7 Hacks for New Freelancers
7 Hacks for New Freelancers
Starting a business as a new freelancer is a critical moment in one’s career. Things can go well, they could go great, but most often, before things start to go anywhere at all, they take the opposite turn!
Here are my best freelancing hacks for new freelancers no matter what industry you’re in. These generic business building principles apply to everyone.
Ready, get set, go freelance!
HACKS FOR NEW FREELANCERS No. 1: Define your dream client
You won’t be able to find your perfect dream clients unless you’re able to name and define them.
Even if you have contact with many potential customers, you might not recognize the opportunity unless you know what you’re looking for in a client.
The only reason for me not starting a freelance business earlier was I couldn’t imagine my clientele very clearly.
Before becoming a freelancer, I was a technical co-founder of a Singapore-based startup and very much used to doing everything myself from scratch to a sellable product.
When it became obvious that our startup could not scale up, I realized who I should target as clients for my new freelancer career –other startupfounders. That’s where I could deliver the most value!
Startups need experience, a verywide skillset, creativity in technical solutions, and hands-on capabilities to build complex products. And all of this has to be done fast!
I knew lots of those guys look to freelance sites for getting things done. I knew because I did that before myself as a startup co-founder! So, I knew my market inside out from the beginning.
Ever since I got clear on who my ideal clients are, the rest has been really easy to figure out. My freelance business is now 7 years old and recognized in all the right places.
Define your dream clients to find them – to avoid blind-shooting!
The most important part of freelancing is specialization. Specialists make big bucks. Amateurs… not so much. Everything else depends on your ability to specialize right. Your specialty defines your clientele, pricing, branding, etc.
How to specialize?Simply, think of the individuals who need your contribution to getting their work done really well and fast.Then, expand that to a group. That’s your clientele.
Make sure you can answer these questions:
- What value can you bring to their work?
- Why do those people need you?
- How much is that value worth in cash?
- What else can you offer to those people besides the core value?
- Where else can they get the same value?
Sounds simple, but that is not all, yet. Also, be sure to void these common mistakes:
- Offering value that almost anyone else can offer. You would only end up in a race to the bottom, the most infamous phenomenon in global freelancing markets.
- Offering value that is not critical to your client, for example, execute menial tasks. You will be in danger to be replaced by just about anyone.
- Going too confident in what you can offer.It is only successfully delivered services that pay off.
- Underestimating your value and impact. Do not go below the market price.
My technical specialty came directly from my earlier work history: science, innovations, software development, and startups. It was challenging for me, initially, to describe the value-added parts of my services.But fortunately, they became more comprehensive than any other freelancers’ services for specific types of new companies.
Remember, you only need to beat the next guy in your specific markets to dominate it.
HACKS FOR NEW FREELANCERS No. 3:Have a long-term strategy
Many think that freelancers work on little gigs for a few hundred bucks at a time.Well, to be honest, some do.But the good ones don’t.
The longest project I’ve had took about half of my time for 2 years and 4 months.It started as a small software development project to produce a demo of a brave new product. I made it happen in about 6 weeks.The client acquired more funding as the idea was very promising.
We then had a lot of discussion on how to develop the demo into a full-scale product.I helped the client to figure out the technical challenges that they would face in the long term with the intended product. The challenges turned out to be quite tough bottlenecks in their business plan, which had to be solved before doing anything else.
That resulted in another 2 years of collaborative work during which we developed a completely new way of solving those technical problems, a software that enables a proper business operation, and the foundation of the company’s intellectual property. In other words, the whole technical basis of the company.
So, do not only take care of your client’s immediate needs. Solve their long-term problems also. Then, you may become almost like a partner for them!
HACKS FOR NEW FREELANCERS No. 4: Deliver more than the client expects
Over-delivery is one of the most effective ways to make your clients happy – every time! To get the job done and the contract concluded is something expected from a freelancer in every project, but you can always take an extra step to sweeten the deal for your client.
Simply, make your client appreciate everything you have done by doing just a little bit more than requested.
I remember having a project for a couple of months. The client was a super-interesting company to deliver a complete product for. And the technology stack consisted ofmy favorite Augmented Reality (AR) hardware.
First, we had a discussion on which device to pick, we picked the most suitable one, and I finished the project.We knew there was a new device coming within a year which might be better for the purpose.I offered my client to do the upgrade for free!
