Hello Wanderers! Anthony here with our latest post on Begin Wandering, and I want to talk about a very important issue that you will likely face at every level of freelancing: attracting clients who will boost your portfolio and pay you well.
It is actually the biggest challenge for a freelancer to find a proper client that believes in them, with which they can form a stable business relationship that ensures regular payment (almost like a salary but at the same time something much better), who appreciates what they do and who they can count on for the long term.
Sure, one-time gigs and small projects are great when you’re getting started and need some quick money/additions to your portfolio, but these soon stop fulfilling your needs as a freelancer. You suddenly realize that you need to climb up to the next level.
I’ve created this guide for you to achieve exactly that – finding and keeping big freelance clients, which in turns lead to the growth and enhancement of your freelance portfolio. So grab a drink, put some music on and let’s get started. It’s time you went from freelance hopeful to Mr. or Mrs. Marketing Extraordinaire.
If you read my previous articles on finding your freelance specialty or starting up your career as a freelancer, you’ll be familiar with the emphasis I’ve placed on choosing your specialty as a freelancer. For better or for worse, you will most likely fail to ever reach your potential as a freelancer if you never choose an actual specialty and instead spend your days doing “whatever you can find” for a few bucks.
What I mean is – besides some people who actually seem to be good at everything they set their minds upon – the great majority of us will be much better at some things than others, which we should consider when giving direction to our freelance career.
Are we creative writers? Yes? No? What kind – children’s, thrillers, romance, erotica? What about programmers? What language do we specialize in? Think about all of this when you want to start attracting big clients.
When I began to work on Upwork in mid-2015, I remember my first job being a project on Minecraft fiction. Now, this wasn’t what I had signed up to do, but I soon realized (as did the client) that I was good at it. Soon, I began to take more Minecraft jobs (and similar children’s and young adult content), until there came a moment where any client looking for a Minecraft fiction writer would come across me 75% of the time. I later did the same with serial killer and true crime work.
What did I do there? I didn’t just choose my niches – I owned them. I became a specialist – THE specialist, in fact. If you haven’t yet done this and still compete with other better freelancers than you in fields you’re not that good at, you’re already setting yourself up for failure.
Become the specialist and ensure that you’re the one getting all the jobs. If you can find a niche that is specific enough, you will never lack work. Trust me; I know what I’m talking about in this case.
Listen to this lady with small hands! (Source: Pixabay)
A common mistake made by many amateurs and even experienced freelancers – thinking they can earn a job by working for less than the rest. No! This isn’t how things work in real life.
For all that it may seem this way from our point of view; bigger clients don’t go out and look for the cheapest they can find, scraping the barrel for the low-budget freelancers that can charge them less. Maybe the start-ups and individual entrepreneurs can do that due to money constraints, but you’ll never find a big client doing this. Why? Simply because low rates have traditionally been associated with low quality.
Really? Yes. I have been on both sides of the freelancer-client spectrum, and you can see how desperate someone comes off as when they charge you around 30-50% less than you expected to perform a tough job. Don’t be that person: it is quite unattractive and off-putting for a client, and you most likely won’t get the job.
Instead, set an hourly rate, regardless of the job being fixed rate or hourly, and schedule your work according to this amount. Do you charge $30 USD per hour? Great, how many hours should the task take you? Ask for specific details, such as deadlines and submission destinations (email, freelance websites, other), as well as looking at your own schedule up to the deadline. You may not have the amount of time required. If so, charge less and ask for more days than the client demanded initially.
If you can organize yourself and demonstrate that you’re actually going to perform at your highest level, submit the work responsibly on the agreed date and maintain a satisfactory level of communication all the while, you’re on your way to being awarded the project no matter how much you’re charging them!
Not everyone is gifted with the same ability to communicate, and that might just be where some marketing and psychology specialists have the sharpest edge at convincing people to do what they want.
Nevertheless, you don’t have to be the world’s next best Instagram influencer to get what you want from somebody, you just need to know how to talk to a potential client during the interview.
