Written by Cameron Flowers for Tech | Hustle | Culture
If you’re a creative of any specialty (especially technology) you may have seriously considered adding freelancing to your list of side-hustles and revenue streams to make some extra cash this year.
Freelancing is by no means an easy task. The process of finding clients, negotiating your salary, and protecting your work are all major undertakings that can turn into some serious headaches. I’ve been freelancing since 2015 and shiddd I been through so much in these last few years I feel an obligation to help y’all avoid some of the roadblocks I’ve encountered in my career! Being a couple years in the game I’ve learned so much about the process of working for myself that definitely helped me transition into being a formal business owner working with many freelancers and independent contractors today.
In this article I’m going to share six tips anyone considering freelancing should implement from the beginning of their journey! If you take your time with these suggestions, you will undoubtedly be more successful in your work. Trussssst me.
Tip 1: Identify (with) your target audience
Identifying your target audience really means thinking about WHO you’re trying to sell your services to. In order to successfully sell your product or service you are going to need to target your marketing efforts on the group of people most likely to buy. This is called your primary market. You want to direct most of your energy to this group to see the biggest returns.
It isn’t enough to point to some group of people and claim them to be your primary market. You need to try your best to identify with them in order to understand how you will really be able to meet their needs. This requires research, empathy, and authenticity.
Some questions to ask yourself are: Who is my primary market? How large is that market or group of people? What are some defining characteristics about them? What are some of their biggest pain points? What are their biggest opportunities to gain?
The more time you spend identifying (with) your target audience and primary market, the more successful you’ll be in assessing their core needs.
When I started freelancing, my target audience was small black business owners in Chicago. I knew that many small business owners needed support with many things related to creative-technology whether it be (marketing help, tech support, and creative strategy). I spent time talking to them and realized that while many of them knew they needed help they didn’t have the huge budget that many other firms in the area were charging. This let me know more about what they were struggling with and some unique ways I could support!
Tip 2: Define the core problem your target audience is facing
The market is oversaturated with people promising too much and delivering too little. In order to cut through the noise and make an impact with potential customers you have to be very clear about what the problem is that you solve for them.
This is exactly why it is important to identify your target audience with as much clarity as possible. The more time you spend empathizing with the end-user the better you will be at assessing their needs more accurately. To determine your business problem statement then, you must observe your users, synthesize your findings and come up with insights that form solid foundations for your service offerings to derive from. You want to address special problems your target audience members are having in their daily lives that are not already fulfilled by features in other products or services.
If there is no problem, there is no solution. Problems don’t need to be thought of solely as an undesirable situation or something to avoid. For most freelancers a client’s problem is essentially an unmet need that could serve them in a valuable way if taken care of.
Some questions to help you think through these problems would be: What are the barriers and opportunities your target audience is facing? What are the struggles they are going through? What are the tasks that they desire to accomplish? In what context do they experience problems?
The biggest question of all to ask is: Why is this problem worth solving? What value does solving this problem bring?
Tip 3: Focus on delivering the product offerings/services that are most valuable to your target customer
A lot of people attempt to define their services before defining the biggest problems their target audience is having. This leads them to be misaligned when they are speaking to potential customers by offering products that are inherently valueless to them. The most important thing to consider in every business transaction is the exchange of value.
Based on your research and understanding of your market, you can assess the intrinsic value of your services from your potential customer’s perspective. You want to think of your offerings from their unique value propositions, a promise of value to be delivered to the receiving party. This proposition is essentially the reason why your prospective customer would go for your services. Your value proposition is what makes or breaks the deal.
Whatever product/service you offer should be tied to a human-centered value proposition that is clear in 1) the ways that you are going to solve the customer’s problems or improve their situation 2) deliver on those perceived benefits, and 3) communicating the WHY motivating them to choose you
After you’ve spent time identifying your customer’s pain points, you want to think through the perceived benefits of your product or service. Lastly you want to connect those benefits back to your potential customer and communicate what makes your work different than the competition.
