I know firsthand how difficult it can be to get started on Freelancer, so I thought I would share an approach that I have found a bit of early success with, along with some thoughts and observations. I have been consulting in the "traditional" sense for quite some time, but I am new to Freelancer and I have found that the amount of opportunity afforded to someone like myself is amazing. You can become an international business from your home office. But that wealth of opportunity can also be overwhelming, especially when you are looking for your first client.
When I initially signed up for Freelancer, I found myself applying to way too many jobs and getting none. I would read a listing and say to myself, “I can do that, no problem”, then that voice in my head quickly changed to, “I can’t believe I never heard from them, I was perfect for that.”
I took a step back and began analyzing the projects I was applying for and realized how competitive some of them were with scores or even hundreds of applicants. I decided what I needed to do was to set myself apart and focus only on projects that I consider myself to be a subject matter expert on.
I have extensive experience in dealing with sports-related data and applications. I have built and maintained many databases for the industry and have provided content, applications, and consulting to sports statistics companies, handicapping sites, fantasy sites, sports blogging sites, and just individuals looking to tinker with data. Within this niche I thoroughly understand a client’s needs, and can be an adviser to them, not just some one writing code. I can offer suggestions that hopefully enhance their project, such as good sources to purchase data and mailing lists from, or provide insight as to how to do something more efficiently.
While I am certain that they are many great technical coders on Freelancer, I feel that few, if any, possess my knowledge when it came to sports-related datasets and applications. That fact should set me apart when applying for these types of jobs.
With all this in mind, I polished up my profile, highlighting my subject matter expertise, and then only sought projects that fell within this niche. Instead of searching for jobs with terms like “Database Management” or “VBA”, I started searching for things like “football”, “MLB”, and “fantasy” and quickly found that there were many potential clients out there looking for my type of expertise.
When I came across listings that I felt really suited for, I wrote concise, yet through cover letters and attempted to make sure that the potential client knew that I understood their needs. If I did have questions, I tried to ask them in an engaging way that hopefully they saw as part “brainstorming” in addition to just fact-finding. In closing each cover letter I let them know that, if possible, I would be happy to answer any questions, even if they were to select another freelancer to do the work.
What I found was that I started get responses to my applications. Certainly not by everyone, but more and more potential clients began a dialogue with me, until one day I got my first Freelancer job, and that one quickly turned into a second.
I believe that this approach would be applicable no matter what your area of expertise is. If you have a specialty niche that you consider yourself a subject matter expert in, I would suggest making it the main focus of your profile. Don’t just say that you have done website development, SCREAM that you have done website development for the real estate industry and SCREAM LOUDER that you know what works and what doesn’t and that your experience will be an asset to the any client looking for website work pertaining to real estate. Then try narrowing your search to only those projects that are in that specific genre. When applying to those types of jobs, sell your experience and look for ways to open a dialogue with the potential client by touching on industry-specific things that will show that you understand the nature of their work.
Thanks for reading this and I wish all of you the best of luck.
Bonus Material: Just My Unsolicited Opinions, Thoughts, and Two Cents on a Few Things, In No Particular Order
A) Think like a client when you are applying to projects. What would you want to hear from a prospective Freelancer? What could someone contacting you do to build trust and make you want to respond to them? Think about things like this when you are composing your cover letters.
B) Understand what income you would need to garner from a project and have a very good estimate as to how long it will take you to do it. DO NOT concern yourself with any competitors’ costs or timing when bidding a job. A potential client that is hiring strictly on price is probably going to have some unrealistic expectations, and may be worth passing on anyway.
C) Whenever possible try to price a project at a flat fee instead of an hourly rate. I know that there are pitfalls associated with this, such as not completely understanding the scope of a project, not to mention getting paid, but I still think this tact makes the most sense for both the client and the freelancer, whenever possible. In my opinion, a client is much happier knowing the "meter isn't running", and to me as a freelancer I prefer working this way as opposed to hourly. Anyone who has done consulting long enough knows that rarely, if ever, is a final deliverable what was spec’d out initially. Accept this going into a project, and make sure that you communicate to the client that you expect reasonable modifications and that they are built into your price. Additionally, make it clear that while reasonable changes are included, wholesale changes are not, and if that occurs, the cost and timing of the project would need to be revisited. It has been my experience that most clients, especially business people, understand this and are very fair about recognizing the difference between modifications and starting from scratch. Also, make sure you convey to a client that you will be around and accessible when the project is complete. Give them peace of mind knowing that if there is a problem, or change needs to be made, or maybe they have a follow-up job, that they will have no trouble finding you.
D) When you get a project, do the work quickly and accurately. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, just make sure that they are germane and are not rehashing things that have already been answered. When you don’t know something with 100% certainty, then don’t say it, or pretend to know it. Be honest and direct. The clients will think more of you, not less of you. Be professional and responsive. Get back to people quickly, even if your response is to simply say that you are tied up and will be in touch shortly. And while you are it, make your mother proud and don’t forget please and thank you. Stuff like that goes a long way. Remember the gold standard of currency on Freelancer is your reputation and ratings. It will do more to get, or lose, you new projects than anything else.