Clients like feeling reassured. They like being told that they can take it easy while the freelancer takes control of everything involved in the project. This should be your priority – not only because you can attract top-tier companies and individuals, but because you can also prepare yourself for long-term relationships.
For example: If you are a copywriter in a job interview, don’t just tell the client you can produce excellent content that will sell, or bore them with past experiences. Instead, explain to them that you would be willing to rewrite their website to improve their results, enhancing their engagement through the use of SEO and powerful taglines; explain to them how their company would benefit from your knack for creating brief, moving scripts for short commercials that have already made thousands of dollars for another recent client.
It’s not about exaggerating your abilities; it’s about being confident and selling yourself. But whatever you do, don’t sell yourself short, no matter what. You’ll be betraying yourself, handicapping your possibilities of getting the job. You need to show prove you are the best, even if you’re clearly not.
Another common mistake made by freelancers is to say everything about themselves in their initial message to the client – don’t! Remember, mystery and suspense are good selling points for anything; think of movie trailers and how they make you NEED to watch the full film! Do the same with your proposals and opening message for interviews: introduce yourself and explain what you can do to bring them added value, but tell them that you’ll go into more details once they’ve interviewed you. I use this strategy, and believe me that it has worked excellently for me.
Try to do this without ramming a key into your brain, though. (Source: Pixabay)
My hire rate is high because of my ability to convince the client of two things:
1) I’m the best for their task, even if I’m truly not (because there will always be someone more capable, not because I’m not good at what I do)
2) Because I have learned how to talk to them and make them feel reassured.
Take both of these things into account, and you will soon land bigger and better clients.
So you do get that interview, but the client stops responding to your messages after a few days. Maybe he or she tells you that he/she is going to take a look at other candidates and make a decision, or they simply become busy. What now? Start looking for another job and forget it? No!
Don’t be afraid to be pushy. Wait a few days, maybe three or four, and start messaging them. You need an answer, no matter what. This could be your big break, and the best way to show interest is by letting the client know that you’re following this project intently.
Some may feel that this is a bit too clingy for their taste, and that this is basically screaming “I need the job!” to the client, but this isn’t actually how it works. You’ll definitely get a message back unless the client has definitely filled the position (which is unlikely if the job is still open), and you have a chance to convince them to hire you. Win-win, I’d say.
You have to say "hey, I'm here!" just like this squirrel... (Source: Pixabay)
Many will frown on this one, but this is simply me having your back as a fellow freelancer. I’m sorry, but I can’t help but recommend it. Big clients will typically give you big jobs, but you must be ready to ask for big money to complement this all as well.
If you’re worth what you think you are, then don’t be afraid to raise your rates for, say, a multi-million corporation offering you a position, considering that your work is going to be of far more value to them than it’d be to a young entrepreneur asking you to work on his/her Facebook account.
Asking for more money from bigger clients is perfectly okay, considering that this is the perfect channel for growing as a professional. You wouldn’t expect to be paid the same wages working for NASA as you would flipping burgers and mopping floors for a fast food company, so why charge the same at all levels of freelance work? It just doesn’t work that way.
Charge the most you can dare to charge without being extortionate, and negotiate from there. Be wise, though, since going too far will cost you the project.
This isn't a picture of a bribe...or is it? (Source: Pixabay)
A common mistake made by most freelancers is that they treat their clients like they’re working for robots. Interactions are reduced to speaking about the current project, managing deadlines and perhaps asking a few questions about the work currently being done.
Ugh. Seriously? Don’t be so unfriendly! Ask them how business is going, when they created their company and what’s the story behind it; tell them something funny that happened to you this week and how you handled it. Ask them if they have any associates you could work with, and recommend your own freelancer friends if they need someone to fill another position. Call them by their first name, and don’t be afraid to ring them over a Skype call to find out more about the project.
