Finding Your First Freelancing Client, and Keeping Them
There’s a lot more to being a freelancer than waking up at 10AM every day, making a hearty breakfast, brewing some good coffee, and typing your way to success on your laptop while you’re still in your pajamas.
…Not! In fact, since becoming a freelancer I’ve woken up earlier than I have ever before. Why? Because my fate is in my own hands. Waking up even one hour earlier gives me an extra 5 hours per week. Think of how productive you could be with an extra 5 hours! But, as easy as it sounds sometimes, things don’t always go that smoothly.
At first, the work doesn’t come your way as often as you’d like. And, if you did wake up at 10 AM, it’s probably because you went to bed at 2 AM because of tight time-frames from clients. Before you get to this stage, you have to make a name for yourself, and actually find your first client.
And once you’ve found them, you need to learn how to keep them. But more on keeping clients later.Once you get established with your freelancer brand, you’ll be so grateful for all of the upfront work you are doing now to attract good clients. Here’s the deal, if you want to be a successful freelancer, there are four skills you have to master. They are:
Let’s break down each one.
Marketing yourself as a freelancer
Alright, so you’re a freelancer now. You’re most likely very good at what you do, and chances are you’re quite passionate about it too. So from what it seems, you’re the ideal person to hire for a project, right? Always keep this in mind: you’re now the expert!
Here’s the thing though, many of the independent workers out there will be just as talented and motivated as you. These two traits are sort of mandatory for everyone who is their own boss. Freelancers are passionate, talented people in general, so you need to find something unique to set yourself apart from others.
Now, you can’t just sit around waiting for clients to find you and appreciate your talent. But instead, you should start to market yourself. The first thing you have to do is find yourself a niche. Being a specialist, not a generalist, will allow you to get even better at your freelancing job. Crazy as it may seem, narrowing your area of expertise doesn’t mean fewer clients will be interested in working with you.
On the contrary, you’ll find that most of them are looking to hire experts, rather than people with approximate knowledge of an entire field. No one wants a jack of all trades, so don’t attempt to be one. For instance, consider you want to hire someone to design infographics for you. Would you hire someone who is a graphic designer, or a freelancer who specializes in infographics?
Find freelance clients through blogging
A massive advantage you can have right out of the gate is to start blogging. It will improve your writing skills, all the while keeping you motivated to post content regularly. This is also a great way to keep in contact with your followers, some of whom could become your future clients. And it’s always an elegant way to provide potential clients with examples of previous work.
Blogging gives you a natural way to stay on top of industry news, and then comment on that news in a intelligent way. This will also act as a quasi-portfolio for prospective clients, who when researching you will see that you’re on top of current industry trends and a thought leader in the space.
Having an up-to-date blog with snippets of your projects, personal updates, and industry commentary, shows that you are passionate and organized – two skills highly appreciated in the freelancing world.
Finding clients through networking
Network. In the gig industry, more than anywhere, contacts are your business and are truly invaluable. You never know where your next big project will come from, but one thing is for sure: the more people you keep in touch with, the more likely you are to build a reputation as a great freelancer and expert in your field.
Social media, for instance, is perfect for engaging in dialogue with peers and clients in your industry. Make it a point of getting the conversation going on your LinkedIn with your ideal clients.
Make it a practice of connecting with one professional in your chosen niche on LinkedIn once a week. Comment on their posts, and engage with them. Don’t sell anything! Just show you are an intelligent commentator. If you can’t find individuals on LinkedIn you can connect with, start be following a company in your niche. Comment meaningfully on their posts.
How to stand out from the freelance crowd
Once you start to market yourself as a freelancing brand, you’ll automatically start to stand out from the crowd. The truth is, most freelancers don’t do any of this. You on the other hand, are not like regular freelancers.
You need to let all those potential clients know that you are not only different from the freelance crowd, but your experience makes you a better choice. Look at your competition and ask yourself one question: If you were a client, would you choose yourself over other freelancers? Try to answer that as honestly as possible.
Now, unless that voice in the back of your head screamed something like ‘hell yeah’, ‘you bet I would’, ‘of course’ or ‘absolutely’, there’s room for improvement. As the amazing Derek Sivers tells us; if it’s not a HELL YES! Then, it’s a no.The best thing you can do to stand out from the crowd is to position yourself as a thought leader in the niche you’re operating in.
