4 Proven Ways to Avoid Getting Burned as a Freelancer

When I decided to become a freelancer a couple years ago, I was definitely sold the dream. Work when you want, spend time with loved ones, pick your own rates, etc., etc. I still believe I made the right choice, but nestled in those dreams were some startling nightmares I didn’t prepare for.

The stress can be unreal.

Even when you’re working your butt off to get something done, if you aren’t billing a client, you aren’t getting paid. So, you learn you have to build the acquisition of a client into the prices you charge. But when 9/10 people want to pay rock bottom prices, regardless of quality, it can be tough to find good clients.

Sometimes, you have to deal with people who have awful communication skills. These people insist you do the work over and over again because they don’t actually know what they want and/or don’t know basic descriptive words to tell you what they want.

There are also people who will try to squeeze you for things that are above and beyond your contract, and others who will completely disappear on you…often without paying.

The worst is losing a client you love because of finances, streamlining, changes in business direction, or whatever else it could be.

Stuff is going to go wrong.

The key to success is preparing for what you can and rolling with what you can’t.

Here’s how:

1. Stretch Yourself

There’ll be projects that end abruptly (on a good or bad note), and projects that stall because you client’s boss, and their boss’s boss, and their best friend from high school, and their mom all have to look over your work and give their feedback.

The best way to prepare for these two eventualities is to constantly be looking for new work. Sometimes this means you’ll be working around the clock for a couple days, but it’s better than not being able to pay your rent.

Look for a couple laid back clients who are really flexible in their timeline. Then, when something ends or stalls, you already have their work on the backburner to automatically fill that time slot.

2. Be Clear, Be Firm

Throwing in a little something extra here and there can be a great way to create long-term relationships with clients. But know that the most important thing is to do it on your terms. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve let myself get steamrolled by clients to avoid conflict.

Before you sign anything, make sure the terms of your contract are crystal clear. If your client wants something more, you’ll have the written agreement to refer back to for the parameters of what they paid. Then, discuss what you would charge for the additional work.

They may get offended because it’s something “small”, but stay firm. All of the small things can build up to a lot of free work. Also have canned responses prepared for their objections. This will prevent you from getting flustered or getting bullied into providing free work.

3. Offer Small Deliverables

When someone is unclear or uncertain about what they want, the worst thing you can do is decide you know what’s best and create finished work from a bad description. It’s almost guaranteed that you’ll have to do it over again.

Instead, break your deliverables into the smallest possible increments, and get the client’s feedback from each stage. Even when you’re pulling teeth for feedback with the world’s worst communicator, you can cite your attempts to get clarity if they ask for major changes in the final stage.

Then, you can let them know your prices for the changes they request.

4. Ask for Deposits

If you mainly work through a freelancing website like I do, this is not as important, because the funds are usually already in escrow before you start. But if you’re on your own, always ask for a deposit of at least 50% of the estimated work before you begin.

It sucks, but there are more than a few people out there who will try to cheat you completely. Sadly, I know from experience. So don’t work with anyone who gives excuses to avoid placing a deposit on your work.

It could be someone who’s worried about you taking their money and not delivering, but more likely, it’s someone who doesn’t plan on ever giving you a dollar.

Bonus: Let Go

Some things you just can’t prepare for.

So despite your best efforts, you’re going to get burned occasionally, and it hurts. There will be times when you want to stew about it, lash out at the person, or look for ways to get even.

Unfortunately, all of these things are a waste of precious time.

Don’t take anything too personally. You can do everything right and some people will still refuse to be satisfied.

Instead, look inward. Think about the warning signs you may have missed, where you could have spoken up earlier, and anything else you could improve for next time. Even if the person is rude or cruel, there may be something helpful you can use somewhere in their vitriol.

Use people’s awful behaviour to become better and stronger at what you do.


How do you avoid getting burned as a freelancer? I want to hear all about it in the comments.

See you next week, but until then, good luck choosing to make life a little better!


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