All of this will be worth it once you’ve earned their trust and they’ve earned yours, allowing a friendship to be created, giving you the chance to work together for years and maybe even meet for a more formal business engagement. Who knows? The possibilities are endless.
Freelancers can often make the enormous mistake of saying “No” too soon. “No, I cannot call over Skype”, “No, I can’t do Twitter marketing, just Facebook”, “No, I’m not good at producing the content for an infographic”…
Learn to say YES, like Jim Carrey in that movie I never got round to seeing from start to finish. I’m not saying that you should prepare yourself to lie at every chance – I’m saying that whenever you get the chance, learn to perform new tasks that you could be doing already, especially if they are fully related to your field. There’s no reason a writer can’t also proofread, a translator can’t also write or a video producer can’t also add a voiceover of someone they know in real life who can help them out.
My past experiences have told me that a client will 9 times out of 10 continue the interview past initial stages if you show a positive disposition and are willing to do secondary tasks that you didn’t initially sign up for. Will you do them for free? Not if you know how to make the most of what you’re charging you won’t, but that’s actually the next point in this list.
Be positive, be proactive and make “yes” your first answer and the bigger clients will quickly snap you up to join their staff. After all, a proactive worker is a productive worker, and they will know you’re bound to make them money.
Remember I told you to stick to your niche? What if I told you I wasn’t being 100% honest? (Sorry…)
A freelancer specialty can be an excellent safe space to work within, but it can also be a great starting spot for better things. Much better things, in fact.
There are plenty of ways for a freelancer of one or two specialties to find work in a third or fourth niche, especially if they can direct their attention and efforts to learning to multitask efficiently – even for a single client that is looking to fill different positions!
I’ve had clients who have had me assigned to a writing job suddenly find the need to translate other works to Spanish, which I’m also native in; this has allowed me to offer my services and soon generate another source of income with somebody who I trust and who trusts me.
Other good examples would be for frontend developers who know the backend mechanics (and vice-versa); graphic designers that can manage social media; data entry specialists that can act as virtual assistants and more… the possibilities are virtually endless when it comes to accomplishing your goals and finding income from every skill you own.
Keep yourself centered, however, since your specialty is still your specialty. Don’t take dumb risks and pretend you know more than you really do – it will not end well for your reputation!
Pictured: Things you don't learn in school! (Source: Pixabay)
There really is no difference between being the best freelancer in your niche or the worst freelancer in your niche if nobody is looking at your profile. If you want to succeed and be recognized, you need to learn to market yourself!
My tips for anyone looking to show the world who they are and what they are capable of are the following:
1. Exposing yourself on social media as more than just “John/Jane Smith” and actually representing yourself as a writer, programmer, designer, translator or whatever you do is an excellent first step. Add it to your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram bios, share and post things on that inactive LinkedIn account you have lying around, and let people know that you’re writing for X company will give you the chance of being recognized for what you do!
2. Don’t be afraid if your friends and family find out what you do for a living. A common problem among many of us is to be scared of what our loved ones think of our jobs, and it can become an obstacle from marketing ourselves on our main social media accounts… this is actually a silly fear. Most people don’t really care, and those that do aren’t actually going to change the fact that you’re good at what you do. Ignore the stupid remarks and criticism, and let everyone know what specialties you’re involved in – you may even find a client among your closest acquaintances!
3. Be unconventional – don’t just use the typical means to market yourself, but also ensure that you’re found on spaces where you just know you’ll be read or spotted by people in your field. Try public forums, Facebook groups, Quora, even YouTube comments can be useful if you know how to use them! Use your imagination and make smart, non-spammy comments and you’ll soon be expanding your reach to more and more clients across the globe! Recruiters are EVERYWHERE, believe me.
4. Find a mentor! – You won’t always think you need someone to guide you through this journey, but it turns out that when somebody does, they usually provide you with tips and help that will allow you to accomplish objectives faster than they ever could. So imagine now – you find a mentor that is actually one of the big guns in your niche… just imagine everything that you can achieve that you would have taken a hundred times longer to achieve without them? Be grateful though, especially if they’re performing the role for free. Knowledge is power, and anyone providing it to you deserves immense credit.
