Define. Your. Niche.
What… heard that advice before? Well, just because everybody knows this doesn’t mean everybody does it.
In fact, very few freelancers do this well. If you have the discipline to claim and stick to your niche, you’ll instantly be miles ahead of the competition.
Reasons why niching down is a massive advantage:
Think about it. Suppose you run a roofing business that needs a new website. You hop on Upwork to search for a pro that can build you one, and you receive 40 proposals:
Of the 40 freelancers, which will get hired?
NOT the one who has the most experience.
NOT the one who has the cheapest prices.
NOT the one who has the biggest portfolio or most reviews.
It will be the ONE who was actually speaking directly to the audience. This is how you stand out.
Of course, I can already hear your objection: “But what about all the other projects from clients who aren’t in my niche?”.
Simple - they won’t hire you. But that’s okay! Trust me, this is the same miscalculation that most other freelancers make. The truth is, the pie is big enough. Don’t focus on the size of the pie. The reason freelancers struggle to get hired is NOT because there aren’t enough projects in the world… it’s just because they don’t win the bid.
If you were to choose “Roofing Websites” as your niche, like our example above, there would always be enough work in that industry to make you a six-figure salary. There would be enough work to make a 7 or 8 figure agency in it.
There’s enough work. You just need to stand out from the crowd so you can win it.
It’s not for nothing that clients will perceive a specialist as “better” - they are better.
As a generalist, you can master your design tools and slowly get a better eye through experience, but you’ll always be a novice at some of the most important skills.
When you declare your focus on a single niche, you truly become an expert. Fast. After just your first five websites in a particular field, you’ll have unique insight into the businesses you serve.
You’ll understand their industry, their business and marketing strategies, and their pain points. You’ll know their lingo. You’ll carry valuable lessons that will more likely be relevant to a future client.
Keep working in your niche, and you will be better than the competition.
As a freelancer, your hourly pace is everything. “Dollars per Hour” is a fraction. The numerator is how much you charge, but the denominator is equally important: how long it takes you.
Theoretically, if you could work infinitely fast, you would make infinite dollars per hour.
If you work in a new niche with every project, so much of your time will be taken up by researching the industry, recreating resources and systems, and just being slow (since you’re NOT an expert).
Stick with your expertise. You’ll finish projects twice as fast.
Establishing your niche is one of the most crucial freelancing tips and the best way to get a job.
This video provides some good advice for finding your niche:
A crucial freelance tip for beginners: Know your pricing before going into a sale.
Truly, the key to sales is confidence, and not knowing your pricing beforehand makes you feel unconfident and makes you look incompetent. It will be obvious to the client that you don’t have a plan, which is bad for two reasons:
Having standards does not push people away from you - it attracts them. It’s no different than dating: no one wants to date someone who would date anyone.
Have standards. Don’t be desperate. Know your pricing.
Setting pricing “packages” also implies having more than one package. If you have a productized service, setting pricing tiers is a great strategy. If your service isn’t productized, you still want to roughly know what your different pricing tiers are so that you are prepared to negotiate confidently.
When you are in the middle of a sales negotiation, you’re going to be stressed! That makes it hard to think, so it’s critical to have a plan in place.
You’ll start at your premium-tier service. If it’s more than your client can afford, it helps to know what different levels of service you can offer, and what your rock-bottom price is.
Note: I’m NOT saying that you should negotiate downwards like it’s no big deal… you still take your time and let your client know that you are hesitant and truly want the project to be a win-win scenario. It just helps to know what your options and boundaries are up front.
Honestly, if you are struggling with pricing or sales, this course is the single best resource I’ve come across for freelancers.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, right? NO business should rely on a single marketing channel. No matter the marketing channel, each has weaknesses and potential to collapse. A few examples:
Upwork: You mistakenly work with a crazy client and, despite your best efforts, get a terrible review and the job is marked “unsuccessful”, and it becomes much harder to promote yourself.
Paid Traffic: Facebook bans your advertising account, and you don’t even know why. (yep, it happens!). Time to start from scratch.
Word of Mouth: You have a spell of bad luck! Yep, it happens.
Organic Social Media: The algorithm changes and your post engagement suddenly tanks.
You get the idea. Develop at least two solid marketing strategies. If you’re looking to expand your channels, this article is a great summary of the top 9 marketplaces for designers looking for work, and this post covers 18 unique ways to find new clients.
HOWEVER. Also avoid the temptation to try and focus on all the marketing platforms… as a freelancer, you don’t have the time and resources to really succeed doing “everything”. Each marketing channel takes work. Don’t spread yourself too thin and put in a lackluster effort on too many platforms.
Keep that pipeline full!
This can be challenging. As a freelancer, chances are, you’re passionate about your craft and can easily get caught up in the pace of a project… and forget about finding your next client.
It’s all too easy to get stuck in this cycle of procrastinating your marketing efforts until you finish your current project and are, well, unemployed.
Constantly experiencing this up-and-down cycle will make you a whole lot less excited about being a freelancer.
Needing to get a new client as soon as possible will also make you a worse marketer. It’s the definition of short-term thinking, and will make you act desperate instead of confident in sales situations.
If you can adopt a longer-term mindset and stay away from needing immediate work, you’ll charge higher prices and close more deals with quality customers.
If you can strike this balance and continually search for new clients while fulfilling your current work, you have what it takes to succeed as a freelancer.
Check out this post for more reading on how to get clients as a freelancer.
While you should avoid short-term thinking in your marketing, you should be aware that other people (your clients) are probably thinking short-term.
