- Choose a specific niche to focus your attention on
It’s not enough just to market yourself as a freelancer. The term is way too broad. It’s like someone asking you what you do for a living and you simply replying “Work”. In order for you to establish yourself as a reliable person in your field of interest, you need to narrow down the niche that you’re going to focus on.
Once you establish what service it is that you are going to offer, you should then narrow it down a little bit further. Contract work is very popular right now, so being a “Writer” or a “Graphic Designer” isn’t always enough to make you stand out from others. Instead, focus on a specific area. For example, if you’re going to be a freelance writer, consider targeting small businesses, start up companies, etc. As a graphic designer, you might consider focusing on doing design work for restaurants or companies based in your city. Whatever you decide, be clear on what you’re going to offer and to whom.
- Develop a portfolio of your work to show to potential clients
As you get more clients, you’ll naturally build a larger portfolio of your previous work examples. However, if you’re just starting off and trying to sign your first client, you might be at a loss for examples for your work. It’s important that you develop a portfolio anyway, regardless of how few clients you’ve had. Web designers, surely you’ve done practice work in school or on your own. Share those examples. If you’re a writer, perhaps you have a blog or papers that you’ve written that show off your skills. If you have none of these, then give yourself a project and complete it. Then, use it in your portfolio. Clients are happy to hire people who are just starting off, but they’re never going to hire you without seeing examples of your work.
- Create a schedule and stick to it
A common misconception of freelance contractors is that they have to put in hardly any work and can create their own schedule. Sure, you could operate your business this way, but you won’t be successful. Determine when your most creative time is, and try to work around that. Be consistent. If you’re someone who works best at night, then make that your schedule. If you love the 9 to 5 work hours, then do that. Respect your own schedule and don’t make appointments during your work hours. At the same time, don’t work passed your designated “end of day” time. Of course things will come up where you have to work a bit later, but rest and play are just as important as the work grind hours that you put in.
- Designate an area in your home that is your workspace
Just like sleep specialists insist that you don’t do work in bed because it’s where you sleep, productivity experts agree that you shouldn’t attempt to do work in areas that aren’t made for work. Whether you work in a coffee shop or in your home, you have to designate a space that is your work area. Decorate the space according to what sparks your creativity and motivates you. Maybe you’re someone who likes to have photos of your family surrounding you. If you’re someone who gets distracted easily, go for a more simplistic look.
- Purchase a website domain
This is very important. When someone searches for you on the internet, and they will search you, you want them to find the things about you that reaffirm your skills, not your college beer night photos. Create a website (only around $10 for a domain), and make it about who you are and your skills. If money is tight, there are some sites (About.me), where you can create a quick custom page. However, having the official YourName.com shows a much higher level of dedication.
- Maintain active social media accounts
Not only should you be on Facebook and Twitter, but you should also produce content that you would want your clients to see. Share relevant articles (bonus points if you wrote them) and things that you find that they’d be interested in.
- Network with people who are successful in your specific niche
Having a mentor is a priceless benefit in any field of study. It’s great to hang around people who are on your level and “get” what it’s like to be someone doing contract work, but it’s also important that you have someone who has gone further than you and knows what the struggle is like to get to the top. It also shows that success is possible. This is a wonderful reminder on days where you want to throw in the towel.