The biggest freelancing challenge and how to overcome it

The biggest freelancing challenge and how to overcome it

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Over the past month or so, we interviewed many freelancers from our community for the Humans of TapChief series. The idea behind the series was to highlight their stories of determination, passion, and perseverance. 

One thing that stood out in these conversations was that most of them found building a steady stream of clients to be a massive challenge. In most cases, it led to a lot of trial and error. They had to face numerous difficulties along the way ⁠— dry spells, scammy clients, false promises, undercutting, unable to find time for prospecting, and more.

And if you do a bit of research, you will find that freelancers all over the world are going through the same. 

  • According to a study by FreelancerMap, a third of freelancers feel that ‘landing clients’ is the biggest challenge they are facing in their career. 

  • A study the popular digital payment services, Payoneer, found that 52 percent of freelancers want to uncover new ways to land more clients and get more work.

What are the biggest challenges for freelancing?

The bottom line is that having domain expertise isn’t enough. You need to find out sustainable ways to grow your client base. To do that, you need first to identify obstacles or potential obstacles in your way, and then find a way around it. This way, you won’t have to spend too much time on trial and error and save yourself from nightmarish situations. That’s what this post is all about.

So, we’ve listed down different possible roadblocks and how to overcome them to build a steady of clients.

1. You are a fresher

Getting projects as a fresher is never easy. Your lack of experience tends to stick out like a sore thumb.

Some clients won’t trust you because they don’t know if you are capable enough to complete the project. Some don’t hire as they are not convinced of your professionalism.

And some simply reject you because their hiring guidelines say so.

How to overcome this roadblock?

Don’t be disheartened if you aren’t getting any opportunities. Instead, spend time actively building up your portfolio and learning new skills. That’s what I did after college.

I spent two months learning whatever I could about software development, and even built a few products. It is a great way to impress companies and make yourself more employable.
Hari Shyam (Freelance Full-Stack Developer)

You may lack in experience, but leverage what you have at your disposal, enthusiasm, knowledge, and skill. Flaunt them in the best manner possible ⁠— create an online portfolio website. 

Curate your work - How to make a portfolio to launch your freelancing career

But, how do you create one when you have no projects to display? Fortunately, there are many other things you can do:

  • Imagine you are working with your ideal client, and build products or apps that would fit their target audience, and showcase the output on your website. 
  • Write critiques of famous work in your niche; it is an excellent way to tell your potential client that you are knowledgeable.
  • Keep searching for volunteering opportunities with charities and non-profit organisations in your niche. 
  • Write helpful posts relevant to your niche and publish them on content publishing platforms (Medium, Tumblr) or submit them to online magazines that cover your target area.
  • Rework on any thesis or dissertations you worked on, make them more presentable, and share your findings on your website.

2. Your project proposals are not effective

Nothing is worse than seeing your project proposal rejected. It is demoralising and makes you feel like you wasted time writing one. 

The reality is that no matter how good you are, you need to make sure the proposal stands out and tells the client why you are an excellent fit for the project. 

How to overcome this roadblock?

Don’t beat yourself up over a rejected proposal. Instead, start working on improving your proposals. Firstly, there are certain vital elements that you should include in every project proposal.

infographic - the key elements of a high quality project proposal

Along with that, try to implement the following tips:

  • Use a proposal creation and management tool that makes your life easier with pre-designed templates, drag and drop feature, mobile optimisation, and more.
  • Be sure to add a few relevant client testimonials and work samples to your proposals makes them more trustworthy and appealing.
  • Emphasis on that extra value that you can add to the client compared to your competitors.
  • The proposal should be easily accessible, and the in-document navigation should be hassle-free too. Having a table of contents will undoubtedly help.
  • Write a case-study based on your work with a former client, someone who faced similar problems as the client. 
  • Write in small paragraphs, give enough white space, keep the text left-aligned, and use illustrations and images to break up texts.

3. You are unable to retain clients

On paper, not being able to maintain clients might not appear like a dangerous prevalence. But it is because client retention is critical to building a steady income. 

For starters, acquiring new clients on a sustained basis requires a lot of effort and money. Moreover, you are bound to encounter droughts from time to time. 

You might be wondering why you are not able to retain clients. Sometimes, it may be due to a lack of follow-up from your end, or it could be because you don’t offer any value adds post-completion. There could be so many reasons, but it is up to you to find out why.

How to overcome this roadblock?

The first step to solving your inability to retain clients is to find out why it is happening. Don’t wait for the client to tell you, instead be proactive about it. Create a form with questions that help you understand what they think of your work, how satisfied they are, what can be done to improve your service, and so on. 

Here are a few more tips to help you overcome this problem:

  • Along with regular pricing plans, have a retainer option too. That means the client is obliged to retain you for a set duration for a certain fee.
  • Offer value-added services like periodic revisions or health checks. This makes it easier for you to stay in touch with previous clients.
  • Go above and beyond when it comes to helping them, don’t restrict yourself to the terms of the contract. 
  • You can offer discounts, but a compelling alternative would be to provide more services at the same price. 
  • Don’t overcommit and underdeliver. Clients hate it. When you overcommit, eventually you will feel overwhelmed, your productivity will suffer, and the client will feel let down. Instead, be realistic. You know what your capabilities are, ensure the deadlines are set based on that. 

Above all, be sure to meet their deadlines and the quality of work expected. That by itself solves half of the problem.

4. You have poor ratings and reviews

Nothing is scarier than clients giving poor ratings and reviews. It causes potential clients to lose trust in you.

With most of the business happening over freelancing platforms, poor reviews and ratings on the profile could discourage potential clients from accepting your bid. What’s worse, some of these platforms are programmed to give more visibility to freelancers with positive ratings and reviews.

