3 Years On: My Biggest Freelance Fails

3 Years On: My Biggest Freelance Fails

It’s been almost 3 years since I expanded my freelance business into web design and digital marketing. And in honour of that, I want to share with you some of my big fails.

I know the word “fail” is a negative one. I’m not trying to be negative, this isn’t a pity party by any means! I could call it “lessons learned” or even “mistakes”. But let’s face it, when you work hard for something and it completely flops, “fail” is the word that springs to mind!

It’s easy to look at someone else’s achievements and think wow. To feel envy and even frustration because you’d love to have a similar outcome too.

But rarely do you hear about the failures that may have led to that success. These things aren’t often talked about. And so there’s a perception that success is easier for some people than it is for, say… you.

Everyone’s freelance journey is different but we all make mistakes. We’re only human after all. 

So, let me share with you some of...

My freelance fails over the last 3 years

Here we go…

1. Piled my plate way too high

This was one of my biggest mistakes almost straight off the bat. When I first expanded my business from freelance feature writing to web design, copywriting and business blogging, I went gung ho.

I didn’t give up anything, I just added more!

I had so many different things on the go - web design, copywriting, features writing, food blogging, and business blogging. Then I added SEO research and email newsletters. As well I was rebranding and posting on social media like a crazy person.

It was stressful and exhausting. I couldn’t commit to anything properly as I didn’t have the time to devote to it.

What I should have done was to start small with a single offering and rein in the wild ambition.

RELATED POST: How To Rebrand Your Website From Portfolio To Business

2. Outsourced too soon

There's no doubt that outsourcing virtual assistants (VAs) can be hugely helpful for any small business. But you have to a) have the capacity for it, and b) have a solid end game for hiring people.

But what I did was to hire a VA to help me manage my disastrously overloaded work plate. We ended up on this treadmill of work as I tried to keep my head above water. It wasn’t sustainable.

Looking back, I wish I'd saved the VA dollars for a particular, big project. And just ruthlessly cut out some of those services altogether.

RELATED POST: Why Outsourcing Is Fantastic For Freelance Businesses

3. Became over-influenced

In my early stages, I sought out massive amounts of info on a daily basis - how to do this and that, and everything between.

I was very influenced by several young female business podcast and bloggers that I was into at the time. The more I read, the more I became convinced I need to do X, Y and Z like, NOW. I got really caught up in it. I was implementing all these strategies and ideas without even knowing who my target audience was.

One of the kickass female entrepreneurs I was very influenced by, Melyssa Griffin

One of the kickass female entrepreneurs I was very influenced by, Melyssa Griffin

Instead I should have taken a chill pill and figured my own stuff out before getting swayed by others.

4. Wasted time on the wrong social media platforms

Many of my influencers were very into social media strategies. At one point I was actively engaged with all 6 of the big platforms - Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn and Google+. Again, crazy, right?

Thanks to a popular little Pinterest program called Board Booster, my LG business blog posts were going gangbusters. Which is great… except that my audience wasn’t on Pinterest. Unfortunately, I didn’t stop to consider this. Instead I was spending money to get Pinterest shares but not seeing the slightest bit of conversion or even engagement.

Pinterest used to be my top social sharing count (see the yellow bar on the left)

Pinterest used to be my top social sharing count (see the yellow bar on the left)

So too with Google+. I’ve persisted with this platform for years because duh, it’s Google. And surely one of the biggest platforms in the world must have some kind of game plan. It’s still alive and I’m still on it but I wished I'd kept my interactions minimal from the start. And focused my attentions on where my audience was actually at.

RELATED POST: Social Media: Why you need to reconsider Google+

5. Stuck with Mailchimp for way too long

I have a love-hate relationship with Mailchimp. I find it a terrible user experience but it is free and that counts for a lot in the freelancing world.

As such, I hung in with Mailchimp for the longest time. I find its design, layout and even terminology unnecessarily confusing. I even hired a freelancer to set up my template because it was frustrating me so much.

Using Mailchimp to send 2 weekly blog updates added a couple of hours of angst to my week. It was with great relief that I finally gave up and kicked it to the curb. I should have recognised our incompatibility and ditched it long before.

RELATED POST: The 10 Best Things I Did In 2016 To Grow My Business

6. Underpriced myself for an absolute age

This is a big one, and I still feel hesitant about it when I quote my (now much more reasonable) prices.

I underpriced myself for both web design and copywriting for the longest time. Partly because it’s a very competitive field and there are always dodgy people out there who try to bid you down. I felt I needed to prove myself and I ignored my existing skills and talents.

But the biggest problem with underpricing is that I also undervalued my own services, and myself. Yes, charging higher prices means putting a strong value on yourself. But it also attracts a better calibre of client who is more committed to the job and has more confidence in you. I wish I’d considered those factors too in my early day pricing.

7. Did too much stuff for free

This is another problem area for me. I love a good cause and I’m always doing things for free. Free email advice and free social media help for small businesses. Free design advice, free website reviews, free image optimisation and free SEO help. You get the picture.

One of my projects here in Laos was managing social media for a local charity group; personally rewarding yet unsustainable for my business

One of my projects here in Laos was managing social media for a local charity group; personally rewarding yet unsustainable for my business

I love helping other people but after 3 years of freebies, I’ve realised that I have to help myself too. And that means saying no to “this little job”, and making my priorities known.

8. Didn’t hustle enough

I’m not one for hustling so it isn’t a big surprise that I postponed this one… for ever.

I’ve lived in Vientiane, Laos, for the past 3 years. It's a small community of growing businesses and big development organisations. I offer a niche service that could assist many of them. So, I should have pushed my web design, copywriting and social media services much harder.

I feel that I’ve missed several lucrative opportunities because I didn’t get outside my comfort zone. Hustling isn’t fun for an introvert like me but as a freelancer, it’s pretty vital.

9. Didn’t invest in my super sooner

Finally, I have to give a shout out to my long suffering superannuation. Perhaps the bane of every struggling freelancer!

It was only about 18 months ago that I started contributing a regular monthly chunk of my income into my super. But between freelancing and raising kids and all that fandango, I’m well behind the game.

And I so wish that I’d focused on it a lot sooner, like with that very first freelance pay check. Because every little bit helps, right?


So, there you have it. 9 of my big “fails” in my first 3 years of business. Each one has contributed to my journey and, hopefully, made me a tougher cookie in the process!

Now I’ve unburdened myself... uncharacteristically, I might add. So, if you feel like oversharing, you know where to find me…

About the author: Lilani Goonesena is a freelance copywriter and web designer for businesses and organisations. Based in Canberra, she delivers smart, savvy SEO copywriting and professional Squarespace web design. She also writes an awesome newsletter on small business marketing, social media, blogging, web design and "all that online stuff".