STRATEGIES YOU CAN BEGIN IMPLEMENTING IMMEDIATELY TO GET THE CLIENTS TO CHASE YOU
Don’t be interchangeable. Identify yourself as someone who has a different take on things.
Every job, you are competing for business with thousands of others who provide similar services. Though you’re a team of one, you’re still facing the same problem every business faces: how do I make my product stand out? If you want to give clients a strong reason to choose you, you need a competitive advantage. What kind of work are you really good at? This is your “unique selling point” or your “brand.”
How can you find a voice that stands out from the noise? Well, whether you realize it or not you’re already putting a message out there. What people see as your brand is the average of all the work you have on your site. Your volume of work might be too large or too small for the pattern to be obvious yet but people are drawing conclusions about you nonetheless. Most of us just approach projects on a case-by-case basis without thinking what our “special ingredient” is, leaving clients no real reason to choose us over anyone else. Don’t be interchangeable. Make the decision to be known for something in particular, so that people see you as someone who will elevate the nature of their project.
Ideally, you should know what you want to be known as in 2 sentences or less. All of your work on your site should support this one direction so that you’re painting the most consistent possible portrait of what people can expect when they hire you. The lens can be something as simple as “I’m the technical guy.” If you’re a web coder and technical stuff is your thing that you need to only have projects up that show extreme technical acumen. If you think of stars in any field, you usually remember them for something they’re specifically great at. Even though Tim Ferris has mastered roughly 945 different skill sets he is still known as the guy writing about time-saving efficiency hacks.
You just want to be able to demonstrate consistent results so clients don’t need to worry about whether or not you can get the job done. If your style is all over the map then clients have no idea what to expect of you when they hire you, even if you can totally do the job. It seems counterintuitive, but to become more popular, you need to narrow the scope of what you show people. If you have a huge breadth of work, only put up a carefully curated selection on your site so it paints a consistent picture. This does not mean this is the only thing you will ever get hired for, but target your marketing at one very specific thing that you’re best at. If you can do that and convince people you’re an expert at that, that’s all it takes to create your brand.
Don’t just be a disposable service provider, keep working on personal projects.
Have I mentioned that developing a unique brand is important? How does one do something so daunting as stand out from everyone in their field? Experimentation and repeated failure.
Exploring your field in your off hours is essential if you want to be unique at what you do. Only by doing projects for yourself can you really control what you’re learning and decide your own destiny. When you’re exclusively doing client work, you need to execute in a timely fashion to keep from blowing it and losing the client’s faith in you. This usually means doing the job using skills you’ve already used a hundred times before. As a freelancer you’re generally only going to get paid to do things you’ve done before.
If you aspire to do something different than what you’re doing now, it requires learning how to do that for free first on your own time. Sometimes these self-initiated learning experiments succeed wildly and these successful experiments are where your competitive advantage is born. I’ll level with you, it is rough to have a day job and then come home and continue working, but don’t listen to people who tell you otherwise, there is no easy road to success. No pain, no gain. It takes consistency and patience but standing out from the crowd will pay dividends 10X the effort you put in.
Keep the momentum going.
Say yes to opportunities. Ever hear the phrase “a big part of success is just showing up?” That happens to be pretty true. When you find yourself in a groove, don’t let off the gas. You NEVER know what opportunities are going to be your big break and I can’t tell you how many times one job has blossomed into an ongoing relationship.
To really build momentum, treat every project as an opportunity to build your skill set. Greatness isn’t a wish that gets granted, you get better layer by layer one project at a time. If you make it your goal to get better or learn something with each project you take on, then you’re constantly building momentum and it’s only a matter of time before you’ll be pretty great at what you do. There’s no other secret to it. Make it your goal for your current project to be your best one yet. You won’t hit it every time. But at least even if it misses the mark, you’ll have learned something new. With this mindset, every job is a chance to impress someone and convert them into evangelists on your behalf.
Always be learning.
