What NOT to Do: 9 Mind-Numbing Freelancer Mistakes to Avoid

Freelancing = freedom đź’Ş and flexibility đź•’.

It should come as no surprise that by 2027, 50.9% of the working population in the U.S. will be made up of freelancers according to Statista.

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  • Working for yourself 👨‍💻…
  • Setting your own schedule ⌛…
  • Choosing what clients and projects you work on ✔…
  • Maybe even working from home in your PJ’s 🛏?

Sounds like a dream, no doubt.

But here’s the thing: Whether you’re a designer, copywriter, digital marketing strategist, or photographer—in order to build the freelance business of your dreams, you need to attract and retain high quality clients.

And in order to find those high quality clients (and projects you actually enjoy working on), you need to ace the application process.

Because that’s how you’ll build a strong n’ mean freelancing business machine.

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So let’s get to it. In today’s resource, I’ll tell you:

  • How to avoid common pitfalls that many freelancers make—and how to make sure your application stands out from the rest.
  • How to score bonus points with potential clients—by doing just a bit of light research, paying attention to detail, and saying yes to the application tasks many freelancers will shrug off.
  • Why you shouldn’t apply for every job—any why being picky actually means you’ll be a happier freelancer in the long run.

So grab a pencil, take out your notepad, and get ready to take some notes đź—’ đź–Š.

Because we’re about to dive into 9 dumb mistakes freelancers make when applying for jobs.

In a rush? Want to download this article as a PDF so you can easily take action on it later? Click here to download this article as a PDF guide.

#1 Mistake to Avoid As a Freelancer: Not Following Instructions

This may seem super obvious. But you’d be amazed at how many applicants get careless when following through with application instructions.

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In fact, hiring managers and recruiters from any industry can all agree: nearly half of applicants don’t follow instructions.

These instructions may include:

  • Formatting
  • Turnaround time
  • Providing certain specific Information
  • Submitting attachments in a certain way

And to a potential client, this looks sloppy and careless. After all, if you’re not keen on following directions carefully before you’ve even been hired, how can they expect you to follow directions once you’re contracted?

So while this may seem like a no-brainer, if you miss a step, you’ll likely be eliminated before the employer can even take a good look at your qualifications.

How to Outperform the Competition

As a rule of thumb, always read through directions 2x before you begin and take notes on what’s being asked of you. Then, review your completed applications multiple times before hitting “send.”

Don’t forget that many clients today will also throw in a “camouflaged” required step to make sure you’re actually paying attention. By doing this, they’re able to eliminate unqualified candidates right off the bat. After all, quality clients want someone they know is paying attention and will respect what’s asked of them.

#2 Mistake to Avoid As a Freelancer: Submitting Sloppy Work

Many clients will require freelancers to complete a skill test as part of the application process. And if you actually want the job, don’t skip this step! (but more on that later…)

Here’s the thing: the client isn’t asking you to complete a skill test just to make you jump through some arbitrary hoops.

While submitting a portfolio of your prior work is a good start, the purpose of a skill test is to see how you’ll do with an assignment that’s similar to work that you would be doing for them. Their templates, their requirements, their audience, and so on.

One of the biggest mistakes freelancers make when submitting a skill test? Sloppy work.

For a copywriter, this can mean obvious typos or mixing tenses. For designers, this can mean using pixelated images or awkward spacing.

How to Outperform the Competition

During a skill test, it’s absolutely critical to:

  • Pay close attention to detail
  • Follow all directions
  • Take your time
  • Review, review, and then review some more

Plus, in today’s world, let’s be real—we’re spoiled with tools like spellcheck and Grammarly to catch silly mistakes. So there really is no excuse.

If you were hiring a freelancer to work for you, what quality of work would you want to see? Definitely no silly mistakes.

You can bet that the hiring manager or recruiter will take note – if you’re likely not to follow directions to a T at the beginning (when first impressions will set the tone for your contract), then you’re not likely to follow directions months into the relationship.

