Going out on your own is daunting but working for yourself is a dream many professionals attempt. Some ace it, others, not so much.
But freelancing has become vastly easier to at least earn a steady income with online communities connecting the work with the worker. Suddenly, with the arrival of commissioning platforms for creative work like Freelancer and 99designs, you can find work from potential clients all over the world.
But like any market, knowing the best way to close a deal and grab greater market share takes some experience and knowledge of how the system works.
Business Insider spoke to a number of work-for-yourself marketplace execs from Freelancer.com, 99designs, Envato Studio and Elance and has compiled this best-practice guide for anyone hoping to make it in the new global digital creative marketplace.
1. Build a beautiful profile and a reputation
Your web presence is your new office reception. Keep it smart, complete and up-to date.
“When you go online your profile page becomes your business card and portfolio which will help you land clients,” regional director of work-for-yourself marketplace Freelancer.com Nikki Parker said.
“This is your opportunity to let the employers know a little bit more about you and showcase the work that you have done in the past.”
As a freelancer your profile can either help or hinder your credibility, design and development freelancing community Envato Studio’s GM Layla Foord said.
“Potential clients are looking through lots of freelance providers. They need to see the important things quickly. Be sure to include only your best portfolio of work,” she said.
“Make sure you list great clients you’ve worked with (with permission of course). Talk about your experience and style of working. Convince the reader that you can do exactly what you say you can and that you’ll treat each and everyone of them as special.”
Testimonials are a great way to build credibility, Envato said.
“Reviews are a great way for buyers to really trust your work and delivery promises. Most search rankings will favour positive reviews too,” Foord said.
2. Create a work environment that works
Finding a space where you can work productively is going to boost your output.
99designs community team leader Kaitlyn Ellison said creating a workspace that works for you is important.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s your favourite café or your living room — you’ll get focus and inspiration from your surroundings,” she said.
A workspace should help you stay organised, she said.
“From your time management to your design files, everything you do needs to be organised in a way that other people, not just you, will easily understand,” Ellison said.
3. Read the brief and understand it
When you’re bidding for work in online marketplaces employers post project descriptions, Parker said to improve your chance of landing a job, read and understand what the employer wants.
“Freelancers need to remember that each job is unique and the employer expects something specific to them,” she said.
“Take the time to understand the project brief and write your bid accordingly.
“Be short and sharp but clearly articulate why you are the best one for the job. Remember first impressions count! So make yours the best it can be with your project bid.”
Elance Australian Country Manager Kyri Theos said one of the quickest ways to be eliminated from the bidding process is not being specific when you’re vying for work.
“Don’t cut and paste a template,” Theos said.
“You need to show the client you’ve put serious consideration into the job,” he said, adding asking thoughtful and relevant questions shows insight.
4. Price it right
When you’re a freelancer, winning jobs doesn’t just mean doing beautiful work – it also requires putting the right price tag on your work. Not just to win clients but also to ensure you aren’t losing money.
“When working on a global marketplace it is important to know the market and be competitive with your pricing,” Parker said.
“Being competitive means bidding smart, not necessarily being the cheapest. Clients are more often than not looking for high quality work as opposed to the lowest price.”
Parker explained once you build up a portfolio of work, feedback, reviews and recommendations you can be more bullish with your pricing.
Elance agreed, saying it is important to price jobs fairly and not to “undersell yourself”.
Both Freelancer.com and Envato suggested starting off with a special price to attract clients willing to give you a try. It can help kick off your freelance career and establish credibility.
“If you are new to freelancing be mindful of your prices until you build up your online reputation,” Parker said.
5. Deliver on deadline
Set an honest timeline for the completion of the work, communicate it to the employer and stick to it.
“Employers will not be happy if budgets and deadlines continuously slip and this will result in poor feedback that you may not be able to come back from,” Parker said.
“When you are working independently it is important to manage your time effectively. Look at using some time tracking and time management tools to help you stay on track.”
6. Communication is critical
Making sure you have all the details upfront and staying on the same page with your employer is even more important when you’re a freelancer.
“Keep a deep dialogue with your clients, make sure you understand what they’re trying to do, not just what they want you to do,” Foord said.
“They don’t need a logo, they need to set up their business. They don’t need a website, they need a way to sell their products. By understanding what the client is trying to do, you can offer better solutions and add-ons to help them, creating a deeper relationship and repeat business.”
Going that little bit further can pay off in the long run.
“Make it really easy for [clients] to see exactly what you’ll deliver and how far you’ll go to make sure they’re happy with the results,” she said.
Elance said setting expectations with clients around deliverables, pricing, time frames and scope-creep is important so all the variables are sorted out before you dive into a job.
“Set expectations before you start working, there’s nothing worse than doing a whole lot of work and it’s not what the client wanted,” Theos said.
Networking and communicating with industry players and potential employers can also bolster up the project pipeline.
“Jobs come from talking to lots of people! Get out there (online and in the real world) and direct people to your work, even if you don’t think they’ll be future clients. You never know who they may know. And while you’re networking, show the value you can provide for a new client — be able to show off your services on the fly,” Ellison said.
She said staying in touch with past clients is also a good way to win repeat work.
“Stay in touch, and collaborate. Once you have clients, the best way to lose them is to neglect communication. Make sure they know what’s going on during the process and can be involved at the level they choose to be,” Ellison said.
7. Set up a clearly defined payment process
Once you’ve agreed on a project price, break the job down into key milestones and create a payment plan.
“By setting up milestone payments both the employer and freelancer can work knowing that there are set time frames and measurables for when work will be delivered and when payment will be provided,” Parker said.
A lot of online platforms offer a service where money is held in escrow which means the freelancer knows there are funds allocated to pay their bill.
8. Budget for the freelancing lifestyle
Freelancing means a lot of freedom but work can also be inconsistent, especially when you’re in your early days.
“To avoid any financial stress it is important to budget for the downtime,” Parker said.
9. Keep learning
Just because you work for yourself doesn’t mean you have the right to let professional development lapse.
“Being conscious of your professional development will give more longevity to your freelance career,” Parker said.
“With online sites like Coursera, Udacity and CodeAcadamy it has never been easier for freelancers to learn new skills and refresh the ones they have.
“Being able to add credentials and work on a wider variety of jobs will help you bring home the bacon.”
Taking that one step further, 99designs said learning from and about your competitors can be a technique which boosts your skill set.
“Learn from those who came before you and those who are creating beside you. You’re not designing in a vacuum, so take advantage of all of the resources available to you,” Ellison said.
Striving to do better and do things differently can also help you learn to be a pro-freelancer, 99designs said.
“If you stick to the same ideas, techniques and concepts that you’ve used in the past, you’re not doing your job. Change is good. Make yourself different!”
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