If you are wondering how to get freelance work without experience, you are probably a victim of that no-experience-no-job conundrum where clients don’t award to you projects because you lack freelance experience but you cannot obtain any freelance experience unless a client awards you their project. To make it even more complicated, I’ll tell you that the posed question is a tricky one because the answer might be different, depending on what you really mean.
If you have professional experience but you don’t have any experience as a freelancer
First, you need to be good at what you do. Second, you need to continuously improve your existing skills and obtain new ones, if need be. Being a freelancer isn’t easy, especially when you are starting.
No matter what your profession is, I bet it is fast changing just like the world we live in; and it takes a lot of hard work to keep up with it all. That’s why you should be mentally prepared what you are getting into and why, and what it takes to succeed.
If you are absolutely sure the freelance path is for you and the only thing stopping you is the lack of freelance experience, here are 3 ideas for you:
The concept of this “glory work” is when you take quick jobs which you are way overqualified for, with the sole purpose to get your first few 5-star reviews. For example, I took 3 glory jobs when I was starting – a data entry job in a travel website, 1 page translation gig from Bulgarian to English, and a market research project to compare a few pharmaceutical sites. Read more about it here.
In hindsight, this may not have been the best approach. If I had to do it all over again, I am not sure if I would work on data entry project or translation job for the sake of a 5-star review. Nevertheless, it is an approach which does work so if you like it, use it.
Many starting freelancers think that if they offer a wide spectrum of services, they have greater chances for success. Wrong!
Listing too many skills and specialties on your profile, which may or may not have anything to do with one another, does not help you come across as a specialist; the first impression is of a person who can do many things with an average quality. Besides, you are splitting your own focus.
Let’s pretend a prospective client searches for a Google Analytics specialist. He sees your profile and that other guy profile. Your profile lists you as a Google Analytics specialist with SEO skills, SMM knowledge, email marketing background and great writing skills. That other guy’s profile states he is a Google Certified expert in Google Analytics and Google AdWords. Which one do you think the client is more likely to hire?
If you have a wide array of skills indeed, choose one (or a few which fall in the same niche) and make sure you are superbly good at them. Build your freelance profile and online persona around that skill so that you are the top choice of prospective clients who search for that particular skill set.
Later on, when you start getting new clients on a regular basis, you can branch out and bring in variety in your projects and skills required. But for now, when you are starting and trying to land your first few paying projects, specialization is your best shot to succeed.
Start small and work your way up
Details may vary depending on your profession and industry but let me give you an example from my experience as a freelance marketing consultant.
You may be a brilliant marketer and have a great talent for writing marketing strategies or managing marketing teams. However, most probably nobody will award you such an important and large-scale project if you lack previous clients’ reviews, recommendations and freelance experience. So don’t try to land those jobs.
Instead, use your specialty (remember, I said earlier you need to specialize?) to land small-scale projects or one-time jobs. When you find a client with whom you work well, they will see you for the brilliant marketer you are and will give you more and larger scale projects, too.
Here are a few examples of my own freelance practice.
One of my first clients hired me to write some content for their website. We worked so well together that he promoted me, so to speak, to manage his marketing team (incl. writers, social media marketers, design, front-end development, and so on). When that project ended, he hired me on a couple more. Although we don’t currently work together, we are in touch and should an opportunity present itself, I am sure we will work together again. If I had tried to land a marketing management project with him back then, I would have probably not succeeded simply because he didn’t know me and I didn’t have a proven track record as a freelancer.
Another example. It was again one of my first clients. She also hired me for website content writing. We worked well together and she started seeking my advice on their website redesign and SEO tactics plan. (That was one of my specialties back then.) Few years forward, I was training and managing a team of social media marketers, planning their blog editorial calendar, training new writers and editors for the blog, and so on. If I had tried to land some kind of a management position on her team, I would have not gotten it because she didn’t know me, I didn’t know their business and I didn’t have a proven track record as a freelancer.
