How To Make Your First Freelance Gig Come To You (Updated)
You need clients to build your credibility→
Clients need credibility to work with you→
You need clients to build your credibility
And the freelancer never escaped the Catch-22.
If this is what you are suffering from as well, I got supplies.
Read on to find out how you can build your online credibility, whether you are jumping from a full-time job to freelancing or starting afresh.
The most effective thing to start doing when you are trying to make it as a freelancer is to build your presence around the internet.
- If you are a fresher just starting to work, you would need something to prove your credibility to your first client before you start using your clients name for credibility.
- If you are moving from a working job, your clients will still need to see your individuality and it can be used as a great introduction point. And truthfully, having an online presence is always a feather on the hat.
Here’s how you can start:
- Blogging: Because, what better way to establish credibility than signing up on a high-quality blogging website. Websites like Medium and WordPress can give you the visibility and the platform that you need for building up your reputation.
- Discussion forums: GitHub, Behance, Twitter, Upwork – the internet is swarming with such great platforms to become a part of a community and let yourself known through your skills and knowledge.
- Social media: No one, today, is oblivious to the wonders that social media does to one’s career. Use it.
- Partner up: If you are just starting out, start networking with freelancers in your niche and partner with them for a project. It is a great to get launched into the field, gain learning and experience.
Secret tip- Use blogs/podcasts/free email courses to provide little known trivia (secret tips), your opinions on your niche-relevant topics, or other educational information to your prospects.
Make yourself a Business
When you step into the arena of freelancing, you are not an employee with a career, you are a one-woman (or man) business. But many new freelancers end up making mistakes like saying “yes” to everything, treating the income as an “extra” income, not taking the work seriously.
All these things tend to set up the stage for you (quite incorrectly), and you fall into a vicious cycle. But it’s still not too late. Here’s how you can correctly kick start freelancing.
Set up a website & portfolio
These two things seem like a lot of work and money, and truth be told, even a little intimidating. I get it.
However, the benefits of having a professional website in place can easily outweigh those fears. And the great news is that you do not even need to build an absolutely tech savvy website and even the most basic layout will gain you enough credibility (unless you are, in fact, a web developer)
Also, investing in getting a good domain name and website conveys your seriousness and professionalism.
Here’s what you need to remember before getting started.
- Layouting: Mapping, brainstorming, outlining, finding a path, whatever you call it, its purpose is to give a concrete direction to your website. While creating a visual structure of your website, you need to answer questions like: What do I want to highlight? What should be the first thing that people should see? How should be the flow of the website? After that, you can choose from an existing template easily available around the internet or go from scratch.
- Branding: Selecting the colour palette, selecting the images, designing the logo and typography, are all a part of your branding strategy. Because all these things put together will make your website memorable enough for people to take a round trip.
- Relevance: Your website is your open ground to play and you can decide how any visitor will see it. Strategically peppering information, links and images all through the site will help you in building up a relevant platform for your audience. Some of the most important pages to add to your website are the home page, services page, contact page, testimonials, projects page and the about page. These pages will allow your audience and prospect clients to gain every important information about you and your work. Some highly recommended “extra pages” can also be added like FAQs and blog section (works like a charm for your SEO ranking). In fact, you can use visual content to improve your marketing strategy.
- Mobile compatibility: With close to 75% of internet users using their smartphones to access any online site, making your website compatible for mobile phones should be in block letters on your “to-do list”.
Market yourself as an industry expert
Amongst the population of over 7 billion, there are far too many freelancers for every niche possible.
And, even out of those, too many freelancers are trying to tap into every little area instead of focusing on the one (or few) skill(s) that they’re confident in.
When you are starting out new, it is important to highlight your strengths and working up to establishing yourself as an industry expert.
This is important in order to build your credibility in front of clients and scoring better projects every time.
Simply put, gaining expertise (and focussing on it) in one area will make you a big fish in a small pond.
Pitch like a professional
More times that often, newbie freelancers forget that they are the ones providing a valuable service to their clients. And instead of conversing as equals and pitching their offers with the right kind of authority, they end up requesting for “favours”.
Once again, freelancing is not a simple job, it turns an individual into a whole business. This is why it is important for you pitch your ideas as a confident professional and run a successful outreach campaign.
And surely, you might be sending out mails for an “exhausting” number projects everyday, but still it is important to be thorough with each one and tailoring your pitches according to every prospect.
Let’s see how you can do it.
- Find the right person: Here’s the thing – the most easily (and obviously) available contact details on any website will be to a very busy customer service inbox or phone. And when you can not reach out to the person in charge, the chances of landing that project (or even having someone read your mail) are pretty thin. Research more about the company through their website, find a “team” page, if their direct contacts are not available then find them on social media sites like LinkedIn, and contact them.
- Personalise: The idea behind personalisation of an email is to not sound like a random salesperson, or worse, a bot.
And you can do this in a number of ways,
- Leverage a mutual connection. It is a great way to instantly grab attention.
- Use their name more than once. It is the oldest connection-building trick in the book.
- Flatter. It works the best. Go through their website, mention a relevant interview/podcast/book/article, compliment something you like about it and build your pitch up on that.
- Keep it short (and warm): There is a lot to do in the world and reading emails is nobody’s favourite past-time. So even if you are itching to use the big words and bezaddle them with your formal email writing skills, don’t. Be quick, direct and enthusiastic above anything else.
Here’s something that might help you.
This one email checks out every important thing about “establishing yourself as a business”
– It makes the sender an expert in the opening line.
