Want to learn how to become a freelancer? Learn best practices and tips for success from the pros.
Freelancing can be an incredibly rewarding career where you earn a living while doing what you love and do best. However, getting started can be intimidating and tricky. As the Founder and CEO of the talent curation and freelance recruiting platform ResultsResourcing, Elizabeth Eiss has decades of experience helping independent contractors make connections that grow their businesses.
“Most freelancers are clear on their skill set,” said Eiss, “because when most people go into business for themselves, it’s doing something they love and do well. However, independent contractors often struggle to define their service offerings from the perspective of the client or buyer.
“So, when starting, they should research both their target client and that client’s pain points and buying considerations. That way, when interacting with potential clients, these freelancers can highlight how their skills both fill specific needs and fit holistically into an organization. It’s a way of framing your skills, so the client clearly understands how to best leverage your talent.”
The goal for every independent contractor is to be so busy that they must turn away clients. Unfortunately, new freelancers frequently find themselves in the opposite situation where they struggle to build a client base.
“One of the best ways for independent contractors to acquire new clients is through referrals from prior clients and colleagues,” said Eiss. “Of course, for that scenario to occur, they need to have clients and colleagues. So, new freelancers should turn to job platforms. There are hundreds of platforms available. Some are broad and deep, while others are narrow in focus.”
With so many job platforms to choose from, freelancers must select carefully. Find ones that cater to their target client, offer support and services for a reasonable fee, and view freelancers as valuable talent instead of a people mill. A truly valuable job platform provides direction on how to get work on the platform, delivers quality jobs, helps to perfect a profile, matches the right jobs to the right contractor, and makes it easy to interact with clients.
“You may have to propose a lot in the beginning to build your brand,” said Eiss. “That’s normal. But to really stand out, spend your time wisely and do a great job on fewer proposals. Taking a ‘cut and paste’ approach may seem like it saves time, but most often, ‘cut and paste’ is obvious to the client and sends a message that the client is not worth investing time in a tailored proposal. Remember that proposal may be the 1000th time for you, but it’s the first time client has seen it. Stand out to be found, and always follow up with a thank-you note, if possible.”
Once hired, the primary way for freelancers to build credibility is to approach every job from a place of service. That means not just delivering on expectations but exceeding them in meaningful or unexpected ways.
“I think there is a trend toward the ‘professionalism’ of freelancing. Many contractors are also small business owners themselves and dedicated to their craft. Clients like this because it shows an entrepreneurial mindset, commitment to a profession, and that you’ll be there to serve the client in the long run,” said Eiss.
“Be sure to establish an email address that reflects your brand and company. You also want to showcase your skills with a good LinkedIn profile that includes a services summary and recommendations. While there are numerous social media platforms, my advice is to go where your target client goes. I recommend LinkedIn because it’s everybody’s digital business card. It’s also a place you can own your recommendations and ratings and link to your website or portfolio site.”
Another sticking point for freelancers (including some long-time freelancers) is determining their value and establishing a rate to charge clients.
“Well, you need to know what you want to pay yourself first,” said Eiss. “Once you determine that, research the current market rates and see if they align with your goals. If not, reevaluate, assess your business economics, and set your prices accordingly.
“To be a sustainable business, you need to be profitable, so your time is well invested. Pricing your value or worth leads to building your business confidence and stability. Underpricing will lead to your resentment and not liking the work you contract to do. It will also lead you to jump to the next project that pays more, leaving behind an unhappy, discarded client. Know your worth, and express the value you deliver in the context of the cost. If a client won’t pay what you’re worth, likely, they’re not your target client, and the relationship won’t be satisfying or sustainable.
"After you've worked for a while, you should reexamine your rates. Also, if you can demonstrate your value by showing clients what they get for x, y, and z, offer packages focused on that value delivered instead of billing hourly. Efficient workers can earn more by offering package rates. "
Breaking into freelancing can be a creative process, and it will likely be an iterative one. You may never have complete information about your marketplace. However, loving what you do, receiving a fair value for your work, and seeing every client interaction as a step to expanding your brand and business will make every step of the journey more enjoyable and productive. When you feel this way, it shows, and clients will respond.
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