Getting Started Freelancing
Every once in a while an email floats into my inbox asking me about how to get started freelancing. “Where do you get your clients from? How do you price your services? What’s the most important skill you’ve learned?” All great questions and I love to answer them when I have the time. So, I thought I’d put together some of my thoughts and give you my (possibly unsolicited) advice on getting started as a freelancer.
I'm starting right off the bat with an apology. I'm sorry. There's just no fast or easy way to find clients. I started by joining one of those work-for-hire websites where you pay to submit a quote for a job, which I highly do NOT recommend. I got maybe one job, was paid far less than what I was worth and mostly ended up feeling even worse about myself because I was basically paying to get rejected by people who were just kicking the tires and not super serious about whatever job they posted. I'm not saying that wouldn't work for some people, but it just wasn't a great experience for me.
What did work for me was putting myself out there. I told my friends and family that I was looking for freelance work. I started posting about it on social media. I offered to do work for outrageously low prices and ran contests to give away free projects. I bit the bullet and started blogging and committed to post every month with the free wallpaper designs. Mostly it was about letting people know what I do so they'll think of me when the time comes and they need a designer.
To a certain extent, this is still my main marketing strategy and it's paid off twofold. First, putting myself out there in these ways keeps me at the top of people's minds when someone in their circle is in need of a brand or website. Once I got a few clients I really focused on creating an exceptional experience for them going through the design process. Then I'd ask them to refer people to me if they were happy with my work -- AND THEY DID! Referrals are the most amazing thing because you know that if you clicked with the client who referred them, that you'll most likely click with this new person as well. And it always gives you the warm fuzzies knowing someone thought you did a good enough job that they'd trust their friends to you.
Second, by consistently working on improving my website and adding content to it by blogging at LEAST once a month for the last 5 years, I've gotten some pretty decent SEO rankings (SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization). I'm so lucky to be able to say that over half of my inquiries are from people finding me on Google.
Starting with no prospects is super intimidating and hard, but know that at some point you'll gain momentum and it'll start snowballing.
Streamline Your Services
About every entrepreneur advice column or podcast praises niching down to a specific industry or type of client. I 1000% get that, but my viewpoint is that even before you think about that, it’s more important to streamline your services first. You'll quickly find yourself getting worn out when you have to quote every new project from scratch, then map out all the steps to reach the end of the project each and every time. One of the best things I ever did for myself and my clients was to create service packages. Now prospective clients and I know exactly what they'll get, how much it’ll cost, and how long it’ll take.
Figure out what you enjoy doing most and what your clients need. The sweet spot where those two things overlap is the place you need to be and what you should build your signature services around. Decide what all your services include and then map them out from start (literally start with how you'll respond to an initial inquiry) to finish (how do you hand the project back off to them?). Then you've got a repeatable process that you can apply time and time again to make your life infinitely more easy. Like any rule, once you learn it you'll know how to bend it. Same goes for your repeatable process, once you have it in place it'll be way easier to know how to modify it for things that don't quite fit. Or know that if it's too far outside your process, maybe it isn't the best fit for you or it'll cost them extra since it's not your normal process.
Speaking of how much it costs, how do you price your services? you may be asking. I've bounced back and forth between flat rates/value based pricing and hourly pricing not knowing which was the right way. In the long run, I've ended up somewhere in between and go with what feels right for that particular client or project. One thing that's helped me immensely when pricing my services has been that I'm a freak about tracking my time on projects. I've done it since I started at my first industry job and it's helped me be able to estimate how much time something will take me fairly accurately. So to price my service packages I average how long it takes me to complete everything in the package + add a bit of time to account for project management/communication/admin + add in a bit more time for revisions and then multiply by my hourly rate.
When you know yourself and know how long things will take you, then you can decide how much you want to make hourly OR figure out how valuable it is to your client. Because even though it may only take me 20 minutes to do something, it ACTUALLY takes me 20 minutes + 9 years of experience learning my craft and tools. And if it would take my client 6 hours to figure out on their own, that’s of value to them.
Communication Is Key
It’s the key to a stellar client experience. If you wanna blow the socks off your clients, after you've got your process nailed down all you have to do is keep them in the loop. It's really that easy. Tell them what's coming next and when they can expect it. Do you know how many clients I've had who had previously hired another designer who mysteriously fell off the face of the earth? I'm always flabbergasted to hear that someone just took off for vacation in the middle of a project. Or that a client put down a deposit and never knew what their designer was working on or when it would be done. Remember, your clients are already anxious about forking over what may be a lot of money to them. Don't feel annoyed if they pester you about when you'll be working on their project. If that's how you feel, maybe it's time to take a look at how effective your communication is. As a general rule of thumb, I almost always wrap up emails with what I'll be working on next and when my client can expect to get it.
One of my clients actually just told me how much she appreciated my level of communication when we were on a planning call. She said that because I'm so meticulous about telling her what's going on, she never has to stress about what's coming up or what I'm working on. She feels like she's in good hands and it's built trust between us. That trust works in my favor as well because when I follow through on what I say I'm gonna to do, clients don't feel the need to micromanage and I can do my job even better.
It's also important to communicate and be honest when you CAN'T meet a deadline or a client's needs. It doesn't do anyone any good for you to be making promises that you can't deliver on. It’ll only bring disappointment. I've flat out told people that I won't be able to turn their project around in their desired timeline or that I can't work with their budget, and instead of being pissed they’d response with gratitude for my honesty and sometimes that would make them want to work with me even more.
The biggest piece of advice that I can share with you about freelancing is that NO ONE really knows what they’re doing and we’re all just making it up along the way. There’s no right way to be doing any of this and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Did you glean any insight from this advice? Have you gotten some other great advice to help you along in your journey?