Freelancing can be a highly competitive, dog-eat-dog world, but if you put your best foot forward, you’ll get the pick of the freelance jobs. Here’s how to show your professionalism and get the gig…

  • Have a strong portfolio of work – your freelance portfolio is your CV and your foot in the door. Companies offering freelance work couldn’t care less about your education or your potential; they just want someone who can do the job – now! Put together a portfolio of your best work and show the most relevant ones (… not everything you’ve ever done…) when asked. If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, build a portfolio by offering to work at a reduced rate or doing pro bono projects for charities and good causes.
  • Get testimonials from clients – A good portfolio allied to great testimonials from credible clients (not your mom or a college friend) will give you an edge every time. Indeed, experienced freelancers say you can double your success rate if you use testimonials. But they must be authentic; imagine the fallout if a potential client does some checks and finds your ‘testimonials’ are exaggerated or fake!
  • Have a basic fee structure – Yes, you can discount if the situation warrants it, but start out by knowing what you’re worth. Selling yourself short is a common problem and if you don’t have confidence in your own abilities as a professional, then why should a customer? If you must ‘do a deal’ it’s often better to maintain your rate, but throw in some ‘free’ hours without the client knowing. That way you retain your credibility and can still bargain from a position of strength next time around.
  • Look the part – Just because you work from home doesn’t give you licence to look like a slob when you’re meeting a potential client. If you’re applying for a freelance job in the arts and advertising world, dressing very casual is fine. But for a corporate client you should look smarter. If in doubt, dress up. And remember other grooming details like hair, nails, earrings, etc. Remember, you’re entering the client’s world and he doesn’t have to choose you.
  • Live your brand – As a freelancer, you are your brand, so look, speak and act in the manner that you’d like to be perceived professionally. Have a proper business card, create a suitable website, and make sure your faxes and e-mails look professional. If you work from home, don’t allow your five-year-old to answer anything that resembles a business call, or have kids screaming in the background when you’ve having a conversation with a client.
  • Learn to say no – If you can’t meet the deadline, don’t have the required expertise, or are unhappy with some of the conditions – say ‘no’. If the client likes you or your work, you may find he’ll bend over backwards to get you to say ‘yes’. If not, at least you’ve been professional and true to yourself. Saying yes to everything, even when it’s obviously not fair or right for you, only makes you seem weak and unprofessional.
  • Have a freelance agreement – Get things in writing, or at least confirmed via e-mail, for any freelance projects that you do. That way, if things go pear-shaped and end up in the Small Claims Court, you at least have a leg to stand on. Even fair and honest clients can’t always remember what they agreed to during a casual chat three months ago – and what if the person commissioning the work leaves, retires or dies? To quote legendary Hollywood producer, Samuel Goldwyn: “A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on”.
  • Join professional associations – These organisations not only provide networking and educational opportunities; they also look good on your business card, website and letterhead. Even if you don’t think the professional association representing your industry is quite up to the mark, potential clients possibly don’t know that. Remember, in the world of lawyers, accountants, actuaries, doctors and many other professions, membership of an association carries great status.
  • Become an industry voice – In addition to doing ‘hard selling’ to land specific projects, every freelancer also needs to market themselves. A credible and cost effective strategy is to become a ‘voice’ within the industry. Write thought-leadership pieces and ‘how to’ articles for websites, magazines, newsletters and journals serving the relevant sectors. Start a regular and thought-provoking blog. Consider a presence on Facebook and Twitter and other social networks – but only if you really have something useful to say.
  • Meet deadlines – It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many so-called ‘professionals’ can’t do it! A deadline isn’t the point at which you start negotiating to deliver – it’s the absolute, final point at which the completed work must be given to the client. Excuses other than death or dismemberment (…maybe…) are simply unacceptable! If you can’t meet deadlines you can’t do freelance work.
  • Follow up at all times – It’s simple, courteous and seemingly obvious. But, again, too few freelancers do it. When you’ve completed the project, wait a few days and then follow up to see if the client is happy. Similarly, even if you don’t get the freelance work you interviewed for, send the client a message thanking them for their time and hoping that you can pitch again for a future project. Remember, a simple courtesy is often the one best remembered.