You’ve probably heard of the Gig Economy at some stage in the last few years. The digital marketplace where independent contractors are exchanging their skills and experience with professional firms on a flexible, temporary basis. In many ways, it’s been quite an enormous breath of fresh air for thousands of people. There are over 27 million self-employed people in Europe and almost 60 million in the U.S. The prospect of packing in a 9-5 job at an agency or in-house team to become both your own boss and have no boss at all carries with it obvious attraction.
Freelancing has taken off in recent years, buoyed by numerous online platforms that have effectively commodified social presence for freelancers who can compete and differentiate themselves by their own ability and work. It’s been something of a win-win, saving businesses the cost of setting up permanent teams, while sparing the freelancer from having to commit to any singular client, location, or project.
However, the operative theme here is competition; because it’s so attractive to go freelance – and so many have – the space is bustling with people offering their own brand, style of working, and selection of past clients. It can be overwhelming for someone starting out to carve themselves a niche, easily demonstrate their ability, and land their first key clients. This is, in essence, the goal of freelancing. Landing clients who either come back to you for future jobs or, perhaps more valuable, refer you to others. Finding either can be difficult but after the first, typically, it can be increasingly easier to fill up your schedule with work. So how does a newcomer to the freelancing game find and win over these high-value clients?
It doesn’t matter what services you’re offering, whether they’re creative, operational, even consulting work – all prospective clients worth their salt will want to see a portfolio. You can treat your portfolio, and how it’s presented externally, like a boiled-down version of a job interview. You’ve got less time and attention to win them over.
A great suggestion is finding a platform to host your past work and put emphasis on the stuff that either got great feedback or you’re personally very proud of. You’ll want to create a portfolio that both actively generates interest from prospects, and also allows you to explain the stories and process behind how this work was made. That demonstration of process, passion, and success is what convinces people to work with you, over thousands of other prospective contractors.
Your portfolio should illustrate the passion you have for your profession – your best shots, your cleanest presentations, glowing case studies, and sharpest writing. There are several sites that can offer professional templates with drag-and-drop features that make it easy for you to immediately come across as high-quality, and capable in your field. Even without those key clients, finding any work and presenting it really well is your best bet to landing your first ones.
Know Your Audience
It might seem obvious, but the entire internet isn’t hanging out on the same sites. They’re also not shopping on the same platforms for freelancers. Creating profiles and connecting to your portfolio on some of the best-known – the likes of Fiverr, Upwork, Toptal, and Guru, to name a few – is job number one. However, exploring more nuanced options like sponsoring posts on Linkedin to very specific audiences, by region or profession, and studying the engagement rates with your ads can be a useful way to understand who actually needs your services. If you realize a certain industry is crying out for freelancing copywriters, you might even have a gap in the market to set up a business serving those customers solely.
Do your admin! Make sure you’re signed up on the correct tax schemes, and that your business is registered. Many freelancers actually hire other freelance accountants and lawyers to draw up the paperwork and submit documentation for them. It’s not the shiniest part of being your own boss, but failing to pay the right tax, declare income, or even not submitting proper invoices to clients can all result in lost earnings for you, and is a major detriment to your business. It’s all about cash flow if you want to go full-time with your freelancing.
Use The Community
Amongst the gig economy, there’s something of an unwritten rule, but if you’re in the same gig, you tend to help each other out when needed. Freelancing is a tough business to get right, despite being technically very easy to get started in. You’re going to have a lot of questions in those early days, everything from how to deal with unhappy clients to setting your prices in line with the market. Experienced freelancers will have built huge portfolios and great connections over the years. There are plenty of great community forums only a Google search away, with those willing to answer your questions, many that other freelancers probably had when they started out, too.
It’s no wonder self-employment and the gig economy have taken off in the way they have. The reality is that making the money many do in permanent roles is a fixed thing, combined with all the other restrictions that role brings. In exchange, we expect greater job security. However, the freelancer, should they be able to play their cards right and build an online brand and presence that actively generates prospects can not only enjoy all the same benefits their permanent roles offered, but also all the benefits they were deprived of at the time, too.