The mindset of a freelancer has to be 180 degrees different than one of an employee.
Employees get work sent right to their desk and get a monthly paycheck for their work.
But as a freelancer, you need to have a marketing and business strategy, which includes where you will find work. It’s up to you alone to actively engage and constantly be on the lookout for new projects and business opportunities.
Strategic business diversity
It’s important to understand this – there isn’t one formula that works for all; certain freelancers will find strategy X to work great, while other freelancers will find strategy Y to work best.
My personal belief is that you should never focus all your efforts on one strategy, but rather develop at least two strategies that work well. In other words – “don't put all your eggs in one basket”.
It’s hard to anticipate industry changes and developments, and therefore if you focus your entire efforts on strategy X alone, and one day it fails, you’ll have to start all over again with building a new strategy from scratch.
Where do freelancers find work?
Let's get down to business and talk about 4 effective strategies that I believe are essential for ensuring business growth.
Find one strategy that works really well, and then another, and then one more. Focus your primary efforts on developing strategies A and B simultaneously, and get to strategy C once the first two have been established.
The more reliable sources of income you’ll have, the better chances you’ll have to maintain business growth.
1: Word of mouth & networking
If you're just getting started, it's important to build up your reputation and credibility.
You do this by getting your first few projects completed, and making sure your clients are happy with your work.
Since you don't yet have credibility, and most people aren't familiar with your services, a good place to start is with your family, friends, and connections. Let them know what you're up to and ask if there's anything you can do to help.
If your first few clients are happy with your work, they will be happy to recommend your services to their circle of friends.
There's not too much to it, it's a simple concept.
When you're happy with a service you've been given, you're happy to recommend that service to someone you care about, because you want them to enjoy the same great experience that you had.
The more people who are satisfied with your services, the higher chances of people recommending your work to others.
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During the first couple of years I worked as a part-time freelancer, approximately 70% of the work I was doing came from word of mouth. I saw this as a positive thing because people were enjoying the experience of working with me, and sharing my services with others.
Building a network of people who trust your work and come back for more is vital for your success. If a client (or one of his colleague) contacts you for a second project – that's one of the top indicators that you're doing things right.
Participating in networking events and getting to know people in your field of work is super important; you get to know people in the same area of expertise, you exchange contact details, and you build awareness to your freelance brand.
Growing your contacts base through networking events has strong potential for getting more work, since people who get to know you will feel more comfortable to reach out when they are in need of the service you provide.
To find out about networking events in your neighborhood check out Meetup. It's a service that gets people together around common interests.
“Meetups bring people together to do, explore, teach and learn the things that help them come alive. Because at Meetups, people talk, help, mentor, and support each other – all in pursuit of moving their lives forward.”
2: Online freelance platforms
What's so amazing about the era that we live in, is that we are no longer bound to being in the same physical location as our clients. We can be anywhere in the world and work with anyone in the world, no matter where they’re based.
As a result, the freelance economy is increasing dramatically every year, and with the increase in demand comes solutions that help make the transformation into working with freelancers easier and more convenient than ever before.
And that's where freelancing platforms come in. At the most basic level, freelance platforms help connect people who need work done with people who can get that work done.
From a freelancer's point of view these platforms provide incredible opportunities, because they bring the work right to your doorstep (i.e. your computer). There's someone who has work that needs to be done, and he's right there on a platform seeking for a service provider like you.
How great is that?
The way these platforms operate is by taking a cut from each project (anywhere between 3% to 20% of the total project cost). Most sites provide an option to create a free account, but also offer an option to upgrade your account for a monthly membership fee, which opens up all sorts of additional perks.
On Upwork for example, by upgrading to a paid membership for $10 you will be able to see competitors’ high, low, and average bids on jobs (very valuable information), create a customized URL for your freelance profile and get extra ‘coins’ to bid on jobs.
And online freelance platforms are not only great for finding work, but also make things easier in terms of advertising and marketing your business. As a member of one of these platforms, you get a unique business profile page where potential clients can find and hire you for their jobs.
The tricky part is that you're not the only one who has access to that pool of projects – and just like you – other freelancers will be interested in getting that work.
