How to stand out as a freelancer in a saturated market

This is the best time ever to be a freelancer. How can you stand out as a freelancer though? It’s certainly easier than ever to get your freelance business going. But there are more and more folks coming into the game, so you just aren’t competing against agencies and companies anymore like it was 2001.

I’m not going to lie to you, it takes work. It’s definitely a marathon. However there are ways that you can stand out starting today. Right after you finish reading this article even. Once you get that mindset right and the ball rolling in the right direction, you’ll see that it’s really not that hard to stand out amongst the crowd.

Setup a regularly scheduled time to email or talk with a client

Often times agencies have account executives or account reps. These are people that regularly check in with their clients (or at least are supposed to). Freelancers on the other hand tend not to do this because they are actually working on the project or projects they have.

Let’s be honest though, freelancers tend often times don’t enjoy talking on the phone. So the vast majority don’t if they don’t have to.

On the flip side, that’s all clients want to do. They want to know what is going on with their project, if there’s any hurdles to jump over, if they are still on track to meet the launch date, etc. So they will first email with all of these things, and next will be the phone call.

The best thing you can do is to nip this in the bud. Before the client starts emailing or calling, from the outset set up a regularly scheduled call or email with them.

This doesn’t have to be a long hour and a half weekly call. Make it short (10-15 minutes) and at the same time every week. This allows the client to know you are on top of things. But also keeps you in control of the interruptions during your work day.

Working this into your business you’ll see that when you talk with your clients on your quarterly/yearly meetings, you’ll get responses like “the communication level is on point” or “I’ve hired folks in the past and they haven’t been to responsive”.

Be selective about your clients

Being selective about your clients puts you in a position of exclusivity. Exclusivity can mean a limited number of clients at any given time. But it can also be defined by your service offering, price, location, or even the technology that you use.

Regardless of how your freelance business defines exclusivity it does a couple of things instantly.

First, it allows you to be happy and enjoy working with the clients that you take on, as well as the projects. This helps you in being excited to get up each and everyday to do good stuff (thanks Joel!).

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When freelancers aren’t excited to work with folks or work on a particular project it does bad things to our brains. We have the ability to shut off and go do other things, like watch tv, movies, surf, etc. We tend to procrastinate those things which we find “not fun.” But we are also procrastinating on other projects and the business itself. Both bad! Very Bad!

So when you are selective about your clients, you can do so simply by setting up a proper screening process. This can be as simple as a form on your website with several questions.

If the potential client does not follow the instructions precisely, that’s a red flag. If they don’t answer the questions in a way that suits the type of projects you want to work on, that’s a red flag. If there are red flags this early in the game, what will the project be like?

Second, being included or chosen is every human’s desire. Being selective, or exclusive, has a psychological effect on people to want what is “inside”.

Because a potential client wants to know what is on the inside, they are more likely to follow the process you lay out for them to become a client.

Now you are already showing that you have processes in place for your business. You are looked as an expert because you know what you are doing to give the benefits to your clients instead of just taking orders.

Focus on Customer Service as much as one getting a customer

Freelancers work hard to get clients. Some freelancer work smarter to get clients. Only a few freelancers work as hard to keep clients.

You’ve heard before that it’s easier to sell to a current customer than a new one. If this is true (and it is true), then why do most freelancers stop the sales process once the lead becomes a client?

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To stand out as a freelancer among the crowd focus on customer service as much as you focus on the sales process.

Once a lead becomes a client, the selling doesn’t stop.

Put them into an onboarding sequence. This can be a series of emails over the course of the first month of them being your client.

Setup regular calls to just see how everything is going with them.

Send them gifts around the holiday season or their birthday.

Small gestures to existing clients go a long way in building the relationship even stronger. Then when you are ready to add additional services, raise your rate, or create an entirely new product, they’ll be the first ones to sign up and stay onboard.

