The decision to take the leap into the freelance world is a big one. It can be softened by going part-time at first, but almost everyone has to get over the initial step of finding their first few clients (except those previously in the corporate world who brought some clients with them).
Getting started presents different challenges for different types of freelancers. For freelance writers, they need examples of previous writing (preferably live published samples on a web site or even a book). For a web designer or web developer, a portfolio of previous projects is usually needed to show what you can do.
What can you do to help get your foot on the ladder in a freelance world with no ladders to speak of? Here we explore what you need to do to move forward successfully.
Develop past projects on your own. For a developer, this may mean creating a few web sites that you privately own yourself, but which can showcase your design skills. For a freelancer writer, it’s possible to publish ezine articles, use other article directories, web 2.0 articles, or your own web sites without actually needing to have been already hired by a client. But either way, you will almost always need a portfolio or samples to demonstrate what you can do.
Establish social media presence. Create a Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. Find relevant stories that will be of interest to prospective clients (not necessarily others in your industry that you’ll be competing with). Post helpful, instructive information. As a freelancer writer, this could be an article about “How to work with a freelance writer most effectively” and for a web designer “How to get the best logo designed”.
Who do you know? Through your own experience you will have met many people in businesses you’ve worked with and people you know. Reconnect with these people, ask them how they are doing before you talk about yourself. Quite often they’ll ask you what you’re doing now and you can introduce your chosen field. You’d be surprised how often someone you’re acquainted with needs your services and this way it doesn’t look like you’re trying to “sell” them.
Attend Trade Shows. If you don’t have the money or size of operation to warrant having your own stand at a trade show, be sure to attend and use the opportunity to network with people who can use your services.
Think: Where Are My Customers? Determine where people who will need your services may be hanging out. Then send a message. This makes your sales or marketing message far more targeted and more likely to succeed. For a freelance writer, a fellow writer may post a thread offering their services with several other prospective clients replying to their message by asking questions. While it’s not polite to hijack the thread by offering your services directly in someone else’s offer thread, there’s nothing to stop you from sending a private message to the people who replied.
Join Trade Associations. Is there a business association near you that could benefit from your involvement? Networking with local businesses in the community could bring your offering to the attention of more people.
Stay visible. Don’t get holed up in front of your computer and forget to socialize. There are numerous opportunities to meet with like-minded business owners and department heads in various social gatherings from a pro-am golf tournament to an industry function.
Provide value. If you run a blog or post to social media, as well as posting about other articles that you’ve found useful, put together some of your own best thoughts on different subjects. If people like or respect your opinion on things, they’re more likely to start to trust you and this can lead to a fruitful long-term association. People rarely like dealing with new people cold without some form of introduction whether that comes from knowing people in common or being introduced to your ideas.
Don’t Forget To Market. If you work alone, then you need to always be marketing. This means putting in an hour or two each day into spreading the word about your services. This can help to keep a steady flow of new projects, rather than finishing a large project and then having nothing to do. It can take a while for people to make business decisions, especially if they are costly or not easily reversible (like choosing a web designer for their new web site). You cannot rush people to a decision even if you’re short on cash-flow. Therefore, keep marketing even while you’re busy in order to ensure you stay that way.
Consider Advertising. Advertising doesn’t have to be as expensive as you think. The point with advertising is to go where your target market is, so you reach the right audience. A full-page glossy ad in a magazine may hit a target demographic of males aged 19-32, but you need to be much more exacting. What web sites are your likely customers probably visiting? What forums are they posting on discussing their business concerns? Can you advertise in these places? Often the cost of a small banner ad isn’t prohibitive and you can test out the results you get.
Referrals. If your clients are happy, they will often be happy to refer you to a friend who can also use your services. Bear in mind with this though that if you under-charge for your services early on, any referrals will usually be from new cheapskates who also expect a cheap deal.
Business cards. It may seem old fashioned these days, but you still need to carry business cards with you. You never know when a surprise conversation will lead to interest and a request for your card. Don’t run out.
Don’t offer anything free. There are some businesses that will target new freelancers and promote how they can help you get started in exchange for free services from you. Remember, there are many ways to locate new customers. Suggest a deal where they pay the regular price for your services and you pay a finder’s fee for any people they refer who become clients. If they won’t agree to that, then they too clearly don’t have much faith that they’ll refer anyone, so why should you believe it either? Get paid for your work.
Be persistent. Marketing takes a certain degree of confidence in the value of what you have to offer. It also takes dogged persistence. You will get many “No” responses because you ever get a “Yes, sure”. If you cannot take rejection of your business proposals, then you surely will not succeed as a freelancer. If you don’t learn to market yourself and your product or services, rarely will people know who you are or care about what you can offer them.
Don’t Price Too Cheaply. A price that’s too cheap can put off people looking for a quality service just as much as pricing higher can get rid of the cheapskates who probably cannot afford to pay anyway. Find out what the fair market price is for your services and price accordingly. If you believe in the value that you offer at that price, for those clients who can afford it, they’ll believe you offer sufficient value too.