Last example. This one is not from my early days as a freelancer but I want to share it for another reason – to show you that the tactic “start small and work your way up” works for starting and experienced freelancers alike. It was a single email campaign project. I had to write the email based on the preliminary information I had from this client – what their business is, who their target audience is, what the purpose of the email is, and so on. So I did that. We collaborated so well on this one email campaign that only a week later, this client already offered me a second project – another email to write. A month later, it became a project to plan, write and ‘design’ an auto-responder series for one of their websites. Fast forward two and a half years, I still work with this client and I am very involved in their marketing. Let’s say I help them bring their business up to date with all that today’s world requires in terms of online presence and inbound marketing.
If I had tried to land a marketing management job with them in the beginning, I would have probably not succeeded not because lack of freelance experience (I had that) but because I didn’t know the business and knew nothing of the industry they operate in. However because we worked so well together on that first email, with time, they saw in me the marketer they needed to help them grow their business in today’s digital world. So what started as a one-time email writing project turned out to be an awesome long-term relationship.
Note that these 3 ideas are for getting your first paid projects as a freelancer.
While you are trying to land them though, make sure you do pro-bono work, practice your skills on your own projects, and so on. If nothing else, it will help you build a better portfolio and although those projects would not be paid for, they count as professional experience nonetheless 😉
Which brings me to my next point:
If you don’t have any professional experience and want to become a freelancer
I am afraid I might not be as useful about this scenario simply because I did have professional experience when I started my freelance practice. I had my skill set, I was willing to learn new things, I was committed to succeed and it was just a matter of time to break through.
Although I didn’t have any freelance experience, my professional experience allowed me to craft better cover letters and come up with better ideas which in turn helped me stand apart from the crowd and make a name for myself among prospective freelance clients.
Nevertheless, I believe the tips I shared in this post so far may apply to you, too. I just don’t know to what extent because I have never walked the path you are on right now.
Here are two more ideas for you, if you lack professional experience:
Work for free
This doesn’t mean to go tell clients you’ll work for them for the experience and you don’t want to be paid. Please, do not do that!
It means do pro-bono work, help friends, develop your own projects (you have free time after all, don’t you?), get involved with charities or clients who couldn’t pay you and should you have a well-paying job, you would never work with them because they cannot afford to hire you.
Do that kind of free work. You will be doing them a favor but also, you will keep practicing your skills and gain that experience which you lack so much in the start of your freelance practice.
Find an assistant position where your client can train you
These opportunities are rare but they exist. I know because a few times I have taken newbie freelancers under my wing and trained them in certain aspects of marketing. They too may have been thinking they don’t stand a chance because they lack experience. But it only takes one person to see something in you and to give you a chance.
If you are smart, willing to learn and continuously improve, work well with others and have no problem fitting in a virtual team, persevere. You just have to be persistent and not to give up. It won’t happen on day 1. It may not happen the first week either. But you can and will find such a “trainee” freelance opportunity as long as you commit to succeed and don’t give up when the road is bumpy.
A VERY important tip which not many people tell you when you are starting…
No matter your freelance or professional experience, or lack of such, do not try to land projects by cutting your prices and underbidding the competition!
I started on oDesk a few years ago. I started small and cheap because I didn’t know better. Coming from a low socio economic country, $7 hourly wage was a dream-come- true for me. I am sure it is the same for many of you out there. In hindsight, it was not exactly the right thing to do because in most cases my low price put me in front of the wrong clients (those who seek price over quality).
Luckily, I quickly realized I can do a lot better and shouldn’t limit myself with the top payment which I could get in my home country. I was working on a world workforce market now and I had to price myself accordingly if I wanted to succeed. The more I raised my rates, the better clients I met.
If you want to know more about pricing your freelance services, here are 4 must-read posts:
- The rate on your freelance profile (if you have a profile on oDesk, Elance or other freelance job board)
- How to price your services by the hour
- How to calculate your rates for fixed price jobs
- How much money can you make as a freelancer