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Top 5 Mistakes Freelancers Make

Here are some rather common mistakes made by freelancers that you should probably try and avoid.


You’re laughing in disbelief at this, but it has happened!

(Not to me, of course, I’m a PF freak among other things.)

People actually forget to send out invoices for whatever reason — got busy, got lost in the shuffle, didn’t keep track of all the work done… or they simply forgot.

(I know right? How can you FORGET to ask for money?)

The problem is that if your clients never get an invoice, how are they going to know what they owe, and when to pay it?


They sure aren’t going to be chasing you down, waving money in your face saying:

Wait! WAIT! I haven’t paid you! How much money do I owe you!?

That only happens in dream worlds, and you’re not living in one.

Think of it this way: If you were an employee working for a company, and they didn’t pay you because you forgot to enter your time sheet, you’d be entering that time sheet pretty quickly. Like ASAP.

It’s the same thing with clients.

Set up a schedule in Excel, make a note of how many hours you need to bill, and invoice them WITHOUT FAIL.

I make it the first thing of each payday to invoice. I never, ever, EVER miss the deadline.


You’re going to snort in disbelief again, but it happens.

Yes, I know.

It’s a small business, Mom-and-Pop-Shop kind of deal, and you really made friends with them when you worked with them.

Heck, Mom even made you an apple pie for Christmas!

The problem is now Pop (or is it Mom?) seems to be quietly ignoring your invoices, hoping you’ll be the good guy in this scenario, take pity and “forget” to collect on them.

This is where you start to feel like some sort of Mafia enforcer or some sleazy collections agency representative:

  • How often do I harass them for the money?
  • How much stronger should I make my words? Or my actions?
  • Should I call in a lawyer?

My answer is yes to all of the above, unless of course… you can do without the money and you’re willing to just write it off as a pro bono project.

Keep putting on the pressure until you get your money.

Print this image if you have to, and paste your face over one of these tough guys:


Via Mark Wadestone

Twist those metaphorical screws and repeat to yourself:

They received a service that has not been paid.

If you owned a store, and someone ate an apple in front of you and then refused to pay for it, wouldn’t you be irate?


It’s how you pay your bills, eat, survive, save for retirement and make a living.

Your business (among other things), is to COLLECT MONEY FOR SALES RENDERED.

Accounts Receivable = Not actual cash in your pocket

If you don’t get your money, or you feel like you don’t really want to go through the hassle of having to ask people for money (for whatever reason), then hire an enforcer-of-invoices (also known as an administrative secretary).

Pay him or her by the hour to call and ask for the money if you can’t stomach it.

If it escalates to the point where they refuse to pay you, pull out your contract, call your lawyer and start legal proceedings against them.

If you think that is mean, you should keep in mind that if you failed to hold up your end of the bargain to deliver what you promised, they’d be right on you with a lawyer nipping at your heels.


..which brings me to my third point: Not having a contract is one of the dumbest things you can miss as a freelancer.

A contract doesn’t have to be 50 pages and long-winded, and it doesn’t make you look like a bad person to ask for something in writing. It makes you look professional and conscientious.

If you want to keep it simple, keep it simple. The point of all of this is to get it in writing so that in case of a problem, you can wave it in their face and say: Hey remember this?

Get your rate in writing, the scope of the project, how/when you will be invoicing them, and when they’re expected to cough up the money.

I never, EVER start any project without something in writing. It sure makes me look like some sort of picky witch, but I don’t care. It’s my business, just as it is theirs to get me to work for them.

Without a contract, things and other important details like how much you’ll get paid get murky and confusing because people have faulty memories (sometimes on purpose, but sometimes they’re genuinely forgetful), and you can’t rely on memories when you’re squawking at each other.


Yes, it’s just your brain, and you’re not exactly selling products, but does it make a difference?

Not a damn bit.

Figure out a realistic and fair timeframe for the project, how much it’ll cost, and present that as a figure to your client.

Once they sign off, they’ll be mentally agreeing to that price (fixed or not).

If you underestimate the project and then have to backtrack to ask them for more money, guess who’s going to be extremely annoyed and less open to any kind of increase in payment?

Ask for the right amount, up front, and if it’s a fair amount of money for both parties.

There are plenty of cheap freelancers out there, but it doesn’t mean they’re any good, do you want to be associated with the word “cheap”, rather than “quality”?

Good freelancers know to say “No” to unprofitable projects, and it protects your business as well, so you can keep charging what you are worth.


Quick and dirty calculation: To figure out your rate, take a fair salary you’d get if you worked at a company, double it, and divide by 2000 (hours in a year) which takes into account that freelancers work about 50% of the time on average.

From there, you have a wiggle room of about $10 either way.

Don’t be greedy, but don’t be naive either.


So you’re alone and you don’t really have any overhead (unless you count your dog as a dependent).

Who cares?

You’re still the one doing the job, and you still need to get paid.

Why should you be expected to give a discount at all? This isn’t a commodity business if you’re selling your services and your brain.

There’s only one of you.

Don’t waste your time with people who aren’t willing to pay and just want a deal, and don’t care about the end result (yet).

They’ll come around once they realize they were only looking at the cost, and in doing so, will end up paying TWICE what they had originally budgeted.

Maybe three times their original budget, if you’re anything like me, and you add a friendly little surcharge to fix the mess that was left behind.

Or maybe they won’t come back at all (good riddance!), but it’s better to have a profitable client than a cheap one who will probably badmouth your work once you’re done.

Just know that deep down inside that if they managed to find someone at the cutthroat prices they’re quoting, it is likely to be utter crap, and their business will suffer as a result.


My last point about not giving a deep discount is that you’ll just be screwing your own business, because now they’ll expect your high quality work at low-unsustainable-prices, and you’re the one that conditioned them for all that.

In that case, you get everything that you deserve.


  • cj

    This article could be a big help to the self-employed, especially those who lack assertiveness. Well done!!

    Tammy and I work for ourselves and all these items are absolutely possible and even probable. Just this week I had a student who is kinda a friend, walk out without paying for a guitar lesson. I assumed when he realized what he did, he’d call or email and apologize. I guess I am going to have to ask for my $.

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      Yes you definitely have to ask for your money. It’s your time, they agreed to the lesson and they should pay you.

      Next time he comes back for a lesson, or just before he arrives, call and tell him to bring extra cash because he forgot to pay you last time.

      In a friendly tone, most people would be mortified that they forgot and look like a thief. You should get your money in no time if they’re a real friend / student who values you as a teacher.

  • Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank

    I have hired someone to do work for me before and they have forgotten to invoice me. Fortunately for them I am an honest fellow and I contacted them to pay the bill. They were a small business too so it isn’t like they were rolling in it.

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      You were too kind, in my opinion.

      I wouldn’t have paid them because that’s a lesson they should learn about being organized. I wouldn’t have avoided them if they got around to asking for the money in 2-3 years or whenever, but I certainly wouldn’t have given them anything until they asked for it.

      It is even worse when they aren’t rolling in the money and are a small business, the invoicing and collecting on the cash should be the #1 priority!

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