It’s amazing how a client will sit on an idea for years, thinking to themselves that they need a new website or new product designed… but then when they decide to actually do it, they want it done yesterday.
You do this too, right? You’ve lived without something for your entire life, but once you decide to buy it, somehow two-day shipping seems like a real nice feature.
Make it your goal to eliminate as much waiting time on the part of your future client as possible. If the client is receiving multiple proposals, it helps to be the first. Begin the conversation with them. By the time they gather more proposals, they’ve already spent time building rapport with you, and will be biased towards hiring you.
Depending on your marketing channel, you may need to get creative to get your response time as fast as possible.
For example, when running Facebook ads, I’ve had the most success when setting up a Zapier automation that sent me a text as soon as someone submitted their info through the ad, and yep, I would call or text them immediately.
Being ready to buy is a state of mind, and just like any mood, it comes and goes unpredictably.
Just remember TKAD: Time Kills All Deals.
Another reason why it’s crucial to be super responsive with potential clients is because, whether consciously or subconsciously, they are using that time period to make a judgment of how it will be to work with you on a freelance project.
Excellent communication is a freelancing superpower - do all you can to make it your own.
As with many other soft skills and business skills, your competition isn’t that tough when it comes to communication. Most freelancers are trade professionals who happen to be running a business, not business professionals who happen to possess a trade skill.
My point is, you should aim to be in the top 5% of best communicators in freelancing. Even if you have a bit of a language barrier between you and your clients, you can leverage written communication well.
80% of being a great communicator as a freelancer is just being a) super responsive, and b) communicating more than you think you need to.
Overcommunicate. Only occasionally will you find clients who don’t want to be “bothered” by “update” communications.
Getting tons of updates is part of normal human society in 2022. Every day, you are getting dozens of notifications that you don’t “need”, but you still get a little hit of dopamine every time one comes in… so you like it.
Same for your clients. No matter the stage of the project, they should have already paid you a good chunk of change to build something for them… and it’s pretty nerve-racking as a client to not hear anything for two days and wonder if your freelancer just disappeared.
Keep them updated on the game plan and your progress. You’re building something exciting for them… give them the sneak peeks and the teasers!
Of course, it also goes without saying that if the client sends you a message, respond as fast as possible. I know I’m guilty of seeing a new text message and deciding I’ll respond later… DON’T do that with clients!
Be fast, be thorough, ask questions that clarify and demonstrate caring and understanItding. Be extremely clear about your responsibilities, the client’s responsibilities, scope, deadlines, everything.
Do that, and your clients will love you, and THAT’S how you get referrals. Doing great work is important, yes, but that’s a given. It’s an expectation. You don’t get any bonus points for being a good designer. You get bonus points (and raving fans) by being a human being that clients love working with.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time, they say.
Maybe you’re familiar with the “belt system” that’s common in many martial arts: white, blue, brown, purple, and finally, s xgdpblack belt. This system of milestones is ingenious. It gives the practitioner reasonable goals to achieve, and instills in them a sense of progress, a feeling that they know where they stand.
Client projects are just like martial arts ;)
Milestones are crucial to give your client (and yourself) the sense that the project is moving, that it’s on course for success.
Chunking big projects down into little projects is also just best practice for project management. It helps you stay organized and better predict timelines.
Milestones also make it much easier for you to split up payments throughout a project. For larger projects, 3 payments might be less risky for you and better for your cash flow than one or two payments.
How do you get a client to pay you in the middle of a project? Define a deliverable.
So, do you have what it takes? I think you do. You’ve read this far… clearly you are curious and ready to learn.
But why freelance? Sounds like a lot of work, right?
Massive benefits and opportunities await those who succeed in freelancing. Here are a few:
Yes, this has a challenge as well… Being your own boss can be hard at times. Who’s there to motivate you, to tell you exactly what you should be focusing on?
But, obviously, if you can manage this aspect of freelancing, the flexibility it provides is unlike anything you can achieve in a corporate job.
It’s simply incredible to be able to work whatever hours strike your fancy and take time off whenever you want.
It’s truly amazing. I’ve been a freelancer for so long, I can hardly remember what a fixed schedule is like. I try to carry more gratitude for how lucky I am to have this lifestyle.
As illustrated in this post, there’s a fair bit of complexity to being a freelancer, but that’s exactly why freelancers have the potential to make more money.
There are lots of designers out there. But there are not a lot of designers that can also handle the roles of marketing, sales, and customer service. Therefore, if you can be that person that does everything, you’re more valuable to the marketplace and will get paid more.
This is the one that initially drove me to be a freelancer. Honestly, I had a hard time imagining myself at a desk every day just clocking in to complete a task. Over and over and over. For years.
If you love learning new skills, picking the projects you’re interested in, and meeting a wide variety of potential partners and friends through your work… then you are a freelancer at heart.
If you’re still on the fence about freelance work, check out this article for more analysis.
Freelancing is a fortune - will it be yours? Succeed at these 7 freelancing tips, and you’ll succeed as a freelancer.
For more experienced freelancers, where are you weakest in these 7 areas? That’s your bottleneck, and eliminating bottlenecks one by one is exactly how to become a successful freelancer.
If you want a step-by-step guide to literally walk you through the process and details of going from zero to 6-figures as a freelancer, I can highly recommend checking into Ran Segall’s course called “The 6-Figure Freelancer”.
Do it! It’s an incredible roadmap for someone who has a professional skill (like design), but needs help with the business side of freelancing.
Ran takes you through everything I introduced in this article (and more) in much more depth with practical directions so you can just focus on IMPLEMENTING.
Thanks for reading :) Good luck, and happy freelancing!
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