How to land your first client
So, you’ve decided to take the plunge into your freelancing career? Congratulations, my friend. That leap takes moxie. Something you’re going to need plenty of as you charge on ahead to pitch and win that delicious first client.
The good news is: there’s never been a better time to be a digital freelancer. Seriously.
In the last five years, the internet’s exploded with platforms catering to freelancers of all shapes and sizes looking for online work. Through sites like Upwork and Freelancer, you now have direct access to millions of people around the world who’ll pay you money for what you love to do.
Finding clients is no longer the riddle. But visibility is. Being a successful freelancer these days is defined by your ability to cut through the thronging pack and be seen as someone vital by the people who matter.
I learnt this by trial and error. But who’s got time for that? If you want to know how to pitch like a seasoned pro and win clients (again and again and again), then listen closely, young Grasshopper.
Be in the right place
There’s no shortage of freelance platforms out there for you to choose from and the list is continually growing. But that doesn’t mean every one of them is right for you.
Once upon a time you could have found my profile flung across every freelancer site in existence. I thought more exposure equalled more opportunities. Technically, this was correct. Until I realised that each platform catered to different styles of freelancers depending on your industry, experience, pay scale and personal taste. Some were immediately wonderful. Others were absolutely hopeless. It became obvious that I needed to streamline my job application to focus only on the platforms that worked for me.
In my mind, the leaders of the pack are unquestionably Upwork and Freelancer. These two seem to have opened the door to the greatest amount of opportunities, the highest quality projects and the most awesome clients.
Of course, neither of them are perfect and there’s many freelancers out there who’ll oppose my preferences. That’s why it’s important to do your own due diligence!
Create a profile that cuts through the noise
When it comes to creating your profile, the number one question you need to ask yourself is: How do I stand out? I can’t stress this enough. I’ve once been on the client side of both Upwork and Freelancer, and the amount of applications I received was overwhelming.
Go wade through your fellow freelancers profiles on Upwork now. Your pool of competition is Atlantic. But don’t let this scare you away. Getting noticed is surprisingly easy when you realise that the majority acts like, well, the majority.
Seth Godin puts it best:
There’s a lot of pressure for freelancers to fit in, conform and comply. It seems easier to generate new business that way. That’s not really true. It’s easier to become an easily-described commodity that way, but the person who’s willing to push themselves out to an edge that matters is on the only path that actually leads to success.
I watched my freelancing career skyrocket once I started asking myself how I could stand out and implemented the action to make it happen. It takes doing something differently. Going that extra mile. Thinking critically.
So, how are you going to create a profile that puts you on the leading edge of the pack? Here’s some tried and true tips of my own:
Keep your profile blurb concise, honest and clever
No matter the industry you’re in, all prospective clients want to know is that you’re a professional person with the skills and the experience to do remarkable work. Simple.
Every line of your profile blurb should fulfill this purpose. Press ‘delete’ on anything that doesn’t.
Steer clear of faffing, no one is going to read your essay. Think 3-4 paragraphs and no more than 1,000 characters.
Give it personality but avoid sales shark language like the plague. Remember you’re speaking to a human on the other side of the screen, so converse like you’re one too. Authenticity always connects.
Get a portfolio website
Most people will tell you a digital portfolio isn’t necessary to have as freelancer. And, I actually agree. You will still find work without it, albeit with a considerable amount of unnecessary sweat and tears.
Pitching and winning becomes ridiculously easy when you have a professional digital presence to showcase who you are, what you do and why you love to do it.
It pushes you immediately in front of the competition. Simply because the majority doesn’t do it.
I swear by my own and I really don’t believe that I could have made a successful freelance career without it.
Build it on Squarespace or WordPress, it will cost you literally nothing and even the tech-handicapped can do it. You won’t regret it!
Make a video (but not if you suck in front of the camera)
Upwork now offers you the ability to upload a video of yourself for prospective clients. It’s a fantastic way to bring an edge to your profile, but be careful: it can either make you or break you.
If you’re someone like me who suddenly becomes stiff and awkward as soon as a lens is turned on them, then don’t even try. Connect with a medium that feels more natural for you: like your words or your work.
If you don’t have a problem with the camera, then be friendly, be yourself and let your passion shine through.
Get smart with your pitch
Winning is all in the pitch. Here’s some tips that’ll make you irresistible!
Address the prospective client by their first name
It’s personal and immediately creates connection. If their name isn’t listed on the job post, then scroll through the reviews where you will usually find a mention of it. If you only have a company name, start with: “To the [company name] team”. Otherwise, “Hi there!” won’t cause any offense. Avoid “Dear Friend” like the plague.
Answer the questions that matter
Just like your profile, in your proposal, you want to answer the questions that matter to the client. What’s your experience? What past projects can you provide as samples? What’s your specialisation? How you could uniquely bring value to their project? How can you solve their problem?
Imagine what it’s like to stand in your clients shoes reading your proposal. Is it too verbose? Do you succinctly get your point across? Are you addressing their needs?
You’ll know your proposal’s efficacy once you test it out on the marketplace. Don’t be shy to keep on refining it and trying new things out until you get to a place where it’s really working for you.
Use a customised template
You’ll quickly discover that submitting proposals is a time consuming task. That’s why it’s smart to develop a well-crafted template that can be easily customised to suit each job application.
My template’s customisable variables include: the client’s name, my specialisations (I switch hierarchy or place more emphasis on certain aspects to align with what they’re looking for), and a line at the end which speaks directly to the individual job, client or how you could specifically bring value to the project (for example, when applying for an agency position, I could write something like: “My background is in agency – it’d be great to get back working in my home turf! I’d love to chat to hear more details about the project and to see if we click.”)
Don’t forget to be warm, friendly and yourself!
Let your work speak for itself
Your work speaks louder than words. I don’t recommend submitting a job application with at least one sample. Make sure every portfolio item you direct the client’s attention to is relevant and remarkable.
Everyone is not your customer
I know it’s tempting to whore your proposal out to everyone with a job post. But I really can’t stress enough how important it is to qualify the client, the project and yourself before hitting ‘Apply’.
Ask yourself first if you have the skills or know-how to complete this job? If you’ve got the goods, then this will obviously increase your chances of winning the pitch. But being the right person for the job doesn’t mean that the client or the project is the right one for you.
When tossing up whether you should apply for a project, it’s vital you know who you are and where you are going as a freelancer. Ask yourself these questions:
- – What dollar amount am I willing to do incredible work for?
- – What am I looking for in a client?
- – Am I looking for short-term and/or long-term projects?
- – What industries/fields/topics get me fired up as a copywriter/designer/illustrator/digital consultant/architect/etc. ?
- – Am I looking for an easy quick buck or projects that will allow me to create outstanding work?
Once you know the answers to these questions, you’ll be able to pitch for jobs and win clients that are aligned with your core values. This equals not just greater pitch success, but a career that’s actually fulfilling for you.
Go the extra mile
If the client asks you to answer extra questions for the job proposal, don’t wing it. Dig deep and take the time to put energy into your answers. It will literally pay off in the long run.
If you’re shortlisted, tell them that you’re happy to jump on Skype call to introduce yourself and to chat about the project. Your willingness to do what the majority is not willing to do will determine your success.
Words by freelance copywriter Rachel Sorenson.