How to overcome this roadblock?

It is easy to feel disheartened by negative reviews, especially after your best efforts. Don’t get bogged down by it. Some clients are just too hard to please. The key is to do everything in your power to ensure it doesn’t happen:

  • Before the project is formally over, remind the client about leaving a positive review. Also, highlight your contribution, how you enjoyed working with them and let them know you will always be available if they want to get in touch with you. 
  • Right after the proposal is accepted, discuss with the client and ensure you are on the same page when it comes to aim, expectations, deadlines, check-in points, and so on. This way, transparency can be maintained, and in case something goes wrong, you won’t be blamed for it all.
  • Don’t ignore negative feedback; instead, respond to them. This shows that you are a responsible person who won’t hide from criticism. While responding, be sure to keep the tone positive and empathetic. Clearly acknowledge what went wrong, ask them the aspects they liked and disliked, and reassure them that you are working on your shortcomings.
  • Don’t wait for the project to finish to collect feedback. Throughout the project, do ask open-ended questions like ‘how do you like the service’, ‘where do you think I should improve’, and more. This will help you gauge their feelings.
  • Make sure to respond to positive reviews too. Thank them for the opportunity and the things you have learned along the way. This ensures you are parting on a positive way, plus they might retain you or refer you to someone else.

5. You are unable to find time for prospecting

When you are a freelancer, you have to market, prospect, and sell by yourself. This is, besides, everything else — from managing finances, filing taxes, to actually working on projects. 

Typically, what happens is that, once a freelancer lands a few projects, they take the foot of the pedal. They will stop prospecting. This means once the projects in hand are exhausted, they will restart everything from zero. This is a hand-to-mouth approach, and you will never be able to avoid dry spells this way.

How to overcome this roadblock?

Never stop prospecting. That’s the key. You need to fit it into your daily or weekly routine and make sure you spend a certain amount of time on prospecting activities regularly. 

Worry not, there are ways you to automate, streamline, and simplify prospecting so that you can reduce the time spent on it. Here’s how:

  • Set up a personal website with details such as the services you offer, your skills and qualifications, your pricing structure, work samples, portfolio, and also, add a contact form for people to get in touch with you. This way you can bring all your potential clients to one place and learn more about their requirements. 
  • Create basic templates and scripts that you can personalise and use for different situations. This way, you can reduce the time spent on drafting project proposals, contracts, cold emails, LinkedIn Connection requests, and more. 
  • Start employing marketing tools to automate and optimise your social media marketing and email marketing efforts. 
  • Use a tool such as Meetup or EventsHigh or to get alerts for relevant events. 

I began attending design conferences and freelancer MeetUps, joined design groups on different social networks, and also, conducted workshops. Meeting and talking to people helped me big time. It helped me stay engaged, learn more, and understand different viewpoints. More importantly, I started getting new clients and referrals.
– Navaneethakrishna Ramanathan (Freelance UI/UX designer)

6. You are unable to filter out bad or fake clients

Always remember to vet your clients properly before you start working with them. A recent Paypal study found that almost 60 percent of freelancers surveyed report being unpaid at some point. Some of the Experts we interviewed have said the same.

Most people have families to support, loans to repay, or other personal obligations, so they end up believing clients quickly, only to be left unpaid after completing the work. 

I had a tough time identifying which client is fake and which one is real, and I ended up getting scammed a few times. I was part of these Facebook Groups that were meant for content writers. Clients would post their requirements in these groups regularly. And once you express your interest in a project, often, the client will ask you to write a sample article.

However, sometimes they just vanish after you share the sample with them. Initially, I couldn’t see what’s going on, but then I went around and interacted with fellow group members. That’s when I got to know that this was a scam and I wasn’t the only one falling for it.
– Jyoti Agarwal (Freelance Content Writer)

Being unpaid is only one one of the possible consequences of working with Sometimes you’d end up being mistreated or overworked, you’d be asked to work on things that are beneath your skillset, and it may not let you broad. In the short-term, you might feel it is okay to work on such projects, but in the long run, it will lead to career stagnation.

How to overcome this roadblock?

Learn to evaluate the client before agreeing to a contract with them. It sounds simple, but it is not. It may require extensive research, but it is definitely better than working with horrible clients or being cheated.

Here are a few ways you can protect yourself:

  • Ensure the source from which you are getting the project is a trustworthy one — whether it is an online marketplace or a third party agency, always read up about their vetting process and dispute resolution policies. For instance, at TapChief, we ensure every project listed is adequately vetted. Moreover, we have a system where the client won’t receive the output until the remuneration is transferred.
  • Always read up about the potential client before working with them. Research about them online, analyse their background and find out if they are legit. Ask colleagues who worked with them before, scour the social media, check out their Facebook/Google Reviews, and more.
  • Always ensure there is a written and legally binding contract which details every last bit of the project and your responsibilities. Ensure there is a provision which clearly mentions what happens if there is scope change.

Wrapping up

To sum up, you need to maintain a presence both offline and online and be on your feet at all times. If you hang back and wait for opportunities to come, it will be tough to build a steady inflow of projects. It may seem like a chore at the beginning, but once you make it a part of your workflow, things will become much more comfortable.

The Indian gig economy is growing faster than ever. It currently accounts for 14 percent (worth $1 billion) of the global market. Moreover, almost 70 percent of Indian corporates employed gig workers in 2018. It shows us that there is no shortage of projects; you just need to reach out and grab the opportunities.


Sucheth is a Content Marketer at TapChief. He is a marketer by day and an avid reader by night.