"A freelancer really has two jobs," says Dave DiVerniero, producer at Black Chip Collective, a freelance network that helps pair freelance video professionals with clients around the country. "The first is to be absolutely great at what they do. The second, much more difficult and painful job, is to consistently find work."
Whether you're freelancing full time or on the side, finding work it doesn't have to be impossible. Here are four common mistakes that keep freelancers from getting the work they need and deserve, and how you can ensure you're not making them.
Your Network Is Too Small
Too many freelancers think they have to operate like an island, but your network is vital to your success.
"You shouldn't view other freelancers as competitors, but rather fellow soldiers fighting on the same side of a war as you," DiVerniero says. "They can be valuable assets, often more so than potential clients, because they can share advice as well as referrals from multiple different clients."
Here are some ways to help build your profile with your fellow professionals as well as potential clients:
- Join industry organizations and communities. Look for professional membership-based organizations (which may come with fees), as well as less formal groups on Facebook, Linkedin, Meetup and other communities.
- Attend industry events, conferences, happy hours and other meet-ups. Be sure you have your business cards and other relevant information at the ready so you can connect with allies and potential clients.
- Be your own PR team. Keep your name out there by building a digital brand and creating content either on your own blog or contributing content to relevant industry blogs and websites. Pitch yourself to industry podcasts where you can bring value to the audience.
- Ensure your social profiles are updated and optimized, so that you can easily by found by people searching for someone with your skill set. Make sure to keep those accounts relatively active so that it's clear that you're available for work.
You're Not Pricing Yourself Right
Setting your rates is one of the most difficult parts of starting out as a freelancer, and it can be one of the most costly, too.
"Being too cheap can often cause more problems than being too expensive, because you're devaluing your own work and making it more difficult to grow," DiVerniero says. "An expensive freelancer might miss out on some jobs, but a cheap freelancer causes clients to question their value, be suspicious of their work, and, when they do find jobs, not make enough to cover their dry spells."
Here are some ways to get a better idea of what your rates should be:
- Talk to friends and colleagues who work in the industry to find out either what they charge, or what they pay when they hire someone for your skillset.
- If you find that you're not getting any pushback on your proposed rates, consider increasing those rates for the next pitch. Do this gradually until you find a sweet spot where there's perhaps a bit of hesitation but you're still landing clients.
Your Portfolio Isn't Cutting It
This isn't to say that your work isn't good enough. But part of the art of applying for work as a freelancer is compiling the right kind of portfolio for the given job.
"Crappy portfolios can be made from great work for reasons totally unrelated to the work's quality," DiVerniero says.
Here are some things to look out for when compiling your portfolio:
- Be sure to include enough examples of your work. A sparse portfolio makes you look inexperienced.
- Check that the work in your portfolio actually speaks to the specific job you're applying to and demonstrates the skills they need for the job. Great work from a different industry or type of company may not help prove your qualifications. Create a custom or adjusted portfolio or list of examples for each role you apply for.
- Include recent work as well as older work, to balance showing experience and activity. Too much of one or the other can create doubts about your experience or current employability.
You're Not Marketing Yourself Well
"An extremely common mistake freelancers make is to try to be all things to all people," DiVerniero says. In marketing, you often hear about the importance of "niching down," so as to make your value proposition clear for your ideal audience, and freelancing is no different.
When crafting your freelance pitch or story, here are some things to consider to make your pitch as specific as possible:
- What specific type of clients do you most want to work for? (B2B businesses with less than 25 employees. Mobile tech startups on the East Coast. Female entrepreneurs in their first year of business. Cross-fit gyms and personal trainers.)
- What specific type of work do you create, and not create? (Videos under one minute. Blog posts over 1000 words. etc.)
- What specific outcomes do you help create? (Increased web traffic for consumer-facing blogs. Mobile user acquisition. Higher engagement on Instagram.)