One of the biggest advantages of being a freelancer is the constant exposure to different work environments. Each job is a masterclass taught by another semester of co-workers. Their practices, their ideas, and their feedback of you all amount to an education that’s paying you to show up. When else does that ever happen? You can constantly get a seat at the table with a new group of experts giving you live coaching every day on what a professional in your field acts like.
The way to really capitalize on this is to back down from your pre-conceived notions of how you’d like things to work and to be as adaptable as possible to those around you. Don’t assume that your way is the best way, try it how your peers are doing it and try to see the logic in their approach. Never resist a chance for someone to show you a new way of doing things. If you work a few different gigs a year you can quickly learn better than any employee how to be a model member of your industry.
Seduce the people you want to work with.
Success has a certain energy about it. To be a star, you need to act like one. You can skip the part where you end up in rehab with alot of bad tattoos, but you do want to be memorable. You really want the people you work with to talk about how great you are to other people so they become your (unpaid!) marketing team. Catch their attention. Be exciting. Shine. Every industry recognizes passion and imagination so make sure you convey how much you like what you do.
For introverts, or quiet people out there, this doesn’t have to mean dominating every conversation or being able to work a room, if your thing is just doing a really great job, then make sure people can see you’re excited about it. Always look happy to be there and excited about getting into projects. Passionate people aren’t supposed to look unhappy to be doing something they’re passionate about.
Become the consummate professional.
Alot of highly sought after freelancers can transform into divas. Ideally you want to develop a reputation for yourself that’s positive; as someone who is reliable and easy to deal with. Let the others have their ego, you’ll gladly take their jobs when people realize you’re easier to work with. Here’s some tips to keep in mind what a good professional should act like:
Be Generous with Your Knowledge
The quickest way to earn that referral is to share your knowledge with those around you. When you treat other people’s problems as your own and take the time to help solve them, you immediately win an advocate who will go to bat for what a great addition to the team you are. You’re demonstrating that you’re an expert and someone who adds value to the team whenever you’re around. When you’re identifying an issue with the work, never do so without offering a solution as a follow-up. This rule is worth its weight in gold in being seen as valuable. Be the problem solver.
Don’t Take Days Off
“You’re only as good as your last job” is a great creed to keep in mind. After a few days on a gig, it’s easy to feel like an employee, where surviving till 5PM is all it takes to get through the day. You’re not an employee, you’re replaceable and you’re trying every day to convince them that you’re the best person for the job. Show up on time and don’t waste a minute. Never burn any of the bridges you cross on your travels and it won’t take long before you’ll have a collection of old clients that are all hoping to work with you again.
Never Go in Unprepared
Make sure that whatever you get hired for you are fully qualified to do. If you aren’t capable of being fully in control of a job then you can’t get brought in, it’s that simple. And if you don’t know how to do something and get hired anyway, then you better put in the work on your own time so that you have it figured out by the time you show up. Adaptability and communication are actually sometimes more important than skill.
Get to Know the People Around You
Social skills are a big part of making a good impression. It’s easy to show up and do your work in the corner because you know its a temporary gig but if you want to be memorable you need to develop a positive relationship with those around you. Care enough to get from your desk and meet the people you’re at a job with as well as being transparent and honest with them about the work you’re creating….especially with the teams you’d love to work with again.
Be specific about what your dream looks like.
Know specifically what you want to be. It’s not enough to say “I want to work at ____ company.” If you don’t have a plan you’re not going to be. Very specific directed work is what it takes to be somewhere different than where you are. This is all about being efficient with your efforts and your time.
You know you want to be a better coder. But HOW are you going to become one? You know you want to charge higher rates but HOW can you convince clients you’re worth more? HOW is the most important question to ask yourself before setting any goals. To get anywhere you need to have a realistic, tangible plan mapped out of how you’re going to get there or you’re going to waste your time manically fantasizing without getting any closer to your goal.
If you want to work at Nike for instance, you better be doing something with shoes in it or else there’s no real point in showing it to the them. Simple ideas, well executed, with a target audience in mind is a good philosophy when working towards a goal.