That worked perfectly for both sides. The client had already paid well, so I could easily throw in an extra day or two to make the upgrade. Later, I was asked to deliver another project later. 🙂
As freelancers do not have any job security, you can increase your chances of getting repeat clients by delivering more than expected to the best ones you encounter.
Be on your client’s side and they come back to you… because they trust you and they like you.
HACKS FOR NEW FREELANCERS No. 5:Do proper expectation management
Making sure your client understands what is coming is the cornerstone of a successful freelance business.
You cannot let the client be uncertain about what you will deliver. The timeline of your project must be clear, the payment method has to be clear from the beginning, and so on.
Also, you must define what support you offer after the delivery if any, and for how long.
Usually, after hearing out what kind of software system my client wants, I give an order of magnitude scale of things during the first call. After it, I outline the project, set estimates for each major module I’d need to develop, and come back with a delivery date and overall cost with a list of things to be included and a list of things that will notbe included.
Never forget the latter part! It’s your lifeline in freelancing.🙂
The client acquired more funding as the idea was very promising.
We then had a lot of discussion on how to develop the demo into a full-scale product.
I helped the client to figure out the technical challenges that they would face in the long term with the intended product. Those challenges turned out to be bottlenecks in their business plan, which had to be solved first.
That resulted in another 2 years of collaborative work during which we developed a completely new way of solving those technical problems, a software that enables real business operation, and the foundation of the company’s intellectual property.
Don’t only answer to the immediate needs of your clients. Solve their long-term problems too and you may become almost like a partner for them.
FREELANCING HACK: Learn expectation management
Making sure your client knows what is coming is the cornerstone of freelance business.
You cannot let the client be uncertain about what you will deliver.
Your client must know when the delivery will take place.
The payment method has to be clear from the beginning.
You also have to define what support you offer after the delivery if any, and how long.
Usually, after hearing out what kind of software system my client wants, I give an order of magnitude scale of things during the first call. After it, I outline the project, set estimates for each major module I’d need to develop, and come back with a delivery date and overall cost with a list of things to be included and a list of things that will not be included.
Never forget the latter part! It’s your lifeline in freelancing. 🙂
HACKS FOR NEW FREELANCERS No. 6 Archive every piece of your work
It is good to maintain archives of all the projects you execute and finish. Dropbox, Google Drive, and other cloud services allow you to have a virtually infinite amount of gigabytes of archives with a small amount of money.
There are big benefits of having all of your work files archived:
- Recovery. Sometimes clients lose their work so your backups might be the only ones left!Using any of the file-sharing tools allows you also to share all deliverables and source files with your client when the contract is finished, if not sooner, to make sure they are covered for all unexpected issues. Make sure your client gets every asset you’ve produced, and make sure they are retrievable by you.
- Portfolio-building. You never know when a fantastic future client asks for a reference work you have done in the past. This is when your persistent archive comes in handy! A quick search and you can send samples of your work even if it is outside your normal portfolio deck.
HACKS FOR NEW FREELANCERS No. 7: Explain what all of your deliverables cover
Some new freelancers think that the results stand on their own. They might send deliverables to the client without anything more than a short message about where to find them (e.g. Dropbox link).
However, many times it is equally important to write a message explaining the deliverable, particularly, when meeting the first milestone of a project for a new client. In those situations, the way of working may not be predictable yet and the client might get surprised. In the worst case, a surprised client reacts badly as you haven’t got as far in the business-relationship-building at the start of the project.
A client who reacts badly might patronize you or refuse to make the milestone payment – onlybecause the delivery was not understood!
On the other hand, polishing everything before showing anything at all may result in much redoing per the client’s feedback. So there has to be a fine balance that comes from a perfect understanding between you and your client.
A couple of examples:
- Your programming project starts with bare-bones functionality, but a non-technical client can only understand what the initial version of the software does: “Nothing has been done!”
- A 3D model you have produced may not be the final version yet. Texturing and materials might look a bit messy although the 3D shape is already perfectly detailed. You might get feedback: “This looks horrible!”
Make sure the client understands what your deliverable contains and what is still missing – ateach point of the project!
Mikko J. Rissanen, Ph.D., a.k.a. Dr. Mike, is an accomplished solopreneur living in a tropical paradise, inventing cool tech and coding from his beach office… and eating coconuts all day, every day. He’s one of the elite freelancers on Upwork and has been supporting hundreds of starting freelancers since 2017. Follow his latest freelancing tips on LinkedIn!