Leaving a settled job for a freelance (or consultant) career is one of the toughest decisions for anyone. On one hand you have a guaranteed paycheck at the end of every month along with a number of other fringe benefits.
While on the other hand, you can go completely freelance and enjoy the freedom of working on your favorite projects on your own terms. This is probably probably why freelancers are going to make up nearly 47% of the workforce in USA by 2020.
The problem with freelancing, however, is the sheer number of people doing it. Clients have an almost unending list of freelancers to choose from and the market is dominated by low paying gigs and cheap projects, especially on freelancing portal like Upwork and Fiverr.
It’s very hard to stand out from the crowd and earn enough to make a living. Especially if you’re a nobody who’s just starting out.
There is, however, one way to not only stand out from the crowd , enhance your brand image and be counted as an expert, but also to command much higher rates for your work and live the life that you dream of.
And that’s what I’m going to tell you about right now.
My 5 Step Strategy to Stand Out from the Crowd
It does not matter if you’re a freelance web designer, programmer, developer or a freelance writer, if you keep hunting for jobs on freelance job portals, you’ll continue to work on low paying gigs.
As a freelance writer, web designer and marketing consultant, I switched to a different strategy and immediately found rewards from it.
Here’s my 5 step strategy to freelancing heaven.
1. Brand yourself smartly – Start a blog now!
As a freelancer, you’re doing yourself a major disservice by not having your own blog or website. The number of customers you attract and the type of rates you command is directly proportional to the strength of your brand image.
By having your own blog, you can give yourself a platform to not only showcase your best work but also to use it as the center of all your marketing and branding activities.
A blog that is regularly updated with high value content, will not only help people discover you, but also elevate you above your competitors.
Jeff has a detailed guide on how you can start a blog from scratch and make it a raving success. I strongly recommend that you read it. I personally recommend using WordPress for your blog, but there are many other website platforms as well that you can use if you want.
Before starting, though, you need to be clear about the purpose of your blog. It is there to get customers for you. So your content should also be tailored according to your objective.
Every time you create a new post, target it towards your potential customers. A few posts with the right content are much more effective than dozens of posts with no objective.
Also make sure you create a “Services or Hire Me” page on your blog. You need to tell people that you’re available for work. List all your services and your best samples on this page, and promote it wherever possible.
2. Target your niche leaders for guest blogging
Once you have your blog in order, it’s time to build your brand image. This is the most crucial step in this strategy and, if rightly done, will truly elevate you above the crowd.
The top blogs in any niche are followed by thousands of people, including small businesses and entrepreneurs from that industry.
Featuring on 3 to 4 top blogs of your niche will not only give you massive exposure, but also help you network with the major influencers in your niche.
At this point you might think that guest blogging is an old strategy that does not work anymore. But that is not true at all.
Guest blogging goes wrong when you target the wrong blogs for the wrong reasons. In this strategy, however, your objective with guest blogging is to build your brand image by featuring on the top blogs of your niche.
And in order to do that, you’ll need to write a powerful post, because low quality work will simply get rejected. So focus on the major problems of your niche and try to present your unique perspective on them.
When I followed this strategy, I targeted Problogger.com and Hongkiat.com because I wanted freelance blogging and web design clients, and these are certainly two of the most influential blogs in their respective niches.
Since I’ve been published on Problogger and a few other top blogs, I’ve used them as a sample to get 3-4 major blogging clients by simply emailing the clients through their websites.
The few hours that you spend, writing a super high quality post for the niche leaders, will pay you back big time. So give it your best shot.
Also don’t forget to write a strong author bio for your guest post. Introduce yourself as an expert and give a link to your blog at the end of it.
3. Get ready to launch your marketing campaign
You’ve done the hard work and got featured on some of the top blogs in your niche. It’s time to reap the rewards by launching an aggressive client acquisition campaign.
Before you go on a marketing spree, make sure your online profiles reflect your expertise.
Start by copying the logos of all the blogs you’ve featured on, and displaying them in the side bar of your blog with the heading “As seen on”. Also list the links to your best guest posts on the Hire Me page of your blog.
This will act as a powerful advertisement of your credibility and will give your brand image a major boost.
Then go straight to your LinkedIn, Elance, oDesk and any other industry specific job profile and add your latest work to them.
As I said before, I’m not a big fan of Elance and other websites like that, but with the names of all the big blogs on your profile, you can get an odd high paying client even from such portals.
4. Approach your target market and dictate terms
You now have just the right profile, samples and brand image to confidently reach out to your target market and take projects on your own terms.
In this step, list down all the major sources that can get you connected with your potential clients. These sources will include,
- The top job portals of your niche (I’m not talking about Elance!)
- The websites of your potential customers
- The top industry forums
- Social media profiles of your target clients
Out of all these source, I’ve personally found direct emailing as the most effective method. But I would still recommend using other freelance job portals, like freelanceswitch, as well.
Whether you’re applying directly on the client’s website or through a job portal, you’ll need to send an email to them. This email is crucial for your chances.
- Start off by briefly introducing yourself (not more than 2 lines).
- Mention that you have been featured on some of the most credible blogs of your niche including (blogname – 1), (blogname -2) etc.
- List the links of your guest posts on all the top blogs as samples.
- Leave a link to your own blog at the end of the email for more samples.
- Don’t mention your rates just yet.
The response rate on my client query emails increased almost 200% after I added links of guest posts for the top blogs. Before that, only a handful ever talked to me.
And here’s the funny part, on most occasions, I did not meet all the requirements (eg: specific countries, rates etc.) but still got the jobs.
One of the companies I approached in response to their job post (a web design agency) doubled their advertised rates for me just because I was published on the blogs they trusted.
That’s the power of smart guest blogging.
You can dictate terms once you have won the client’s confidence. And that can only be done if you have big names on your profile.
5. Rinse and repeat
Yes, keep adding big names to your profile and you’ll continue to dictate terms with your clients.
Never go for mass guest blogging. You don’t need it to acquire clients.
All you need is a focused strategy that targets only the top few blogs in your niche. That is enough to build your brand image and act as a strong indicator of your service standards.
In fact, in many cases, you’ll have clients contacting you themselves by seeing your guest posts.
Wrapping it up
There’s nothing complex about this strategy. It’s simple common sense stuff. It does take some hard work, though. But if you really want a prosperous freelancing career in which you do not have to run after clients, spend hours working for pennies and wait for the next client to have mercy on you, then all this hard work is certainly worth it.