This is where credibility, reviews, and a great portfolio come in. But we'll talk all about that and how to build your reputation later down the road.
Available freelance platforms:
There are plenty of online sites where a freelancer can find work. Here are some examples:
- Upwork (formerly Elance, my go-to platform)
- 99 Designs
- Hubstaff Talent
Even though I have personally only used Elance and Upwork, many other freelancers use the other platforms on a daily basis, so they are worth mentioning.
One interesting platform in the list above is Hubstaff Talent, which unlike the other platforms has zero platform fees (for both the freelancer or business owner).
Elance (now Upwork) was a game changer for my business.
I joined Elance back in mid-2012 and had the pleasure of working on very exciting projects with well-known brands and companies worldwide.
It's an incredible platform with a broad base of high-quality clients.
Since I'm very familiar with the platform (as a freelancer and client), later on, I’ll be sharing a fully detailed guide to creating an Upwork profile and finding work.
If you want to learn more right away, here’s a link to how it works:
Plan, Research, and Focus on one Freelance Platform
1. Do Research.
Before you go ahead and open your account, understand that it is important to plan and do research. For example, if you’re an engineer searching for work, you wouldn’t open a freelance profile in iWriter.com.
2. Focus on one platform.
I would suggest starting with one freelance platform alone, and focus your efforts on that platform alone, rather than having a freelance account on ten different sites.
Get to know the ins and outs of the one platform, and do everything you can to make your profile stand out from the crowd; do your best to get fantastic reviews from each job, search for long-term projects, repeat clients, have a well-written bio and unique portfolio of work examples.
3. Make your profile stand out from the crowd.
By focusing your efforts on one platform alone you’ll be able to develop your profile, and by getting great feedback on your work, you’ll be able to reach certain milestones such as a top rising talent and top-rated provider that will help you stand out even more.
The more your profile stands out, the better chances are that clients will invite you personally to bid on jobs.
4. Be consistent, and aim for the long term.
Don’t give up. Getting the first few jobs may take some time, but once you start establishing yourself as a great person to work with and get fantastic reviews for your work, things will become a lot easier.
If you constantly provide great services to your clients they will leave great reviews, and this will result in repeat and long term clients.
Strategy 3: Social Media
Nowadays everyone has an account on social media. Whether it's Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Quora, Google+ or Pinterest.
Social media platforms are great for connecting with family and friends, sharing updates and pictures, and getting people together around common interests.
But the question we’re here to tackle is whether these platforms can, and should be part of your business strategy for getting work?
The answer is yes, social media can work, but it’s not that easy.
Unlike freelance platforms where the competition for getting noticed is amongst competing freelancers, on social media, you’re competing for attention against the entire world.
Getting social media right is hard; really hard. And therefore in most cases, people are going to give up after wasting weeks trying to get their presences to yield results that justify their existence.
Am I saying you should completely opt out of social media? No, not at all. On the contrary – having a strong social presence is an essential part of your freelance brand’s strategy.
But don’t concentrate all your efforts on social media, because when it comes down to getting people to engage with your content, click on the links you share, and get new potential clients to notice your work – things get very tricky.
How to get work from social media?
(Note that several of these points are similar to your strategy on freelance platforms).
- Know which platform is the best fit for your field of expertise.
- Focus and develop your profile on one or two social media platforms.
- Get to know what types of content works best for each platform (infographics, long form posts, short videos, links), and share that specific content with your followers.
- Connect with potential clients by engaging in conversations and helping others. Never share spam comments just to get noticed, but instead focus on adding value to the conversation.
- Be yourself. Share your own voice. Don’t try to sound like someone else.
- Follow other freelancers in your field to see what they are doing right.
- Team up with fellow freelancers to cross promote each other's work.
The more you build up your social presence, the higher chances are that your profile will get noticed by potential clients, and by doing that you increase the likelihood of getting contacted for work.
Niche based platforms:
And then there are social platforms focus on specific fields and skills, which connects directly to point number 1 of doing research and finding the best social platform for your area of expertise.
The fact that ‘everyone is on Facebook’ doesn’t mean that’s the right place for you to promote your business.
