Why freelance businesses fail

It feels like freelance businesses fail as often as “regular” businesses.

Though, and this might just be my feeling, when they fail it feels more personal. Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten to know the founder, or because a freelance business is an extension of the founder, or maybe it’s just something else.

Over the years I’ve been freelancing and watching businesses fail, I’ve started to see patterns to the failures.

Hopefully by talking about these, it becomes easier for freelancers in trouble to recognize a potential failure and correct it. Or allow new freelancers to avoid these failures entirely.

No marketing system

One of the most common problems and one that many freelancers recognize is they lack a marketing system.

They don’t have a repeatable process in place that regularly brings them leads on new clients.

Well, maybe they do but the “Hope, Prayer, and Wish Marketing System” hasn’t been that efficient.

Your freelance business revolves around clients. Either you’re working on projects for them, talking about working with them, or your looking for new ones.

With the exception of performing your actual service (for clients…), there isn’t any other activity more important than finding clients and winning projects.

If you’re never seen a marketing system work before, let alone created one, it can be scary and complex to put one together. But it’s not rocket surgery.

Lack of a clear client

The other failure I’ve seen with failed freelance businesses stems from the lack of a clear client.

Like I mentioned last time, when I started I would work with anyone who had a pulse and a project. It was a struggle.

But early on I identified who my real clients were and why I’d work with them. From then on, my business became more stable and started to excel.

Not knowing who you want to work with, and knowing deep down in your heart, will cause an unbelievable amount of waste.

You’ll chase everyone with a pulse.

You’ll take projects you know you shouldn’t.

And let’s not forget how much harder your marketing will be when it’s targeting “everyone”.

Fly-by night operation

The third problem, and perhaps underlying problem, with failed freelance businesses are they aren’t treated like a business.

The founders treat them like a hobby. Something they do now and then to make some cash.

(This doesn’t include having a freelance business on the side, like moonlighting. You’ll see why in a minute)

These “businesses” are powered by whims and fancies.

“Maybe I’ll look for another client”

“Maybe I’ll post something to my website”

“I’ll go to this event and write it off as networking, even though it won’t have any of my potential clients there”

In the startup world, these are called want-repreneurs. They “want” to be an entrepreneur but they never get around to it.

Well, want-lancers have the same problem.

Freelancing is a business. It follows most of the same rules of capitalism as every other business.

It’s more flexible but it still follows them.

It’s not easy to overcome these three problems. It’s not hard either. It just takes work and awareness.

And the earlier you’re aware of them, the easier they will be to fix.

Eric Davis