One of the best things about going freelance is the freedom to do the work that you want to do. You have the ability to chose your work style, your clients, and no one is going to make you create Powerpoint presentations, unless that’s your thing. But how do you start? How can you finally get that dream job where a client pays you to build an ice sculpture of a pig that writes a haiku every time someone tweets about #jorts?
VERY IMPORTANT RULE: Only put work in your portfolio that you want to do
It may be tempting to put everything in your portfolio, but it is very important to curate your work. Only put work that you want to do in your portfolio. If you do not want to build websites, then do not put website examples in your portfolio, even if it was for a really big client. Putting work in your portfolio that you don’t want to do guarantees you will attract only clients with jobs you don’t want. I don’t know why that happens, but it does. Be warned.
If you are lacking examples of the type of work you want to do, then you will need to make them. You can create concept brands, a line of t-shirts, a restaurant design or a mural; make whatever it is that you want to get paid to do. These can all be personal projects that are self-initiated. It’s ok that the work was never made, or wasn’t for a client, what’s important is that it does show your ability, style and critical thinking. You’re going to have to build a few ice sculptures on your own before someone will trust you enough to pay you to do it.
Now that you have your website in order and you have your business cards, (you ordered them right?) you need to let others know you exist. The easiest way is to use social media to promote your new portfolio. You can also join creative online communities like WorkingNotWorking, Dribbble and Behance to broaden your audience. Add your website to creative design lists and/or groups and update your Linkedin. And for a touch of real-life interaction you can attend networking events or plan meetings to hand out those amazing business cards you totally ordered.
Even if you’ve let the world know that you’re available, it is pretty rare for work to come rolling in on its own. Showing the work to the world is good, but you really need to show your work to the right people. This can be as simple as writing a letter. Seriously. When I was first starting out I made a list of all the companies I wanted to work for, I found their addresses, and sent them letters. This was how I got some of my favorite clients and finally fulfilled my lifelong dream of designing skate decks.
Promo packs are a great way to get your work in front of the eyes you want. Plus it’s fun to put them together, and if you’re masochistic, the anxiety you will get while you are waiting for responses will be quite enjoyable. Through the years I have made a good amount of promo packs ranging from postcards, to very intricate (and expensive) packs filled with elaborate goodies. While the more robust packs were cool, I always got the best response from just sending a postcard or short letter. Simpler is usually better, the real trick is quantity. Send out a lot of postcards and you’re bound to get at least a few responses. Be patient, it can take a while for the client to respond; they may have gotten your card and then stashed it away for when the right project comes along.
As you build your client base you will find that work will have a way of snowballing. You reach out to a client, they give you work that you really want to do, you add that work to your portfolio, and then another client sees that work and wants you to do the same thing, and so on. If the momentum slows, send out some more letters and see what happens, the response may be even greater. And soon enough, you won’t have to send letters anymore because you are now famous, and finally people come to you. You’ll be making tweeting pig ice sculptures so much that you’ll get tired of it and want to go back to making websites. Ah, the dream life of a freelancer.
Note: I have pitched ice sculptures to clients many times with no success. So if there are any of you out there who want to make an ice sculpture, let’s do this.