Lots of people step into freelancing market because they see the freedom they might get.
But the cruel fact is: In the world of freelancing, clients are hard to find, gigs are hard to get.
No doubt. Too many freelancers complaint about it.
Fortunately, another truth is: Clients are everywhere around the world and waiting for you to knock their doors.
The thing is, are you ready to do that?
Where Are the Clients?
I just said they are everywhere. Yes, I mean it, but only if you can see them.
Freelancers typically provide some kinds of service that they are good at, they need to find who needs it, those are the potential clients.
I figured out three rules on how to find clients when just starting.
- Start from acquaintances and figure out what you can do for them
- Start with small projects
- Keep showing what you are doing
People around you are very likely to become your very first clients. Your friend might be running a coffee shop, and he needs a promo video for his social media post. Your father’s company needs someone who can play guitar at their annual party.
There are so many opportunities like this. New freelancers should be sensitive to what people around you are doing and figure out what you can do for them. Then, shoot them a message, tell them what you can offer, and try another one.
Small projects or even doing it for free is OK (not too long), clients and experience are much more critical. If you can’t nail small projects, you are not ready for bigger ones.
Next step is to stay alert and look for opportunities from the world you don’t know, like companies, non-profits. You can pitch your ideas to them or write proposals for their assignments.
One thing to keep in mind:
Stay sharp for all these potential clients, once you think you can offer them something useful, contact them.
Hone Your Skills
Waiting and patience is something you need to get used to if you want to be an amazing freelancer. You pitch, pitch, pitch, and you wait. Win or lose. But that does not mean you could not do anything while you are waiting for a result.
Freelancers must keep learning and hone the skills to get ready for the upcoming opportunities. No one is perfect, but the better your talent is, the higher the chance you can get a job.
Learning and practicing do not take too much money, you can do that with your project, or you can create a project just for fun, that works really good.
There are so many free or cheap resources on the Internet that you can benefit from. Medium articles, YouTube videos, and great online courses, either of which can give you so much help to hone your skills.
I remember when I was in J-School, there was not a particular course for editing software like Final Cut Pro or Premiere Pro. The teacher did touch a little bit on that, but it was not possible to cover everything I should know.
So I watched tons of YouTube videos and online course from other experienced freelancers and top video editing gurus in the industry.
But just like learning a new language, it’s hard to progress if you just watch videos without practice. Matti Haapoja, who is one of my favorite cinematographer on YouTube belives
Learn. Make. Repeat.
You can only make a difference and turn what you learn into what you own if you take time to practice.
If you are a video editor, try you do some cool transitions. If you are a photographer, try to use a new tool to color grade your photos.
Imitation is acceptable, and people encourage that. Lots of phenomenal works come from imitation. Once you have good enough skills at hand, it’s time to think about your own style. But that’s a tough one.
It will take a lot of time, but that’s a worthy investment in your freelancing career.
Get a Portfolio
Let say you finally manage to convince a potential client with your ideas and passion. Congratulations. Then what? What are you going to say when you meet the client and let him or her sign the contract.
You need to show off what you are capable of doing, not by talking, but by the real stuff you have done.
A portfolio can help.
My experience, if you don’t offer your portfolio, clients will ask for it, 100 percent.
So, get a portfolio for yourself, tell us a little bit about yourself, your experience, what projects have you done before, and the most critical one is to put the best of your work on the portfolio.
Different freelancers need different types of portfolio. For example, a cinematographer’s best collection should be a strong demo reel, whether it’s online or on your phone. It should be digital.
But for a painter, I believe well-crafted real paintings might work better than just some pictures on the website because clients can feel the texture and your skills closer.
Clients want to know what you can do from what you show, rather than what you say.
But don’t put everything you did before in your portfolio. Be strict to yourself, not so many works you did are good ones. Be picky and choose your best work.
Ready to Fail
Freelancing is risky, and people fail at it all the time. A good freelancer should be prepared to fail.
I am not saying that freelancers can give up their dream job very quickly. What I mean is from a project scale, be ready to fail at getting a gig.
I might get ten gigs out of 100 proposals, for now. My 90% of attempts have failed. But what I can do is to figure out what does not work for the clients. Reflections are critical. It is very likely to avoid the mistakes that I have made in the future.
You fail, you try, and you fail again, and you try one more time with some tweaks in your proposal. Thinks will work out eventually.
Freelancing is not like a regular job. You don’t get paid if you don’t get the gig. That’s sad, and people give up after so many disappointing results. But I guess failures make people stronger and more robust.
Diverse Your Income
Unstable income might be one of the top concerns among freelancers.
Freelancers depend on gigs that come from various clients. Most times the relationship between a freelancer and a client is temporary and short. A specific client is unlikely to become a stable income source, especially when you just enter the freelancing market.
Gigs are not stable as well. You might feel you have so much work to do in certain months that you start to think about quitting your dream job.
Sometimes you couldn’t find any work to do in several continuous weeks, if not months, which makes you anxious.
I had both situations before. And it really sucks.
The best case for us is that we do what we love and control our own time, but we also need a stable income that comes in regularly.
If a freelancer doesn’t get enough and regular income, he or she might quit.
To avoid this, I believe most freelancers should diversify their income.
Don’t put all eggs in one basket.
The point here is to lower the risk of being failed and utilize the most productive time.
Try to make a living is always the top priority.
But what to do?
Look into your skillset, find out what you can do. The best case is to do something relating to your freelancing expertise. If you are in the film industry, there are tons of
You can also take advantage of social media to create your own channel online. Set up a podcast, YouTube channel, or Medium account. You can share your expertise and stories and make money from that.
Or if things don’t go well, try your other skills. You may be bilingual, then do some translation work. You can drive, then do some delivery job. There is always be something out there for you.
Freelancing is a hard journey. But it could be easier if you do your work and be ready.
Clients are not cold-blood creatures who hide in black forests. They always need your help.