The 7 Mistakes Novice Freelancers Make When Trying to Land Clients

First impressions are everything

5 min read

When you start as a freelancer, it sucks. There I said it! And I had more success than a lot of other freelancers out there. I regularly get asked by beginners freelancers online why they aren’t getting clients, and when I look at their profile, I see a ton of red flags.

Let’s look at them to see what you can change. Some factors are in your control, and some aren’t, but I wanted to address them.

1. Faraway timezone

Now, many people in places like Asia are at a bit of a disadvantage here when they want to work with clients in North America. Part of the reasons might be problematic because of cultural stereotypes, but another reason is just the location and timezone difference.

When you have a client who is 12 hours behind you, that makes communicating difficult. It is just easier if you are in the same hemisphere, and while you can’t always control that, you can perhaps shift your focus to local businesses or countries closer to you location-wise.

2. Low pricing

A lot of freelancers set their rates fairly low. Honestly, that’s okay! If you’re a beginner, you shouldn’t be charging $50 per hour because the client will likely be disappointed when you can’t deliver on your promise. That can mean bad reviews and loss of any future work with them.

Still, if you go too low, then you are going to attract terrible clients. That’s not ideal either because no matter what, you can’t please them.

So now I’ve confused you, I’m sure. I would suggest that you pick a minimum income you will work for and go from there. My minimum desired wage was $20 per hour, and I did go down to $18 to land my first client, but it paid off immensely as I made over $500 with him.

3. Lack of branding

You need to stop seeing yourself as a freelance and start seeing yourself as a business. A lot of beginners don’t realize this. If you want it to be a side hustle, that is fine, but it’s still good to think about things more professionally.

Some things I suggest:

  • Get a good headshot
  • Design a simple logo
  • Make an email signature
  • Create a website or portfolio

You can easily do these things yourself or pay for them. I’ve chosen to pay for these things because I am investing in myself, and I earn enough to justify it. Here is an example to illustrate.

Who looks more professional: The one who took a selfie in a kitchen or the one who posed in front of a wall of plants?

Image by Author
Images by Author

4. No specific niche

Everyone thinks that they can do everything for everyone initially, and even I did that a bit. Instead of saying “I’m a writer” or “I’m an audio editor,” pick an industry you like or have experience in and use that to be specific in how you pitch yourself.

For example, when I pitch to breweries or wine companies, I make sure to emphasize that I am a “Food & Beverage Writer.” I used to be a bartender, and I’ve worked with breweries, wine companies, and a restaurant LMS doing various kinds of copywriting. Sounds way more professional, right?

5. No social proof

This comes with time, but it’s a significant factor when clients are hiring people on Upwork and Fiverr.

As soon as you start, ask for testimonials from your clients. According to one survey, 70% of people said they would write a review for a business when asked, so don’t be afraid to ask! I asked for one the other day, and my client left me the sweetest feedback. I have yet to have a client say no after asking for a testimonial.

Image by Author via Website

6. Irrelevant qualifications

I often see new freelancers on forums complaining that they can’t land clients. One freelancer I came across in a Reddit post complained about this, so I looked at his profile and saw yet another common mistake.

There was nothing in his profile to show why he was qualified to be an audio editor. He had no related work experience, portfolio examples, or diploma to prove he knew anything about audio editing.

The only thing he had was a degree in engineering. If I were looking at a list of candidates, his profile wouldn’t stand out at all. You don’t need to have experience to land a beginner freelance gig, but you DO need to justify your skills.

7. Fake reviews

Another common problem I’ve seen novice freelancers make is using fake reviews. The other day a novice freelance writer found my personal Facebook and sent me a message asking for help.

When I went to his Upwork profile, he had a vague 5-star review for a $5 project… Cue the red flags. There were no details about the project, and the review was short and said nothing about him. Most likely, he had a friend pay him for this review, or he did it himself.

Not only does did make him look sketchy, but it also jeopardizes his freelancer profile. Websites like Fiverr and Upwork can kick you off their platform for these kinds of offenses, and they regularly do.

Summary

It’s hard out there as a freelancer, but don’t make it harder for yourself. If you’re a beginner, here are the things you can do to increase your chances of landing gigs online:

  • Don’t work in a faraway timezone
  • Avoid working for a low price
  • Make your own branding
  • Pitch clients with a niche
  • Get some social proof
  • Use relevant qualifications
  • Don’t buy fake reviews

I know what it’s like to be a beginner and to be frank, I still feel like one most days. My clients have thankfully seen my hard work ethic and allow me to grow and work with them even as I develop new skills. You will need to put in effort to be successful, but if you can make a good first impression it will get a lot easier.

Published by Victoria A. Fraser

Freelance writer, podcast producer, and comic artist.

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