At Snipply, we meet with and work with a ton of freelancers. Whether you are setting out to be a freelancer, or looking to become a better more efficient freelancer, there are always ways to become better, close more deals, and have happier clients. Even for those who are experienced, taking a refresher on best practices can always help.
There are a number of things you can do to ensure you are building a healthy pipeline of business, closing contracts, working efficiently and scaling your operations. Remember that as a freelancer you are your own boss- but you're also sales and the person executing all of the work. Before we run through everything just remember these few things:
- You get to be your own boss - but you have to be a good manager
- No more office politics — but no more colleagues to push you
- You get to make your own decisions — but they need to be informed decisions
- You get to work when you want to work — but you need to execute on time
- You have the freedom to work wherever you want to work — but you need to be productive
- You choose the projects you want to work on — but you need to deliver results
- And you get to choose your clients — but they can fire you just as easily
Now, let's get on with the guide. Everything is broken up into these main sections:
- Where to find work and close business
- What areas freelancing are most in-demand
- How to build the best proposals
- What tools should you be using to manage everything
Let's start with where you should begin to find clients.
Start building your business through your existing network.
Job boards and marketplaces are essential places to have profiles and find new clients but it is important to build a basis of clients in your already existing network. When talking to freelancers or small agencies you’ll find a pattern where their biggest clients are past employers, companies in-network, friends of friends, or referrals from friends. Start here and augment your client list using online marketplaces and job boards.
You need to be building your network on a weekly basis.
There are easy ways to build your network. Go to industry events, ask for intro’s to relevant people from your existing network, or even host events yourself. If you are a freelancer you probably have an in-demand skill-set, so volunteer to mentor founders in startup accelerators, teach free “lunch-and-learns” and overall just make yourself available and helpful to people in and outside of your network.
Make sure your online profiles are always up to date.
While not rocket science, you’ll want your online profiles to be up to date and built so that they’re working for you. Not just job boards, your socials, websites, blogs, etc should be maintained to make sure you're always putting the best foot forward online.
Actively build your digital presence.
Beyond your online profiles you should be building out a digital presence that showcases your talent. Depending on what your skill-set is this can be a blog highlighting your thoughts, tips and tricks, showcasing your knowledge base, or presenting your projects. You might want to have a portfolio online if you are a creative, and you probably want to be sharing your work via every social you have. It also might make sense to have ancillary brands that are aligned with your industry that you manage. For example, separately branded blogs or social handles that share and comment on news and insights for your industry or area of expertise. This isn’t limited to freelancing — even large companies like Adobe do this with their web property CMO.com.
Follow your competition, potential clients, and industry as a whole.
There are simple things you can do to see what is going on with your competition and industry to make sure you are always staying competitive and knowledgeable about what opportunities are out there. This shouldn’t make up a ton of your time but simple things like setting up Hootsuite streams to follow keywords, or Twitter lists to follow companies in your space can be incredibly helpful.
Make sure to keep a consistent sales process and pipeline.
It’s easy to get caught up in the business you already have but it is necessary to have a healthy pipeline of new business coming in. We know clients can drop off, so it’s imperative to make sure you’re able to keep a steady pipeline of work. The last thing you want is to go from insanely busy to completely quiet. It isn’t enough to build a network and keep profiles up to date, you need to actually be pitching and closing new business on a regular basis.
What Areas Of Freelancing Are Most In-Demand
To see where freelancers are making their living all you need to do is follow the money! We did a few things here:
- We looked at the skillsets most sought after by those employing freelancers.
- We looked at what industries were requiring the most freelancers
- We took a look at the fastest growing industries by revenue
- We accounted for industries that might be lacking in revenue but hiring freelancers as they are leading the US in fundraising
Let’s start with the skillset.
This list by Upwork has the top 100 in-demand skills for freelancers, but we also looked into some other resources and lists as well. We combined them into one list that paints a more broad picture in terms of what is in-demand.
To see where freelancers are making their living all you need to do is follow the money! We looked at the skillsets most sought after by those employing freelancers and compiled the top ten categories for 2020.
Powerpoint & Presentation Creation
For many industries and occupations, presentations are a way of life. Unfortunately, we aren’t all presentation designers — and for most of us, our time is better served performing our actual roles than spending hours designing presentations. Hiring out presentation designers that can take raw data and bullet points, and put them into a beautiful set of slides can save time and ultimately deliver a better end-product.
Accounting & Bookkeeping
If you run a small business then you know how much of a pain accounting and bookkeeping can be, sifting through excel files and spreadsheets. While we tend to do this ourselves when starting out, getting to a point where we’re bringing in enough revenue to hire this out can feel like a true milestone. A common theme you’ll see is by hiring out a professional to do these tasks, management is able to focus more on revenue-driving activities.
