Competing for jobs as a freelancer sucks.
Whether you’re a writer, graphic designer, or an accountant, it can be a pretty cutthroat process if you’re not a notable name in your field.
There are essentially an infinite number of people bidding for the same projects you’re bidding on. On Upwork, where I discover many of my jobs, I commonly see upwards of fifty freelancers applying for the same project. With such stiff competition, it goes without saying that it’s a buyer’s market. Anyone looking to hire a freelancer is spoiled for choice.
While some people simply look to hire the person willing to work for the lowest price, the best freelance clients are looking for the best freelancers, not necessarily the cheapest ones. If you want to win more freelance projects, here are ten things that the best freelance clients are looking for right now.
1. A Great Portfolio.
The very first thing that a savvy potential client looks for when she is trawling the web for a good freelancer, regardless of the type of project, is sample work. The old Catch-22 about needing experience to get hired rings true: if you don’t have examples of your work, you won’t get hired, and if you don’t get hired, you won’t have writing or programming or whatever samples to show off to whoever is hiring.
Pro tip: Check out these 15 Freelance Portfolio Essentials for Winning Higher Paying Clients.
When I started bidding on copywriting and blog writing projects over a year ago, I had no prior paid experience doing this sort of work. Luckily, I had a travel blog chock full of writing samples, including a few viral articles that would serve as great selling points.
If you don’t have a portfolio yet, make one yourself! If you’re a web designer, create a few fake WordPress sites to show off your skills. If you’re a data analyst create a fake data set full of super crunchy numbers. That way when a quality bid comes along you have something to show off to a potential client.
2. Understand Their Needs.
Before someone has even made the decision of who to hire for their next freelance project, they want to know that the person they task with the project is clear on the exact deliverables they’re responsible for. Ask the client specific questions about the project, and use relevant jargon to make it clear that you know what you’re talking about.
Do they want you to A/B test the landing pages you write for them, or are they hiring an SEO specialist for that? Do they have a preference for WordPress or Weebly? Also make it understood that you will have the work they want on or before the deadline needed, since a client’s worst nightmare is not having something ready when it’s supposed to be.
3. Timely Turnarounds.
On that note, tardiness needs to be avoided at all costs. A great way to put to bed any worries a client might have about late work submissions is to be quick during the bidding process. If you see a great looking project that went up just an hour ago—in other words, it’s piping hot—shoot them a cover letter ASAP. They will appreciate the sense of urgency you work with and especially so, if you follow up with them at an equally rapid pace. They will feel more comfortable counting on you to deliver, especially if the project is time-sensitive.
4. Be Yourself.
Everyone has a unique style all their own, and let’s not forget that just because you’re sitting behind a screen on one side of the world and a client is on the other, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a personality. I love to add a dash of humor to my project bids and cover letters, and I appreciate it when a client has a bit of snark.
You don’t necessarily need to be funny, but it can’t hurt to let your voice come out when you’re writing to a prospective client. While your skillset and sample work are obviously the meat and potatoes that a client considers when hiring, if he likes you more than he likes another freelancer you’re more likely to win the job.
5. Write Professionally.
While this skill applies doubly so to someone like me, who makes a living writing, there is no excuse for sending a misspelled or grammatically-flawed message to someone who is looking to hire you, no matter what the job entails.
The quickest way to get your bid rejected by a quality client is to have spellcheck errors dotting your proposal like a field full of mines. Pick up these essential steps to writing the best proposal and learn the difference between you’re and your, don’t use a comma every three words, and if all else fails pay someone else to proofread your bids so you don’t look like a complete fool.
6. Share Your Best Ideas.
Don’t go handing out your work for free, but by all means share ideas to grab a client’s interest. Not all freelance projects come with tons of room for creative wiggle room, but if you see room for improvement based on what has been shared with you when you apply, or possibly a different idea altogether, let the client know.
For example, on a recent landing page project for a company that sells wine openers, I proposed creating two separate landing pages dedicated to millennials versus boomers instead of a one-size-fits all landing page catering to all demographics. This not only won me the bid, but also got me extra work (and extra pay, of course).
7. A Good Bio.
As one of my friends told me recently, my freelancer profile on upWork reaches “Kanye-level proportions” of self-promotion.
Obviously everyone has a different personality and tone that they’re trying to convey. But what all good freelance portfolios should have in common, whether it’s on a freelancing website or on your personal site, is a clear message to potential clients.
A client should see that you are confident in your abilities, and hopefully this is reflected in your pricing (if you choose to display it up front). Even more importantly is that, as the old sales adage goes, you sell benefits, not features. If your bio is clear about the benefits of hiring you, you’ll only do yourself a favor when you bid on freelance projects.
8. Be Willing to Collaborate.
Many times a freelance project can involve working collaboratively with one or more people. Usually a client will make this clear upfront, and you should let them know that you are comfortable listening to others’ ideas and sharing your own.
Often enough, your client is the one who you have to work with, so go the extra mile when you’re bidding on a project and make it clear that you look forward to working with them. Even a gesture as small as signing off by saying “looking forward to working with you,” will reinforce that you’re aware of the collaborative nature of freelancing, which a good client will appreciate.
9. Demonstrate Your Willingness to Learn.
Especially when I was starting out, most of the jobs that I applied for were about topics I knew little or nothing about. There’s nothing wrong with not knowing much about the subject on hand, just be honest with a potential client.
These days Google can teach you just about anything you don’t already know, and as long as you compliment your relative ignorance with genuine eagerness to learn something new a client won’t necessarily reject you. While there’s something to be said for honesty, I should also add that there’s nothing wrong with fakin’ it til you make it!
10. Be Gracious.
Whether you get the job or not, thank the client for taking the time to review your proposal.
Even if you don’t win the bid, this shouldn’t stop you from letting them know you appreciate their consideration. Besides it being a decent thing to do to a fellow human being, there’s always the possibility that the freelancer who is initially hired might not pan out as intended, so leaving a positive final impression increases the odds that if the client has to dip back into the hiring pool he will consider you first.
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