You have to be very careful about what you’re saying yes or no to. “Will saying yes to this get me closer to my goals?” If yes then do it. If no then you can’t. Going around knocking or calling random people is not the right strategy. Once you have your plan mapped out and you want to impress a specific company, create something specifically for them that would embody their taste. Before asking for the job show them that you made something for them first. It might require some effort, yes. But it could pay off in a huge way.
Those who can do, should teach.
Many experts get to the top simply by being technicians. If you can demonstrate your expertise through tutorials and informative posts, you can quickly get your name out there in the industry as someone who knows what they’re talking about. Anyone can do this! If it’s not clear yet, success is entirely about delivering as much value as possible, and putting out helpful information for your peers is a great way to show people you’re expert who wants to help the rest of the industry. EVERYONE loves someone who’s willing to help them with their problems. Whether it’s videos on software relevant to your industry or break downs on what works about other people’s successes, you need to find something you can teach others about that shows you know what you’re talking about. This takes work, but it’s a foolproof strategy in the long run if you stick with it. Solve problems for your audience, and the popularity will come along with the clients.
Work for high profile companies.
I saved this for last because it’s the most obvious and if you are already doing this probably don’t need to read this article. Top-notch world class companies work on big world-class projects. World-class projects get promoted enough to ensure your name will catch some light too if you’re lucky enough to get attached to one. If you have huge brands and recognizable projects on your resume that gets you 90% in the door at most places. So instead of stating the obvious and dropping the mic I instead decided to give some tips on how to get into world-class companies.(Also tune in for future articles about this)
Tips for Getting Hired At Top Companies
Put all you energy in your work.
Without a doubt (and again backed up in another article I did) the largest factor in getting into top companies is without a doubt the quality of your skillset. I know this is the hardest thing to improve but it shouldn’t be a surprise the best studios are the best because they hire the best people. If you put all your energy into your work you WILL get good enough to work where you want. If you’re not putting in the work then you’re lying to yourself about how much you want to work there in the first place. But if you are sincerely trying your hardest to get good, eventually you will get great. It’s just a matter of when.
Make it your full-time 2nd job to stay on top of what everyone is up to
Connections. Top places hire freelancers almost exclusively based on referrals (or if your work is really good) You never know what other people’s social webs look like so the best way to make contacts in the industry is to always be networking. Even when booked at a studios you should constantly be grabbing lunch with and keeping in touch with old co-workers and people you met at previous jobs. After doing this awhile, with patience, anyone can land the “high profile” job on a “high profile” project they’ve been dreaming about.
If you haven’t noticed a trend in this article yet, it’s that getting specific is what it takes to find the quickest route to success. Ideally everything on your site should convey one idea, representing exactly what you want to get hired for. The amount of stuff on your site is not as important as the quality of the craftsmanship that went into it. Don’t advertise any of your work unless it represents what you want to be doing. And if you want to reach out to a place and make a splash, look at the type of work they do and make something specifically to appeal to them. This is how you maximize your shot and if they say no then you just know that you need to get a little better than try again.
At the end of the day it comes down to this:
Make clients aware of your services + Demonstrate that you’re worth hiring = TURNING POINT
You will see that all the points above can be slotted somewhere into this formula. Everything you do should be in service of leaving the impression that you’re an expert and a privilege to work with. If you can do that then the people who worked with you will do all your marketing for you. Then, the brand you’ve created on your site will seal the deal and convince clients that they should absolutely hire you. Work in service of these two goals and you’ll have jobs coming to you faster than you know what to do with.
I hope this article helped steer you towards what to work on if you want to find liberation as a freelancer. These points are so powerful, even focusing on one is enough to change your trajectory as a professional, but do them all and clients will be begging you to work with them in whatever free time you’ll have left. I hope you use it to grow and find all the success you need to unlock the freedom that freelancing promises.
*This article was adapted from the original interviews conducted on Rapid Motions.
I give thanks and credit to the amazing talents who lent their insight and experience to me to cover this topic properly: Brandon Parvini, Brett Morris, Mitch Myers, Eric Nicolas Smit, Nik Hill, Melissa Oakley