The Secrets to Getting a Lot of Freelance Work
So you’re just getting started in freelance web design/development? One of the biggest fears freelancers face before they jump into doing this full-time is: will I be able to consistently get enough work to sustain myself and my family in the long term?
It’s a valid concern. After all, nobody wants to quit a safe and secure full-time job if you’re not too sure that you will be able to replace your current steady source of income (i.e. the salary from your day job) with an even better revenue stream.
So how do you go about getting consistent freelance work? Here are some things that have worked for me.
1. Hustle to Your Existing Network – It’s Powerful
This is one of the most powerful things you can do when you are just starting out. You might be amazed at the results you will achieve.
If you’ve made (or are about to make) the switch to freelance web design/web development, most of your existing network will not be aware that you’re doing it. Most of them will, in fact, be completely oblivious, despite it being the major concern in your life.
But in your circle of family and friends, colleagues and acquaintances, there are probably a few small businesses that still don’t have a website, whose website is old, ugly and not responsive and who are in desperate need of an upgrade.
If you don’t put yourself out there to your immediate family and friends, you’re probably going to miss quite a few opportunities.
So do the following:
- Send an email to your friends, family, ex-colleagues, and everybody else in your network, and tell them that you’re going freelance. Keep it short and sweet and ask them nicely to keep their eyes and ears peeled for any opportunities, and that you would much appreciate if they sent new business your way.
- Do a bit of a small investigation/research into the people you know. Check out the websites for their businesses or side hustles, and where you see the need for an upgrade, start hustling.
Besides scoring a few new clients, you’ve actually created a network of “listeners.” You’ll be surprised how many referrals you get just by making sure your existing network is aware that you are now available for designing/developing websites.
And you know the most important and simple reason for doing this?
These people already know you, how you do business and that you are reliable or not (hopefully you are!), as well as what your work ethic is like. They don’t need to start a relationship with you from scratch, something they will likely have to do when they are looking for a web designer.
Potentially, they could be unhappy with their existing designer/developer, and that’s where you can slide right in.
2. Join a Few Largish Niche Facebook Groups (Of People Who Are Not Tech-Savvy)
This. This is the card up my sleeve.
Let me explain how this works.
You’re probably already on a few Facebook groups yourself with people of your same ilk. You use them to ask things you don’t know, learn new things, share your expertise and find others who are in the same business to as you – it’s a powerful networking tool. Fair enough, always a good thing.
But here’s the problem: if you are a web designer and you’re in a group of web designers, whenever somebody posts a new piece of work, they’re going to jump on it like a pack of hungry wolves (have I been watching too much GoT?). The chances of you getting that job are not in your favour. It’s a simple question of numbers.
There are thousands upon thousands of niche groups out there. Many of those are doing the same thing you are in their own niche. And many of these small businesses have a website, which is source of leads/revenue for them but which is NOT their primary focus and expertise.
These people are going to be needing a helping hand every so often.
It’s here where you have the ability to shine. Be their reference point when they ask for something related to their website. Be the source of expertise for anything website-related in the group. Make yourself known as the go-to person for website help/design. Even better, once you actually score some work, asking them to post a glowing recommendation of the work you’ve done and you might find yourself flooded with work.
If the niche group actually needs a website as its business, so much the better. Your help is going to be critical.
The questions they ask might not be strictly related to web design, or new websites per se, but by making yourself known as the web developer/designer in the group, you’ll be building your personal brand.
How you find those Facebook groups is another story. You’ll need to find groups that are busy and chatty but aren’t just self-promotional. Start with your hobbies and interests and then branch out from there.
3. Keep an Eye out on Job Boards
This is not my favorite thing to do, but it’s not really something you should skip over, so I’ll cover it here quickly.
You’re not going to be the only one eyeing job boards, so two pieces of advice here:
- Come up with a different angle for your pitch
- Don’t spend too much time on job boards
Let me expand a bit on both.
People who post jobs on popular boards will be flooded with requests, so you’ll need to make sure you stand out. Having been on both sides, I can tell what has worked and what hasn’t worked for me.
Pay Attention to the Details in Your Pitch
If somebody has submitted an obviously generic pitch and has not replied to any specific question I’ve asked or has not addressed me by name, that means they have probably not even read my request carefully and just sent out a generic pitch. Delete.
If they have broken English or problems with spelling or grammar, it means they’re not really bothered with quality. Not somebody I’d like to work with. Harsh as it may sound, people working for offshore companies that don’t speak native English should take the time to get their pitch perfect if they’re serious about the job. Delete.
Anything that looks like poor quality for whatever reason. Delete.
This ruthless elimination of applicants helps sort the wheat from the chaff and at that point the quality applicants will stand out. Make sure you’re left on that shortlist.
