7 Tips For Freelance Success That I Didn’t Follow

When first starting a freelance business you usually have a lot of questions. You’ll likely turn to others for answers, including articles and posts offering advice. How important is it for you to follow their advice? Do you need to follow every tip offered or is it ok to do things how you think best?

A couple of weeks ago I came across post on Vandelay Design, 7 Ways to Kill Your Freelance Career Before it Starts, which contained as you might guess, 7 things you shouldn’t do when starting a freelance business.

The advice is good. I’d offer the same tips myself if someone were to ask me, and yet I was struck by the fact that I completely ignored 6 of the 7 tips when starting my own business.

Be the boss: Freelance

7 Things You Shouldn’t Do, But I Did Anyway

I’ve been in business about 6 years now, so I assume I’m doing something right and yet I started by ignoring some simple and fundamental tips in regards to starting a business.

Here’s the advice on what not to do offered in the Vandelay post along with a comment or two about my ignoring them.

  • Going full-time too soon – For me it was all or nothing. I didn’t think I’d have the energy to come home from another job and work on my business the way I would need to get it going.
  • Not having savings set aside – I wish I had more savings when I started, but the timing was right for me to start out on my own even without. I did have few needs and had lived on little money before. I also had a couple of credit cards I freely used for most everything I could.
  • Assuming it’s easy because you’re skilled at what you do – This is the one I didn’t really do, though I did initially think skills alone could set me apart. I learned very quickly that more than your own talents are needed to build a business.
  • Not having a marketing plan – I had no clue how to market myself when I first started, though I did know I needed to market myself. I learned on the go and even now only have a loose marketing plan where specifics are concerned. I do have an overall marketing strategy to guide me now, but again it was mainly on the job training in the beginning.
  • Lack of organizational focus – Something I always work toward improving, but by no means was I organized early on. The one thing I had in great supply in the beginning was time so worrying about using that time efficiently wasn’t at the top of my list.
  • Not considering necessary expenses – The only major expense I saw early on was a computer, which I already owned. With a little bit of free or low cost software I was in business. Hosting and other absolutely necessary costs were on the insignificant side. The reality was I didn’t have money to spend so there wasn’t a lot to consider.
  • Not considering taxes – The first time I thought about taxes was when I sat down to do them for the first time. Other than keeping receipts and setting up a separate business account for business purchases I can’t say I gave any consideration to taxes until they were due.

Again the above is all good advice. Looking back I wish I had followed more of it. I probably would have gotten to where I am sooner.

The reality is I had to do things a certain way or they weren’t going to happen for me. I’m sure I’m not the only one who took this path. It begs the question how important is it to follow all the tips you come across?

Just do it

Learning from Experience

We all learn from experience. We try something. It works or it doesn’t. We learn what we can and either try again with our new knowledge or move on to the next thing with that same knowledge. Much of business and life in general is trial and error.

The advice of others is learning through their experience, which can be a great time saver. None of us should be reinventing the wheel again and again to learn that round wheels work better than square wheels.

Yet we’re all different. We have different skills. We have different weaknesses. We bring different experiences with us. What works for one may not work exactly for another. You have to take in what others tell you and decide for yourself what applies to you.

Most of us have our own definitions of what it means to be successful and we all have different skills and experiences to help us get there. Only you can honestly know which advice you need to follow and which you might be able to get around and ignore for a time.

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The One Tip You Should Always Follow

The one tip I would suggest you absolutely have to follow is to learn from your own mistakes. We all make mistakes. I made them and you will to. We’ll continue to make mistakes the rest of our lives. However the only mistake you can truly make is not learning from your mistakes.

No matter where you are when you start or where you are now as long as you keep trying new things and keep working to improve those things you’ve already tried, you’ll get to where you want to go.

Early on I did many things that went against good advice. I had my reasons for ignoring that advice. Sometimes that worked and sometimes it didn’t. The one thing I’ve always done is learn from my mistakes so I could do better the next time.

In the end we’re all on our own path and we need to do and learn from the doing..

Cartoon of William Shatner giving himself acting advice. Must…add…random…pauses


There is a lot of good advice online, included the 7 tips from the Vandelay Design post. Most of it is also worth following. It’s usually given to help you not make the same mistake the advice giver has made and it would serve you well to at least consider the tips being offered and why they’re being offered.

Nothing in this post is meant to say you should ignore the 7 tips mentioned or any other you come across.

At the same time we’re all different and we’ll each take different paths to our own success. In the end you’re still going to have to get out there and do and in doing you’re going to make some mistakes.

The one thing you have to do is learn from your mistakes in order to do better next time. We do. We learn. We grow. Outside of that I’m not sure there’s anything you absolutely need to do.

Ultimately you have to do what’s right for you. Not what I think is right for you or what anyone else thinks is right for you. Only what you think is right for you.

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  1. Many Free lancers do not save the earnings, which may result them in a kinda dry situation. So, its always necessary to save for future use, also going full time is a common mistake that most free lancers do…

  2. I so love the post! Have read it in the nick of time when I am having doubts focusing on doing it on my own. A bit hesitant but your insights empowered me to go all out. Thanks for the Freelance business advice. Got a question though, how do you consider a business, freelance and a small-business? 🙂

    Thanks much!

    • I’m glad you liked the post.

      Good question about how to decide if a business is a small business or freelance business. I don’t really think it matters much. Sometimes I call myself a small business and other times I’m a freelancer. Nothing changes though in the work I do or how I run things.

      I’m sure there’s some technical definition of each, but I don’t know that there’s really much difference.

  3. An excellent post and I really related to it.

    I found that applying the right attitude can help through the difficult financial aspects – ie it’s hard to hear of friends going on holiday whilst we’re in the studio at 7am or 11pm, but reminding yourself of the reasons why you chose freelancing can get you back on track. I have a list hung by my desk of “10 reasons why I chose freelancing” – it definitely works when I have doubts and very rarely need to read all 10! 🙂

    Thanks for the post

    • Thanks Karen. The right attitude is so important. I know it can be hard watching friends on vacation, but at the same time remember they’re probably also going into the office 9-5 every day. 🙂

      I like the idea of hanging your 10 reasons by your desk. Mind if I ask what those reasons are?

      For me the main things about freelancing are being able to set my own hours and work environment and to be responsible for the direction of my career.

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