The Mistake You're Making as a Freelancer

I want to share with you the biggest mistake I think I made starting out as a freelance designer. I didn’t correctly position myself in the market. Based on the inquiries that I get every week, I’m going to bet that you too are making the same mistake. It’s okay, there are mistakes freelancers make. I’m excited to help. Here’s my story.

My Experience

When I started off freelancing I was focused more on trying to make as much money as I could by providing a vast array of services to every potential client that came my way. I figured that if my portfolio showcased all of the skills I could offer (some I was good at, while others I had no business offering) any client that visited my website would want to hire me.

Doing this meant I’d also win more projects which meant more clients; and more clients meant more money. I was confident in the quality of my work and assumed it would easily set me apart from my competition. By competition, I’m talking about any logo designer or web designer in the entire world.

My target audience was anyone who was looking for a logo design and/or website. Sound familiar?

For whatever reason most freelancers do the same thing. We cast a wide net in hopes we’ll land tons of great projects. The bigger the net we cast the better our odds are at getting projects, right?

Well if you’ve ever watched the show Deadliest Catch on the Discover Channel you’ll know that this technique is not the best way to fill the pipeline consistently or with quality. You’re simply playing the odds.

Based on my experience, here’s what I’ve found by casting a large net. If you’re a great designer, you’ll have a ton of inquires, many of which you won’t find rewarding or able to pay your going rate. If you’re a good designer, you’ll land some projects and make some decent money.

However, if you’re not very good, you’ll sink to the bottom of the talent pool and question your skills, the market and the industry as a whole. The same can be said if you’re looking to get hired as a designer at a design studio.

You’ll wonder why you’re not getting any call backs after emailing your résumé and portfolio out to hundreds of companies.

I hope you don’t take that as me being mean. The fact is we’re in a very competitive landscape where if a client or company wants to hire a really great designer, they have a nice pick of who they can hire at any given time or rate. Simply being better than the next designer isn’t good enough anymore.

These days you need more to differentiate yourself. You need to be purposeful with your positioning and know what makes you valuable beyond the normal qualities.

It took me a while to realize that this was the difference in me making some side money as a freelancer and me making a living as a freelancer.

However, once I found my specific targeted niche, discovered what really made me valuable to them, and then made the shift, I immediately started to see huge benefits not just in my pipeline, but most importantly with the income I was making and the solutions I was creating as a freelancer.

These results are why I decided to make my first ever workshop focus entirely on this topic of positioning yourself as a freelancer. I believe it’s the core problem many freelancers and small agencies face, and only once that’s cleaned up can we talk about the techniques to selling larger projects and managing clients and growing your business.

Something to Think About

If you find that you’re not really getting noticed as a freelancer or a designer who’s searching for new opportunities take a look at your portfolio and position. Does it sound and look like everyone else’s? Often times (maybe subconsciously) we focus too much on designing a portfolio and website that highlights how great our skill set is.

Sure, clients like to see that we’re good at our craft, but it’s not entirely what motivates them to buy. I believe we design our sites like this because we’re trying to flex our design muscles to our peers.

Hey, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care about how my peers viewed me as a designer. I know the portfolio is the first place they’ll look, but I’m also aware that clients care about different things. And at the end of the day it’s the clients who pay my bills.

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Post by Dennis Field

Dennis is a designer, educator and the founder of a web consulting studio. He currently spends his day as a Product Evangelist at InVision. When not helping them, he helps designers reach their goals by sharing his own experiences with them through his blog, newsletter, book and one-on-one consultations.

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