Copywriting, Report Writing & Content Marketing
We’re lumping these all together, and while they can require different skillsets they all fall under the commercial writing professional’s skill set. Ecommerce companies need to produce copy for products, service businesses need the right copy to set their businesses apart, and pretty much all companies today rely on steadily producing high quality and easy to consume content for their audiences.
If you run a small business or startup this is probably one of the first areas you look to get help. From logos to websites, freelance graphic designers are and will probably always be in-demand. In fact, freelance graphic design jobs are estimated to grow 13% in 2020, with the digital freelance segment set to grow by an incredible 61%.
Website & Product Design
All businesses have a website in the modern economy, from law firms to health professionals. When you factor in the number of legacy industries moving into the digital space, you can only imagine the need for competent web designers. Not only that but as companies look to productize their businesses even more over time, the need for web and mobile app designers increases as well.
Photography & Video
This is for both content creators and editors. While we used to think of freelance videographers and photographers as those who catered towards weddings and other events, the need for high-quality content across industries has created a heightened need for freelance content producers and editors. Whether we are talking about fashion products or office shots for the hiring page, photo and video freelancers will continue to be in-demand.
While a bit generic, these freelancers provide support services to other businesses remotely, and usually to an executive or business owner. Whether it is managing calendars, billing, social media, etc. virtual assistants are on the rise specifically with startups and smaller agencies and service businesses.
Sales, Marketing, and Operational Admin Work
Differing than a virtual assistant, many companies are now outsourcing basic tasks related to sales, marketing, and revenue-generating activities as opposed to hiring in junior talent. This allows executives more time and freedom to focus on closing business as opposed to generating and working leads.
Social Media Marketing & Community Management
Every business understands the value of community and how social media can help build and maintain that community. The problem is we aren’t all social media experts — and we definitely don’t all have the time needed to build and interact with our communities 24/7. Platforms like Cloudpeeps have even built entire businesses out of helping companies build and manage their communities via social.
Web & Software Development
We all knew this one was coming. As all industries move into the age of the internet the fact remains there are still more open opportunities for developers than there are developers to fill.
As new industries develop and new types of businesses mature, the demand seems to increase for both full-time and freelance workers within those industries. Startup founders and business owners seek outside assistance as domain experts looking for specific help in areas that are foreign to them. Whether that is design or accounting these industries and types of businesses are seeing extraordinary growth in freelance opportunities this year.
First, let’s start with what 99designs, one of the leading freelance design platforms, found in terms of industry-specific freelance opportunity growth.
99designs actually stated that within the Cannabis industry, CBD was the vertical growing the most. With the industry expected to grow to $16 billion by 2025, according to Cowen & Co., demand from CBD-related companies for freelance help has been increasing at an incredible pace. They found a 1,568% increase in businesses in this field looking for work on their platform since 2015 and a 61% increase in the past year.
This is a broader term that encompasses the latest health trends and technologies. This includes things like diets, intermittent fasting, sleep tracking, and IV hydration therapy. According to 99designs, they had a 445% increase in the number of businesses hiring creative freelancers since 2015 and 71% in the past year.
We’ve all witnessed the success fo companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, but there are a ton of fast-growing companies in the space, and even more service businesses that cater to individuals on vegan and plant-based diets. They stated there was a 214% increase in the number of businesses in this field looking to hire creative freelancers since 2015 and a 20% increase year over year.
Cutting Edge Industries
Another thing to look at is which industries are on the cutting edge of technology and finally coming into the mainstream. While there are more examples, the following three industries check both those boxes as well being both business and consumer-facing with a global reach.
The global blockchain market is expected to surpass $20 billion by the year 2024, up from $2.1 billion in 2018. Currently, almost 70 percent of banks are experimenting with blockchain, and the number of blockchain-related job postings on LinkedIn has more than tripled in the last year. Like many deep-tech businesses, the need for help in marketing, design, and other areas outside of the technology development itself grows with the increase in business activity.
AI is pretty much everywhere these days. What was once a scary concept for consumers, AI is now a big part of our everyday lives. Expected to become a $27.6 billion in the near term, the opportunities for freelancers within the space will steadily increase as older industries continue to adopt the technology.
The Internet of Things
In 2020, IoT is expected to be positioned to make a massive impact. Already a $580 billion industry, the opportunities for freelancers (especially designers) will only increase with the mass adoption of consumer-facing products.
Follow The Money
While we hinted at using revenue and market size with the last few industry segments, a great way to see where the freelance job opportunities are is simply looking at 2020 revenue growth. These industries are healthy now, and only continuing to grow.
