Elance Blog

5 Common Pitfalls of Self-Employment and How to Avoid Them

Few professional opportunities are as liberating, exhilarating, and altogether terrifying as working for yourself. For the typical full-time freelancer, the ability to “make it” hinges upon having the skills, time-management savvy, and perpetual motivation to ward off the always looming threat of failure. But the pressures associated with going solo can also hinder your success and hasten your return to a “traditional” job.

Without question, the personal and professional rewards that can result from self-employment are immense. Let’s take a look at the five most common pitfalls of freelancing—and how to avoid them.

1. Failing to Follow a Daily Routine
It is perhaps the greatest irony of the self-employment experience: Time and again, freelancers decide to work for themselves to escape the drudgery of their office routines and tedious hours. But unless the self-employed set—and abide by—a similar daily routine, success won’t come easily, if at all. Staying on track with a robust but healthy weekday routine, from waking up at a consistent time to keeping clearly defined work hours, is the most effective way to meet your deadlines, accomplish more, and maintain your sanity.

2. Blurring the Line Between Home and Work
Millions of people work from home, and the most successful among them clearly separate their personal and professional lives. For the self-employed, failing to compartmentalize job and household responsibilities often leads to distractions, setbacks, and additional (and unnecessary) stress—all of which reduce productivity. Setting boundaries for yourself and everyone who shares your living space (partner, children, roommates) is essential: Everyone needs to follow general rules during business hours so that you can work, an activity which ultimately helps to sustain the household.

3. Accepting Too Many Clients
Being inundated with paying work never seems like a problem, but self-employed professionals who don’t know when to say “no” can quickly find themselves overloaded. When projects begin to amass and overlap, they not only jeopardize their quality of work, but also run the risk of burnout, which should never be taken lightly. Failing to be selective in your working relationships can be problematic, too—although those just starting out may need to accept any paying jobs that put help food on the table.

"Before you say no," advises Jodee Redmond, an award-winning Internet researcher and freelance writer, "decide if that is really what you want to say. If the issue is timing and you would otherwise be interested in the project, you may want to offer an alternative. Sometimes a client does have a bit of flexibility as far as deadlines are concerned and it doesn’t hurt to explain that you are fully booked until X date but you would be happy to take the project if you can start after that point. That way, you have indicated to the client that if it weren’t for the scheduling difficulty, you would be interested in working with them. Then the client gets to decide whether they can wait for you to become available or find another freelancer instead. You have also kept the door open for future projects by saying 'Not right now' instead of 'No way' and slamming the door shut."

Just remember, at the end of the day, nothing can zap your morale like working on projects you find uninspiring, tedious, or reminiscent of the job you quit to become a freelancer.

4. Isolating Yourself
A home office can quickly become the loneliest place on earth. Although you’re working in a familiar and comfortable environment, it can be mentally draining to toil away for prolonged periods of time without any face-to-face interaction with colleagues or peers.

No matter how hectic and harried your workdays become, find time to work remotely in the company of friends (or even complete strangers in a coffee shop). Join local, regional, or international organizations related to your industry or interests. Whatever you do, strive to avoid the trappings of operating in isolation, which will eventually take a toll on the quality of your work and your emotional well-being.

5. Expecting Too Much, Too Soon
Whether your self-employment goals are humble or humungous, it’s easy to expect too much too soon. Few full-time freelancers make profound, profitable headway in their first years of self-employment, because it takes time to build a regular client base and a portfolio of projects that ignite your passions.

Rather than worrying about the small number of paying clients you presently have, devote the bulk of your upstart energy to wowing them. Over time, nothing will help generate more leads and subsequent clients than positive referrals. Leaving a quality imprint with your baby steps today will help your career take sizable – and profitable – leaps tomorrow. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, almost 15 million Americans were self-employed at the end of 2011. So despite common pitfalls and recurring anxieties, many have found lasting success through self-employment. And thanks to an ever-increasing abundance of social networks, online tools, and exceptional blogs, it's never been easier to find the guidance and encouragement you will need to succeed as well.

About the Author
Michael Essany, a Null Media author, is a bestselling author who has been featured on Oprah, The Tonight Show, and inside the pages of Time, People, and Entertainment Weekly. He graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2005 from Valparaiso University with a degree in public administration.


Why Elance does not respond to cancellation account requests??

I sent several emails without any response.

I hope I will get more chance now...

Thanks to forward my request to the right people.


As a freelancer spanish writer and translator, I was sure that I had to start asking very low budgets, looking for, above all, a great feedback from my clients. Since my first job awarded here in Elance (2010), I have been working every day without stop. Thanks, Elance is really the best platform for freelancers and clients. As I always recommend in my blogs, if you are a newbie, the first step is reading the job offers every day and learn from them, so that you can realize what clients are looking for. Of course, create a great profile with skills and jobs samples. Then, learn to sell your services and catch your "audience".

Regards! Pablo C. Garcia - Owner of "La Guía de Formación Online" (more tips: http://cursos-fp-universidad-oposiciones.blogspot.com.es/2011/11/buscas-...) and "Alpha Omega Linguistic Services" (guide to start as a freelancer: http://posicionamientosweb.blogspot.com/2010/12/ayuda-freelance.html)

Excellent information!