Photo Credit: Olga DeLawrence via Unsplash

10 Ways to Land High-Paying Gigs As A Freelancer

Why aren’t you doing these things already?

I never wanted to be a businessman. In fact, I wanted to be a college English professor. Visions of tweed jackets and pipe smoke danced in my head.

A year into my M.A. in English, I came face to face with several errors in my thinking:

  • Alas, Tennessee’s humidity makes wearing tweed year-round a sweaty enterprise.
  • Alas, most colleges and universities in the United States prohibit indoor pipe smoking.
  • Alas, English papers spend most of their time grading First-Year Composition papers. The majority of them exhibit a stunning mediocrity that threatens to undo your own basic grasp of language and grammar.

So I got a job at a creative agency.

I was eventually able to admit that I loved business and strategy and making money and not reading literary theory. I had grown weary of reading sentences like this:

“The ubiquity and invisibility of cyborgs is precisely why these sunshine-belt machines are so deadly.” (source)

Besides, making a living by bottling my creativity seemed too good to be true. It was intoxicating.

Six months later, I got laid off.

And in the brave, new world of funemployment — a term I had to look up — I learned how to get clients and build my freelance career.

Some of the tactics have changed since 2009. As you would probably guess, the underlying principles have stayed the same.

Here are 10 ways to get new freelance clients:

1. Talk to your former employers.

Your employer may need help with the very projects that you worked on as an employee. My first freelance client was my old boss.

He let me go on a Friday and hired me as a freelancer the following Monday.

2. Talk to other companies in the same industry.

For example, make a list of every marketing agency in your region.

Back in 2009, the recession was affecting agencies, which meant that they were laying off their staff writers.

Yet, as my boss made abundantly clear, agencies still needed copywriting and content. And because I had agency experience, I was the less risky option. I knew the ropes and could fit into the workflow.

3. Talk to other business owners who serve your industry.

I got to know web developers, designers, and other freelancers.

They were able to get me hired to fulfill pieces of their clients’ projects — content writing, web content strategy, SEO, social media strategy — that weren’t in their wheelhouse.

James Clear calls this the “Remora Method.”

4. Talk to magazines and blogs that serve your industry.

Even with only six months of agency experience, I was still a subject matter expert. I had formalized my agency’s branding strategy, put together the social media packages that we sold, and developed certain preferences and checklists for web writing projects.

To be sure, I still had much to learn. But to be the expert, you only have to be one lesson ahead.

Parlay the experience you do have into helpful articles and blog posts.

Nathan Barry would be the first to tell you: Teach everything you know.

Some publications may pay off immediately, in the form of cash, and others may pay indirectly in exposure, clips for your writing portfolio, and new relationships. Writing for respected publications builds your credibility.

When you share these links with potential clients, they will understand intuitively that you are less likely to waste their time and money by making rookie mistakes. You are the cost-efficient option.

4. Learn new things so that you have more to sell.

My copywriter friend Dick Harrison, who managed McCann’s offices in South America for many years, would tell you to master a wide range of media: blog posts, speeches, brochures, TV scripts, white papers, corporate videos, TV commercials, magazine articles, press releases, annual reports, interactive training, websites, direct mail, corporate meeting scripts, training videos, print ads, catalogs, YouTube video scripts, and social updates.

Assume that people need your skills. Then, repackage and reposition them, as needed, to sell what people are buying.

For example, I took Ed Dale’s 30-Day Challenge in August 2009, and the SEO skills I developed enabled me to sell a $2,900 per month marketing retainer to a boutique resort three months later.

5. After you sell one thing, offer to repackage it for the client.

Let’s say you finish up content for a client’s new website. Why not turn that content into scripts for several videos?

Or let’s say you ghost write several how-to blog posts. Offer to turn them into checklists and worksheets — that is, content upgrades — that the client can use to get more email subscribers.

And while you’re at it, sell them a nurture sequence for new email subscribers.

Repurposing content for a variety of marketing uses is cost-effective for the client. After all, you’re already 75% of the way there. And by getting repeat business, you meet your sales targets with less hustle.

6. Ask for introductions to other departments or small business units.

Both medium-sized and large companies will have multiple departments, and the people running them don’t necessarily use the same freelancers.

Once you have built rapport with one marketing director, ask for an introduction to the other marketing directors.

One of my clients oversaw several product lines, and sent me over $100,000 in business over the course of three years. She ended up leaving that company, but the blow to my revenue was softened because one of her colleagues had become my client.

7. Develop new areas of expertise.

You will recall that my first real retainer client was a boutique resort. I have since been able to leverage that experience in the hospitality space.

Clients prefer to hire freelancers who don’t need much time to get up to speed.

If you can write quickly and accurately on certain subjects, then they get more bang for their buck. Not all of your areas of expertise will be in demand all the time, so it’s good to diversify.

Also, before I forget, don’t overlook your hobbies. If you enjoy golf or bass fishing or ballet or barbecue, then don’t be afraid to reach out to companies in those niches.

8. Use a CRM tool.

As you get to know new people and grow your network, remembering everyone will become impossible.

Consistent follow-up will enable you to stay top-of-mind and have first right of refusal on freelance projects that fit your skillset.

In order to not forget about people (and not let them forget about you), set up automated reminders — say, an email to touch base with each contact every two months.

I currently use a free Highrise account. Some contacts will never hire you or refer you business. Others may need to hear from you six times before they finalize bite the bullet and pay your deposit.

Regardless, you will get more business if you proactively manage your contacts and follow up consistently.

9. Stop offering discounts.

Be honest with yourself: The people who promise to refer you business later if you give them a deal now — do they ever really make good on that promise?

No.

And what about the bleeding heart causes and the people who beg because they really need your help because you are so good at what you do?

They buy their Starbucks like everybody else. If hiring you were really that important, then they would find the budget somewhere, somehow.

Respect for your work starts with you, and if you’re willing to devalue your talent every time a cheapskate (because that’s what we’re dealing with here) asks, then they will follow suit.

In other words, we enable people to devalue our talent.

When people say, “That’s too much,” you respond in one of two ways:

  • “No problem. I totally understand budget constraints. I hope we have a chance to work together in the future.”
  • “No problem. What would you like to remove from the scope to bring the price down?”

If they want to spend less money, then they get less stuff. Period.

When was the last time you told the server at a restaurant that you didn’t like the prices and would pay only $3 for your Wagyu beef burger and truffle oil fries? Yet, we treat our services as less valuable than a premium burger.

Your prices are your prices. If guilt, desperation, or passivity causes you to cave anytime someone negotiates, then blame me.

Tell these low-balling clients that Austin Church, your freelance business coach, said you can’t charge any less than such-and-such.

By the way, you don’t need a low-balling client to build your portfolio.

If you are interested in doing pro bono work, find a cause you believe in. A cheapskate using pickup lines is not a good cause. Don’t fall for the bad business pickup line.

People’s respect follows their money. If they truly respect you, then they will pay the full quote (or they will remove something from the scope).

10. Ask for repeat business and ask for referrals.

My best clients come through referral. I’d hazard a guess that yours will too.

Guess what? You dramatically increase your odds of getting a referral if you ask for them. Gasp. I know. That’s an earth-shattering proclamation right there.

Many freelancers don’t ask for referrals because they’re afraid of coming across as weird or needy,.

Do you want the email templates I use?

If you want my 4 templates and the cheatsheet that explains how to use them, then click on this link.

Plug in your name and email address, and I’ll email you the download link.

These 4 templates will transform your freelancing business.

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