Q1: Hammad, how do i become a successful freelancer?

I and a lot of my friends who are doing fairly well working as freelancers receive emails (and sometimes call) with this question from people that just got in the freelance industry but struggle to get work.

I feel very glad that people reach out and I am always happy to mentor them. However, to save my productive time and my finite keystrokes that would vanish in email archives, I think a blog post would be better.

Here is a part of a conversation I had early in the morning:

How I started off in the beginning?

Truth be told, when I came in the freelance industry, I was very reluctant to go and ask for mentorship. I always felt like doing things all on my own without any direction. Perhaps an early entrepreneurial mindset, but a time costly habit.

How I validated my skills?

I worked for my friends and family, and their friends, and so on. Most of the time it was a favor and no money so bad design was also acceptable to get the job done. But that was not what you call ‘working professionally’. It just gave me more practice to learn the design tools.

Learning the right tools doesn’t make you a professional

Learning Illustrator won’t make you a logo designer. Learning Photoshop or sketch wont make you a professional UI designer. Learning how to use Visual Studio won’t make you a C# developer. Learning how to write HTML,CSS and JS wont make you a front end developer! — Hammad Siddiqui

I started to take part in online design contests. This was the first time I was actually working on someone’s project I did not know personally. And trust me, it was not long (may be a few days) that I started to feel like a phony. Since, I had no formal design education, this was bound to happen.

The negative feedback on my design, the wow moment when I saw other’s winning design, turned me into a client centric designer. I had my first win 3 months after working day and night, Improving on the feedback I got from the clients.

Entering the freelance industry

Now I had enough material for my actual portfolio and I just thought I could go out and find work as a freelancer. Created my account on Freelancer, updated my profile with a nice portfolio, and started browsing for work. There were a lot of opportunities out there, but there were, even more freelancers, like me, bidding down those opportunities. There were actual companies who hired monkey bidders to post a bid as soon as the job was posted without actually analyzing its requirement.

Looking at the bidding competition, I rolled up my sleeves and jumped into the arena. I started bidding on projects with generic messages to clients 20–25 times a day, 7 days a week….. Never got a reply, except for sometimes when they try to exploit you to do work for almost nothing (and most of the desperate friends actually accept these type of work).

A cunning move

To actually get a sense of how to bid, I ,unfortunately, again decided to not ask a mentor but to do it on my own. And so, I created a sample design job, posted on Freelancer, and analyzed the incoming bids.

Here is what I analyzed:

  • The bids that came in the first 3–5 minutes were very generic, had no proof that the bidder actually went through the requirements. They actually wrote a huge blog-post size message covering their achievements and how they can bring my project to life in no time, with unlimited revisions and what not. These were mostly companies, not freelancers.
  • The bids that came within 20 minutes were mostly solo freelancers, Their bid was actually personalised for the job post that actually showed they went through the hassle of reading the requirements first. They had a nice portfolio and did not sound desperate by offering things like unlimited revisions or completing in a day. Some of these went ahead and offered to discuss in detail on a phone call.
  • The rest of the bids were from non experienced freelancers, who were able to understand the requirements but couldn’t gain any attention due to poor communication, outdated portfolio, negative feedback on their previous work, and abnormal (very low or high) ask price.

The art of communication:

Since there was no bidding process in the design contest, it was all good. Perhaps one of the pros for introverts. However, when it came to freelancing, people who could go out in wild and sell themselves were the ones to cash in clients.

The 70/30 rule of Bidding

The 70/30 rule has been there for a long time and great sellers consider it as a golden rule. According to this rule, your prospect client should do 70% of the talking during a sales/bid conversation and you, the seller/freelancer should only do 30% of the talking.

Recurring Clients

Clients seek anyone they are outsourcing a task to listen to them and bring the concept that they actually thought to reality without fading away from it. Imagine you order an ice-cream with peanut topping, but what you get has a coconut topping. You’d probably pay for the ice-cream, eat it, but would never buy from the same place again. Listen to your clients and try to remain as aligned to the requirements as possible. There are many instances where client would decide to go with an okay-ish work over a great work of yours.

Bid once with all your focus

Do not repeat the mistake of blasting bids on job posts with generic messages. Always write a personalized message to the prospect and make them confident that you are a perfect fit for the work. Even if it takes you an entire day to write an appealing post, let it be. Do not lower your standards by asking extremely low price of your work, do not go over client’s budget either (assuming they are not exploiting the work force).

Always give and take feedback

Once you complete your first project, ask your client to leave a feedback (and perhaps a 5-star rating) on your profile.

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