first few months working solo, including:

  • Quitting my job with no money saved, no clients, no business know-how, no networking savvy, and no contacts
  • Signing truly shitty contracts that effectively had me working for peanuts
  • Agreeing to work with clients who basically had “666″ tattooed on their forehead

Emira Mears of Boss Lady, who I had the pleasure to do Sunday’s live chat with, also wrote this incredibly sharp post about how we fempreneurs have a tendency to undercharge for our time and talents. (For pep talk on setting and negotiating rates, see my previous post.) And here are a few more rookie freelancer screwups, culled from a Q&A I recently did with Work It, Mom:

  • Spending too much money on equipment, supplies, and consultants you don’t need right off the bat
  • Working in a vacuum rather than finding other independent professionals to bounce ideas off of, share war stories with, and help you feel less isolated
  • Failing to sufficiently research the market you’re getting into
  • Not being realistic about how much money you need to keep the business afloat and a roof over your head
  • Not educating yourself about what makes a good contract (so you can steer clear of the crappy ones)
  • Not keeping set business hours, which often translates into working round the clock

Feel free to share any and all of your own fempreneur fuckups in the comments. We’re not here to laugh at each other, only to help. And telling others what stupid business move you would never make again can certainly help them avoid stepping in the same steaming pile of crap.

Entry Filed under: Anti 9-to-5 media blitz,Ask the Cubicle Expat,This freelance life

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Anne Z.  |  July 31st, 2007 at 2:23 pm

    Oh, I totally resonate with this.

    The biggest mistake I’ve made in my career as an independent is taking on too many long-term things at once. Then I get stressed, quit something, feel some relief, and immediately take on another big job… only to burn out again.

    I’ve made MANY other mistakes too but most of them I can’t share here because I’m still sorting my way out of them. I try to look on it all as learning though. :)

  • 2. Manou van de Zande  |  August 6th, 2007 at 2:49 am

    What I remember as a grave mistake from my early years was not trusting my ability to trust my first impressions, which lead to two disasterous business relationships. The first lasted too long and cost me precious money, the second I broke off just in time. In hindsight I realised I didn’t trust those men from the start, but since I was a beginner then, I probably thought all businessmen would be like that. I was 29 at the time, old enough to be able to know a thing or two about other -unknown- human beings. So now (eight years of freelance writing later) I judge business people for what they are from scratch: other human, unknown, beings. Never lost precious money or energy since.

  • 3. MAB  |  August 8th, 2007 at 11:10 am

    O.K., here’s the part I don’t understand and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone address.

    If we’re VIEWED NEGATIVELY as women, for negotiating the higher salary, at any point, how are we supposed to succeed at negotiating the higher salary — even if we’re really good at what we do and really good at negotiating?

    Isn’t being viewed positively one of the things that determines the number and quality of the clients you end up with? Is this one of those things where we’re just supposed to be the b**** and bear it?

  • 4. Michelle Goodman  |  August 8th, 2007 at 11:50 am

    MAB, I’ve seen tons of career coaches, money experts, women-and-money authors, and even this blog ( address the negotiation issue. Just because that recent study written up in the WA Post says women are viewed negatively for negotiating exists, doesn’t mean women should back down. Eff that!

    I say, negotiate as usual. In 15 years freelancing I have never come across anyone who’s said, “Well, we would have hired you, but then you had the nerve to negotiate while ovulating, so forget you, you shameless hussy.” And I have yet to meet a freelancer who’s experienced the same thing. Though if anyone has, please share with the class. I’d love to hear about your experiences. (Though I do suspect the world of freelancing is a bit more of an open market than the corporate 9-5 negotiation world.)

  • 5. Harvey  |  August 24th, 2007 at 11:20 pm

    Sometimes, it is all in the technique.

    When I first met my wife, I tried to bite my tongue about how awful her job and pay were (note: I’m in the same field or computer programming). More and more I encouraged her to speak up for herself and demand more money and respect. I’m happy to report that she’s changed jobs twice, increased her salary about 80% in the last 4 years and is excelling. Her success is 100% hers; she just needed the motivation and the wisdom from a man that had “been there/done that” to kickstart her efforts. I was able to give her insight into how men in our field negotiate their salaries and get ahead. Furthermore, I helped her to understand that her older, male bosses do not understand women and by negotiating with them as a man would, she was actually making it easier for her bosses to promote her. Ultimately, our discussions focus mostly on how to deal with men in a way that they will understand without giving up her femininity.

    I’ve strayed a bit from topic, but the point I’ve learned via my wife and other close female engineers is this: It is often not the negotiating itself that results in negative perception, but the manner in which it is conducted.

  • 6. Leda  |  August 30th, 2007 at 10:26 pm

    Good for you, I hope my husband will be as thoughtful of my career. Anyway, from what your wife and female coleagues have shared, what manner of negotiation worked/backfired on them? I’m also thinking of going into a tech/science field.

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Who I am

Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

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