The art of freelancing

Moxie’s guide to starting and growing your freelancing career.

guide for freelancers
Chapter 2

Beating your competition

As a freelancer, your first day on the job is nothing like the typical experience. You won’t be meeting new people around the office, personalizing your desk, or just getting the feel for your new responsibilities.

Instead, you will spend your first days (and many more throughout your career) searching for and bidding on available projects. Since you don’t have the luxury of just clocking out at the end of the day and still bringing home a paycheck, your ability to win these jobs over your competitors is paramount.

Through the years, we’ve learned a lot about what improves your chances of getting hired. It’s not about how fast you respond, how much you charge, or even how much experience you have, though those all play a role. It’s about showing clients that you are the right person for that project.

While these things are true for the quality jobs and clients you should focus on, it’s not true for every project. If a client is looking to pay as little as possible, your rate may disqualify you. Or, if the client needs the job done by the end of the day, the timing of your response can make a difference. For most jobs, however, be wary of clients who don’t respect the value of and/or demands on your time.

Today, independent professionals make up 36% of the American workforce. This is great news in general, but it does demonstrate the level of competition that you face as a freelancer. As the world continues to go more digital, especially due to COVID-19, your ability to sell yourself is essential.

So how can you position yourself to beat the competition?

Determine your clients’ needs

Decision-making is largely emotional. Thus, successful pitches are often emotionally targeted rather than factual. As we mentioned in the last chapter, your pitches should focus on solving your clients needs — both stated and implied. You can do this with clues from the job description or project brief.

Let’s take a posting for a virtual assistant, for example. The job description lists a variety of tasks, including managing the CEO’s schedule, approving content from her desk, and identifying processes that need improvement. Is the client looking for a candidate that says they can do these things? Technically, yes. But that doesn’t make for a strong pitch. After all, every other applicant would say the same thing.

Instead, consider what the client really needs. The CEO is obviously struggling to keep up with her demands, so she needs someone who can organize her work life, take on some of her responsibilities, and give her the space she needs to focus on her priorities.

Doesn’t that sound like a stronger pitch?

By spending a little extra time and attention on your proposals, you can make every bid count more. You won’t need to apply for dozens of jobs in the hopes that a few will bring results. Instead, you can maximize the hours you spend on money-making work and limit the amount of time you spend on proposals that won’t yield results.

Market yourself better

Bids aren’t the only place you can use this trick. Whenever you’re creating client-targeted content (such as profiles, websites, and resumes), demonstrate your ability to be the answer they’re looking for.

In the last chapter, we touched on ‘I statements’ and how they can weaken your pitch. You can still start sentences with ‘I,’ but make sure the discussion focuses on how your skills and experience serve the client, rather than just stating simple facts.

Point out similarities in the processes used, medium, subject matter, audience, or anything else you see. The more control you have over the way the client evaluates you, the better your chances will be.

You should also ‘read the room’ to determine your approach. If the job description is formal, write formally. If it’s more casual, relax a little — but only to the same level as the client. Meet emojis with emojis and slang with slang, but be extraordinarily careful about getting too irreverent. This is a business relationship, after all.

Build a portfolio

Many freelancers face the same challenge: how do I use samples to land work if I don’t have any?

First, evaluate any work or assignments you completed previously. It’s totally okay to use volunteer work or relevant projects you did in school if they are relevant to your field.

If you don’t find options there, we recommend making samples to share. Edit a video together with stock footage. Design a logo for a fictitious company. Write a script for a theoretical commercial. As long as you don’t claim that these works were made for a specific company or client, there’s nothing wrong with showing the skills that you haven’t had a chance to use yet.

Most importantly, don’t do free work to pad your portfolio. We’ll tell you more about the dangers of free work in a later chapter, but take our word for it — it’s not worth your time.

What formats should I use?

The work you produce will vary depending on your industry, so we recommend researching the best formats for your field. Beyond that, here are some general guidelines:

  • Use high-quality formats - don’t let your best work (and the client’s opinion about it) be tarnished by grainy, rough, or poorly sized files.
  • Store it online - clients may not download files due to safety concerns. Keep samples safe and quick-to-access by hosting them on your website or a portfolio site.
  • Avoid file incompatibility - if you use a program that most people don’t have access to, save your files in widely used formats.

No matter the format, just make sure it is painless for clients to access.

Sharing results

If your job involves metrics and trackable data, your portfolio is a great place to share your results. You can use screenshots of results, case studies, and/or testimonials to show clients the value you offer.

Get and use testimonials

We make most of our decisions based on the feedback we see. Can you even remember the last time the number of ratings didn’t affect your Amazon purchase?

It’s the same with freelancing. Clients will use your feedback to see how well you deliver on your promises and if you work well with others. Depending on how you operate, you can share testimonials on your profiles, website, marketing materials, and more. Testimonials are positive feedback from past clients that you can display on your website or portfolio.

To use testimonials, however, you first need to have something to share. For the best feedback, ask clients to share their experiences as soon as the project ends. You can also reach out to previous and current clients through email, messages, or even short surveys to hear their thoughts. And don’t just keep the good stuff. As hard as it can be to hear at times, criticism offers an opportunity to grow.

When using this feedback in your marketing, just remember that reviews are only part of your pitch. Even the most glowing testimonial won’t make up for a lackluster product, service, brand, or proposal.

Finding your niche — and why it matters

Having a range of skills is a good thing, as long as you have specific knowledge to back them. If a client in the travel industry is looking to hire a copywriter, for instance, the more experience you have in writing about travel, the more attractive you are. To take it a step further, a ski resort client will almost always choose someone with specific skiing-related knowledge over someone who has written about cruises, Brazilian culture, and road trips.

Though narrowing your specialty limits your potential client pool, it increases your chances of finding high-paying, long-term jobs with quality clients.

How do I find my specialty?

Start by evaluating your experience and passions. If you have experience in a specific field, focus on jobs in that sector. You can also audit all of your past work to find a common thread, using that commonality to guide future searches.

For independent workers just starting out, consider your hobbies, life experiences, and academic pursuits. Though you might have to take a variety of jobs to find your niche, keep that goal in mind.

It’s also important to note that niches don’t always encompass topics of work. If there is a specific type of work that is in-demand across several industries, that can be your niche. Just make sure to work towards expertise, ensuring that your past projects will appeal to future prospective clients.

Don’t go too narrow

It’s important to find a specialty, but going too narrow in your niche can limit your freelancing potential. Even if you are the world expert on a topic, you need to have enough clients to pay the bills. Don’t make your knowledge and experience so specific that you run out of new business to pursue. Instead, stay broad enough to appeal to many clients while also becoming an expert that clients can’t afford not to hire.