When I started out freelancing, it almost happened by accident.
I’m sure many of you can relate when I tell you my mom asked me to help a friend of hers out with her website, another friend of mine asked for a logo and yet another one was looking for someone to have a look at their SEO.
It doesn’t really matter what your freelance activity is, your first clients tend to come from your personal network and friends of friends. Now, plenty of them will take you at face value and trust you’ll deliver at least some results but it’s not always that easy.
5 Ways Freelancers Can Start Marketing Themselves
Let’s go over some ways freelancers can start marketing themselves, and how you can make sure you actually look the part and extend your reach beyond those first few connections.
1. Get yourself a well-designed business card
It’s a classic, and with dozens of people clamoring daily about its demise, I have to respectfully disagree.
Let’s say you’re at a party and people start talking about jobs and careers. You mention you’re a freelance graphic designer and someone says their boss was looking for someone to redesign their company brand. They ask you for your card and you say:
“Hah I don’t believe in cards, just look me up on LinkedIn, my name is so-and-so”.
First of all, those 10 business cards in your wallet honestly don’t weigh that much to carry around. Second of all, it’s a great reminder for the morning-after when they’re emptying out their pockets and notice your card again.
Will you hear from everyone you hand your card to? No, of course not.
But are you really willing to run the risk of missing out on potential clients because of a couple of dollars a stack of business cards cost?
Make sure they’re well-designed though, and this varies from industry to industry. If you’re a self-employed accountant, you’ll want to keep it simple and sober. A freelance illustrator will want to liven it up a bit of course.
2. Complete your LinkedIn profile
LinkedIn is so omnipresent in today’s professional world that it hardly matters what industry you’re in. Whether you’re a copywriter, video editor or mobile app developer, you want to have a completed profile and fill it up with as many recommendations as possible.
Ask everyone you’ve ever worked with for a recommendation since this is what most clients will actually trust: the opinion of previous clients and peers.
Clearly mention your skills, proficiency and past professional experience.
Of course, you have to make sure you have some proof of the work you’ve delivered in the past and this brings us into the next point.
3. Have an online portfolio
You’d think this applies only to graphic occupations but it doesn’t. As a writer (be it business copy, creative, web content or any other form) you should always try to keep your best examples on public display.
As a programmer, have screenshots of your applications with text explaining the functionality. If it’s publicly available, provide a link to the website or even the app store for mobile apps.
Whatever you do, make sure everything’s always centralized in one location and easily reachable for prospective clients or employers. Don’t make them have to look for it because they won’t, they’ll just go for the other guy whose portfolio was ready and on display.
It is important to mention here that you should definitely always check with your clients if you’re allowed to publish your delivered projects. Obviously, if you’re a ghostwriter, your client won’t be too happy with you telling everyone about it.
Plenty of times when delivering a finished assignment, a client takes possession of all the rights and you should definitely make sure it’s okay for you to use it in a portfolio.
Always have everything in writing, though that’s something for a different post altogether.
4. Don’t forget about real-life marketing
With the rise of websites like Fiverr, Guru, Elance and many others, freelancers tend to forget there’s still such a thing as offline interaction and marketing.
Have you ever worked at a coffee shop and noticed some curious glances in your direction?
These could be possible clients, right? But you can’t really walk over to anyone looking at you and shower them with business cards, that would be a bit weird. What you really need is a way to tell these people what you’re doing without actually telling them.
Well, guess what, we’ve got just the right solution! (Warning: incoming self-promotion!)
At Coffee Shop Freelancers we decided to address this issue by designing inviting marketing decals for professionals. The goal is to tell your surroundings about what you do and to communicate that it’s absolutely okay for them to come and talk to you.
In co-working spaces (and life in general) people tend to avoid talking to strangers and we’ve now made it our goal to try and break down some of these communicative barriers.
What’s the worst that could happen? Instead of prospective clients, you get approached by colleagues for a talk and strangers looking for advice? That still sounds great.
(Self-promotion completed. Feel free to go have a look if this sounded interesting!)
5. A common question: I’m just starting out and I don’t have an online portfolio. What do I do?
Ah, the old chicken or the egg question. Without a portfolio, you won’t get clients but without clients, you can’t build a portfolio.
For starters, you’re probably right in assuming your school projects aren’t good enough to be presented to clients. It’s only on rare occasions you’ll have more than 2 examples you can be actually proud of.
The answer is simple though. Build your portfolio by delivering free or under-priced work to friends and family. If not them, go online and offer your services to complete strangers. Post on craigslist or Reddit, talk to local business owners or associations, help out non-profits or just do it for fun.
It doesn’t really matter who the client is (when starting out they probably won’t be big enough to be recognizable to others) as long as you put your heart and soul into it. Don’t disregard the work because it’s free or underpaid.
This is the foundation you’re building for all your future clients. Deliver messy work and you’ll get messy future clients.
When showing your portfolio to someone you can’t really say “I know this doesn’t look amazing but I did it for free for a non-profit, so you know whatever”. Show everyone, including yourself, that you take pride in your work and you will be better for it in the long run.
I hope these tips helped some people out. They’re meant for starter freelancers and young graduates so they may not provide as much value to more experienced readers but I wish (and I think many others with me) I had known all of this when I started out.