Want to hear something funny about freelancing? While a lot of people make the switch to freelancing to “be their own boss” or “do their own thing,” the popular construct of “the ideal, successful freelancer” seems to consist of a conspicuously small cluster of traits. This kind of freelancer pounces on every opportunity, is a mini-mogul, and has their elevator pitch down pat. It’s like leaving the “successful company employee” box only to feel pressured to fit into the “successful freelancer” box.
For instance, a good friend of mine let me know she had left her job at a design agency and begun to pursue freelance graphic design full-time. When she asked me if I had any pointers for a newbie solopreneur, I suggested she tap into her network and let everyone know she was available for projects.
My advice was met with a bit of hesitancy. She was afraid of coming off too salesy. My friend is certainly not alone. If you’re uncomfortable with the hustle or having to put yourself out there, don’t fret.
What I’ve found to be the most useful in building your own business? Tap into your inherent strengths and ways of being. Here’s how:
Use Your Abilities as a Natural Connector to Build Your Network
If you’re a natural connector and helper (like me), think about cultivating your network by building rapport on LinkedIn and Twitter. My good friend Kate is a pro at connecting with folks on Twitter by engaging them in message threads. What’s more, because she’s so active on LinkedIn, and is connected to editors and marketing managers, she’s usually the first to know of cool freelancing writing gigs.
I’m definitely more behind-the-scenes when it comes to connecting colleagues with opportunities. I get a nagging feeling when I can see how two people can benefit each other professionally, and feel inclined to link people up. I typically spend a few minutes shooting an introductory email or providing referrals to someone seeking freelancing help.
Focus On Creating Standout Work
If the work itself is strong, then people will find you. My partner is an artist and because of his compelling, unique work, people reach out to him. He’s received commissions from major food brands, participated in shows funded by corporate sponsors, worked with innovators in the immersive art space such as Meow Wolf, and collaborated with major fashion labels. His Instagram presence and press clippings have made him an even more powerful magnet for opportunities.
If you’re most comfortable putting yourself out there in the world by way of what you make or do, then focus on the work itself. Whether you put a unique spin on things or simply produce rock-solid work, people will take notice and seek you out.
Home in on Your Personal Brand
Some folks are naturals at personal branding. They know how to convey their story and message through their online presence, and how to fold that message into the work they do. Some are more comfortable being more visible as a spokesperson of sorts and identifying themselves as experts in a specific niche.
If branding is where your strengths lie, then you can use that to position yourself to land more gigs or to serve as a brand spokesperson of sorts for your clients, then continue to increase your visibility through your personal brand and individual story.
Get Super Niche
It’s easy to feel intimidated when you’re getting your feet wet. A few years ago I attended a marketing presentation for small businesses. One of the panelists used to head the marketing department for a major company that made instant rice. She said that rather than cater to the broadest possible market for instant rice, they focused on their most devoted consumers, for whom instant rice was a daily part of their lives. Bottom line: Don’t be afraid of getting very specific with your audience.
For the unfamiliar, getting niche is figuring out exactly what services or products you offer in a specific industry. For instance, maybe you’re a graphic designer who specializes in data visualization in the health and tech fields. Or you’re a logo and branding expert in the beauty industry. That kind of specificity will do wonders for getting you noticed.
A lot of freelancers when just starting out don’t want to feel boxed in due to fear of getting bored or missing out on opportunities. They would rather dabble in a bunch of different industries and offer a bevy of skills. I get it. But here’s the thing: It’s far easier to land work if you get deep within a specific industry. And at least at first, start looking for jobs within a single niche and go from there.
Focus on Connecting Needs to Wants
Freelancing is a lot like dating. You’re on this ultra-connected superhighway with a bunch of people who are looking for something specific, all trying to meet someone who fits their criteria. Some of the solopreneurs who I admire the most seem to be really skilled at connecting wants to needs. They’re super organized and have the intake questionnaires handy when making initial contact with a potential client.
When you’re connecting with a potential client, it helps to know where they’re headed, and how they’d like you to help them get there. On the flip side, you’ll want to gauge whether it’s a good fit with your larger goals. Sure, getting paid for a gig that has nothing to do with what you want to do could help you cover bills, but how will it help you in the long run?
By focusing on connecting needs to wants, and pinpointing your particular zone of genius, it can help you stand out from the crowd. After all, someone out there certainly could use your talent and know-how. And instead of thinking that you’re tactlessly hawking your wares, so to speak, just focus on how you can solve a problem, or alleviate what’s painful or hard for someone else to do.
To build a thriving freelancing business, you don’t have to fit into this image of the brash hustler with impenetrable gusto. You can arrive at success using your natural interests and well-honed skills. The most important thing is to get started and figure out what jives best with you.