So you’ve realized what a wonder freelancing can be – work on your terms, earn better money than you do in your 9-5, and have the flexibility to work wherever and whenever you want. With this in mind, you’ve picked the best freelancing site for you to get started on, you are clear on what skills you’re going to be selling and you sit down at your laptop to get started with your freelancing career…
And you feel overwhelmed.
The following questions flood into your mind:
Where do I start? What do I need to do to ensure I win work, have a profile that stands out and ensure potential clients even read my proposal? Does a photo of me that is remotely usable on a professional site even exist? Do I need to ‘come out’ on my LinkedIn profile?
It can very much feel like this when setting out to win your first freelancing work. However it really doesn’t need to be some nightmare waiting to happen. If you approach it methodically and know what you need to do to stand out, it’s not rocket science!
Many people get no further than this as even the thought of these questions puts them off, however if you are willing to invest some time upfront, do some research before you blindly start pitching for work, and ensure you seek and act on advice from a few trusted peeps, then you will be way ahead of the pack.
5% of freelancers on Upwork win 95% of the work
Let me tell you about the other 95% of freelancers…the ones who don’t win the work This is what a typical 95%-er will do.
- Create an account with the bare minimum of info, thinking “I’ll update it later…” (funnily enough, most of them don’t). Include a random hourly rate.
- Spend a bit of time browsing for some work and see a gig that they think they could do
- Spend 20 minutes writing a pitch that is generic so they can reuse it for all gigs
- Pitch for every gig they see that broadly fits their profile
- Repeat every day for a few days
- Two weeks later, wonder why they haven’t heard back from anyone even though they pitched for, like, 100 jobs
- Decide Upwork (or other freelancing site) is just some massive scam and head off back to their day job, giving up on the freelancing dream and all the wonderful advantages it can bring them
- Sign up to an MLM program and wonder why they fail at that
- Try forex trading and wonder why they fail at that
…you get the picture!
Sound familiar? No problem. I’m now going to tell you what that 5% do, and how you can do this to ensure you get your first client within two weeks of starting out.
Create a winning profile (Time = 2 hours research plus 2 hours creating your own)
It’s not so hard to create a winning profile of your own when you know what one looks like. But where can you find that out? Well here is the beauty of using freelancing sites such as Upwork and People per Hour – you can find the most successful freelancers in your field and see what their profile says.
Let’s use Upwork as our example.
- Go to www.upwork.com (don’t sign in) scroll down and you will see their categories.
- Select your category and you will be taken to a page on which you can browse through a number of freelancer profiles.
- Sign up for a client account to view more than a handful of freelancers in your category – this is well worth the additional effort!
- Once you have registered you can browse freelancers here: https://www.upwork.com/o/profiles/browse/
- You can then filter them by category, job success rate and hourly rate. So select your category and then filter for 90% job success and $60/hr and above.
You now have the most successful freelancers in your field at your fingertips…handy, hey! Now to make use of this…
See What Other Freelancers Are Doing
Against each profile you can see the number of hours they have worked through Upwork as well as their hourly rate. Spend some time browsing and you will quickly get a sense of who is doing well (many hours at a good rate). You can also see if they have any badges, eg ‘top rated’. Again a good source of info on who to study.
Now click on the best people, review their profiles and make some notes:
What does their profile look like? What do they state that they do? Do they include testimonials and where on the page are these? Does their photo look professional or relaxed? What skills do they state?
After a short time doing this you will start to identify some trends.
Identify What’s Not Working
To go one step further, look at the profiles of people who are seemingly not winning much work. How do these differ?
Now you not only can see what makes a winning profile, you can see what isn’t proving effective for the less successful candidates.
So you’re already on track to be in that 5% just by virtue of doing this bit of research, but of course, you have to make it count. You have to now translate your new found knowledge into your own winning profile. So take the time to do this.
Pick Your Picture, Carefully
You will need a good photo on your profile. Don’t underestimate the importance of this. If you don’t have a good photo, ask a friend with a decent camera to take one of you. Make sure you are smiling and dressed reasonably well for it! Ideally you want a head and shoulders shot with nothing distracting in the background.
Ask for Feedback
I suggest you create your profile and ask for feedback on it from people you know and trust and think will make sensible suggestions on this! Then act on their advice (only if you agree of course).
Don’t forget that whilst important, your profile is only a small part of each pitch – we will come onto pitches in section 5.
1. Set your rate (Time = 1-2 hours)
What? 1-2 hours to set my rate? Can’t I just pick a number for now?
Well, no. If you start at $10 per hour then find the average for someone with your skill level is $40, it’s going to be tricky to retrospectively justify that huge increase. If you go too high, you’re not giving yourself a realistic chance of winning work.
