A freelancer really has 2 jobs. The first is to be absolutely great at what they do. The second, much more difficult and painful job, is to consistently find work. It’s something that the vast majority of freelancers struggle with regardless of experience level. The bright side is that freelance work snowballs- as you build a client list, you not only get repeat work from satisfied clients, but get referrals, meet contacts, and spread word of mouth to ease your work search strain. In the meantime, here are a few reasons why you’re not getting enough work.
4. You’re Priced Wrong
Setting your rate can be tricky. Sometimes you’re more expensive than the market can bear, but more often you’re too cheap. Being too cheap can often cause more problems than being too expensive because you’re devaluing your own work and making it more difficult to grow. An expensive freelancer might miss out on some jobs. A cheap freelancer causes clients to question their value, be suspicious of their work, and, when they do find jobs, not make enough to cover their dry spells.
It can be terribly discouraging to look at rates advertised in job listings, but the good news is, those typically aren’t reasonable rates. Recruiters often only include rates if they’re very low- to weed out freelancers who are priced reasonably- and sites like Upwork and Freelancer primarily contain jobs for absolute bottom of the barrel rates. For a better picture of what people are charging in your area, talk to some colleagues in a similar position and location and see what their rates are.
3. Your Portfolio Stinks
This doesn’t mean that your work stinks- I mean… maybe it does, I don’t know you- but crappy portfolios can be made from great work for reasons totally unrelated to the work’s quality. Maybe you didn’t include enough work. Maybe you have spec projects in your portfolio. Maybe you’re applying to web development jobs with a software development portfolio.
2. You Don’t Know How to Market Yourself
An extremely common mistake freelancers make is to try to be all things to all people. You’re not coca-cola, whose potential market includes just shy of everyone, you’re Slanket, who has a target market of a very specific, very sad type of person. Are you an editor with a focus on unscripted TV? Are you a designer who typically handles digital? Figuring out your niche helps you to target the right kinds of jobs to apply to, the right contacts to make, and the right story to pitch to potential clients.
As much as I believe in the power of specializing, this isn’t to say that you can’t broaden your horizons and expand your skill set. As Zack Arnold told us recently, there is a definite consolidation of positions in recent years. Much like with your portfolio, you just need your pitch or application to tell the story that clients want to hear. If a client is looking for a UX designer, no one wants a Copywriter-Print Graphic Designer-UX designer-Motion Graphic Designer. By including additional skills you actually dilute your perceived value as a UX designer.
As I say repeatedly in my comprehensive freelancing course: Marketing is a deep subject, but you don’t have to be an expert. Most freelancers are terrible at positioning themselves, so you just have to be a little bit better than terrible.
1. No One Knows Who You Are
This is probably the most recurrent issue and definitely the most difficult to overcome. There isn’t an easy solution, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a solution.
I don’t particularly recommend cold calling. It is a pretty low sum game and can become very discouraging. Instead, I recommend networking with people in the industry- at trade shows, user groups, and industry events. This will help you establish and build relationships with people in the industry, not only potential clients, but other important contacts. You shouldn’t view other freelancers as competitors, but rather fellow soldiers fighting on the same side of a war as you. They can be valuable assets, often more so than potential clients, because they can share advice as well as referrals from multiple different clients.
Consistency is key in everything- don’t be disappointed if you don’t get anything immediately- remember that freelancing snowballs.