6 steps to navigate a freelance marketplace & get clients

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Right now is a good time for pros to reassess using a freelance marketplace to get clients. The work-from-home movement brought on by COVID-19 is touching off a digital transformation that affects most sectors. The demands of the pandemic means the quick adoption of digitization; automation in tech is moving even faster — which is great news for freelancers!

A recent McKinsey survey suggests a disruptive period of workplace changes lies ahead:

“When hiring for on-site roles, executives expect to rely much more on contractors and temporary workers. Two years from now, about 70 percent of the executives in our survey expect to use more temporary workers and contractors onsite at their companies than they did before the crisis.”
McKinsey

It looks like sunny skies! With a clear and logically structured step-by-step system, you can effectively manage time spent in a freelance marketplace finding clients. And, we’ve laid out six of the most important steps for you right here:

  1. Sign up for an account on the freelance marketplace
  2. Create a profile that stands out from other freelancers
  3. Make sure you have enough experience to be qualified
  4. Offer competitive rates, but don’t go too low
  5. Be professional and courteous in all communications
  6. Read through the FAQs before starting work

1. Sign up for an account on the freelance marketplace

What is the best website for freelancers? Why do you need to think about that?

Well, you’ll have enough to do being your own boss. A good, reputable, and open marketplace brings together clients of all sizes with freelancers from our gig economy. So from a freelancer’s point of view, there’s nothing to stop you from registering and hoping for profitable business relationships.

What do we mean by a “freelance marketplace?”

A surprising many things in one: A hiring platform, a marketplace for talent, a workspace for collaboration, and even a payroll system. Platforms shortlist and vet candidates, track work time, allow clients and teams to communicate with each other, control quality of work, and even rate freelancers.

Freelancers who already have a large base of loyal clients and don’t need to recruit new clients can consider themselves lucky.

As a rule, however, client acquisition is one of the constant and recurring tasks of freelance life. Source, vet, and find the best freelance platform that suits your experience and skills.

2. Create a profile that stands out from other freelancers

There’s no second chance for a first impression. When you see a profile on social media, what do you look at first? Exactly, the profile photo. And immediately a certain sympathy or antipathy arises.

It’s the same on a freelance marketplace. And here you want to generate paying clients, not likes.

Do everything you can to present yourself in the best possible light, but without appearing obtrusive or exaggerated. Be yourself. Be professional. Be adventurous. By the way, this doesn’t only go for your photo, but your entire profile.

Specifically address your target group. If possible, use your own logo, if you have one, as this may set you apart from the competition. Focus your profile on the industry you’re serving. Don’t list every project — just those that are relevant and fresh.

Remember, the industry is moving fast.

Carefully consider which marketplace where you choose to register as a freelancer. You can register on multiple platforms, but that doesn’t mean you should. Do your research and find a freelancer marketplace that is right for you. Great freelance platforms become a community of peers — not competitors!

Keep in mind that freelancer job boards also use a type of search engine marketing. So, choose meaningful headlines with terms that clients and agencies might use when looking for your skillset.

If your focus is WooCommerce, don’t just advertise WordPress plugins or ecommerce. If it’s SaaS then don’t just write CSS.

This is SEO for your job. Think it through.

And don’t underestimate the time you need to invest in this step either. You can’t create a good profile in a few minutes. Think about how much time it took you to craft your resume. You reap what you sow, right?

3. Make sure you have enough experience to be qualified

Do you already have to be a professional to start as a freelancer? While opinions on this question vary, it depends on what exactly you want to do and what your current situation is. At the very least you need something to show people that demonstrates your experience.

No one is born an experienced freelancer.

As your practical experience increases, you’ll perfect your skills and services. If you want to start your freelance career in app design, for example, but you’ve only built two apps for yourself so far, then start with the knowledge you have. Of course you can’t ask a client to pay $10,000 for an app if your skills are more in the range of a beginner.

Be honest with yourself and others. If you’re just starting out and you’re not yet an absolute expert, then communicate that. Of course, it always depends a bit on the potential client. If it’s an acquaintance, tell them that, by all means. If it’s an unknown customer, don’t sell yourself short.

Understand your limitations, your abilities, and most importantly your comfort zone. Let’s face it, if you enjoy doing what you do you’ll be delivering a better product. And, you’ll be happier doing it. So think about that before getting on board a project.

Once you have a detailed picture of your knowledge, skills, and expertise you’re in a better position to know what customers are looking for in your market, what you can offer a team, and what projects you are safely able to handle.

4. Offer competitive rates, but don’t go too low!

Gone are the days when every freelancer was more or less free to set their own prices. The opening of international markets and the transparency of price structures through the internet make it increasingly difficult for prices to be set willy-nilly.

Being able to enforce your prices is an indispensable skill for any successful freelancer, especially when there is high price pressure in the industry.

Don’t sell yourself or your clients short. Charge based on your value, not so you’re the lowest bidder. If you’re too cheap, prospective clients might wonder what quality of work they’re going to be getting.

Since freelancers’ livelihood comes from marketing their personal labor, daily productivity is inevitably within pretty narrow limits. That’s another way of saying there are only 24 hours in a day.

Although night and weekend shifts can be squeezed in if necessary, in the long run that sort of work takes its toll. Think about it. There are 365 days in a year. Then we need to deduct:

  • 104 weekend days
  • approx. 9 to 13 public holidays
  • approx. 5 training days
  • approx. 25 vacation days

This leaves us about 220 working days a year. Let’s assume a project workweek is 40 hours and an average workday is eight hours. In other words, 220 working days of eight hours each results in a total of 1,760 working hours a year.

