Freelancing is an awesome way to make a living—some studies indicate that it can improve your quality of life—but that doesn’t mean it isn’t challenging. From finding time to market your business to dealing with the inevitable income roller coaster ride, being self-employed isn’t always a walk in the park.
What’s one of the biggest roadblocks you need to overcome time and time again? Actually getting a freelance job (and, you know, earning a paycheck).
Considering that one in three Americans classify themselves as freelancers, there’s a lot of competition out there when it comes to finding new clients and landing new jobs—meaning that standing out and adding that project to your to-do list can become all the more difficult.
Whether you’re applying for a posted role, bidding on a project, or sending a cold email, you need to be prepared to make yourself stand out (preferably in a good way—and not in an “email that prospective client twice a day every day until they respond” sort of way).
So, how exactly can you do that? How can you help yourself get a freelance job? Well, nobody would know better than the people at creative agencies who actually hire freelancers. I chatted with them to get some insights into what makes them want to reach out to a potential freelancer—as well as what makes them want to run far, far away.
1. Know your personal brand
“Freelancers with an authentic, relevant, and cohesive personal brand often stand out from the crowd,” says Diane Domeyer, Executive Director of The Creative Group, a creative staffing agency. Domeyer explains that this includes your visual identity—think your business cards and your website—as well as your verbal identity, like your elevator pitch and resume content.
Figuring out your personal brand can feel sort of intangible. But, Domeyer has a simple tactic that can help you gain some clarity on what sorts of things you should be emphasizing.
Freelancers with an authentic personal brand are the ones who stand out from the crowd. Click To Tweet
“A good way to nail down your personal brand is to create a one-page brief on yourself,” she says, “This exercise forces you to craft a targeted message based on your skills, qualifications, passion projects, accomplishments, and career aspirations.”
She recommends getting started by listing everything you have to offer a potential client, and then prioritizing the two or three most important aspects that you want that prospect to know—that’s your brand.
Once you have that ironed out? It’s important to ensure that you leverage it everywhere. “Apply it consistently across all channels, including your resume, social media profiles, portfolio, and elevator pitch,” Domeyer adds.
2. Polish your portfolio
With your personal brand in place, it’s time to turn your focus toward your portfolio. “When looking for creative skillsets for our creative agency, the freelancer needs to have a hard-hitting, beautifully designed, and clearly articulated portfolio,” shares Lindsay Brady, Group Director, Production at Big Spaceship LLC, a digital agency.
What your own portfolio looks like will depend on what sort of capacity you work in (a portfolio will be different for a designer versus a writer, for example). However, your portfolio shouldn’t be something you throw together at the last minute before a meeting with a prospective client, and it should clearly illustrate what you bring to the table.
“It needs to tell us in a few sentences what the freelancer has to offer and how their skillsets can take the work to the next level,” Brady adds. Having a polished and professional portfolio in your arsenal will be a huge asset to you when you’re trying to get a freelance job.
3. Use references
Behold the power of word-of-mouth marketing. 84 percent of consumers state that they either completely or somewhat trust recommendations from friends, colleagues, and family about products and services—making these personal recommendations the highest ranked source for trustworthiness.
Think this doesn’t apply to your prospective freelance clients and your ability to get a freelance job? Think again.
“References are also a big win,” says Brady, “If you can showcase who you have worked with or real testimonials from agencies you have worked with, there’s often times when references can enhance the opportunity to be hired.”
So, when you wrap up a project for a happy client? Don’t forget to ask for a quick testimonial that you could use on your website or even directly in project proposals. They can really help you land gigs.
“One key piece of feedback I get over and over is [that] my testimonials are one of the reasons people work with me,” says Halley Gray, a marketing expert and career coach, in a piece for Fast Company.
4. Communicate frequently
Effective communication is huge, particularly when the vast majority of freelancers work remotely. So, right from the get-go, you need to be able to demonstrate that you won’t mysteriously fall off the radar and leave that client in a lurch with nothing but radio silence.
“Communicating and getting back to us as soon as they are available or interested,” states Brady about another thing she looks for when vetting freelancers.
She also mentions that she appreciates freelancers who keep the agency updated on their own availability. “It’s great hearing from freelancers about when they would become available again,” she explains, “This keeps them top of mind and gives us the tools we need to resource our project quickly.”
Plus, this frequent communication and added effort to maintain a relationship could help lead you to what’s often considered the holy grail of all freelance jobs: retainers.
1. Complain about past clients
That past client that took forever to pay you. The client who kept adding more and more to the project—without increasing the budget. Or, that pesky one who continuously gave totally baseless feedback and criticisms.
You’ve likely had your fair share of groan-worthy clients. But, that doesn’t mean you need to divulge those dirty details to a prospective new one.
“One of the biggest red flags is complaining about a past job,” shares Domeyer, “Badmouthing former employers, colleagues, or clients may lead hiring managers to question your professionalism and attitude.”
But, what about when you’re asked to talk about work-related challenges? You can be honest about any previous roadblocks and how you overcame them. But, Domeyer states that it’s important that you do so with tact. “The ability to describe difficult situations diplomatically can turn the tables in your favor.”
Basically, your mom’s age-old advice was right: If you don’t have anything nice to say, you’re usually better saying nothing at all. Demonstrating that level of professionalism is a necessary first step in helping you get a freelance job.
2. Neglect to update information
When a potential client looks online to find out more about you, what do you want them to see? That awesome project you just wrapped up last month? Or, the moldy skills, portfolio pieces, and information you haven’t bothered to update in three years? Probably the first one, right?
“Portfolio sites or other sites showcasing freelancer work should be up to date on what the freelancers are working on,” shares Brady, “Many times freelancers’ comps are the best to portray what they are working on.”
Set a monthly reminder for yourself to comb through your website, LinkedIn portfolio, and any other sites where you have your information and samples listed so that you can make sure to knock the cobwebs off every now and then. It’ll only take a few minutes, but can make all the difference when trying to get a freelance job.
3. Let skills get rusty
When you work in a creative field, you know just how fast things change. If you want to remain relevant and impressive? You need to stay on top of those changes.
“Since technology changes so quickly, it’s best to showcase that you as the freelancer can pivot at any moment and be able to keep up with the changing avenues,” shares Brady.
While it can be tough to manage all of the different hats you need to wear as a freelancer—from being your own accountant to your own office manager (hey, AND CO can help!)—make an effort to still leave time for some professional development. Whether it’s reading an industry-relevant book or taking an online course to pick up a new needed skill, making the time to stay on top of things is sure to set you apart.
Over to you
Landing gigs as a freelancer isn’t just important—it’s necessary (you want a paycheck, right?). But, with so much competition out there, figuring out how to stand out and score a new client isn’t always easy.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to get noticed and ultimately get hired. Take this advice from the experts, and you’re much more likely to add more projects and clients to your ever-growing roster.