Finding a mentor isn’t always easy, but you must look across places like the aforementioned communities in the previous tip: any of those spaces will push you in the path of the best freelancers sooner or later. Learn to make an impression and the rest should come on its own.
Now – we’ve covered most if not all of the subjects I wanted to touch upon in the creation of this guide, but there is still something left to cover. In fact, this last point is a crucial factor in everything you will ever do to gain clients. Let’s move onto this final section…
Yet another enormous mistake made by freelancers is having a door slammed in their face forever after their work has ended: basically, letting their clients go without getting any value for the future from them.
As a freelancer, you will have to learn to thrive on five-star reviews and recommendations from your clients so that more clients can see you and send projects in your direction, which is why you’re going to need to earn these reviews and recommendation with hard, responsible work; nevertheless, if you’re not even going to ensure you’re getting these once the project is over, all you’ve managed to do with the client was earn some money and learn a few lessons that nobody will ever find out about. :(
Really, believe me: public, positive feedback from your client is worth more than any money they hand you over while you’re working together, especially when you take your portfolio into account.
Growing your portfolio is a matter of knowing how to finish a business relationship as well as you started it; it is a matter of letting the client know that you want to display the project you both worked on in your profiles (LinkedIn, Upwork, Facebook or wherever you want to) so that future clients can come across it and understand just how good of an asset you are to their companies. Growing your portfolio is grabbing a recruiter by the scruff of their shirt and saying “Are you looking at me? Well, you better be!”
Learn this basic rule of freelance life: a portfolio should never be empty. You should always have something to show a potential client, whether you’re a young guy/girl on your first day of freelancing or if you’re a grey-beard in your niche. Also this: Work history is good, sample is great, portfolio is best. There isn’t quite anything better you can show a client than the collection of projects you’ve worked on, stating what you did and how long it lasted, as well as the opinions of your clients once it was done.
So start building it today – grab some jpg’s of company logos and write some descriptions of what you did; ask your clients to recommend you around the industry; and make sure you’ve done enough to earn a five-star review with decent feedback. You’re going to tear the field apart, tiger!
"Give me this or else, Mr. Client Guy!" (Source: Pixabay)
In a final note, there is a No. 1, inevitable habit that amateur freelancers have that is – perhaps – the biggest cause of losing out on big clients or at least establishing a long-term relationship: being too shy or afraid to text their boss for work.
Guys and girls, come on! Seriously! Don’t be afraid to text your client when they haven’t contacted you anymore, telling them that you’re ready for the next batch of articles or project they have in their hands. Tell them you’re free and loved working for them. Tell them you just feel great in their company or something cheesy, but TELL THEM SOMETHING! 50% of the time, you’re going to convince them to give you something – anything – and that will allow you to create a long-term relationship. I’ve done this dozens of times, and even had clients insist on me returning once it was me that stopped replying back.
Don’t waste your opportunity!
Anyway, that’s all for this article (it’s getting quite long), but I hope you’ve learned a thing or two about grasping opportunities with both hands and making the most of your time working under a client.
Working under big freelance clients and forming relationships, as well as networking (which we will leave for another article), are big steps into becoming an online entrepreneur. Believe in yourself and strive to achieve the best results every time, and you will soon reach the goals you’ve been aiming for.
With that said…
Do you have a formula of your own when it comes to getting big clients?
What would you add to this list?
Comment below and don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE!
Founder, Head Content Creator. Chemical Engineer. Entrepreneur. Instructor. Writer. Traveler. Once a cog in the traditional workforce machine, I decided to stake my claim in the freelancing business and haven’t looked back since. Working remotely is the first step to freedom, bringing you the ability to call your own shots and organize your own time. Now, however... I'm going to teach you how.