I posted a status update on LinkedIn asking what questions people want answered about being freelance. A few of my recent articles have had some positive feedback, and people are genuinely finding them useful, so I wanted to do another post.
It seems what people really want to know about is how to get work as a freelancer. It’s the million dollar question isn’t it? Sadly, there’s no simple answer, and I’m not going to pretend it’s easy. It’s bloody frustrating when you know you can do a fantastic job, but nobody will give you the chance to prove it.
After thinking about whether this is the sort of information I should share, because, well, I can’t have everybody taking all my work, I realised, there’s no need to worry. I’m confident in the service I offer, so I’m happy to share some (hopefully) useful tips.
When you go freelance, getting your first ever client seems like an impossible task. You get a lot of rejection, and I mean, a lot. Most people will come back and say we aren’t looking for XYZ right now, or we do everything in house, and you have to figure out ways to get around this.
Keep in mind that the first few months, and maybe even your first year can be crushing. You can’t expect to have success right away, unless you are already extremely well established in your field.
I was established as a content marketing and SEO expert, but not as copywriter, I had to earn that reputation.
I was also fortunate enough to be in a situation where I didn’t have too many commitments (aside from paying my rent, which, eventually became a challenge) and could weather the storm.
I also had to do three month’s notice, which gave me a lot of time to start figuring stuff out and putting the feelers out. If you don’t have the luxury of being commitment-free, you may want to try and build up a few clients outside of your normal job before you take the plunge.
Anyway, back to getting work as a freelancer. How the bloomin heck to do start making money, and hopefully a decent living? I must make it clear that I’m no sales expert, I hate selling. When I had to do cold calling in my first job I wanted to smash the phone against the wall.
I’m just going to share with you some things that have worked for me, in my industry, as a copywriter and content marketing specialist. Here’s how to win business and start picking up clients.
I think this would probably be my most important tip.
Instead of thinking about selling, think more about branding.
Get your name or your brand out there by getting published in key places, writing a blog, building a presence on LinkedIn and other social media sites that are relevant to your niche.
Work hard to make people want you over anybody else in your niche. The amount of people going freelance is increasing by the day, as we enter the gig generation, so competition is stiff. You have to stand out and make a name for yourself, so dedicate the same amount of time to branding as you do to selling.
Exploiting your contacts
In advance of going freelance, make a list of all your contacts, and think about how they might be able to help you. Even if they aren’t directly related to the work you are doing, they may be able to help in some way, or they might know someone who could benefit from your services.
Before you try and make lots of new contacts, capitalise on your existing ones, these are the people that know you and what you are capable of. If they can’t help you right away, they may become valuable at a later date, so stay in touch with all your contacts.
Connecting with the right people
Next you need to start to build connections with the right people in your industry. Identify key influencers and reach out to them, start to build relationships without necessarily selling to people. If people see you know respected figures within your industry they will trust you more.
A huge amount of my work has come through LinkedIn. I don’t do anything special really. I make sure my profile is filled out as much as possible, that plenty of people have recommended and endorsed me, and that I stay fairly active. I have found publishing articles directly on LinkedIn to be quite successful, and it’s something I plan to do more.
I have played around with posting directly on LinkedIn, posting an intro on LinkedIn and linking out to a longer post on my blog, and posting links from my blog on LinkedIn. In general, I would say posting directly on their site seems to get more attention. Although it does frustrate me that that traffic isn’t going to my blog instead.
The key with posts on LinkedIn is not to teach people to suck eggs, but to write about a topic people feel passionate about, or an issue that people have strong opinions on. My best post on LinkedIn was ‘what it’s like to be freelance, the good, the bad and the ugly.’ I think the realness of the title and my honest account of being freelance was appreciated.
When it comes to messaging people on LinkedIn, don’t be afraid to ask people for work, it’s what the site is for after all. Don’t worry too much about the ‘LinkedIn Police’, do what works best for you.
Make your messages personal, say something that will make you stand out, and make sure you have examples of your work to back up your claims.
It’s all about targeting the right people, at the right time. If people are interested, I may do an entire post on how I have got work through LinkedIn, so holla if that sounds good to you.
Targeting key brands you want to work with
Instead of mindlessly searching for every morsel of work you can find, be specific in your search. Sure, you can churn out sales emails to lots of different companies, some you don’t even really want to work for, but you won’t have a massively high success rate.
Cherry pick maybe six or seven key clients you would love to work for, and work on them over time.
Connect with employees, post relevant content, reach out to the right people, and one day, you might just land a dream client.
Don’t just have a website, have a blog
You need a website. Fact. Don’t try and go freelance without one. It’s the first thing you should do. I’m being a bit of a hypocrite here, as I didn’t get my website until I had been freelance for two years, I’m amazed at how I managed without it.
Since I have had my blog, and have been posting regularly, I would say my income has increased by a third, and it continues to increase.
If possible, don’t just have a website, have a blog, so you can show you are an expert in your chosen field, and gain some handy natural search traffic for terms related to your business.
Examples of your work
It’s crucial to have some quality examples of your work somewhere. People need to see what you are capable of, and see testimonials from people you have worked with. If you haven’t got any work or clients yet, ask for recommendations from your old job for now, and do a few projects for free so that you have some examples.
Partnerships with other freelancers
Consider working with someone in your industry who provides a slightly different service, and you can share clients. For example, I’m a copywriter and content specialist, and I have worked with a few SEO experts (who bloody hate writing but know their SEO shizz). Us freelancers should stick together and help each other out more.
Make sure you can be found
People need to be able to find you when they search online. That means having a well optimised website, a LinkedIn profile with a title that people search for, and an active social media presence. Have a Twitter profile, a Google Plus profile and an easy to locate ‘contact us’ page.
Even if you are in an uber competitive field, you might be found for longer tail searches, so it’s still worth trying. I recently had a client come to my website by searching for ‘freelance lifestyle travel pet copywriter’, which I thought was pretty cool. Based on that search I’m the best person to help them out, and they found me thanks to the wording on my site.
So that’s it from me for now. I will add more stuff if I think of anything else. Hopefully you have found this useful. Feel free to add your own tips and advice in the comment section below.