Of all the freelancing questions that are out there, what’s the biggest one? The one that’s screaming in your head after you buy a domain name and spend hours stalling by decorating your home office?
“How do I find work?”
Yeah, that’s the one.
It’s a question we want to help you with, and it’s something we don’t want to dance around. When you’re starting out as a freelancer, the last thing you want is for someone to throw a bunch of jargon and flowery language at you.
We don’t want to provide you with a blog post that results in you shaking us by our virtual shoulders, shouting “I JUST WANT TO KNOW HOW TO FIND FREELANCE WORK, MAN!”
We want you to walk away from this article with satisfying answers, a solid plan to get your business up and moving, and a hop in your step.
So, here’s the plan: We’re going to try to present this as simply as possible without skimping on the good stuff. Kind of like really good BBQ, you know? The kind that tastes the best without too much sauce and leaves you feeling like you could take on just about anything.
Establish a delicious foundation.
Nail down your portfolio.
Who cares about the fancy BBQ sauces when your meat is forgettable? Don’t skimp on the most important part of your business: your work. You need solid evidence of your skills and accomplishments, or you can kiss new gigs goodbye.
We can talk all day long about how to get freelance work, but if you don’t have a beautiful showcase of your skills to which you can send clients, all of your hustle will have been in vain.
It’s not the most pleasant thing to say, but when you’re looking for freelance work, your goal is to sell potential clients on your business. You need to convince them that they not only need your services, but that you’re the best freelancer for the job.
So what happens if you convince someone to investigate you further, and you’ve got nothing to show for it? Unless this potential client is your Aunt Petunia, they’re going to toss your business card in the recycling bin and move on to the next freelancer with an accessible portfolio that leaves no question of their talents.
Add a portfolio page to your website.
There are some fantastic WordPress themes out there, built specifically for portfolios. They’ve done the building for you; all you have to do is insert your portfolio work and enjoy a clean space that displays your previous accomplishments.
Put your work on a popular portfolio site.
Depending on your niche, there are a handful of portfolio sites which are relied on by many freelancers for visibility and feedback. Behance and Dribbble are popular for designers, while Modern Copywriter is a comprehensive and down-to-earth option for the wordsmiths out there.
Start a blog.
While the word “blog” might conjure visions of video game reviews or rants about pumpkin spice lattes, it should actually conjure up an image of an entrepreneur who knows their stuff. A blog allows your potential clients to see your knowledge and skills in action, and will simply add another layer of legitimacy to your business. On top of that, the frequent new content will help your SEO.
Tell people to “Come and Get It!” by boosting your social media presence.
This doesn’t mean you need to be obnoxious about selling yourself on Facebook or start tweeting Mr. T GIFs every 15 minutes… it just means you need to get strategic with your activity. Make sure you’ve at least got a profile on the major platforms, and ramp up your efforts on the ones that best fit your niche. It’s important to focus your efforts where they’ll be met with the highest results. For example, Pinterest, with 85% of its users being female, wouldn’t be the most effective us of your time. You want to show up on targeted clients’ radar enough that they think, “Hmm… who’s this intriguing human being? Should I pay them some money?”
LinkedIn is an especially important social media platform when you’re looking for work. You can share links, statuses, and blog posts… but in a legitimately business-focused environment. Share relevant content from respected entities in your field and help out fellow freelancers by sharing content they create. Give followers tastes of your new work. Be genuine and active, and avoid spamming people for likes and follows.
Utilize freelance sites and communities.
Sites like Upwork, 99designs, and even Craigslist are great places to create a profile and put yourself on the freelance market. These sites are browsed heavily by people looking to hire freelancers, and some of them even offer payment protection for both clients and freelancers.
Results on these sites are mixed; some people only ever find small, short-term jobs, while others base their entire careers on the work they find there. Either way, it’s worth a shot. It’s another chance to increase your visibility, and those small jobs will help out nicely in fleshing out your portfolio.
Take it to the streets.
You know what my favorite kind of BBQ is? The kind that comes to me. Whether it’s a food truck parked nearby or a joint with free delivery, the ribs and potato salad that I don’t have to seek out are the winners for me. You’ve got to get out there.
You’ve got to bring it to the people, baby.
A hefty amount of behind-the-computer work goes on when building your freelance career… but if you don’t pull yourself away from your desk and literally put yourself out there, you’re going to miss out on a ton of clients.
While a huge job with a popular firm hundreds of miles away sounds exciting, the truth is that some of the most ideal clients are right in your own community.
Who’s got a painfully out-of-date website… or even no website at all?
Who would benefit from a monthly newsletter or revamped logo?
Once you isolate some solid potential clients, snag yourself some sweet business cards (I love Moo.com), put on an outfit that represents your personality and professional style, and go visit these people. Look them in the eye, shake their hands firmly, and give them your elevator pitch.
Let potential clients know who you are, what you do, and how you can help them.
A lot can be said for exchanging knowledge. A BBQ competition may not be a place for sharing secret ingredients, but it is a place where passionate experts come together to compare techniques and share the love of their trade.
You can score a similar experience by attending a conference. These gatherings are full of people (just like you!) who are ready to learn and eager to collect connections. If you have the experience, and the opportunity is available, presenting at one of these events is a fantastic chance for instant visibility and credibility. People have respect for the presenters, and that will carry over into your work.
Entrepreneurial and tech conferences are obvious choices, but don’t forget to think about your niche. If you’re a writer specializing in sports and athletics, attend gatherings within that scope. You never know who’s going to need you.
Seek out other entrepreneurs in your field and join any local meetups they hold. Word of mouth is a powerful thing, and if someone can’t fit a client into their schedule, they’ll need someone to refer them to. Wouldn’t it be awesome if that person were you?
Virtually get out there.
While the thought of cold-emailing or calling someone can be intimidating, it can also be successful. Just like when you walk through the door of a business, you’ve got to show them what you provide and how you can solve their problems… but make sure you sound human. You don’t want to get filed in the spam folder.
In the meantime…
Productive patience pays off. (I should probably trademark that or something.)
The very best BBQ takes time. The most experienced grill masters know to lovingly monitor the meat as it smokes to perfection… but do you think they’re napping in hammocks while they wait? Nope. They’re simmering sauces, baking beans, and whipping up coleslaw that will perfectly compliment the finished product.
Same goes for freelancing. There’s going to be a period of waiting. Waiting for clients to call, waiting for opportunities to arise. Use this time for preparation instead of Netflix marathons. This is an ideal time to take care of administrative tasks like contract creation and accounting. Ensure that, when the time comes, you’ll have the perfect plate of services to serve up to your client.
The main point I want to emphasize is that clients are not going to magically come to you. Figuring out how to get freelance work is a task that will need to be personalized to your business and researched heavily… by you.
Provide a high-quality product and seek out high-quality clients… the kind who will stick with you and generate work over an extended period of time.
Then you’ll be able to take me out for a plate of pulled pork and cornbread so I can finally stop talking about it.
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