Be positive

The problem with being so connected all the time is that you are connected all the time. You are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and don’t forget about Facetwigramchat as well. You mood is converted through everything you do on these platforms.

Think again if you think that clients are not Googling you and finding your social profiles. They want to see what sort of person you are, how reliable you are, and even see if there’s something about you that they don’t agree with.

If you are angry about someone or something, don’t pull out your phone and Tweet about it. If you are at a backyard party, don’t post photos about the beer pong tournament where you flipped the entire table over.

Be mindful of what you share online. Think of your social media as the windows to your store. What clients see in the windows, even if it’s personal and has nothing to do with business, as what they are getting when they choose to become your client.

You are a freelancer. Better yet, you are a business owner. If you want to stand out, don’t post anything on social media that you wouldn’t want your clients to see.

In a more of a business angle, clients don’t want to hear “no” or “that’s too much (time, money, etc)” all the time. Next time a client asks you for something that seems impossible or really truly can’t be done, give them options.

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the years is that nothing is impossible, it’s just a matter of time, money, and want. Yes, want! Most say quality, but I’ve learned it’s really want at the most basic form.

Break down what the client is asking for in its most simplest form and present that back to the client. Then there’s no reason that you couldn’t build up from there.

For example, if a client wanted to launch an online store to sell their products in time for Christmas and it’s November, what could this response be? One answer is “no” from a feasibility and risk factor.

But a better answer would be “let’s pick out 3 products to get to market and leverage tools like PayPal, eJunkie, etc to handle all the payments? This way we at least get to market quickly with what we want, then it gives us time to build the store after the New Year.”

Then letting the client decide on what’s important. Whether that’s getting to market and some traction or the importance of the first impression of having an fully functional online store under one roof.

This allows the client to be educated in why their request is not realistic. But allows them some options to choose the proper path.

Flat out saying “no” and a reason why it can’t be done chips away at the “Like” and “Trust” factor. Clients want to be able to look at you as the expert. Experts don’t just say “no” to ideas, they present a thoughtful solution to them.

Remember why you started your business

Everyone wants to be their own boss and control when and where they work. Freelancers take action on this by dropping the full time gig and starting their own business.

Often time when speaking with other freelancers as to why they are freelancing you’ll find deeper reasons. Family, the focus on a specific service, helping others, a certain passion to work with a specific type of non-profit.

These create laser focus and help guide us to being successful. This helps us in being selective with our clients and the customer service we provide as well.

If you want to stand out look at the reason why you started freelancing in the first place and align that with any decision that’s put in front of you day to day. By doing that it allows you to be able to focus in on what’s important.

My friend Brian Casel says that businesses that are successful solve one problem with one solution with one person over and over again. For most of us, this is why we’ve decided to go into freelancing. To solve a particular problem for a particular group of people.

Then next time you are faced with a hard decision ask yourself this question. “Does this decision align with why I started this in the first place?” If you can’t answer “yes” then make a different choice.

You’ll be much happier for one. For two, it’ll keep you on track for your goals.

Look at other freelancers and agencies and see what they aren’t doing

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We’ve all seen things we don’t like in other business. How many times have you said while standing in line at the supermarket “why can’t they open another register?” Or “the customer service in this place is terrible!”

Take notice in what other businesses lack or can be doing better. Even better still if you can find out why other freelancers are losing customers. Once you have those things, do them to the max.

One thing that I ask brand new clients is “why did you choose me?” I picked this up from Pat Flynn and Jason Fried. They both ask new clients what was that hook that pushed them over from shopper to buyer.

The reason why this is critical is oftentimes they will highlight something that I do that other businesses don’t do or do as well.

That’s why I have had an onboarding process for years. Most freelance developers still don’t onboard new clients. This alone helps in setting the expectations for both sides as well as positions myself above other freelance developers.

Be organized

Most freelancers use some sort of project management system. Often times they will open the door for clients to use them as well.

