The Secret to Freelance Success Is to Be Really Good at What You Do
And make sure the right people know about it.
I’m ten months into life as a freelance marketer, and I recently secured a new long-term client who barely knows me. I didn’t pitch to them, they don’t follow me on social media, and they haven’t seen my previous work.
They know me through a shared former client. Their exposure to me was a once-a-week, ten-minute Zoom update. This was enough for them to call me when the contract ended with our shared client and ask me to work with them.
This incident has confirmed a long-held theory of mine that being good at what you do is the best way to grow your freelance business.
Here’s why I believe this to be true.
Practice makes perfect
If you are early in your career or new to freelancing, the best advice I can give you is to master your craft, listen and learn.
If you can’t write, practice your copywriting until it’s compelling without effort. No idea what to do on LinkedIn? Experiment and figure it out. Ask for low-key opportunities to present until you feel confident enough to speak at a conference. Take all the training opportunities and courses you can get.
I didn’t become a freelancer by accident; I spent my in-house career laying the foundations for my business. I worked for different companies to vary my experience. I was friendly and stayed in touch with people on LinkedIn. It’s taken me over a decade to make an impression in ten minutes.
You never stop learning
I did journalism work experience at every opportunity between the ages of 16–21. I volunteered for any copywriting opportunity as an early-career, in-house marketer. And now, as a freelancer, I’m building my presence as a writer on Medium from scratch.
You’ll be great at some things right away. But for most situations, you’ll be learning and failing along the way. There is no substitute for putting in the time and effort to get really good at what you do.
Sidenote: Maybe you aren’t that good at what you do (yet)
If you feel as though you don’t know what you are doing, it may be imposter syndrome. It may also be that you really don’t know what you are doing. Some people can wing it, but some will crash and burn.
So, some tough love: be realistic about your skills, experience and abilities. The best choice for you right now could be to spend some time working in-house with the appropriate guidance to get really good at your job.
Make sure the right people know about you and your work
When it comes to sharing your successes, you need to prioritize communicating this to the people who pay you. Bluntly, if they don’t know what you’re doing, they might not pay you anymore. You need to provide constant reassurance that you know what you’re doing, and you are the right person for the job.
One of the biggest mistakes I made earlier in my career was to assume my manager was singing my praises to senior leadership. In all jobs but one, this was the case. My manager did not have my back, which meant that no one knew about my work. I am pretty sure this led to my eventual redundancy.
This was an important lesson. From then on, I made sure senior leaders knew my name, my work and my results. The same now applies to my freelance clients.
When I want to share a success, I share it with my clients before posting it on LinkedIn. I hold regular client meetings to talk about what I am working on and what results I am getting. This gets formalized in a monthly report, and I ask for feedback.
It’s never too early in your career to get into these habits, starting with your immediate team and line manager.
Remember that People Talk
When you put the work in to become really good at what you do and make sure the right people know about it, what happens next? They remember you, and they talk about you. This is well-earned free marketing.
When I launched my freelance marketing business, I sent one LinkedIn post out into the world. Dozens of former colleagues commented and put the word out. The post received over 8000 views, and yet I only had a few hundred connections.
Years of being friendly and helpful, staying in touch and doing good work paid off. All my clients are former colleagues or have been recommended by former colleagues.
Growing your business through word of mouth is the dream. It’s well-documented that it is one of the most successful and trusted ways to grow. It takes time and effort to get there, but it’s worth it as your network does all the hard work for you.
Every channel is a marketing channel
It’s easy to get into a trap of putting all your marketing effort into your website and social media. We assume everyone accesses us through that lens. But when you’re a freelancer, your personal brand is on display at all times. It’s how you respond to emails, how you answer the phone and how you handle a meeting.
Potential clients will access your personal brand in unexpected ways. I never thought a Zoom meeting would be a marketing channel. But now I realize that my Zoom conduct is as much part of my brand as LinkedIn. I’m relaxed, chatty and informal but always on-time, professional and attentive.
For each of us, our marketing channels will look different. Take the time to review every way your clients and potential clients access your brand and make sure it reflects the quality of your work.
I am not the only freelancer who has won a client by making a ten-minute impression on Zoom. Since the beginning of time, businesses have grown by being brilliant and recommended. But in a year when we have done so much business online, we can mistake hype for success.
The hardest product to promote is a bad one. I have marketed plenty over my career. No one wants to buy it, you’re swimming in complaints, and it’s soul-destroying for everyone involved. When you have a good product, it markets itself. Customers love it, they tell their friends, they don’t question the price. It’s joyful work. When you are a freelancer, you are the product, and the same rules apply.
Rule number one is to be really good at what you do.
The Mini Post-Grad Survival Guide
A 5-day email course with tips on budgeting, investing, and productivity for 20-somethings. Sign up for free.