Tip 4: Define the relationship you want to have with your audience
You’ve probably heard horror stories about freelancers having the worst client experiences. Working with customers can definitely be one of the toughest parts of being a freelancer because outside of the actual work that needs to be done, there’s a fair share of communication that goes into identifying, working with, and retaining clients.
Something important to realize about being a freelancer is that you are entering into the business of establishing strong client relationships. In order to maintain these relationships you will have to be very clear at managing expectations and achieving your customer’s goals by delivering on your value propositions.
Though the emails, phone-calls, meetings and negotiations all go in to the process of forming relationships with your customer, the real relationship is formed before any transaction has occurred.
You should clarify the type of relationship you want to establish with your customers in order to determine the types of goals you’ll have for your communication going forward. The relationships are formed through the various marketing channels you’ll use to connect with your customers but there are various types of relationships that alter the style of communication.
Relationships can range from highly personalized to highly automated. Some can be transactional, meaning that there is no real relationship between you and the customer. Other relationships are long-term meaning that you are attempting to create a deeper recurring relationship with your customer. Another type of relationship could be a self-service relationship where you are providing the customer everything they need to handle things on their own. Finally, there's a consultant relationship where you are looked at as an expert on call for the client helping out across the business life cycle.
You are responsible for setting the foundation of your relationship with your clients. There are many types of ways you can structure this relationship and it will change the style of communication between you both.
Tip 5: Determine the best channels to use to promote your work and reach your audience
Determining your communication channels is one of the most critical elements of establishing a successful business. Whenever you hear someone say “I’m having a hard time finding clients” the first question to ask is “What channels are you using to reach them?”
At the lowest level channels are the mechanisms and platforms you will use to communicate with and deliver your value propositions to your customer. These could be marketing spaces like your website, your social media, and email. You can think about these channels also as the phases or micro-moments in which you want to have touch points with your customer like: the phase of building awareness, the consideration phase, the delivery phase, or the after sales phase for example.
The function of your channels should be to raise awareness among your customers, help them evaluate your specific value propositions, allow them to make purchases or receive their value propositions, and deliver post-purchase support.
Some questions you should think about when deciding what marketing channels to use are: What channels do my Customers want to be reached on? How am I reaching them currently? Which channels have worked best for me? Which channels are most cost-efficient?
Tip 6: Set a fair price for your work
Your price should be relevant to your essential needs and the cost of producing the work (time/resources). In other words, set your price/rate based on the costs you have to take into account for providing your service, your personal monthly expenses, and the time it takes to deliver your service (and possibly any licensing fees).
When I started freelancing, determining pricing was the hardest part. Dealing with client negotiations and asking for money can be daunting but you will learn over time that if you don’t ask, you surely won’t receive. When it comes to determining a fair rate to charge for your work you have to take into account your personal rate as well as the budget of the clients you’re trying to work with.
The most important thing to remember when handling pricing is that customers pay for value. If you want to increase the amount you’re being paid you need to increase the perceived value of the work you’re offering.
The best place to start when it comes to pricing is research! Look up the price that similar folks in your industry are charging. You can consult guides like The Freelancer’s Union, GlassDoor or UpWork to see what folks offering similar services are charging. There are certain factors that impact how much you should be charging like: Geographic Location, Years of Experience, Industry, Qualifications, Project Complexity or Expected Costs of Production.
With these things in mind you should be realistic about setting your rates but recognize that in the client-service business you’re gonna need to be flexible. I’ve found it helpful to have a set hourly rate that I use as a standard, but also consider pricing based on the project if an hourly rate seems more unrealistic or the project has a rushed/shortened time frame. There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of pricing but as you start gaining paying clients you can use your experiences working with them to determine what feels most comfortable for you. And it's never a bad idea to reach out to people in the industry to get their take on the numbers you may be considering signing onto with a client.
As you have read the process of becoming a freelancer is by no means easy. Focusing on these 6 areas before you begin working with clients will help you think through some of the more difficult parts of the job. These tips will help you come out more prepared and successful in your interactions with clients. I am very much open to writing more in detail about specific areas or anything not covered in this first article so let me know in the comments some questions you have about working as a freelancer and i’d be happy to help you out!