You don’t. They find you.
I see this question asked time and time again. For some, this is the biggest struggle. A hurdle holding them back from pursuing their dream of freelancing.
Being your own boss and running your own business is so rewarding, yet takes dedication and determination. Many freelancers break too early – I see it happening time and time again. They’ve been having a two month drought and are feeling the pressure of no work coming through the door. They’re considering going back to a day job and start doubting their work and expertise.
This is the make or break point: If you’re in a period of drought, step back and re-evaluate your business. It’s not the client or time of year’s fault for a drought.
“I guess the right client hasn’t come along yet”
“Yeah it’s Summer so I guess most people are on holiday”
Yes, a lot of people do go on holiday over the Summer, but that doesn’t mean the whole design industry goes on a Summer vacation.
The right client is right outside your window, but they just don’t know that you exist. It’s up to you to invite them inside.
Here’s what most people do when they can’t find clients:
- Join a freelancing network (e-lance, fiverrrr etc)
- Pick up a part time job
- Take on freelance jobs they’re unenthusiastic about and wouldn’t have otherwise taken
None of the above points have any positive impact on how you run your business – which means the drought is likely to become a recurring occasion.
Here’s what you could do when you can’t find clients:
- Re evaluate your positioning
- Create impact and unforgettable value
- Define your niche
- Collaborate and meet new people
- Become a leader
The problem is that most freelancers set up a portfolio website and sit back waiting for clients to come to them – but this is where the hard work really starts. Your work and services will not sell themselves – it’s up to you to create unforgettable value and high demand.
Position yourself as a professional
What makes you unique?
We’ve all asked this question about ourselves, but it’s time to ask this question about our business. Positioning is about perception and perception is everything. You need to ask yourself what do you want your business to be known for?
Positioning starts at the very first point of contact you have with a potential client. For most freelancers, this is their website. Your website should be clearly communicating the value that clients will receive if they work with you.
Compare the following two headlines on a freelancer’s website:
Hi, I’m Alex and I’m a product designer who makes UX solutions for mobile.
I help startups grow their business by crafting seamless UX experiences for mobile.
Define your ideal client and speak in a language that will appeal to them. The headline text on your website is guaranteed to be read by nearly everyone that comes to your website. Everything else, not so likely.
Consider, what you want to be known for. If a prospective client came to your website, could only read the headline and then leave, consider what the key takeaway is that will make you memorable and position yourself above the rest.
Positioning yourself as a professional sounds obvious, but can be difficult to put into practice – few freelancers do this really well. Testimonials are a great and easy place to start. Contact your past clients and ask them for a brief testimonial that you can use on your website. Pick through the testimonials you receive and find the ones that best position you as an expert in your field.
Your website is going to set the stage for the type of quality and value the client will receive when they work with you. If you were a client, consider what questions they would have. If you can provide answers to most of their questions through your website, it will start the working relationship between you on the right foot.
Show the client what they will receive by working with you.
Every new client you get is a lead to another client in the future.
If you take the time to really listen to your clients needs and form a friendly, professional working relationship with them – chances are they’re likely to refer you to someone else.
Going the extra mile when working with clients can really pay off and lead to future working relationships. I read briefs as if they’re the minimum requirement. If I can go above and beyond the client’s expectations and uncover hidden problems and solutions – and prove they will bring success to their business – I’m going to set a pretty lasting impression.
Consider, what other value can you provide to your client (outside of the brief) that shows you’re going the extra mile? Maybe there’s an opportunity for them to get into email marketing, or add a notification system to their software.
Every touch point with a client is an opportunity for you to give them unforgettable value.
Make sure you’re delivering not only high quality work along the way, but show you’re alert by providing solutions to new problems.
Niching down and saying No
Saying no allows you to say yes.
Projects you work on now will determine the projects you take on in the future. Saying yes to everything means you’re giving up control on what type of projects you want to work on in the future.
I often say no to smaller projects (a blogger wants a new personal website for example), so that I can say yes to bigger projects. If I had take on the small blogger project, I may not have been able to take on the bigger project due to time constraints and capacity.
Niching down shows you’re an expert in your field. You’ve probably heard this a million times, but it demonstrates the point perfectly – Jack of all trades, master of none. If you want to become the master at what you do, you need to define your niche.
Consider this, if I said yes to every project that’s come my way, here’s the type of work I’d be doing with all of my time:
- blog templates for bloggers
- logo design
- motion graphics and video intros
- social media graphics (banners, cover images etc)
- trade show banners
As the freelancer, you’re in control. I made a decision when I started The Apartment that I wanted to focus on digital design for small to medium sized businesses. To ensure that the right projects come my way, we’ve positioned The Apartment as a digital design studio – and say no to projects that aren’t web based.
Collaborate with others and grow your network
Word of mouth can be incredibly powerful when you have a quality network.
Having recently moved to Amsterdam from New Zealand, I’ve been attending multiple meet ups and met with a handful of local designers over coffee. Build a local network of people you can reach out to.
Forming relationships with others in your field opens the door of opportunity. Collaborations are a great way to (make a friend! But also) grow your own network and increase the opportunity for new projects and clients.
If you receive a brief that contains work outside of your scope – you have two options:
- Turn the project down
- Collaborate with someone else
Collaborating with others exposes you to not only more project opportunities, but also to the network of the person you’re collaborating with.
Treat the person you’re collaborating with as though they were your client. Impressions matter and the harsh reality is that people will judge you. When you collaborate with someone, they’re going to get an inside look into how you work. They’re going to see you exposed and raw.
People you collaborate with are a lead. Be professional throughout your working relationship with them and they may refer you to someone.
Be a leader and champion for other designers
People value commitment. If you can show up consistently and deliver a promise, not only will people take notice of it but they’ll admire you for it.
At The Apartment we publish one blog post every Thursday. This means that every Thursday I show up and publish a post. It doesn’t matter whether I’m on holiday, or feeling tired, or busy with other work – setting time aside to post consistently on the blog is a commitment that I’ve made to myself.
And people are starting to notice.
Running this blog and writing on topics such as these is showing that I live and breathe design and freelancing. I’m so passionate about this topic that I show up every day and do something that will drive my freelancing business forward – whether it’s as small as posting an Instagram picture, or as big as working on a client project.
If you can become a champion for other designers, they’re going to look up to you. Soon, potential clients will too. I’m not at that stage yet and not planning to be for at least a year of consistent blogging, but I’m making a start by committing to this blog and myself.
Having a blog on your portfolio site shows you’re an expert. It let’s you talk and discuss topics relating to your field. If a client sees you’re sharing your knowledge and experience they’re going to see that you have passion.
Be that passionate designer. Show that you’re someone that’s invested in the topic, and make that commitment to yourself to show up.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: none of this happens over night. Being a freelancer means you have ups and downs and cashflow can fluctuate dramatically. While we can’t have full control of the reigns, it is up to us to steer it in the right direction. We haven’t even figured this out yet.
It’s up to you to do the work to determine which direction it goes.