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The rise of freelancing and the gig economy has been one of the major human resources disruptors of the past decade, affecting talent sourcing in virtually all industries.
Thanks to the democratization of digital technologies, it has never been easier for individuals with skills in information technology, design, marketing, accounting, and legal services to venture into the workforce as freelancers.
Estimates vary, but it’s predicted that freelancers are poised to make uparound half of the talent market by 2020.
Lower barriers to entry mean more competition
But as more Americans enter the freelance market, this introduces another problem.
It’s a problem that many freelancers are all too aware of, with a PayPal survey revealing it was the second biggest concern of freelancers, next only to irregular income.
In an increasingly saturated market, how can you stay competitive and show potential clients that your particular combination of skills, experience, and intuition are what they need?
Below are 8 different strategies you can apply to differentiate yourself as a freelancer, cut through the noise, and get closer to finding new clients.
1. Build a good online portfolio and resume
Freelancing is interesting because it straddles the line between traditional employment and entrepreneurship. This means that every freelancer needs a resume (like any regular employee does) and a portfolio (similar to a company’s business portfolio).
Both assets are vital to communicating your skills and expertise because when it comes to freelancing, showing is far more effective than telling.
Your portfolio and resume should contain the following essentials:
- Your specialty
- A brief “About Me”
- A professional photo. Studies show that people see smiling faces to be more trustworthy.
- Relevant work experience
- Best examples of your work
- Endorsements from satisfied clients
- Contact information
If you don’t have a portfolio yet, Fiverr offers a helpful guide on how freelancers can set up their portfolios on the platform.
2. Focus on what you do well
Some freelancers may be better than you at something, but no one is better at everything you do.
This is where specialization comes in, which means focusing on the services and skills you know you do well. According to a study by Career Advisory Board and MBO Partners, 90% of freelancers believed they were more successful if they had technical skills or expertise in a particular field.
It’s not enough to say that you’re a good writer, because good writers are a dime a dozen. But if you’re a writer with graphic design skills, for example, you have the opportunity to differentiate yourself by focusing on content creation with visual elements. This will give you an edge over general copywriters.
3. Start by offering discounts on your services
One of the most common challenges freelancers face when starting out is figuring out how to land their first few clients.
According to the same PayPal survey mentioned earlier, 38% of freelancers are always on the look for information on how to find (and keep) clients.
Perhaps the fastest way to snag contracts is to bid for short-term projects at a discounted rate. Sure, you’ll be doing the job at a rate lower than your target, but in exchange, you get valuable experience and an opportunity to build your reputation through a satisfied client’s endorsement.
As you complete and bid for new contracts, you can then increase your rate incrementally until you reach your target. Just remember to use each client’s feedback to grow your reputation and improve your services.
4. Tug at their heartstrings
Many freelancers assume they know a potential client’s pain points but this is usually just a feeling. Without actually doing the research to know the things causing their problems, freelancers are only relying on guesswork, making it difficult to connect with clients and close deals.
Short of talking to clients themselves, you can go through industry publications, trade associations, and conferences/events to see the range of topics and themes covered in each platform.
Armed with this knowledge, you can then make a pitch that directly speaks to the problems keeping clients up at night. By tugging at their heartstrings, you get to make a stronger case for how you plan to solve their pain points.
5. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Constant communication is one of the most overlooked aspects of maintaining a great relationship with clients. Unfortunately, many freelancers tend to not enjoy talking to clients on the phone—not when there’s email for official correspondence.
Meanwhile, clients simply want to know how the project is going, whether it’s heading in the right direction, and if there are any obstacles that need their input.
And so what usually happens is freelancers and clients constantly interrupt each other with emails and communicate by phone only when things have gone awry.
You can nip this problem in the bud by scheduling a specific day of the week for a quick call with clients to touch base and keep each other appraised of the project’s status.
This doesn’t have to be an hour-long call; a quick, 10-minute conversation on a Wednesday should be enough to reassure the client that you have a handle on things.
6. Produce consistent, high-quality work
Ultimately, the proof of a freelancer’s work is in the pudding. If you consistently produce high-quality work and complete tasks on or ahead of time, your body of work will eventually speak for itself.
Remember, providing high-quality work doesn’t just make your clients happy, it also helps you build your brand, as anything with your name or handiwork on it can be traced back to you. Your work is an extension of your career as a freelancer, so treat it as such.
7. Be a collaborator and not a worker
If you want stability and predictability in your work and income as a freelancer, then your goal has to be establishing yourself as a reliable and dependable collaborator to your clients.
Remember, you are a consultant, not a worker. If you want to be the go-to person for your client’s projects, you have to be as invested as they are in growing their business.
That means going above and beyond your tasks, providing your insights on how clients can improve their operations, and putting in your best work every day.
8. Be open to feedback
When you receive feedback, don’t panic.
The great thing about being a freelancer is that you’re not bound by the same rules employees are.
You can take the time to review the feedback and make suggestions to the client before performing the necessary changes to your output. You are in control of these revisions and only have to show them to the client when you are ready to.
If a client isn’t happy with your work, don’t be afraid to ask why. Remember, you’re there as a partner to solve a problem. Sometimes, a client’s feedback may hold you back from doing your job, so be sure to make this clear when this is the case.
At the same time, any feedback from the client is an opportunity to improve your services.
If you take the time to understand why the client feels a certain way, you’ll not only learn how to improve your work, you’ll also learn how to be more effective at managing your relationship with him or her.
Demonstrate your value consistently to stand out
Even with all the tools at your disposal to launch your freelancing business, there’s no changing the fact that more and more people are entering the game. The good news? Many of these freelancers don’t go the extra mile for their clients, so applying the strategies above already puts you in a better position from these competitors.
It seems like a daunting challenge, but if you think of differentiating yourself as a freelancer as a marathon than a sprint, you’ll eventually learn to accept this aspect of the job as a continual process.