All good freelancers understand that drumming up new clients and freelance gigs isn’t a one-pronged approach. It is a constant hustle and every element of your work should be geared towards new business creation. Building a strong and consistent social media presence, having an up-to-date and accessible digital portfolio and doing solid work for existing clients to generate strong word-of-mouth recommendations are all important strategies to the continued growth of your personal brand. But the hustle doesn’t stop there. In order to get new work, the most successful approach is going out and looking for it.
Here are a few tips on where to start looking to generate leads and what to do once inquiries and freelance gigs begin rolling in.
First Things First: Personal Branding
Before you put yourself out there, make sure you have done your homework and developed your own personal branding. This goes across the board for all creatives. Whether you are a graphic designer, illustrator, writer, art director or photographer, put in the time to make sure your personal branding is clearly developed. A strong personal brand demonstrates professionalism, initiative, and pride in what you do—just the right equation to put potential clients at ease that you can get the job done efficiently.
This means strong curation of your social media channels, a strong digital and print portfolio, a creative logo and a resume on the ready. Most importantly, your personal branding should be clear and consistent across all platforms and ensure that potential leads have a seamless experience when checking up on your references.
Push the Pavement
Once you have crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s, it is time to throw yourself out there. Leads can be generated both in person and on digital platforms, and creative freelancers should be setting aside time to develop both a physical presence in their local community as well as a further reaching virtual presence.
Leah Gibbs-Gore, a Senior Account Executive at Creative Circle, one of the country’s largest and most successful creative recruitment firms, sings the praises of constantly showing up.
“People launch their careers by making connections with other people in the industry,” she insists. “You have to really put yourself out there and be assertive. The more you throw yourself out there, the more likely that you are going to meet the right people.”
Freelance creatives and artists have a multitude of options for tapping into their local arts community. Take advantage of as many opportunities to introduce yourself to the scene. Gibbs-Gore encourages creatives, both novices and recognized professionals alike, to attend as many local shows, art openings, networking events, professional meet-ups, open studios and peer reviews as possible to become a consistent presence in the local scene and build a strong artist network.
Build Your Digital Portfolio
While being a constant presence in your local community is paramount, having a strong web presence is just as important. Turn your focus onto a small set of online platforms and develop a strong digital portfolio. Consider uploading your digital portfolio to spaces like Behance and Dribbble, where potential clients are scouting talent, or running an active Pinterest account to not only showcase your work but demonstrate visual boards that show off your creative references. For reaching out to client pitches directly, Upwork, as well as more creative geared sites like 99designs and The Creative Group, are great places to scan for leads.
When it comes to creating your digital portfolio, creative freelancers should be mindful of creating consistent profiles that align with their established personal brand. Consistency is key.
Start with the basics: select a professional photo, craft an easy to understand headline and connect your social platforms. Potential leads are scouting or receiving innumerable leads and more than likely skimming through the results. Your photo and headline are the first things they see and it is important that they jump out and create a strong first impression. Get rid of the selfie and opt for an appropriate headshot that demonstrates confidence. Hire a professional photographer if your budget allows, but if not, choose an appropriate background and a quality camera. Smile. You want clients to engage.
Likewise, potential clients want to hire freelance creatives that specialize in the desired work. Focus on your strengths and specialties within your digital portfolio, rather than giving a laundry list of tasks you are ok at. Your headline should cut straight to the point. Stick to a single line with copy that doesn’t rely heavily on industry jargon—leave this for the actual profile. Craft a headline that informs potential clients of the most important details: your job title, your specialty and years of experience.
Freelance creatives should approach their digital portfolio in the same way by choosing appropriate work samples that play into your established brand while including information that doesn’t just explain what you do, but how you work. Potential clients aren’t interested in a bulleted list of skills. Potential clients are interested in results and need to be able to conceptualize the benefits you will be able to contribute to their business.
Gabriela Williams, a Recruiter at Creative Circle, shares three pieces of information that creatives should be demonstrating within sample work. First, you need to explain what the challenge and end goals were that you were hired to tackle. Secondly, what was your contribution? What were the ideas that you brought to the table? Finally, what was the impact? Were the goals met? “This needs to be articulated for hiring managers,” Williams says. “The worst case scenario is that whoever is reviewing your digital portfolio is left with questions unanswered, and with so many candidates, it’s easy for them to not care enough to ask because someone else did provide the answers.”
If you are actively sending out bids on projects and freelance gigs, you are potentially one of dozens or more creatives going after the same gig. This is your time to shine. Send out thoughtful proposals that demonstrate your personality, professionalism, and initiative.
When crafting a bid, don’t be afraid to be yourself. Clients are ultimately looking to feel confident that the person on the other side of the screen can get the job done. Your skill set, experience, and samples are going to be the bread and butter of the bid, and you should play those attributes up, but it also helps to add a human element to the exchange. Scratch overly formal language and feel free to play with humor. Likewise, don’t be afraid to show initiative and share an idea in your bid or talk about how you would tackle the job.
Always read job postings carefully and pay attention to any specific qualifications or questions that a job poster would like you to fulfill. Follow those directions closely. It is okay to bid on jobs even if you don’t meet all of the qualifications, but be sure to verbalize why you should be considered regardless. Always proofread your bids carefully for spelling or grammar mistakes before hitting send.
Pricing your services is a very personal process. It is a process that often takes years to figure out. Lean on your community of fellow creatives to understand industry standards. Larger online communities like AIGA, a members club for professional designers with more than seventy chapters around the country, also offers extensive resources including a freelance day calculator to help you gain confidence in your pricing.
Finding and winning freelance gigs in a sea of other creatives can feel overwhelming. But incorporate the search into your daily routine and do so with confidence, and you will quickly begin to see results.
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