The problem is, that a lot of our work time is simply not billable. The norm is a four-hour billable work day. So working an eight-hour day is not the same as being able to bill eight hours.

How much you charge is going to be a personal decision. Will you work 100% of the time, 90%, or 80%? A look at your expenses may help you decide. And, don’t forget the tax man!

Let’s say your monthly expenses are $2,000. Ideally, you should save at least six months of expenses before you begin freelancing full time. Save a bit at the end of each month in case you have a bad month.

Not every month is going to be a great month. You decide you need $2,000 a month on top of your expenses. So you want to make $4,000 a month. Of that $1,200 of that will be taxes. Hmm. Better aim for $6,000 a month.

$6,000 monthly income. 30% tax. $4,200 net. That’s pretty close!

You’ve decided you need to earn $6,000 a month. If you work at 80% capacity (which is smart) you can charge for 6.5 hours a day. That’s 32,5 hours a week, or 130 hours a month. That means you will need to charge about $47 an hour. Seems a bit low, and it is. Remember how many hours a day are billable?

Right. About four.

Depending on the complexity, urgency, and scope of the service you are offering, a realistic hourly rate is probably somewhere between $70 and $120 an hour. You can’t bill eight hours a day because you aren’t working that.

Or are you charging your clients for your lunch breaks? Don’t overthink it. Your clients like things kept simple, and so should you. Keep your prices simple and your value unbeatable.

5. Be professional and courteous in all communications

Being successful in your profession requires certain qualities. No matter whether you‘re talking to a potential client, a superior or a stranger, if you’re confident, convincing, and respectful, you’ll be one step ahead of others.

What do we mean by respectful? Clients go to a freelance marketplace to cut through the unknown.

They expect the platform to have the best freelancers for the job. Clients who come to a freelance marketplace don’t want to hold months of interviews to hire an employee. If you’re meeting a client there, it means the unknown factors have already been filtered out.

Client communication is an important differentiating feature for you over your competitors.

Let your charisma work for you. Remember: clients are more informed today than ever before. Be personal and individualized with potential clients. Listen to what they say to understand the real problem. People value upfront, interactive exchanges.

The 5 rules of client great communication

  1. The client is the center of attention. The client has limited time available. Make the process as quick, easy and uncomplicated as possible for them. Get on board with them.
  2. The client will only buy a product if there’s added value for them. The product’s USPs must be adequately communicated. (Yes, your skills and time are part of those USPs.)
  3. Honesty is the best policy. The goal in client communication is to build trust. The best way to achieve this is to be open, honest, and transparent with them.
  4. Actively listening to the client is a key element in good communication. This is the only way to understand what’s important to them and to be proactive in communication.
  5. Be the one. If there are more than one person in your team, then the client must have a contact person at all times. Everyone values accessibility.

To ensure a successful first meeting with a potential client, you need a relaxed atmosphere with a clear focus on the conversation. If you immediately start with your offer, maybe go into a monologue about how great your service is, how great the companies are you worked for, and how satisfied all your customers are, you’ve probably already lost this client.

Don’t be that person.

Your task at the beginning of a first meeting is to create a good atmosphere, to hear what’s important to the client, and what challenges they’re facing as well as what’s preventing them from reaching their goals.

To find out where your client’s needs are, ask them. Be sure to work with open-ended questions so you can tease out as much information as possible about the client’s situation. Don’t get distracted. Get to the heart of the customer benefit.

6. Read through the FAQs before starting work

You’re going to have questions about the hiring and vetting process, pricing and payments, as well as the projects and bidding structure on the marketplace you choose. The platform you are joining has expectations.

So do their clients. So do you!

Having a clear understanding of what you can expect and what’s expected from you ensures there are no unpleasant surprises later.

There are some golden rules you should probably follow, regardless of the marketplace you choose, and most of these are common sense:

  • Don’t bid on every project.
  • Don’t work in packs and try to underbid others.
  • Read the specs and project details before you bid.
  • Don’t use generic proposals. Write a specific one for each project and client.
  • Be honest about your time. Don’t commit yourself without knowing you can deliver.
  • Proofread before you submit.
  • Be personal.

Finally, don’t take rejection personally. Make sure the platform is the right one for your skills and expectations before getting on board. A marketplace is a community, and its strength is in its members as well as the clients it serves.

As a freelancer you want regular work, a strong flow of opportunities, future-proofing skills, and to feel part of a community. A marketplace offers that and more. You’ve got this. Everybody loves a freelancer. Whenever you feel like the world’s on your shoulders, remember you’re not alone. It’s a great life. Enjoy it!

Why not join a community of freelancers?

Being a freelancer in a community of freelancers only strengthens your skills, your hourly rate, and your client stack. We build with heart at Codeable and believe in networking and professional growth while rejecting the race for the bottom.

So, if you’re freelancing with the goal of landing a full-time gig, maybe this is the right step for you. Why not apply to join one of the largest professional freelance marketplaces?

Mike Demo
Mike "Demo" Demopoulos is a lover of open source first, specific tools later. Because of this, he speaks at Ignite! Conferences, Meetups, WordCamps, Joomla! Events, and more. As a helpful person, he gladly contributes to Open Source projects in any capacity necessary. Aligned with his mission to empower WordPress experts, Mike is now the Expert Community Development Lead at Codeable.