Even though I talk later about offering your services for below your hourly rate (and explain why) you still need your rate to look sensible for now otherwise potential clients won’t take you seriously.
So how do you go about setting the correct rate?
Go back to the list of freelancers in your field on the Upwork site. What is the range for per hour rate being charged? What is the maximum? What is the average (don’t spend ages working it out – just from glancing what feels about average)?
At this point I wouldn’t recommend going in at the max. Those who do will struggle as they don’t have the evidence (on Upwork) yet to back this up. Don’t worry though – you can always hike your rates once you have a great profile with top recommendations and 100% client satisfaction.
Equally, you don’t want to go low. Depending on your experience, I would recommend pitching your rate between the average and 80% of the max. In point 4 I’ll go into a bit more detail about pricing at the start but it’s important to start with a decent rate – even though you may not charge this for the first few pieces of work that you do.
2. Boost your profile by doing some tests (Time = 2 hours for now)
This isn’t relevant on all freelancing sites, but it is becoming increasingly common, and it exists on Upwork. So if you’re using a platform that offers tests, spend a bit of time doing the ones relevant to your skills.
If you’re using Upwork, go to www.upwork.com/tests and find the skills most relevant to the work you are going to be pitching to do. There are tests on everything from Excel to translation, and from Python to typing speed.
If you are unsure which tests to do, head back to the profiles of the ‘good and the greats’ in your field and see what test they have done (some will not have done any because they already had an awesome reputation before tests were introduced), but you should take the time as it’s a great way to boost your credibility before you start pitching.
If you’re a little rusty with some of your skills, find some tests on another site and practice. Typically a certain amount of time has to lapse before you’re allowed to retake a test, so you don’t want to mess this up. But don’t stress either!
3. Find the right kind of potential clients (Time = 2-4 hours)
There are two types of clients on sites like Upwork: The price monkeys and the quality lords. No prizes for guessing which type of client you want to hook up with. And yes, you can and should be picky from the start – you don’t want to waste your time working for the wrong type of client. Believe me – you will regret it later!
Clients to Avoid
Price monkeys look at one thing only: The expense of getting a job done. Like the freelancers who get involved in the ‘race to the bottom’ of pricing, they do the whole gig economy no favors. They pay crap, they get crap, they leave. So we want to avoid these people.
Clients to Look For
Quality lords, on the other hand, are exactly who we want to find. They will of course have their eye on price — but getting good work done by someone they can trust is way more important to them. And they will pay a premium for this. They are also far more likely to become long term good clients.
When I was last looking for a freelancer on PPH (like Upwork) I ended up paying 20% more than the budget I had stated as I simply needed someone good and could not afford any mess ups. It was absolutely worth the extra money and I will always happily pay more for the right person than pay less and find myself re-doing much of the work.
4. Write a Winning Pitch … and another, and another (Time = 1 hour per pitch. 10 hours total for now.)
Ok so here’s to the crux of it: You’ve done your research, created your profile, found your ideal clients and jobs and now you need to pitch. So, how do we create a winning pitch?
Tailor Your Pitches
First, you need to accept that you are not going to have one pitch that you send to all. You are going to make each pitch stand out to each client so that when they read it they will know you have written it specifically for them.
When I get a bunch of proposals, the first thing I do is delete all the pitches that are not specific to what I’ve asked for. If someone can’t be bothered to craft a personalized pitch, it says to me they are unlikely to do a very good job for me. These freelancers are discarded without a second look.
Tick their Boxes
The more information that is provided by the client on the job description, the easier it will be to pitch. View the job description as a tick list that you need to check off for the potential client.
If they state they are looking for someone with experience writing business plans, state directly and specifically that you have this experience, and give an example.
You need to tick off what they are asking for by stating you have that specific experience, and backing it up with examples. Of course you may not tick every box they are asking for in which case focus on those boxes you can tick.
Do What Clients Ask
Also some people put little ‘tests’ in their job description to enable them to quickly filter through the ‘one size fits all’ freelancers. For example, I saw a job description this morning that instructed pitchers to write “coaching” at the top of their pitch. This instruction was right at the end of a fairly detailed job description. You can bet if freelancers aren’t including these tests in their pitches, they’re proposals are getting thrown out.
So read the job description thoroughly – doing this alone will put you in with a better chance than most (unbelievable, I know!).
Answer Their Questions
Some clients also ask specific questions that they want you to answer in a pitch. This is absolutely critical. You must do a good job of this. Even though it often comes as the last part of the pitch to complete, don’t treat it as an afterthought – on Upwork for example, answers to their questions are actually the FIRST thing the client sees. So they may even scan just this part of their proposals to whittle down the number of applications they review.
Those who treat this as an afterthought will never land the job.
