You have probably heard your friends or associates who are freelancers have one of two reactions to attracting clients: it is incredibly easy and anyone can do it with networking, or it is the hardest thing ever, so don’t even think about going freelance. In a way, they are both right, and it all depends on your approach. You should be confident as you walk into freelancing, but you also need to be aware of the challenges and how to undercut them. You are not alone in your pursuit of freelance work.
According a study by Intuit, 40 percent of the workforce will be working independently by 2020. So, the fact that others are heavily considering this as an option should cause you to be confident as you walk into freelancing. However, it is wise to be cautious. Thirty-five percent of respondents to a survey by Contently said that securing work as a freelancer was their greatest challenge. Therefore, you also need to be aware of the challenges of acquiring your first client and how to overcome them.
So, here are 15 tips to help you snag your first freelance client.
Get a Lay of the Land
See what your future competition is up to before you start offering your services, or setting up your profile page on a freelance marketplace. For those who rank highly and have many testimonials, see how they present themselves. Do they structure their pricing in a certain way? Do they offer a specific set of revisions for free? See what is normal before you get started. Also, take this time to ensure you possess at least some of these characteristics of being an exemplary freelancer before you send out that first proposal.
Research Pricing Strategies
You are just starting out, so take time to understand what is a fair per-hour or per-project price in your industry. Conventional wisdom says it is a good idea to find the industry average through research and then take off five to ten percent since you are a beginner. Your goal is to show the advantage of hiring you instead of another freelancer, and one of those standards should be based on price.
Come up with Ways to Differentiate Yourself
Will you offer a consultation instead of applying a generalized solution? Are you willing to provide additional revisions for free (or at a meager price)? Find ways in your industry to set you apart from the competition. Again, you have to make yourself attractive next to more advanced freelancers who have the benefit of more contacts and experience. Be willing to go the extra mile, and clients will appreciate you for it.
Have a Portfolio
Much like testimonials, people want to see your work and get a sense for what they are paying for. Creating a digital portfolio of your work would be wise. It is not a bad idea to have a website dedicated to your work, but if you do not have the funds for this, there are tons of free services that allow you to share a certain number of your projects.
Take on Some Free Work
This may seem counterintuitive, but I can attest to the success of taking free work on one of the more generalized freelance marketplaces. When I first started out, I had some writing projects from my current job to show off, but I knew I needed more to look competitive. Therefore, I began taking a few free gigs here and there to build up my portfolio. Those free gigs turned into low-paying projects, and eventually, I had enough work to show off to potential clients. Know that you are building a foundation of work that others can look at.
A great way to do free work that will look good on your portfolio is to do guest posting. You get a link back – possibly to your portfolio or website – and a nice bio on top of showing off your skills. If you are not a writer, make sure that you have permission to share any free work on your portfolio or website.
If you go the route of providing free work, ask clients to submit a testimonial that sheds a favorable light on your work. Include these reviews on your website, portfolio or the freelance marketplace you’ve joined. People listen to reviews and recommendations, so give your first paying client more reason to select you by letting them know others have used your services. They can feel confident knowing that even though you are a beginner, you have established yourself as a reliable freelancer.
Become Active on Social Media
You should take advantage of every free marketing resource that is in your grasp. This includes social media. Pick a primary social media platform to post on daily, and then have at least two others to share your work. This is a great way to position yourself as a thought leader in your industry and add more influence on your work. Twitter and Facebook are excellent platforms on which to showcase your work and tell others about your services. And don’t forget about LinkedIn for your professional profile!
Tell Everyone You Know about What You Do
You never know when a friend of a friend needs someone that offers the services you provide. Don’t be shy, tell everyone you know about your freelance endeavors. At this point, you should have a portfolio, pricing information, and active social media profiles to share with those interested in your services. This has happened to me, and it can be another helpful way to get your name out there.
Visit Networking Events
While a lot of your interactions and business dealings will likely come from an online audience, it is crucial that you do not forget to attend networking events to get your name out there when you can. It doesn’t have to be a weekly thing, but you should make it a point to put yourself in front of people. You never know when a conversation with a new contact can lead to your first (or many more) clients.
Have Business Cards
If you are planning to take the show on the road and visit networking events, this should go without saying. Our generation (millennials and gen z) may not see the need for having business cards, as everyone is on LinkedIn…right? Wrong! Everyone may not be on LinkedIn, and a business card can give you access to those who may not have a strong professional social media presence. Also, having a business card makes you look professional, which is the look you are going for. And your primary links should be on there, so people won’t forget exactly how to find you.
Don’t Limit Your Search to Places Everyone Else is Using
The freelance sphere is a competitive one. However, you may want to take time to look in places other people are not thinking of. I got my start using Craigslist to search for gigs and writing gigs in the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom. Many times, these positions pay a little lower, but they are a great way to get started and land a paying client. Also searching Twitter for #freelancejobs and #(insertyourindustry)jobs can also open you up to positions you likely would have never seen otherwise.
Sometimes it helps to open up your offerings. Obviously, do not take on anything that is outside of your scope of ability, but don’t be too specialized in your search. In my case, I had a lot of experience writing on nonprofit and educational issues. However, I saw there was a considerable need for business and technology writers. So, I leaned on my MBA coursework, took a few courses on business management, and begin to apply for business writing projects.
Always Look for Ways to Add to Your Credibility
When working for a company, much of your credibility comes from the organization itself. As a freelancer, you are representing yourself, so you have to find a way to make yourself look as trustworthy as possible. A great way to do this is to invest in certifications in your field, attend professional development events, and take courses related to the subject matter you address.
Don’t Forget about Your Resume
We talk so much about portfolios that it is easy to leave the resume or CV by the wayside. While your portfolio shows your work, resumes can detail your path to getting there. All your certifications, events attended, and any previous or current employment related to what you do should be found here. Share this along with your portfolio to give potential clients a complete picture of what you offer.
Throughout the Process, Remain Positive
There are a lot of ups and downs when it comes to being a freelancer. One of the hardest things you will do is attract your first client. However, always have confidence in your abilities and what you can offer. Never lose sight of what you know you can do. Maintaining a positive and hopeful attitude will keep you motivated and attractive to potential clients. Remember the old story of the tortoise and the hare. Many times, “slow and steady” wins the race. Do not become distracted by others who are getting many clients quickly. It likely took them awhile to get to that point.
The popularity of the gig economy is exploding. The independent workforce in the United States collectively earned $1 trillion in 2016. The median income for a career freelancer is between $20,000 and $30,000, so there is surely money to be made as a freelancer.
More and more people are shedding their permanent positions to go freelance. It is an exciting time for freelancers everywhere, but with this comes greater competition. Landing your first freelance client is all about differentiating yourself, and searching for clients using fresh avenues.
Once you find your ideal pricing strategy, take on some free clients to build your portfolio, and position yourself to make the right connections. These methods will make gaining your first paid client easier. Remember that Rome was not built in a day, so this process may take time. However, these steps will help to prepare you for the long-haul.
Chanell Alexander is a freelance writer and content creator. Chanell has worked in nonprofit and business communications for four years, and her writing topics cover automotive industry practices, business and entrepreneurial management tips, and business technology. She is also the owner of The Remote Work Life, a blog that provides tips and resources for remote work professionals. Follow Chanell on Twitter @chanell_trwl for daily tips and insights on remote work and working from home.