– They offer advice and solution
– They even give a free service
Secret Tip: Keep an eye out for inquiries from prospective clients. Things that you say “no” to today, can become your marketing material or added skill in the future.
Keep your rates consistent
It’s tempting to accept work at lower rates when there is no work – this lowers your credibility and makes the client think that you do not have confidence in your own skills.
What this means: Self-doubt and thinking “I wouldn’t pay that much for this service, why would the client” are, although inevitable, but misleading thoughts. Do not give in to them and stick to your correctly calculated hourly rate.
Generally, freelancers figure out their desired salary and take the 40 hours/week-52 weeks/year approach to find their hourly price. AND then end up lowering their prices according to the client’s asking.
The math is right but AGAIN, you are no more working in an office with employment benefits and there are a lot of other things to take care of. Let’s see what to do instead.
- Begin with your target salary. Let’s say it’s $70,000.
- Calculate your overheads and other expenses (there are many) – web hosting and internet, software for invoicing, accounting, legal, tax prep (and/or person you are paying), unpaid payment allowance (very important!), marketing expenses, coworking membership, hardware (mobile, laptop, anything else), project management tools, healthcare, and other miscellaneous things. Suppose it came out to be $22,000.
- Your new salary becomes – $92,000
- Now, work hours. The 40 hours/week; 52 weeks/year approach lands you at 2080, but, you probably picked up freelancing for that popular “flexible working hours” thingy. SO, Subtract your vacations, holidays, possible-sick days, and an allowance of non-billable hours. Let’s say you have, 2 weeks of vacation = 80 hours, 8 holidays = 64 hours, 5 sick days = 40 hours, 25% allowance for non-billable hours. It’ll be, 2080 – 184 hours = 1896 hours
- 1896 hours * 0.75 = 1422 billable hours/year. NOW your per hour rate will come to $64.7 ~$65/hour.
What this doesn’t mean: This does not mean that you cannot negotiate with your clients but if your clients are straightaway giving you the job without negotiating, something might be wrong with your rates.
Secret tip: If it’s been a while and you have not given yourself a raise, here’s how you can do it without scaring away your existing clients.
- Let your existing clients know well in advance about the date from which you will increase your rates.
- Do not give it a steep raise.
- Do it around the same time every year.
- And of course, give some loyalty discount.
Build a network
It’s 2019. The world has gone digital. Nothing can still, however, trump the power of personal connections when it comes to “networking”.
So even when you can manage to get everything done with zero face-to-face contact, you should not because personal connections:
- Build credibility like nothing else
- Show your clients your seriousness and professionalism when you show up for a meeting, dressed appropriately.
- Make you recognizable.
Now that we know why it is important, let’s see how you can do it.
- Joining online communities: Commenting on blogs and forums,engaging in discussions, joining groups on facebook, networking on LinkedIn, are all important entry points for your freelance career. They can even become your introduction points for any future connection building. In fact, there are many specific platforms that you can go to based on your niche or industry. For example, Code Review or GitHub for developers and Dribble or Behance for designers.
- Local networking events and trade shows: It may be at your regular co-working space or anyone else’s, attending these local events can bring you closer to more opportunities. Upwork suggests that rather than focussing on a niche, you should target an industry to build your network. And trade shows are the best places to do that. They allow you to connect to tons of potential clients and leads.
- Follow-up: Making new connection works the best when you keep them alive. After every gathering, meeting or networking event when you leave with new contacts, remember follow-up on a timely basis.
The experts would say waiting 3 days before the first follow up is ideal. Here’s how you can go about your first follow-up.
- Provide context – “I’m just following up to see what you thought about my [mail subject]
- Up the ante, if possible – add a valuable and relevant case study, research, or result with your follow up mail.
- Explain why it is important (for them) – “My [skill/service] can really help your [cause/business/intent]. I’d love to have a quick chat about it.”
- Add CTA – “How about Wednesday 7PM your time for a call?” or “Should I send you some samples?”
- The end – “looking forward to hearing from you”
- Social media: This one goes without saying. Social media is not just hyped today, it has become one of the biggest contributors in people’s success. Build your presence online and demonstrate your skills for prospects to believe in you. It will grow your reputation and keep your clients engaged and aware of anything you wish they get to know – anything from a new certification to a feat.
Secret Tip: Network with your competition. Yes! Instead of getting worried about competitors sweeping up your clients, think of them as potential connectors because there is plenty of work for every freelancer.
We have long established that your clients want to work with an expert and the best way for them to know that you are an expert is for you have a proof of that.
Some ways, other than building a social media presence, that you can apply here are,
- Testimonials: Ask your clients for testimonials (you can follow the same tips as the pitching email for writing this mail as well). For getting a quicker reply, give them some example testimonials to work with. Once you get it, where to put it? On the homepage of your website, your social media pages, local business listings and any other freelance networks which helps you in gaining clients
- Certifications – As a new freelancer, the most credibility that you will gain is by having certificates for relevant skills. And with eLearning being a rage today, there are many online courses that you can join and get certified for without much hassle.
- Build case studies (wherever applicable): If you are into consulting, case studies become a must for you. Showing the results of your services directly affecting their revenue can be extremely attractive for prospects.
Secret Tip: ALWAYS document your project progress and take pictures in meetings – your testimonials and case studies will build themselves up.
While building connections and acquiring clients might seem overwhelming at first, in the long run, it can lead you to absolute financial freedom. And as the concept comes with several challenges, this post targeted those to bridge the gap between you and your first gig.