This is why blogging and staying on top of industry trends is so important to your brand. Post on social media about these topics, write about them, and reach out to others to speak with them about it. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box either.
When you’re working with a client, for instance, you shouldn’t just blindly follow their instructions. If you feel there’s a better, more efficient way of solving a problem, then by all means, let your client know about it.
Remember, you’re the expert. At the end of the day, they’re the client so they decide, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned is that most clients appreciate honesty and expert advice. It’s why they hired you!
How to write a killer proposal
Whenever you write a proposal for a particular job, your cover letter isn’t the only that your client will be reading. Depending on the type and the size of the project, you may be competing with anything from 10 to 100 other freelancers.
In fact, it’s highly unlikely that the client will even read the first few lines of every cover letter they get. So, if you’re applying to the job through a freelancing platform like Upwork or Guru, you’d better catch their attention from the very beginning.
We’ve already talked about the importance of having a profile picture that makes you look professional and friendly.
And we’ve already said that your job title must be good too, if you want it to draw someone’s attention. So when the client is scrolling down, looking through applicants, you can be sure that they will pay most attention to the ones who catch their eye. They will skim through the list. And if they actually start reading your cover letter, then you are lucky. Let’s assume that you are. Now it’s your chance to impress, so you’d better make a strong entrance.
Start off with a witty statement or something personalized, and then move on to why you would be not just a good fit for the job, but the best. If a client is in a particular niche you’ve operated before, comment on that.
If they’re from a city you’re familiar with, comment on that. If you’ve done similar work before, comment on that.
If their company has had a recent achievement, COMMENT! Most importantly: Do a little research about the client before you submit your proposal.
Saying something like, “Hey Sandra, I was really excited to see your job posting because I in fact just read your recent whitepaper on XYZ, and I particularly loved section ACB about BLAH.” Showing a potential freelance client that you’re already familiar with the company will go a long way, or at least get you on their short-list for further scrutiny.
Proposal do’s and dont’s
Sell your strengths, and highlight the most attractive skills that you possess not in general, but for the specific needs that the client has for that particular job. Don’t ramble on about irrelevant stuff.
There’s no room for filler content in an online proposal. This is not a novel about your whole professional life. Your potential client wants an online researcher for a report about food research. Outline exactly what experience you have that will help you accomplish their task in a short paragraph and bullet points.
Relevant experience helps, but make sure you personalize your cover letter for your potential client, make it all about their needs. Very often freelancers will have a generic cover letter that they will copy and paste into every job application. You can have a general template, but you should customize to fit the requirements of the job and client.
Those who paste generic cover templates rarely get chosen for the job. Writing a new proposal each time you apply to a new job can be a nuisance, not to mention time consuming. Especially since time is always of the essence when applying to jobs.
As a rule, the faster you reply to a job posting, the faster the client notices your application. What you can do is write a few different versions of the same proposal, each of them tailored to the types of jobs that you usually apply to. If you specialize in writing, say, articles, resumes and product descriptions, then you may want to have three cover letters.
And when you find an interesting job, take the appropriate proposal and customize it so that the client will feel like you’ve written it specifically for their project. The more you apply for jobs and tailor your proposal, the easier it will get as you’ll have a lot of examples to work from. Make sure you save all of your proposals in your virtual filing cabinet for use later.
The biggest problem I’ve seen with freelancer proposals is the majority of applicants do not read the entire job proposal. They see the headline, fire up a template cover letter, and move on. These freelancers rarely get hired. And finally, the job description. It’s there for you to read!
Show the client that you’ve understood what they want. Many also leave small tasks in the job description they expect applications to do or take note of. So read the entire description!
Going the extra mile: Anticipate freelance client questions
If there is something you are not certain about, do not hesitate to ask questions.
Don’t worry, you won’t look stupid.
On the contrary, as long as your questions are pertinent, you’ll make a good impression. You’ll show the client that you’re interested enough and eager about their work. Anticipating their needs won’t go unnoticed either. As you become more experienced, you will see that most clients will likely ask for more details after you’ve submitted your proposal.
Create a succinct proposal that is personalized, includes relevant experience, and speaks to their freelance client’s specific needs.
Once your proposal is submitted, you’ve almost guaranteed you’ll get your proposal read, as most freelancers use templated proposals. Add to that a follow-up contact from you to the client with a relevant question about the job, and you’ll ensure you have a really good chance of landing that freelance job. In summary…