How I Landed My First Long-Term Freelance Gig (And How You Can Do the Same)
Have you ever wanted to be a freelancer? Perhaps you are a freelancer already, but you are having trouble landing your first long-term gig. If so, stay tuned, because I'm going to share how I've landed several long term freelance gigs over the years, and some advice for how you can do the same.
The main thing to remember is this: Freelance jobs exist anywhere that small business owners are looking.
Why Do Freelance Work?
People choose freelance work for a variety of reasons. It's a great way to use your existing technical and creative skills and develop new ones while maintaining a flexible work schedule that suits your lifestyle.
I've done freelance work off and on for the last 12 years (approximately). I started working freelance when my children were young. As a stay at home mom, freelance work became a way to supplement my spouse's income.
Now, I'm a single mom and a graduate student. Freelance work is my life-saver for working while also going to school and parenting. I love my clients, I set my own work schedule, and I can take my work with me on the road (which happens a lot).
Demonstrating Your Skills
Just like any job hunt, you should start by identifying the types of skills that you can offer in the freelance world. Clients hire freelancers for one reason: they need someone with the time and skills to get things done in their business.
Freelancers come in many different varieties. There are coders and programmers, graphic designers, illustrators, writers, editors, social media managers, virtual assistants, etc. The more flexibility you have in your skills, the better. But even if you only have one main skill, you still have a shot at finding a freelance job that you can be proud of.
After you've identified the skills that you can offer as a freelancer, you need to demonstrate those skills as clearly as possible.
How to demonstrate your freelance skills:
- Build a portfolio
- Put together a resume showing your education and experience
- Gather references from former employers and clients
If you have no portfolio items, references, or job experience in these areas, there are a few things you can do. You can create items for your portfolio. You can offer your services to trusted people on trial bases in exchange for references. Or you can write a cover letter explaining how your previous job experience has given the skills for this type of work, even if not directly related.
Where To Look for Freelance Work
More so than probably any other job market, freelancers are hired through contacts and chance encounters. The main thing to remember is this: Freelance jobs exist anywhere that small business owners are looking.
Yes, there are job boards and websites designed to connect clients with freelancers. However, these sites often charge outrageously large fees that come out of the freelancers' pay. Plus, these job boards and websites are saturated with freelancers looking for jobs.
My experience with websites like Upwork, Gigsmart, and Flexjobs is that, while there are a lot of clients and freelancers, this also means that there is a lot of competition. And this competition comes from all over the world, meaning people from countries with a much lower cost of living are offering services at an extremely low rate. Low rates lead to unreasonable expectations by clients for cheap work.
Not only that, but I've found that these websites are often saturated with clients looking for quick, low-pay jobs. Hourly pay is also less common, meaning you're often forced to bid on jobs for a lump sum, often before you know for sure exactly the amount of work involved.
Don't get me wrong, these avenues a certainly not “bad”. You can still find good freelance work in these places. I've landed a few good long-term clients from these websites, but it was difficult. I had to demonstrate my value to the clients through a beginning “lump sum” bid, and some of those clients later hired me on for longer-term jobs.
What's better than job boards and freelance websites?
When it comes to finding clients, it's a good idea to get creative. Here are just some of the places that I have found clients:
- A friend of mine passing on my name to a small business owner (word of mouth)
- “Private” job boards (often smaller listings on forums and online groups)
- Facebook groups
- Local postings (Craigslist, Indeed, Newspapers)
I'm not going to attempt to make a comprehensive list, but those are some ideas. The main point is not to give you an entire list of all of the places that you can find freelance jobs.
Instead, I want you to think of places you already visit online and people that you already talk to that could get the word out about your skills and availability.
Here are a couple of concrete examples:
I have been a blogger for many years. I started with a personal blog and transitioned to running a blog that has become a part-time business for me. As a result of this, I have been a part of a few core blogging groups. You know, bloggers helping other bloggers grow and expand their website, social media, and business.
Within these groups, bloggers are frequently paying for articles, hiring virtual assistants, social media assistants, asking for recommendations for designers, programmers, and web admins. Naturally, this has been one of many outlets to look for freelance work. These are a group of small business owners trying to grow their businesses. They are the ideal clients for a variety of freelancers.
These were also a group of people who had known me online for a number of years. They knew my reputation and the quality of what I could do. I worked as a part-time social media manager and virtual assistant for one of these bloggers for some time.
I want you to think of places you already visit online and people that you already talk to that could get the word out about your skills and availability.
Random Facebook Freelance Group
Here's another example with the opposite lesson. Before moving to grad school I was determined to find a long term freelance gig that could supplement my income while I am busy with school.
I knew that if I could land the right job with the right pay, it would support me better than any part-time “college job” that I could get locally. Why? Because I have developed my skills for long enough to ask for decent hourly pay, almost double minimum wage. I have to account for my own taxes, but it's still not a bad deal when you factor in the flexibility.
One of the places I started to skim daily was an international freelance Facebook group that regularly posted various jobs. I just so happened to see a posting by a small business owner one day. Her business seemed to align very well with my own education and skills, so I emailed her my resume and portfolio. She hired me quickly. I'm sure she got a ton of responses, but because her business goals aligned well with my own education and objectives, we made a great team.
It Often Comes Down to Timing and Luck
As you can see from my examples, finding a long-term freelance job that is the right fit can be a game of timing and luck. Here are my biggest takeaways:
- Get the word out about what you do. Don't be afraid to let friends (especially facebook friends), family, former clients, etc., that you're looking for freelance work. Be specific about what you could offer.
- Identify the skills that you can offer as a freelancer. Demonstrate those skills as clearly as possible to potential clients. Build a portfolio, put together a resume, and gather references that can speak to the quality of your work.
- Don't write off job boards altogether, but get creative when looking for potential clients. Utilize places you already visit online. Identify people you already know that could get the word out about your skills and availability.
Questions? Let me know in the comments and I'll do my best to help!