The great thing about being a freelancer is that you’re in charge. That can also work against you, though.

You make all the decisions. So, who’s to blame when something goes wrong? Just take a look in the mirror.

That’s OK. None of us are perfect. And I’m right there with you. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my quarter-century as a freelance web designer.

Mistakes are learning opportunities. But it’s better to learn from someone who’s already made them. They can save you from repeating history.

That’s why I’m here! With that, here are the biggest mistakes freelance web designers typically make. I’ve been there and done them all. Read on to learn how you can avoid them.

Working without Contracts and Other Legal Protections

We may want to believe that everyone is honest. We hope our clients will behave rationally. That’s not always the case.

A bad experience with a client can be frustrating. It might also be devastating – depending on the severity. Make sure the law has you covered.

First, always work with a contract in place. Spell out the terms of each project. Both parties will know their responsibilities and the agreed-upon compensation.

That way, there’ll be no excuses if a client fails to hold up their end of the bargain. You’ll be protected against non-payment or other shenanigans.

It’s also important to consider your business structure. Yes, even solo freelancers need to think about this. Some configurations can reduce your risk.

For example, an LLC (limited liability company) can separate your business and personal assets. That’s a big deal if you get sued.

Oh, and we can’t forget about business insurance. It protects against all manner of issues – including cybercrime.

Be proactive when it comes to your business. You might save yourself from a nightmare or two.

Be sure to use contracts when working with clients.

Trusting the Wrong Products and Services

Every product and service we use requires a leap of faith. We have to trust that they’ll work as advertised. And that they’ll increase efficiency – rather than hinder it.

Experimenting with products is fun and educational. It may lead us to improve our skills and earning potential.

But freelancers too often do so with their client work. For example, using an unproven content management system (CMS). Or a web host you don’t know much about.

The potential rewards aren’t worth the risks. What happens if the experiment doesn’t work? Your client relationships could be strained – or worse. Plus, you’ll be left to clean up a mess.

For some clients, this approach makes sense. They may need a feature that no one else offers. However, that is the exception to the rule.

Use trusted tools for client work. Your reputation (and theirs) are on the line, after all.

Using the wrong products and services can cost you.

Booking Clients Despite Their Red Flags

Not all clients are worthy of your time. Some turn out to be troublesome – and there are usually warning signs.

There are a multitude of red flags to look for. Clients that are rude or dismissive are unlikely to be satisfied. They don’t respect your effort or talent.

Then you have people who mention the other designers they’ve worked with. Ask yourself why those relationships crumbled. There must be a reason.

Worse still are the penny-pinchers that question every dollar. You often find that they’re also the most demanding. They expect Amazon-type features on a shoestring budget.

Perhaps the worst are those with anger issues. They may not snap at you, specifically. But you’ll hear it when the conversation shifts to their last designer. Or a former employee. Or the barista at the coffee shop you’re meeting in. Let there be no doubt that you’ll be a target if you stick around.

The potential to make a few dollars isn’t worth the risk. Working with these sorts of clients will eventually come back to haunt you. It can take years to recover from the experience.

Pay attention to the warning signs. Follow your gut and not your desire for a paycheck. You’ll be better off without them!

Allowing Their Skills to Stagnate

The web is constantly changing. Your portfolio serves as proof. Look at a website you built five years ago and compare it to today. You might be surprised at the differences in design and tech.

More than ever, clients are aware of these shifts. They’re asking for modern looks and features. They’re more in tune with what a website should do.

Web designers must change along with the times. That’s not to say you should abandon tried and true methods. However, you may have to apply them in different ways.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the elephant in the room. It’s already impacting the way we do our job. Therefore, it’s worth experimenting with these tools now to prepare.

There have also been changes in CSS, JavaScript, performance, and accessibility. Plus, all of the challenges presented by web security.

AI may be an asset in these areas. But it makes sense to keep learning the “old-fashioned” way. That will keep your skills relevant for now and in the future.

Keeping your skills updated can fuel growth.

Continuing to Offer Low-Profit Services

The business decisions you make today have a lasting impact. You’ll see it in the projects you book and the services you offer.

Sometimes that impact is negative. A poor client may be easy to separate from. However, an unprofitable service is more difficult to get past.

Let’s say you want to offer a new service to clients: email list management. You think it will provide some extra revenue with minimal effort. Sounds like a winner, right?

Perhaps things go well early on. A few clients sign up for the service. You’re not making much profit, but things aren’t out of hand.

Now, fast-forward to five years from now. You have a mountain of web projects to complete. And these email lists are taking up too much of your time. You’re stuck working on a low-profit venture while ignoring the real money maker.

Untangling from this mess could take a while. You might have clients under long-term contracts. And an affiliate deal with a provider. You may also need to refer clients to a new list manager.

The point is to be careful about the services you offer. What sounds like a good idea today could become a mess tomorrow.

Unprofitable services can weigh on your finances.

Mistakes Are Part of Freelancing. Learn from Them.

The longer you’re a freelancer, the more mistakes you’ll make. It’s all part of the journey.

The key is to learn from them. That will teach you to think more carefully about future decisions. I can attest to that part. I’m more deliberate about how I approach my business these days.

Yes, I still make the occasional wrong choice. But I’ve made a lot of progress. And I’ve gotten better at identifying mistakes before they become too big.

You can do the same! Think about your experiences. Read about what others have done. Apply those lessons to create a better future for your business.

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