Freelancing Q & A with Hectic's head of design

Designer Felice Della Gatta responds to three commonly asked questions he gets from fellow freelancers
Freelancing Q & A with Hectic's head of design

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Q: A lot of people suggest finding clients through Upwork or Fiverr but it's so saturated and they pay pennies for your work. I don't know if you have any experience or have tried using Dribbble or Behance for jobs but I've noticed they promote a lot of freelance gigs and I am thinking it might be a good way to find higher end clients who value your work?

A: Upwork, Dribbble, Behance, and Fiverr are just a channel, like a phone call, or an email. Most freelancers on Upwork are mediocre because most freelancers are mediocre. Most people are mediocre, that's the definition of mediocrity. Thus most have mediocre results. There's only one thing I can think of in life at which you can win while still being mediocre and that's the lottery.

Most mediocre freelancers also spend their time complaining about how the world is unfair to them. How cold calling doesn’t work, how cold emailing is a waste of time, how conferences are useless and never lead to anything, how a course is a scam. Seek out ways to make things work, not excuses why they may not.

I, personally, never used Dribbble or Behance to find clients. My guess is that it's going to be the same as everywhere else.

First it's going to be a numbers game to be able to start a conversation, then it's up to your ability to sell yourself to close the few that will talk to you. If you take every interaction as a chance to improve this is also a fun and addicting process.

You'll get good at it in time but start from the assumption that your portfolio is not the most important parameter for most clients.

Q: How do I find my niche in design?

A: I have found the thing I enjoyed doing the most and was (relatively 😁) the best at is branding and identity design, not industry-specific. I am interested in everything and had to make up for my ignorance in a new field via a solid research process.

My branding services are my flagship and that's where all my relationships start. Once I and the client know, like, and trust each other it's just natural that I end up designing their website, mobile app, collaterals, landing pages, etc. So, I’ve found that clients stick with me for years, I am constantly learning new things, we grow together and that's the most rewarding part of the job today.

Maybe you're the kind of designer that has a specific style or is particularly passionate about a specific industry, the world is a big place, you're not likely to be hitting a ceiling too soon unless you decide to only offer brochure design services for Canadian guinea pig breeders. (This would be an incredibly cool niche but also crazy small and not a great industry in terms of money!) Start from what you're most confident with, can see yourself spending your days with, and can realistically support you economically.

Q: I’m interested in the fact you said "assume that the portfolio is not the most important parameter for most clients" What do you personally believe is? And are there any tips you’d offer from those ealy conversations?

A: Two very practical tips I can offer would be:

1. Always talk less than the other side. You're there to learn and offer your help if it can make a difference. That requires asking a lot of questions and doing a lot of listening. Catch yourself when you speak for too long, it's usually a sign that you're not asking enough questions about their business goals and not listening enough.

2. Take all the time you need to ask and answer questions. People, in our case, freelancers tend to rush to fill up the silence during conversations and end up saying a lot of unnecessary things. It’s not a test, there's no rush, think, breathe, take your time. This shows that you're confident and thoughtful in yourself and the work that you do. 

Then the long story:

The overwhelming majority of people just want to work with people they know, like, and trust. It is as true for your potential clients as it is for you, wouldn’t you agree? After all, the quality of your work and life depends on the quality of the clients you work with.

By looking for clients online, you start from a disadvantage, that is, the fact that you don't know most of the prospects you'll be selling to. That makes it even more important that you both answer the question first: Do I like this person?

Try to build some rapport, test their sense of humor, find things you have in common. Try to be yourself and see if it clicks. No point in trying to sell if you don't even know that you'll ever want to work with them.

The second issue is trust. Your client is trying to understand if you'll be able to get the job done, in time, and without excessive hand holding. Their reputation and money may be on the line. Showing them pretty pictures of past work won't make a big difference in that regard.

Ask questions to understand what they're trying to achieve. A logo, for instance, is never just a logo. It is social recognition, a sense of status, +20% turnover, looking better than the competitor next door. Find out what they expect and see if you can actually help them. If you can help then tell them about your processes or how you solved similar problems in the past. Help them decide if they should move forward with you (or not).

Trust is also important for you as a freelancer. Ask yourself, do I trust this person to pay me on time, not micromanage me out of their own insecurity, give me clear directions, give me credit, and respect me as a person and professional?

As in dating, you won't find the perfect person at every outing, and it doesn't matter how wonderful or outgoing you are, most people won't think you're the right fit for them. In the same fashion, you'll have to walk away from most jobs because they won’t feel like a fit for you either.

Remember this though, the perfect client though can change your life. They can give you the resources and drive to achieve more, push yourself to become a better professional and person, create opportunities for your friends and family, win awards for your work and maybe even get rich if that's what you're into. How many cold calls, emails, job applications is that worth?

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Felice Della Gatta
Felice Della Gatta
Felice is a strategy-led, full service, one man creative agency. Leveraging his experience in branding and the partnerships built over the years with trusted professionals from a host of different disciplines, he now helps small- to medium-sized businesses build brands and products that stick.
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