The first six months of freelancing are often the hardest. If you’ve left a corporate job and have never had to market yourself, it can be discouraging to find out how much time the marketing takes. If you stick with it, and you’re good at what you do, the effort will pay off down the line. Here are 5 tips for getting your freelance business off to a strong start.
Find ways of marketing your services that you can tolerate. Like many people, I don’t enjoy promoting myself. It makes me a little queasy. But I also have kids who need to eat. So, when I was first starting out, I looked for ways of advertising my services that I minded less than, say, cold-calling. The first three months I started freelancing, I spent three hours a day fine-tuning my LinkedIn page, creating an advertisement on MediaBistro—a site where freelancers can offer their services to potential clients—and on emailing contacts in my field to let them know I was available. This was how I generated virtually all of the clients for my business.
Tap colleagues at your old employers first. These folks know you, so if you left on good terms, it should be easier to win freelance projects from them than other prospects who don’t know you. Marketing yourself to former colleagues may simply entail sending an email saying, “Hey, Emily. I’ve decided to go freelance. If you’re swamped and need to offload any projects, please feel free to get in touch.” (Of course, this advice only applies if the company outsources work.)
Be accessible. If you need a full-time flow of projects, it really helps to be reachable most of the business day. Many companies are operating very lean these days, and they don’t all have the luxury of assigning work with long lead times. Smart phones aren’t for everyone, but if you want to reach your income goals, it’s hard to operate without one.
Expect your first projects to be tests. Few clients will trust a freelancer they have not tried before with a huge, time-sensitive project. Typically, anyone who hires you will want to make sure you are reliable on a number of fronts, from making the deadline to checking your work for errors. So, if a new potential client offers you a tiny project—even one that pays in the $100 to $300 range—don’t turn it away. Treat it like it’s the most important project you’ve ever done. If you do a great job, it could be the gateway to many thousands of dollars in recurring work. Those who cut corners on assignments like this will find that clients are never willing to offer them the big, profitable projects.
Know when and where you’re willing to work—and stick with it. Not all jobs are worth taking, even when you’re starting out and need income. Projects that require a long commute generally must pay better than those you can tackle from your own office to be profitable. Generally, clients won’t pay you for the hours you spend traveling.