Make It Stand Out
Submitting a thorough pitch is going to take a lot of time. Given that the numbers are against you, I’d suggest giving your pitch a different angle. Something like:
I’m sure you’re going to receive tons of replies, so I won’t be taking much of your time with a long-winded generic pitch.
My previous client in a similar industry got an increase in revenue of 170% following their new website developed by myself, so let’s speak if you want to achieve similar results for your business.
Reply and let’s get on a call to discuss this, my Skype is xxxxx
Targeted. Short. Gives a testimonial and is already selling the business benefit to the client. Surely a way to stand out, which won’t take too much of your time. Ideally, you should customize this to the specific client, with specific details, such that it rings true when they read it.
Besides job boards, you might also consider looking at marketplaces, but these suffer from the same problems as job boards. They are chock-full of freelancers/agencies all trying to get a piece of the pie.
Some are busier than others, so if you are able to find a niche one, so much the better. There are the generic ones such as Upwork, and the more upmarket ones such as Toptal which require you to pass a very specialized test before you get on board (Top Talent). The latter would, of course, be much better, if you are able to make the cut. If you’d like to read about the difference between the two, we recently made a comparison of Toptal vs Upwork here.
4. Rank Your Website for Local Keywords
We’ve previously discussed how SEO should be built right into the websites you develop, but what about your own website? With so many of us vying to get more work in this digital, borderless world where we can work with anyone from anywhere, we sometimes miss the wood for the trees. I’m not sure I used the right expression there, but in your vision for getting more work from a global audience, it’s easy to compete for words that are harder and harder to rank.
What you might not realize is that ranking for, competing for work, and winning work on global marketplaces is much much harder than if you try to rank locally.
You see, everybody is trying to do the former, but fewer people are trying to do the latter, and the reality is there are very good techniques for ranking a website for local keywords.
I won’t delve much into trying to rank for local keywords, but I can tell you this much:
It’s much easier to rank for “web design <your city/suburb(s)>” than it is to rank for “web design Sydney” which is much easier to rank for than “web design Australia,” which is easier to rank for “web design” (which is pretty much impossible).
5. Perform Cold(ish) Email Outreach
A final recommendation – and a controversial one at that.
If you run a website you’ve probably received tons of these. Unsolicited emails via your contact form or your email address. I’m not speaking about these:
I’m talking about these:
Now, the above is an example of everything that is wrong with an email outreach. Actually, I’ve seen much worse, but the above is ridiculous.
But before we speak about what’s wrong with the above, let’s talk about what’s right. The reason why you keep getting these outreach emails (no they’re not spam), is simple – they work.
Granted, it’s a game of numbers, but you can definitely skew those numbers in your favor.
Email outreach is a bit of an art. But if you master the art, cold email is an incredibly powerful sales tactic for bringing in new work.
The trick is sending out the right kind of email. For example, count the number of “I”‘s in the above email. There are three and a “we”. It’s all about them – the person doing the outreach.
Now, what if we had to turn all of this around and ponder the question, “What’s in it for them?” (the recipient, rather than the sender) before we send an email?
Think about that and create an email that is:
- Customized to the recipient (mention their name, their job, and real problems with their site which you can solve, for example, it’s old, it’s not responsive, it’s broken)
- Offer them real value, something that stops them in their tracks
- Keep it short and hard-hitting
Focus on a niche and make it a point to send out a few good emails a day. Let’s say send out ten emails. Shouldn’t take you more than fifteen to twenty minutes. You can pick up a local online directory and do this for all the websites you think look like they need an upgrade.
Let me share with you a few more tricks.
- Send the email to specific persons, not generic email addresses if you can. Use such tools are VoilaNorbert, or Findthat.email to find the emails of specific people.
- Send two follow-ups to your primary email. If at first, you don’t get a reply, follow-up within a few days to a week. Then follow up again, always reminding gently without nagging.
- Use a throwaway email – your email could easily get blacklisted.
- If you can warm up the recipient by somehow interacting with them (Twitter, Facebook, or ideally LinkedIn) before sending the outreach, your chances of success will be greatly improved. That’s because they’ll probably remember your name from your previous interactions (especially if you’ve already given them value with your interactions).
This does take a bit of planning and strategy, but the results I’ve had since I started doing cold and warmish outreach, both for SEO and for freelance work, spur me to keep on doing it and always refining my methods as I discover what works best and what doesn’t.
How Do You Find Work?
Getting your sales pipeline in order is a never-ending task in reality. The above are only a few of the things you could do and what most freelancers out there are actually doing.
So let’s help each other, help each other.
Why not have a frank discussion below and share with us the tactics that work best for you? No need for giving us your secret sauce, but general ideas of what you do would be hugely welcomed by all of the community here!