Having worked with clients for almost a decade, I’ve had many successes as an independent PR consultant, but I’ve also had my share of bumps and bruises.
Over the years, I’ve learned a few things that I would never do again. Here are the top mistakes independent PR pros (or freelancers in general) make—things I wish someone had told me to avoid.
1. They don’t put an agreement in place.
In the early days I did work based on a handshake. I would have a scope of work outlined, but no agreement signed by the client. To be fair, sometimes things went smoothly and I got everything I needed and was paid. But the times that things got rocky, I had no legal recourse, and that sucked.
Having an agreement in place gives you peace of mind. Having a contract shows the other party that you’re serious and sets the baseline for the professionalism you both should display.
2. They do a million freebies for “experience.”
One of the things that I so adamantly preach over at my personal branding practice
is that if you offer something of value, you should be fairly compensated for it. If someone thinks you are good enough to do the work, it means you are also good enough to be paid. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have asked you.
People who work because they feel they need the experience are essentially letting others take advantage of them. Now, I’m not talking about internship experience. That is absolutely important, and it’s a great way to build your resume if you are looking for a job. But if you are starting a business, you don’t need a ton of experience under your belt. You just have to be able to do the work.
3. They don’t ask for a deposit.
Ever been asked to sign an agreement where you would be paid at the project completion, after the client received payment from their client, sponsor, funder, etc.? I have. But now, I laugh at such agreements. If you are embarking on a year’s, a month’s, or even a day’s worth of work, demand to be paid a deposit up front. I typically ask for 50 percent, but for lengthier projects, will split it up into three payments (or a monthly fee).
Thing is, if the client can’t pay at least 25 percent of the total fee upfront, they probably don’t have the money to pay the full bill at the end. Once you’ve done the work, you’ve lost your ability to bargain.
Remember—if your client sends you an agreement, you can speak up and question the terms. Ask for an amended/updated contract before you sign. Contracts are amended all the time.
4. They don’t make a name for themselves.
Whether through personal branding, carving out a niche, or creating a signature experience (either via social media or through an in-person event) so many independent consultants become so married to doing the work that they forget they are running a business
When you are running a business, your marketing cannot take a back seat. Besides, when you’re done with the most amazing project of the month, or your favorite client runs out of money, you still have to be able to go out there and get more work.
5. They keep their employee mentality.
When you’re just getting out there, sometimes it’s exciting and you just want to do a good job. So you don’t market yourself, you don’t keep track of where your leads are coming from, and you don’t go out networking for more business. You keep your nose stuck to the computer, or one hand on your iPhone at all times in case the client calls.
Those are the traits of an employee. You have to shake that mindset and remember that although it’s crucial to do good work, it’s also crucial to keep your name out there to keep the work coming in.
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6. They don’t set boundaries.
When you work for someone else, you have to follow their rules. When you start a business, you can run it the way you want to. You should make allowances for your clients, sure, but they shouldn’t be calling all the shots.
Don’t be afraid to go to the table and say how you work, what the client should expect, and how much they should anticipate hearing from you or talking to you in person. When you set expectations up front, you will avoid a lot of headaches later.
Amanda Miller Littlejohn is an award-winning communicator, personal branding strategist, PR coach, and small business marketing consultant. Find Amanda online at amandamillerlittlejohn.com or on twitter @amandamogul. A version of this story originally appeared on Miller Littlejohn Media's blog.