#3 Mistake to Avoid As a Freelancer: Not Communicating Effectively

Communication is a large part of what makes any business successful. This soft skill:

  • Increases productivity
  • Creates a strong team
  • Enhances company performance
  • Eliminates unnecessary problems

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It should come as no surprise that 73.4% of employers want to hire candidates with strong communication skills.

And the application process? Well, this is the perfect time for clients to assess just how strong a freelancer’s communication skills really are.

Depending on the application, this could include a variety of communication methods: email, a Zoom meeting, or even a phone call.

How to Outperform the Competition

So how can you make sure you absolutely nail this part? Here are a few tips:

  1. Prepare. Don’t arrive empty handed. Have an idea of what may be asked and how you can answer various questions—even the unexpected ones.
  2. Practice. Whether in front of a mirror or with a friend, practice answering questions and getting feedback. Make sure to speak clearly and confidently.
  3. Listen. Communication isn’t just about talking. Give the interviewer the space to speak, and make sure you’re present to digest what they’re saying.
  4. Be Yourself. No need to be stiff or to pretend to be someone else. The majority of clients will want you to feel at ease and comfortable, so they can really get to know who you are.

#4 Mistake to Avoid As a Freelancer: Not Filling Out All Fields & Questions

Just because certain fields on an application aren’t marked as required doesn’t mean you should skip them. Clients and their hiring managers spend time carefully creating and revising their application forms—and you can bet that every question is there for a reason.

Plus, the more information about you, the better. Leaving one or more fields blank may leave the client wondering if you left it blank on purpose, or if it was a careless mistake (which takes us back to mistake #1).

How to Outperform the Competition

An incomplete application means that the client has less information about you than they have about other freelancing applicants. And in order to stand out, answering each question shows that you care about addressing every item on the application.

Even if a question isn’t relevant to your specific application, leave a brief explanation as to why.

#5 Mistake to Avoid As a Freelancer: Knowing Nothing about the Client

Most clients don’t expect you to know everything about their business.

But you’ll set yourself apart from other candidates by doing some light research before applying. Plus, it’s always a good idea to understand who you may be going into business with.

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Researching a client in advance accomplished a few things:

  • Helps clarify if you and the client will be a good fit for each other
  • Allows you to position your work experience in relation to the client’s business
  • Shows you care about the position and getting hired
  • Helps you stand out from other applicants

This will be especially useful once you move forward with the interview process. Clients and hiring managers are likely to ask questions like “why do you think you’d be a good fit?” or “which of our core values resonates most with you?”

How to Outperform the Competition

At the very least, be sure to obtain an understanding of the client’s business model, what pain points they solve, and how you can best fit into the equation and offer real value.

Doing light research in advance will not only help win over the client, but it will also set you apart from applicants who are just applying to dozens of jobs in hopes that one sticks.

Potential clients can tell the difference.

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#6 Mistake to Avoid As a Freelancer: Taking on the Wrong Clients

Retaining clients is one of the biggest challenges for freelancers when building a foundation for their business.

But a common mistake freelancers make is applying with any and every potential client that has a job open for their specific position.

Being selective when applying provides you with a few benefits:

  • Your skillset will actually match the job requirements (less stress)
  • You’re more likely to enjoy the work and the client (no resentment)
  • The client is more likely to enjoy the relationship and your work (everybody is happy)

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How to Outperform the Competition

In the end, if you’re taking on any client willy nilly, neither you nor the client wins. Plus, clients can usually tell if you’re not totally jazzed about taking the position—which is a surefire way to go to the bottom of their hire list.

Moral of the story?

Make sure the jobs you’re applying for aren’t just a good fit skillswise, but it’s actually a client you’re interested in working with.

#7 Mistake to Avoid As a Freelancer: Applying for a Position You’re Not Qualified for

There’s a fine line between applying for a position that’s a natural step up from your previous experience and applying for work that’s way outside of your skillset.

