Starting off as a freelance developer. Here are some tips on what NOT to do.

February 06, 2018

When I was starting off as a freelancer, it was a plethora of best practices people preached that was mandatory to become “successful freelancer”.

It’s a sea of cliché tips that you kinda already know but, you keep looking for those magical tips that make everything “click” and BOOM, you have a huge client. Rejoice! Right?

Or do you realize you spent 2 weeks following these tips and nothing has taken off? Why is that? You followed the expert advice on “how to land huge clients with a bucket of cash with zero freelancing experience” right??

Wrong! Why? Because everyone has fluffy tips that should work theoretically.

Ever wondered how valid these tips are? How much success did the person have that gave the advice? Is this just regurgitated info that someone was paid to write?

Well, you should.

I’m sure you’re now thinking, why listen to this guy? Because I don’t have a fluffy list of tips you should do as a new freelancer.

I’ll even take a different approach and clear the playing field for you by doing a Not-to-do list

Let’s dive in and change some perspective!


Don’t spend time doing SEO

When starting off, you may think, you make your portfolio (you do have one, right? right??) super SEO focused. Somebody will search for those keywords, find you, call you and just like that you are a freelancer.

I can’t describe how wrong that is. Nowadays that’s it more applicable to an agency opposed to a freelancer. Why? They have the bandwidth and finances to hire people to handle all that. You are a one-person show and need to focus on your bread and butter. If you are an SEO freelancer, then sure, SEO to like your life depended on it. If you are anything else, it’s much better ways you can spend your time.

Opposed to hoping someone finds you in a google search, jump on Upwork. A huge change they will rant higher than you and grab all the people looking. If you were a company looking for a freelancer would you use random people from Google or Upwork?

Don’t try to get rich

Well, don’t try when starting off. Maybe later.

First things first, freelancers don’t get rich from freelancing. Period. Maybe it as a way springboard other businesses, make connections, or even transition to an agency. But, it’s rare you will pull in a million a year doing freelance. Even more rare that that would happen within the

On the bright side, you can see obvious patterns in your clients and start to form ideas that will lead to larger endeavors outside of freelance. I call it a “freelancers insight”.

Don’t make any accounts in your name
One thing I learned the hard way, I used to make a project-related account for my clients. Small things like hosting account or register domains using my personal, small stuff. Those small favors added up quickly and I have the emails from lawyers to prove it.

You may think “if I have their domain registered under my name, I have leverage! Yay!” No, you have a headache waiting to happen. Make your life easy, have them make the account and give you access or the credentials.

Don’t use fancy software

When starting out, I use to spend hours looking for a software to make me more “productive”. Comparing one piece of software with another, looking at the pro/cons and reviews from other people. Trying to find a similar alternative that was free, etc… It’s a rabbit hole that you don’t want to do down when real work needs to happen.

Don’t look for the fancy stuff because you aren’t fancy (yet…). The fancy stuff takes up more time that you can afford to give when starting off. Do you have a dozen clients and having tons of problems keeping up with all the invoicing? No? Then keep it simple, I tried them all and I just use Evernote nowadays.

Do not allow late payments

This is a hard rule but, it will set the pace of the project and establish the proper relationship. When freelancing you are the product, expect to run your freelancing as a business.

If a payment is supposed to be made on Monday and it’s not there. All work stops, even if you need the client, stick to your guns. If they ask you to do more work without that payment, simply tell them No. Nothing magical or fluffy. You keep your deadlines, they need to keep theirs. Here I will even give you a scenario:

Them: Hey, I know I was supposed to pay today, I’ll try to get it for you by the end of the week, is that ok?
You: No. Not really.

Here’s another!

You: Hey! I’m ready to push the changes to the application you asked for, did you send out the check yet?
Them: Hey, I plan to send your check in the mail next week, can you push it today so we can stay on schedule?
You: Sorry, no. Not before I’m compensated.

If they get mad you don’t want to do business with them. Actually, if they are late you don’t want to do business with them.


Hopefully, this gave you some insight and you’re now questioning some of the “tips” you’ve been implementing. One day I’ll do a “things to do” list but, not-to-do seems more impactful for beginners!

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© freelance after five 2018
no gmo's, gluten or themes were used in the making of this!
by @darryldexter