A couple days ago I received an email from my friend’s son, a relatively junior web developer who was looking for ways to make money and build experience working as a freelance developer on Elance or oDesk. Some of the questions he asked me were in line with questions I hear many times:
- How can I get my first project given that competition is extremely high and I have no reputation/ rating?
- What can I do to keep my clients happy and coming back to me?
Here are a some of the tips I gave to him, hopefully you will find them helpful:
- Getting your first project is always the hardest when you have no reputation. Well, if you have bad reputation it is even worse. But that’s a whole another story. When you are just starting you need to make a considerable efforts to stand out from the crowd and attract any attention. Consider a few tricks to lose your virginity, for example bring an existing client to the market place. A single 5-star review is infinitely better than none, and is worth investing some cash. Some people told me that played the system by asking a friend to post a project and invite them, I guess you can even invite yourself…
- Consider dropping your rates below your comfort zone on initial bids and then raising it when you get several quality reviews. There are many potential buyers who experiment with low bidders in a hope to stumble upon a diamond in the rough.
- Engage the buyers, it doesn’t mean how good you are technically if you can’t sell your services. You are a fulltime salesperson till your bid has been accepted. And you are still a salesperson after that, just no longer a fulltime one.
- Always address the project description in your bid and find ways engage the employer with your response. Sell them on idea to hire you and give them the confidence that you’re the right person for the job.
- Selling doesn’t mean to say “I’m the best” or reply with a standard response listing your accomplishments or cut and paste jobs outlining your company credentials. This is not much beyond spam. The best thing to do is often to show that you understood the request and show how you can do it. Some of the most successful freelancers even do some of the work upfront, for example a few days ago I received a finished product in response to my project. Of course you may find yourself working too hard, but if that what it takes to stand from the crowd, you just have to go with it. I strongly suggest reading books for salespeople, and if you are new to sales the classic such as Selling 101: What Every Successful Sales Professional Needs to Know by Zig Ziglar or The Psychology of Selling: Increase Your Sales Faster and Easier Than You Ever Thought Possible by Brian Tracy could be the best and the easiest books to start.
- Treat the buyers with utmost respect (or as Kevin O’Leary put it “Never insult the money!”). A few items besides obvious fall in this category – be punctual, do what you’ve promised, respond quickly, spellcheck your responses, follow 7 Cs of business communications, and so on.
- Get you profile into shipshape and take advantage from all tools that marketplace offers you – add a good picture, create engaging “elevator” pitch, put your portfolio, take certification exams, etc.
- Consider SEO-optimization of your profile. Think about search terms that are relevant to your skills / offering. But don’t go for black hat techniques, e.g. keyword stuffing your profile. The quality content is most important.
- A quality picture is very important – lame cartoons and ugly mugshot will get you standout but not in the way you’d like to. If you are a single person offering your services, put the best professional photo you can find. If you are representing a team a good picture could be still a great way to warm up the hearts of employers, just make sure not to misrepresent yourself, as that could easily backfire.
- There is no replacement to knowing your craft. If you can’t get the job done freelancing is not for you, even if you are a superb salesperson. And knowing your craft involves constant upgrade of your skills – tons of learning and practice, practice, practice.
- Well, if you are a superb salesperson and that is your only skill you can still be successful, you just need to team up with right people who can deliver. I’ve meet some very successful freelancing team that started as a salesperson-delivery person couple.
- Communicate a lot but don’t overwhelm your client with useless messages. Frequent status reports is a good way to stay in touch without encroaching on your clients time. And do not ever go incommunicado – this unnerves your clients and deprives you from the ability to upsell them in the future.
- As you gain experience and get your reputation to speak for itself you can consider going through profile makeover, including adding quotes form clients and also increasing the rate.
OK, enough for now… I like baker’s dozen bullet count. Of course this is by far not a complete list – please feel free to comment or email me if you’d like to share your ideas, suggestions, and critique.