Sometimes the smaller ‘niche’ platforms will be a much better place to get noticed because the focus of those platforms is very particular and people who hang out there – who are essentially your target audience – are looking for very specific things.
For example, all designers are familiar with Dribbble:
“Dribbble is a community of designers answering that question each day. Web designers, graphic designers, illustrators, icon artists, typographers, logo designers, and other creative types share small screenshots that show their work, process, and current projects. Dribbble is a place to show and tell, promote, discover, and explore design.”
And all writers and bloggers are familiar with Medium:
“Medium is a place where everyone has a story to share. Every day, thousands of people turn to Medium to publish their ideas and perspectives. Leaders. Artists. Thinkers. And ordinary citizens who have a story to tell. Posts range from scrutinies of world affairs to deeply personal essays. Medium sifts the best of these for you and delivers them directly onto your home page.”
Whatever your field of expertise is, there’s probably a social media network for freelancers in your field. Simply search Google for social media platforms in your area:
4: Your website and blog
If LinkedIn is your online business card, then your website is the headquarters that connects and links to everything you do.
I believe that having a website is a must for every freelancer. But since this is such an important matter that connects directly to personal branding, we won't go into it in detail in this post, but rather talk about it soon in a post about branding your business.
But here's a brief overview.
How do freelancers get work from their website?
The most fundamental part of getting work from your website is getting people to visit your website (read How to increase organic search traffic by up to 300% using Google trends). Having a website without visitors is like having a store without any customer in it.
Once you get the people to your website, you need to determine your goals per visitor – what is your target for every individual who visits your site?
If you have an online store where you sell digital products, your goal should be getting visitors to buy your products. If you are a service provider, your goal should be to contact you for work.
The key to getting traffic to your site is not just getting random people to visit your site, but rather getting your target audience to visit your website – i.e. people who might be interested in purchasing your products or hiring you for work.
Getting those two things combined is not easy, but there are two things you can do right now to increase the likelihood of that happening
Write a blog.
Blogs are known to be super effective in attracting highly targeted audience to your website. If you have a business of designing logos, you can write a blog about your design process, how you come up with design concepts, how you share your thoughts with the client.
And don’t be intimidated by starting a blog, it’s not that hard and can actually be a lot of fun, especially if you write about your passion.
Optimize your site for conversion.
Getting people to your website is one thing, but getting those people to take action is an entirely different mater. Remember, you should have a clear goal of what it is you want people who reach your website to do.
Write a comment on your post? Contact you for work? Purchase a product? Always think about the next obvious step you want people to take upon visiting a certain page on your website.
Since we’re focused on finding work as freelancers, we’ll define our goal like this:
“I want visitors to contact me for my services”.
Once we define our goal, we need to optimize our website to meet that goal. We need to make it as easy as possible for a visitor to take action towards that specific goal, which in our case is contacting us for our services.
Optimize your website for conversion by doing these two things:
- Give people a reason to want to contact you – write fantastic posts about your field of expertise, have an amazing portfolio, have a memorable about page, share reviews from previous clients.
- Once people have a reason to contact you, make it super easy for them to do so. Find strategic and prominent locations on your website, and optimize those spaces for conversion – share links to your contact page, embed a contact form, link to your freelance profile.
About and Contact page
Having a memorable About page and contact page are critical for getting clients to contact you.
Think of your about page as an interview with a potential customer, and your contact page as the means for them to get in touch. Just by optimizing those two pages, you will automatically increase the chances of a potential client to contact you and seek your services.
If your about page and portfolio page are unusual, people will be more likely to remember who you are and possibly hire you for a job.
We’ll talk a LOT more about your website and personal branding soon.
- Finding work is a struggle for new freelancers, but finding work gets exponentially easier the more credibility you build.
- Freelancing is a one-man show. Success is up to you, and you alone.
- Diversify and combine multiple marketing techniques. Find at least 2 (or more) business strategies that work well, and focus on developing them.
- Word of mouth, freelance platforms, social media and your blog are strategies that I have found to work really well when combined into one primary business plan.
Weekly Google Tip: Save precious time by searching websites directly from the Chrome URL bar. Start typing the address of the site you’d like to search, hit tab, insert your search term, and hit Enter. Enjoy! More about this here.