Applying for a position you’re obviously unqualified wastes both your time and the client’s. Some clients will even appreciate an applicant’s willingness to learn quickly to cover gaps—just make sure that is actually something you can follow through with.

How to Outperform the Competition

Start by taking a look at the minimum qualifications. If you can confidently say you meet the majority of the qualifications, you should feel confident about applying.

For example, if you have 3 years as a digital strategist instead of 5, the client may still be interested in seeing what other qualifications you have to fill the gaps. However, if the job requirements are an MBA with 7 years of experience and you have neither, that’s a good sign you should pass.

Most clients don’t expect applicants to check every single box on the job posting—but you should be able to confidently say that you’re qualified to apply.

#8 Mistake to Avoid As a Freelancer: Skipping the Skill Test

Resumes, interviews, and portfolios can tell a potential client a lot about a freelancer—but they don’t necessarily answer every question on the client’s mind.

During the hiring process, most clients use traditional methods to gather as much relevant information about the applicants as possible. And these traditional methods don’t always cover all bases.

This is where the skill test comes in.

The skill test separates the really interested from the “kind of” interested. Why? Because some freelancers turn up their nose at the thought of spending an hour or two completing a skill test.

“I’m busy enough with my other clients!” they exclaim. “My portfolio should be more than enough.”

This is a mistake, and here’s why: the skill test gives the client insight into how you’ll perform with their work. Sure, your portfolio is a great start. But how will you do with the client’s instructions, templates, and processes?

Why Employers Use Skill Tests

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Look at this through the client’s eyes:

  • Resumes are unreliable—78% of resumes contain misleading statements, while 46% contain actual lies
  • Interviews are subjective—the interviewer can only gather so much information using their intuition and natural bias
  • By completing the skill test, it shows that you’re actually interested in getting the job—and actually capable of doing the work

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How to Outperform the Competition

If the potential client is asking for a skill test, chances are they value the returned work of the skill test more than they do a resume or even a portfolio of your prior work.

Demonstrating that you’re willing to jump through the hoop of a skill test, shows you care about that potential relationship and that you’re qualified.

The bottom line? If you have the option to submit a skill test, and you really want the job, don’t skip it.

It’ll put you straight to the front of the applicant line.

#9 Mistake to Avoid As a Freelancer: Relying on Job Board Sites

Listen, if you’re a freelancer, you’ve been on sites like Upwork. It’s just how the game goes.

But if you’re looking to really excel as a freelancer and take your business to the next level, don’t rely solely on sending applications through sites like Fiverr or GURU. Why do we say this?

  • Options to build your brand are limited
  • You’re limited to working with clients on that platform alone
  • Your account can easily be blocked or shut down (this has been documented for silly and random reasons)
  • You can lose access to your projects, clients, and job history
  • Third party job board sites take a percentage of your fee, cutting into your gross income

How to Outperform the Competition

When applying for freelance positions, it’s always best to avoid putting all of your eggs in one basket.

And if you really want to watch your freelance business excel, focus on building your brand on your own—building out your website, finding a variety of clients, and doing so on your terms (and not on the terms of a third party platform).

Conclusion

Download the “What NOT to Do: 9 Mind-Numbing Freelancer Mistakes to Avoid” so you won’t forget to take action on it later. Click here to download it now.

As a freelancer, your application is the very first impression your potential client has of you.

Remember, there’s a sea of freelancers out there—59 million in the U.S alone last year. So how will you stand out from the crowd? By avoiding these 9 mistakes, of course.

Freedom? Flexibility? An awesome portfolio of clients? Sure.

But first, you gotta ace that application.

So tell me, which mistake resonated with you the most? Which tip will you take with you the next time you’re looking to land your dream client?

Let me know in the comments below.

Keep AutoGrowin’, stay focused.

Lee

tomas

Online enterprenuer. Lean leadership consultant.

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