We’re going to kick off part 2 with possibly the most frustrating piece of freelance advice you can get…
The first client is the hardest one to get.
It’s completely true…it just doesn’t help much when you’re not hearing back on proposals and you’re feeling like no one will ever hire you for work.
What will help though, is having an understanding of where you’re starting as a freelancer, and where you should be looking to find the client that launches your independent work life. Getting that understanding will largely depend on where you’re coming from.
If You’re Transitioning
We’re going to start with this because it’s the least common, but is also the simplest.
That 60 percent of freelancers who are making more than they did in their employed life within their first year of going out on their own generally have some sort of connection to the work they’ve decided to freelance in…which makes sense.
If this is you, you already know the work you do, you understand client needs and expectations, and it’s likely you’ve already watched the entire client life cycle a few times before. You might even already have a well-developed portfolio. This isn’t to say making this transition isn’t difficult, it’s simply that you have a lot less to learn than, say, someone like me who started offering a different service.
Still though, you do have the challenge of getting clients, and since this is something other people can explain better, I’m going to share a couple of resources with you.
The Double Your Freelancing podcast is a favorite of mine…it touches on more advanced freelance topics, but most importantly, deals with freelancing from the perspective of simply leaving an existing career and going out on your own. Here are a few episodes that might help you out…
Episode 38: Sean D’Souza On Why Clients Buy (Part 1)
Episode 19: Kurt Elster On The RIGHT Way To Followup With Prospects, Leads, and Clients
Episode 17: Steli Efti On Getting Referrals
Episode 6: Establishing A Sales Pipeline
Beyond that, check out this article on getting your first freelance client — it’s written for developers, but as you read through, you’ll see that the basic concepts of networking, creating an online space, and yes, even working for free, can apply to any field.
Now keep reading, because all of the concepts we’re going to cover for freelancers starting from scratch can apply to you (you’ll just be using them at a more advanced level.)
If You’re Starting From Scratch
Most people around BlackFreelance are starting here and it’s where I started myself.
I had quite a bit of experience in my industry, but none as a writer in my industry. I was coming off years in an abusive job environment that had taken a toll on my mental health, so when I decided to try freelancing full-time, the first gig I took had ZERO to do with my previous work. I’m kind of glad it went down that way though, because it gave me perspective on what I really needed to be doing, and what will help you get your first freelance client.
I needed to be proactive.
I don’t care how nice your website is or how great your profile reads, you’re going to have to stick your neck out and contact people.
Sure, there are ways to get people to come to you but if you don’t want to get discouraged before you even get started, you can’t wait for freelancing to happen to you…this is why I’m a firm believer in new freelancers starting on bidding websites.
Most people who’ve been in the freelance game loathe them, and they have every reason to…the places are riddled with clients set on finding the cheapest work for ridiculously involved projects — something you’ll move away from as you gain experience. If you’re new though, you’re just trying to get your experience going, and bidding sites are the easiest way to do that. (There area bunch here, here, and here.)
You’re going to want to get yourself in front of a large number of people looking to hire, so now probably isn’t the best time to spend weeks sorting through website templates.
Side note: Having a site can be a big selling point, so weigh that against your goals as a freelancer…i.e. are you testing the freelance waters or do you need to bring in cash within the next month?
I needed a profile.
Pretty much any site you sign up for will give you advice on setting up a profile, but I want to give you the structure that works best for me. The best part about it, is that all it involves is a short exercise and afterward, you’ll also have your personal brand statement (the core of your marketing plan.)
This exercise comes from the folks over at Copyblogger (one of the few online marketing resources I trust and like) and is beautifully simple.
I help __________________ (do) __________________ so they can ___________.
That’s it. That’s the foundation of your profile.
The rest will be filling out experience, education, and other list-type stuff, but that exercise right there is what tells prospects “Hey. I can do the work you need AND I can solve your problem.”
So let’s do one for writers.
Let’s say I’m a fashion blogger. I can write on anything in the fashion world and my blogs and articles really get readers interested and coming back since I make sure to both educate and entertain them in my work.
I help fashion publications, websites, and brands (do) create engaging, informed content around fashion and trends so they can increase customer engagement, generate repeat website traffic, and improve brand presence.
See how you center their needs over talking about yourself? That’s everything.
I’ve personally tried leading with my education and my industry experience, and nothing yet has worked as well for me as this formula. Try it for yourself and see how it works for you.
If you’re having problems with this, or just want some feedback, our premium members will be helping each other work through this exercise all this month.
I needed to be able to write a proposal.
If you’re starting on a bidding site, the proposal process is partially laid out for you already (another benefit they offer.)
Proposal expectations can vary wildly between industries and even by project needs, so instead of specifics, I want to give you general suggestions (and some resources to get you started.)
- Be professional, but not overly formal: Freelancing is about relationship building at a certain level, and you want to let potential clients know that you’re human…plus…unless you know otherwise, most of the business world has relaxed quite a lot, so don’t try to impress anyone with jargon or overly-stiff language. Follow the lead of their job description and corporate website if it’s available.
- Match the sophistication of your proposal to the sophistication of the job: If you’re bidding on a quick project that won’t take you more than a day’s work, don’t spend an entire weekend putting together an overly-detailed proposal. You’ll be wasting your time and your potential client will likely be a bit irritated.
- Don’t forget to relate soft skills: I’m easy to work with…I hear it a lot. I’ve been offered a job and long-term relationships because of that fact, so you best believe I work that in to my proposals. Sometimes clients can use reminders of your punctuality, attention to detail, or proactive nature, even when they’re reviewing numbers (especially when reviewing numbers.)
- Be flexible: If you’re worried about price, it’s perfectly fine to mention that you’re willing to adjust project scope and cost to ensure a client is happy with their arrangement. (This is also why you generally want to give yourself negotiation room on your bids.)
Learning to write effective proposals takes time and as you grow as a freelancer, you’ll get better and faster at them (they take me a fifth of the time they did when I started). If you want to go a little deeper, here are a few sites to help you out…
Some example project proposals from Guru
General resources from Bidsketch
Of course, this process is more complicated if you’re not using bidding sites and are cold-contacting prospects or working through referrals, but that’s a topic for another day (sign up for our free membership if you want to be alerted when that topic does drop.)
Any questions in the meantime, or if there’s something you feel like you need help on, let me know down below in the comment box. Thanks!
P.S. Thanks to #WOCinTechChat for the image!
This post will help you with Phase 3 of the Black Freelance Foundations Workbook…if you haven’t started yours yet, download it now!
Clark Alford says
Thank you for this article; personal brand statement is something I need.
They really make everything easier.
Annemarie Musawale says
I’ve just changed my profile on upwork based on what’s in this article. I think I need to dedicate one day a week to just going through everything and applying it. Thanks for this resource. I really needed it at this stage of my career.
That’s a good plan. Dedicating a day a week, at least at the beginning, can get you used to using Upwork and getting the most out of it. (I’ve always heard Monday or Tuesday are the best.) Just make sure to keep a focus on efficiency (make a few templates that you make minor changes to for sections of your letters) and set goals to help you stay motivated. You’ll learn a lot as long as you step into it with a strategy.