Go Above and Beyond
If you can think of a way to go above and beyond, state this in your proposal. For example, I had a pitch from someone for a straightforward piece of work where I had stated criteria I was looking for them to collect against a list of companies.
The winning pitch came from someone who suggested a couple of other criteria that could be useful to collect (and gave their reason for suggesting it). I didn’t end up using their suggestion, but the fact they made it gave me confidence they knew what I was looking for, and how to do it (and that they had experience with this kind of work). So I paid them over what my budget was, because their pitch gave me confidence they were great!
As well as doing these basics (which you need to do for every single pitch) you need to do some more — especially when just starting out. Here is what I suggest you include as a new freelancer:
- Acknowledge that you are new to the site so have no track record, but state relevant experience you have and / or relevant companies you have worked with or for
- Propose to do a sample piece of the work for free so they can see the quality of work you will do (if this is possible with the type of work being requested)
- Offer to do this piece of work for well below your hourly rate – in exchange for a prompt and honest review and feedback on your work when it’s completed
You may be wondering why I’m advocating offering to do work below the value you really want to charge. Well I view this as my upfront marketing cost – it’s the price I’m willing to pay to get clients and build a reputation ASAP.
So if my hourly rate would be $50 and I offer to work for $20 on a 10 hour project, I’m ‘investing’ $300 to build my profile. The beauty is that unlike other forms of advertising, this investment only happens if I win work – so I’m generating cash from the first project, even if it’s less than I will generate once I’m a bit more established.
Once you have 3 to 5 clients and 5 star ratings, you can ditch the below market rate, but for now, it’s a great way to get up and running, quickly.
Ask For Feedback if You Didn’t Win the Pitch (Time = 5 minutes per pitch)
While I expect you will succeed, if you do all the above, you are still likely to be up against a small number of other excellent freelancers – who will have a reputation already on the site you are using.
You are unlikely to win them all gigs you pitch to. That’s fine, and is part of the journey. What you will want to do as a top performer is follow up and reiterate the following:
- You would be interested in working with them in the future
- You want to put yourself in the best possible position to do this
- In order to do this you, would love to understand what the winning pitch offered that you did not
Of course, they may not reply. However, I always think it’s worth asking. And again, it puts you at the forefront of that potential client’s mind.
If the person they have taken on turns out to be less than they were cracked up to be (which happens!) then they may be on the lookout for a quick replacement, and you’ve put yourself ahead of the pile simply by sending this follow up message.
5. Win work that isn’t even being advertised (Time = 2 hours for now)
Ok so here’s where you can really get ahead of the pack. This is a little known trick that I absolutely loved when I was approached in this way – but only one freelancer has approached me like this – so keep this trick to yourself 😉
When you were going through step 4 you created a list of clients you liked the look of. Some of those you will have already pitched to, some you won’t because they don’t have any live projects.
So you are going to message these people to introduce yourself and make yourself known to them. Here’s how. Find the old job they posted and select ‘pitch’. Include the following key points in your message:
- I’ve only just joined [name of freelancing platform] and was scanning through jobs to get a feel for the type of work available.
- I came across an old job you posted. While I realize you’re likely to have filled this now, I wanted to get in touch to let you know that should you have any more work like this then I would very much like the opportunity to pitch
- I have in the past done a lot of work like this (give some succinct examples and companies / clients you have worked for – ideally include some key results achieved)
- As I’m new on this site, I don’t have a rating or any feedback yet. As such I’m keen to do some jobs asap and frankly, am willing to do them well below my market rate.
- Therefore if you have any similar jobs on the horizon, please do consider me. I’d be willing to work for £x per hour rather than my rate of $X per hour. In addition, I’d be willing to offer an upfront sample of the work for free so you could validate the quality of my work before committing to anything.
Obviously, put this in your own words! This will put you head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd
Rinse and Repeat!
In summary, if you are proactive, willing to invest some time upfront and happy to learn as you go, then you will be able to establish yourself as a credible freelancer with an excellent reputation in a very short space of time (this is possible within a month but of course depends on how much time you have to spend each week).
Don’t worry that this seems a lot of work. It won’t be this much work for every piece of work you pitch for. In fact, if you take this approach then people will start seeking you out. The best freelancers spend barely any time pitching – they simply don’t have to!
Hence why I emphasise putting the work in up front. It will pay dividends later! As a final thought on that (and it should go without say…) – absolutely nail your first few projects – go above and beyond the client’s expectations. Once you’ve done this, they won’t want to let you go!
If you do all this, not only will you have your first client within 2 weeks, but you will very quickly be in a position to increase your rates, be more selective about the work you do or the clients you work with and create that lifestyle you’ve been dreaming of – be that working from a laptop by the pool, quitting the dreaded daily commute or working while your baby is having their nap!
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