Being a freelancer is not always easy, especially when first starting out. In fact, many aspiring freelancers struggle to make the transition into a difficult but fulfilling freelance career. With freelance work, nothing is assured and there are no bi-weekly paydays. But by working hard on building a personal brand, a freelancer can find steady work and great success.
Building an Online Presence
First and foremost to building your brand is building out your online presence. Many, if not all of your customers will find you online and your online presence will serve as a sort of extended resume. Unlike a resume, however, you have unlimited space to show off your past projects, education, and more.
So where should you be online? That really depends on the type of business you are in. A personal website is a great idea, particularly if you want to show off design or web development skills. Unlike some other platforms, you are not limited on a personal site and can get as creative as you want.
Keeping an up to date resume and LinkedIn profile is also a good idea. These can be great places to highlight your education, any certifications, and past work experience. If you have done any relevant work in a corporate or startup setting, that can be good to emphasize here too. But remember that if someone is going to hire you for a freelance job, they will want to see past work samples.
GitHub, Behance, and Wordpress are all examples of portfolio sites where you can show off your past work to potential employers. Take advantage of these platforms to display the work that you are proudest of. If you have worked on a variety of different types of designs or projects, use these sites to show off your range of skills.
Specializing in a Niche
Once you get a basic web presence established, you need to think about how specifically you want to market yourself. One thing to consider is tailoring your skills to a particular niche. Some freelancers are resistant to this idea, thinking it will limit their work prospects but in fact, if done right, it will do the opposite.
With the many freelancers available across the world, it is important to stand out. Being simply a designer or web developer is often not enough, particularly when you have a limited work history. A designer focused on mobile app UI or a web developer who specializes in real estate websites stand out much more in the freelance marketplace. And your brand will not be the only thing that stands out – by focusing on a niche or industry, you will become more skilled at working in that area than you would as a generalist. As a result, you should be able to produce higher quality work that speaks for itself.
It is important to remember a few things about picking a niche. First, you need to do a little market research. Specialize in an area that is broad enough to give you consistent work. Too narrow of a niche will limit your job prospects. Also, picking an area where you have past experience can always be a plus. Are you a web developer with an economics degree? Maybe specializing in financial services companies might be the best plan for you. Were you a marketer at an e-commerce company? Maybe you should stick to e-commerce as a freelancer.
Second, remember that you are not exclusively limited to working in your niche. While your focus should be in one particular area, word will spread about your talents. If you get offered a project outside your niche, do not necessarily turn it down. It can be a great way to expand your skillset. Working in a niche also does not need to be a long-term strategy, but instead can be a way to build skills and a good portfolio while starting out as a freelancer.
Once your brand is established – once you understand how and where to market yourself – you need to start thinking about building and maintaining your reputation. All the time that you spend selling yourself to new clients or bidding on proposals takes away from getting your core work done. The best way to grow your business as a freelancer is to get return business and referrals from satisfied clients.
To do this, you need to be realistic about your skillset and set realistic expectations for clients. Do not take on jobs that are too big for you. Remember that bad feedback from early clients can potentially be devastating to your business. It is ok to refer them to others or bring on extra help if necessary. Communicate with clients about what is possible and how long it will take. Then make sure that you go the extra mile for your client and exceed all their expectations. And while this is especially important for beginning freelancers, you need to always maintain high quality work and a commitment to customer service. Reputation management as a freelancer is something that takes constant work.
When you do have a satisfied client, it is perfectly alright to ask them to advocate for you. Ask them to write you a LinkedIn recommendation or ask if you can use the work you did for them in your portfolio. Getting paid through Bitwage and using a Bitwage.ME profile can provide you with a verified freelance work history to help you build trust with new clients. If you are able to build some good customer references in these ways, you can spend less time on sales and more time doing what you really love – client work.
The hardest part of starting out as a freelancer is that you are essentially selling yourself – to most people, a total unknown. But by building your brand the right way, you can quickly go from being an unknown to a hot commodity in the freelance world.
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