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Being mindful of each and every bit of information is critical clear and concise communication between you and your client. Even if you don’t let your client into your project management system, make sure there are systems in place for you to be able to track down everything a client sends your way through that system.

Using tools like Zapier or IFTTT you can easily hook up email into Basecamp and Asana. This saves you time in transferring things from one system to another. This also allows for you to not having to go back to clients because you can’t find that email with the attachment they sent to you 2 months ago.

You want the clients to be able to trust you that when they send you something or ask you do to something, it doesn’t fall through the cracks. Overtime something falls through the cracks, the trust factor gets chipped at.

Being reliable is critical to any business. Being reliable as a freelancer or remote worker is 100 times more critical. You aren’t showing up and sitting in an office every day. You could simply just be an email address to someone. Make them trust that email address as much as they would having someone come to the office and sit next to them.

Invest vs Expense

Let’s face it, freelancers are notoriously cheap. Sometimes for “good” reason. Without proper sales in place and a queue of clients for the next 6 months, they want to make sure that the lights stay on.

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However, sometimes a purchase should be looked at as an investment rather than an expense.

When you goto college from High School, you are investing in your education with the intention of turning that into a career after college. So you pay tens of thousands, or even $100,000 just to put yourself through college with the idea that will turn into a lifetime of money after the fact.

This sort of practice isn’t even questioned with some folks. However in our freelance business we often times weigh the $30 per month for our email marketing. Or that we look at the $100 course that will expand us as experts in our space as something that we may not need.

These are opportunities in which need to be evaluated as investing in our business rather than costs.

Technology moves quickly. Being a freelancer in the technology space means that you need to stay on top of what’s new. No client wants last year’s methods in marketing. No client wants their code written in a language that was great in the 90s. If that was the case, then you may not even be reading this right now.

Investing in yourself and your business pays you back. As long as what you are investing in either saves you time or gets you further down the road or that you actually apply what you learned.

On the other hand, if it’s not what you expected and feel you wasted money on it. You run your own business, just ramp up the work until you make that money back and then throttle back. That’s a luxury we have as freelancers.

Investments could be small risks that can have big rewards.

Share your expertise & experiences

This is the easiest to do. Once a week, push publish on a blog post. Don’t hang tight on those ideas floating around in your head that you should write about.

If you listen to podcasts in your area of expertise, reach out to the hosts and see if you can come on as a guest.

Go speak at meet ups or larger events.

All of these things live on forever and position you as an expert in your field. Even if you think you aren’t in a position yet, or have enough experience to talk at an event, ask yourself, how to you view those that talk at events?

If you are like me, you say “I want to hear what they have to say because they must know something I don’t.”

If you are a freelancer that’s been in the game for 6 months, go find a meet up related to your service and just present a 10 minute talk on your service and 3 of your best tips. Those in the audience will see you as an expert.

If you’ve been in the game for 2 years, take it to a conference. You have the knowledge and expertise that has kept you in the game for longer than most. Time to share your top 10 list.

As you gain experience, you are learning more and more about your service and the space you are providing solutions for. Having an audience of potential customers in front of you automatically puts you front and center. It obviously makes you stand out from the crowd.

Don’t worry about fellow freelancers in the audience that “may be stealing your ideas” and giving it to their clients. Remember you are the one with the ideas. No one talks about William Coolidge and what he did to improve the light bulb, they just know Thomas Edison invented it.

Be the “Go-To” person

All of this adds up to you being the “go-to” person.

You want someone to think about their problem and your name to pop into their head with the solution.

That’s the ultimate way of standing out amongst the crowd.

There’s no quick way of standing out. The work needs to be put in. It’s certainly a long game too. It’s not going to happen over night.

However starting with a few of these tactics with your current clients and leads, starts pushing that ball down the hill. Once that ball starts rolling you don’t want it to stop.

/ Jason Resnick

Jason is a WordPress developer helping small businesses, design and marketing agencies achieve their goals by specializing in Ecommerce and increasing conversions. Learn more about him here.

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