The top ten failings of freelancers

Getting a Job, Rant

Here is the tymothytym guide to being a good freelancer. Obviously, I don’t do positive, so this is a guide to the top [Ed: or bottom] ten negative freelancer traits in no particular order.

1) You’re badly educated

I’ve got a selection of degrees I collected during the period of my life that I usually refer to as the “Big Lebowski period”, or “University” as society often terms it. But the days Goethe was referring to when he said “We live in an age where a clever man can understand everything he encounters” have long, long gone.

I don’t know how the machine I’m working on actually translates the frantic clubbing motion of my hands into legible text on the Internet (which I also only vaguely understand). Does it mean that this article is worse for it? Well, yes, actually it does. If I were master of the computer and Internet this article would be dancing into your eyes in a way that was both pleasing and spectacular.

As I’m not you’re having to grind your way through mountains of text on a WordPress blog.

2) Your experience is pitiful

I’ve written a few previous articles here (I’m no Ms. Dixon mind), and I’ve contributed enough to feel comfortable slagging off the editor (you suck Jon) and the site generally (when was this site designed? 1982?).

However, as my job revolves around things like new coding technology, public opinion and general popular style I can’t have any experience with any of that because it is unfolding as I theorise about it.

It’s like those people who call themselves Social Networking Gurus or Fungineers and the like. How can you be good at fun, or meeting people? Stuff I think is fun (explosions, car chases) are not fun at all for people who just bought a new car, and if you want to socially network with me, you will have to adopt a totally different attitude to networking than with, say, the FA editor – and how can you know that upfront?

3) Patience; you don’t have enough

Patience is a virtue.

My mum used to say that to me a lot but my argument was always…well, I didn’t have a good argument, I’d just ignore her and complain. However from a client-servicing perspective; the world is full of assholes with your money, and if you don’t spend a lot of time waiting on these monkey diddlers, you are not going to get the fat pay checks.

4) I’ve met loo brushes with more skills

Oh, so you do something unique do you? To an unparalleled level of awesomeness too, eh? Wow.

So assuming you’re not lying and don’t have delusional psychosis; you are just one person with a rather limited set of skills in a very niche area. Don’t keep telling people that you are the ultimate this or perfect that as it is annoying to discover the eventual, deflating truth.

The people seen as the most skilful are those that say they are “always learning” (do try not to vomit when you say this, though, it damages the effectiveness).

5) Being socially inept IS a problem

I’m looking at you, developers.

If you’re working for a ladies fashion brand then you are going to have to interact socially with ladies fashion (no, I don’t mean visiting the M&S lingerie section). Without this extra mile you are just another code monkey who has no appreciation for the end goal – and hence the point of your employment.

6) There’s tardy, there’s late, there’s not turning up… then there’s you

I don’t care if you’re late. But I’m unusual in that – most business owners will take an extremely dim view if you don’t turn up early (that’s right, early) and leave at a normal time.

You have to remember that you are being paid more per day then all but the priciest directors so you need to provide that level of work. Whether that is in skill or time is not that important, but if you turn up late, do very little and then bugger off to go drinking away all your extra cash, you are not going to get a lot of repeat business.

7) You inspire confidence like manure inspires lust

It’s not good enough to just do exactly what you’re told. You have to own the work.

If there is a better way, you suggest it. If you can cut the time, then do. If something is inefficient (and fixable), fix it. There are some freelancers that you can trust with your most fabulous ideas. They will take the seed you spawned and create a four-storey forest with en-suite mythical creatures. These people can have as much money as they want, as I know they will metaphorically knock it out of the park [Ed: Forest?].

The rest of you I don’t trust to sweep up the leaves.

8) Management. Support staff ≠ idiots

Most of the people you work with at a business are idiots. Most people generally are idiots so this is not a surprise, but you can’t actually treat them like idiots as this makes you a cock.

You have to leave the business with better staff than they had before, more able and better equipped to do their job. This is either done by what you have created or the time you have saved them. If you just do your work in isolation then that actually creates more problems, as they have to integrate it after you leave and, spoiler alert, they won’t bother. Blaming you is so much easier.

9) Computers don’t bite

Do you use a Mac? Do you have to?

If I have to spend a day and hundreds of IT pounds getting your laptop to work with my infrastructure, I already hate you before you’ve even started. Consider not using Rockmelt for all your prototypes and try to stop using the phrase “Well, if you were using OS X/Linux/Unix/MeeGo/Chromium/etc. this wouldn’t have happened.”

10) You’re dressed like a tramp

Why? Why did you think that I’d enjoy the light waft of over-ripe laundry drifting through the office? Did you assume that client meetings would totally stop whilst you were sat in the building? Are you working to afford money for clothes and soap?

Please dress (and smell) like you’re visiting your potential future mother-in-law. Not so smart that you look like you’re en route to a wake, but smart enough to not give your future mother-in-law any reason to veto your eventual copulation with her offspring.

Some of this may be you, and some may not be, but generally you need to cultivate an air of humility coupled with an encyclopaedic knowledge of your subject and a delightful all-round attitude. If you can be that, then you are going to start pulling down the work like nobody’s business.

Photo by lyudagreen

  • Leif Kendall

    In the interests of being contrary, I don’t think an education is vital for freelancers. That’s not to say you can be stupid, or ignorant. Of course freelancers need to be bright, and smart, but freelancing is possibly the best option for people without a formal education, because as your experience grows the importance of your qualifications diminishes.

    In 4 years of freelancing only one client has asked about my education, which is great because I don’t have one.

    • timothytim

      I’m not saying it has to be formal, but you do need to learn new stuff all the time. If you don’t have any education at all (formal or otherwise) and don’t keep augmenting your skills, you’ll have a very dim future!

      • Jon Norris

        Or a very promising future as an SEO consultant.


  • FreelanceAdvisor

    We’ve had 23 visitors using RockMelt in the last month and I salute each and every one of them.

  • Antonella Barbieri

    I totally agree with you! i am New to the freelancing market, but I’ve realized that all the things youve listed, resume pretty much what I’ve noticed so far. You made me laugh out loud in a crowded bus! thanks for making my day!

  • quickhr

    Laughed and groaned while reading this. A few people came to mind… who wander in a bit late, do the work at a competent but basic level, barely show any interest in anything about the company and get a creative burst only when coming up with reasons why they have to get away early (without reducing the agreed pay). Not me, obviously.