The image of the freelancer is often portrayed as one of an underdog, always scrapping for work, fighting for a good rate, or just to get paid. Yet, with a little effort, it is possible, no matter what the reality, to present yourself to potential clients as a firm, calm and respected professional.
This personal brand and tone set the standard for which you and your work will be judged. The more value you offer clients, the more work you will get and the higher your rates.
All of which help build your brand further in a rising cycle. Follow this advice, with a little spin for your own markets and skill sets, and see how high you can fly.
Get Things Right From the Start
One of the maxims of freelancing is never working for free, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start writing, designing, photographing, project managing, or coding straight away. A personal blog, or one dedicated to fields you are interested in, provides a direct and simple method to showcase your work.
Go to town on any resume, profile, or portfolio site to make them professional, memorable, and striking. Remember to add links to your business social pages and contact details, highlighting your core skills, professional past, or achievements. Ensure that your positive personality traits come across, this is not a resume for another cubicle position, let your character shine through.
Use your pages to discuss the news, big issues, and events that relate to your field, or demonstrate how you would solve problems, leverage opportunities, and exploit them for work. Use social media, specifically LinkedIn and Twitter, along with forum or comment posts to get involved in the discussion around your professional area. These will help get your name recognized while making a contribution and increasing your visibility.
Key Point: Use LinkedIn for a full biography, listing your skills and experience. Use Twitter for the day-to-day chat and making contacts, but direct people to your LinkedIn whenever possible. Focus on projects around your core skills or interests first, before branching out.
Do: Engage far and wide, the aim is to build relationships and demonstrate that you are an active part of a market, vertical, ecosystem, or can demonstrate domain expertise. Be polite and encouraging at all times. Look for high-quality work, either by approaching individual companies or scrutinizing freelancer sites for quality roles.
Don’t: Mix social and personal comments with your professional persona, creating a brand requires some discipline and will not benefit from a heated argument, abuse, or irrelevance.
Make Each Project Count
Your work counts for about 90% of your brand. High-quality project results will help sell you to new clients and win repeat business.
You only get one chance to make a first impression, so those initial projects will naturally be polished to a fine shine. Use every method of quality control available, reread any text multiple times, check coding or designs, and consider every recommendation or finding from the view of the client.
Before you submit a project, reread the original brief and make sure that every element of it is accounted for. If there was no formal brief, then check any email or other correspondence to ensure you haven’t missed anything.
For any publicly-viewable completed project, add it to your LinkedIn page. Share it regularly and build a top-five of projects that you will show to prospective clients as part of any pitch.
Key Point: As the work with a client becomes regular, maintain that initial level of focus, once a client suspects you are there for their easy money, they will try to find someone else. Create a dictionary, style guide, or design brief for each client and add to it any “language” that makes each piece of work stand out to help you build and improve every time.
Do: Consider each project as being worth 10X what you’re getting paid. Create checklists of every process you went through to create those first projects, and ensure each step is repeated to maintain consistency.
Don’t: Become lazy. All it takes is one bad piece of work to lose a client. Avoid the temptation to repeat the same work, or repurpose old material, it might not cause a problem immediately, but will eventually catch up with you.
Expand Your Brand
With some successful projects behind you, you can aim for where you want to be in your freelancing life. Not every freelance creative, consultant or analyst is destined to be a rock star, guru, or thought leader, but find your space in the market, where budgets match expectations.
Don’t be afraid to turn down work that won’t benefit you or raise your profile, and never take on an “impossible” project, no matter how confident you feel. Do be confident, but flexible within reason, in any negotiations over terms and conditions for each freelance engagement.
Always have a growth mindset when it comes to new work. Look to challenge yourself and keep searching for bigger and better clients.
Learn to refine your pitches for each type of client, and never be afraid to ask for feedback if a pitch doesn’t work. Similarly, if you create or come across a problem during an assignment, be it a delay or other issue, then deal with it promptly, courteously, and realistically. Most clients will be fine if you are upfront about a problem. Hoping it goes away is no way to resolve the issue.
Key Point: Don’t expect clients to come calling right away, but as your build up a body of work, and people become aware of you, then word of mouth and references will
Do: Put passion into your pitches and work, as well as highlighting your brand (where appropriate) as this is one way to differentiate from competitors who are doing it by the numbers.
Don’t: Believe your own hype, you are only as good as your last assignment or project, and starting to rely on it to get your work can see your standards slip.
Naturally, your own path will differ slightly from other freelancers, but the basics remain the same to build your brand and career into a successful example.
About the author
Chris Knight has covered the technology industry for over 10 years, writing about consumer devices, digital careers, and business IT, while still trying to sound like a human being!