As someone who is both an Upwork freelancer and someone who hires freelancersbad freelancer habits, I have worked with dozens (if not hundreds) of freelancers over the years. Some have been excellent at what they do. Many have been very good. But, sadly, some have failed to live up to expectations.

In this post, I’ll share a few bad habits that seem to be common among underperforming freelancers. If you aim to be successful as a freelancer, you’ll probably want to avoid developing these habits!

Bad Habit # 1: Overpromising

Some freelancers will promise their clients the world.

Write up a legal contract? No problem.

Launch a new website in 3 days? I can do that.

Overhaul our marketing automation platform? You got it.

If a freelancer says “yes” to everything that the client asks him to do, it’s unlikely that the quality of work will be very good. After all, who can realistically write legal contracts, do amazing web marketing work, and master complicated cloud-based technologies? Very few, if anyone. Even if they could, there are only so many hours in a day. Freelancers who take on too much run the risk of becoming burnt out, which is bad for everyone.

Know what you’re good at and do it. If you’re too busy, just say so. If you can’t do something, be transparent. Clients will thank you for your honesty.

Bad Habit # 2: Sending Really, Really Long Emails

How long would it take you to compose a 500-word email?

If you’re a fast typer, it would probably take at least 30 minutes – perhaps longer. Compare this to a brief conversation, which might only take a few minutes. Most people can talk faster than they can type; yet, some freelancers just love to send really, really long emails. I suspect it comes with the territory of being “virtual.” Having real conversations can be uncomfortable – sending an email just “feels” easier (even if it takes more time).

I believe long emails are counterproductive for several reasons. First, there’s the tangible cost associated with composing a lengthy message. If you can get an answer in a five-minute conversation, why waste the client’s money by spending more time composing an email? What’s worse, an email offers very limited value to the client. Compare this cost and time investment to that of creating a blog post. With roughly the same amount of words, a blog post lives on the internet forever and could generate continuous value for your client’s business. An email, on the other hand, might have some short-term benefit from an operational standpoint. However, it’s likely the message will be ignored or overlooked entirely. When this occurs, the email has created a doubly negative impact to the client’s bottom line.

High-quality freelancers will bypass long emails and drive for faster results and answers – whether that’s through a quick phone call, instant message, or text message.

Bad Habit # 3: Decentralizing Work

I’m the first person to acknowledge the value of software as a service (SaaS) platforms. In fact, several of my clients are software companies, and I’ve even launched a dedicated service for SaaS blogging. With that being said, some freelancers will infiltrate their client’s IT infrastructure and sign up for multiple software tools – many of which have overlapping features.

This creates chaos within the client’s organization, making it impossible for team members to do their work. No one knows which system to use, so people get frustrated and stop trying.

Smart freelancers adapt to their client’s existing infrastructure, and judiciously recommend new tools only when absolutely necessary.

Bad Habit # 4: Refusing to Delegate

Companies hire freelancers from every corner of the world. It stands to reason that a freelancer in San Francisco will, in most cases, have a higher hourly rate than someone in a developing country. It’s just plain economics.

It’s therefore understandable why clients ask higher paid freelancers to delegate downward. Problem is, not every freelancer likes the idea of delegation. Sure, the client may offer incentives for delegation or espouse the merits of “continuous collaboration.” But, even then, some team members still refuse to pass on work, hoarding it all for themselves. This is not only destructive for the client, but it’s also a very myopic view from the freelancer’s perspective.

Delegation is not a missed opportunity. Rather, it’s a great opportunity to show off your management skills. The world needs managers – so become one.

Develop Better Freelancing Habits

If you’re looking to become successful as a freelancer, keep a close eye on what other people are doing. You can always learn by observing others – even freelancers who drop the ball.

Stay focused on developing good habits, provide excellent value, and you’re sure to have a bright freelancing future.

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Matt Keener is the original "Executive in Sweatpants," having built a successful online consulting business (from home). His best-selling book offers tips for capitalizing on outsourcing and freelancing. Matt holds an MBA and has been featured by many recognizable brands, including Upwork (formerly oDesk), Elance, Insightly, the Dave Ramsey Show, and

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