IBISWorld provides the “Fastest Growing Industries in the US by Revenue Growth (%) in 2020” in the graphic below.
Beyond market size and revenue growth, there is one other major way to follow the money in order to see where the opportunities are currently, and where they’ll continue to be. By looking at what startups are being funded, we can see where VC’s believe real growth will come from over the next ten years. Funding averages are a great way to look at this. Embroker provides a look at the average total of funding raised by industry and how this data correlates to each industry’s average revenues.
So those are the ways you can see where freelance opportunities are currently, and where they’ll continue to grow. If interested in all things future of work and freelance related, head over to the Snipply Blog where we’ll be releasing a full guide for both freelancers and those looking to build a freelance team.
How To Build The Best Proposals
The proposal itself is really important as it is the next step beyond your profile that will get you hired for the gig. It shows that you understand what your client needs and is asking for, and it highlights how you are the exact person for the job.
While proposals for different types of jobs will be different, there are a few basic sections and points to highlight, along with some tips of the trade to keep in mind while putting together a proposal that is sure to get you the job.
First, Summarize the project back to the potential client — this shows that you understand what is needed to be done, but it is also a great place to clarify exactly what will be done and what you are going to go through in the rest of the proposal. Your client’s problem is the number one thing they have in mind when they start going through proposals, so presenting it back to them with a sense of clarity is incredibly important when starting the proposal.
Estimate the cost clearly— This obviously changes based on the type of work. Is this one project or ongoing work like a virtual assistant gig? Is this an hourly rate or a one-time project fee? Carefully think through what needs to be here and make sure to be as detailed as possible. Depending on the work being done, you can add in options here, or present different packages. In sales, we often like to present three different options representing a low-end, medium and high-end price point. Generally speaking, you want to make the medium and high-end price points the most attractive to the client.
Outline your process and timeline — This is so incredibly important but often overlooked. If the process isn’t outlined and agreed upon, and a timeline isn’t presented in absolute clarity than the entire project could go south. The goal here is to have the project be as smooth as possible — even if it is a one-time project you’ll want a good review, recommendation, and an open door for potential future projects. This is the first step in avoiding miscommunication resulting in unhappy clients popping up in the middle of a project.
Provisions, revisions, and payment — This is pretty simple. You need to outline any types of revisions that can be made, different provisions, and how/when payment is expected. Being concise is key here.
With those being the core components, there are a few things to keep in mind as you flesh out the entirety of the proposal — and these are applicable for everything from graphic design work and product development to goal-oriented projects like sales and marketing work.
Your client is the foundation of the proposal — Your potential client is the one with a very specific need and/or goal. They need help in a specific area and they need whoever it is helping them to completely understand their needs. You need to demonstrate a core understanding of their problem in order for them to take your proposal seriously. Not only should you focus on demonstrating your knowledge of their problem or needs, but you can go deeper into understanding them specifically — whether it is the team or company itself, their business and competition, or their long-term goals and how this project fits in both short-term and in the future.
Make yourself the obvious choice by showcasing your strengths & skill-set — Depending on the type of work, sections like “About Me”, relevant resume and past projects, portfolio, etc. are all relevant. Include testimonials from related past clients and present yourself in a way that makes it seem like you are the obvious candidate.
Brief is best — The longer something is the less likely it is to actually be read. Where you can, use bullets, illustrations and graphics, and other ways to convey large amounts of information in short spaces. The best proposal is rarely the longest proposal.
If not a designer, find a template — Nothing makes you seem less appealing then sending someone a basic Word doc. If not a designer, use a template that will set you apart — We’ll be publishing a series of templates to use so make sure to sign up for Snipply to receive a notification when they are up.
Be timely — If you get questions you need to answer them, quickly and thoroughly. You will never get hired if there are already questions on your ability to get things done on time.
Don't race to the bottom when it comes to pricing. - No one wins when you get a deal by offering the lowest pricing. This makes your offering appear less valuable throughout the sales process if undercutting competition. Even if you win the deal your margins are now shrunk. I'd only not worry about this if it is a potential flagship client with value beyond revenue - for example, future referrals, brand value, or other ways they could make up the margins.
Bundle in low-cost extras that add value to the client. - This is a great way to boost your value proposition without shrinking your margins. This is especially true for service-based businesses where you can through in small extras that when added all together provide more perceived value to the client.
If you never ask you never get an answer - This little tip to keep in mind is relevant in many different ways. When talking to people in your network, you’ll never know if they need help in an area aligned with your expertise if you never ask. You can’t upsell clients if you don’t find out what other challenges they are facing. Make sure to always be asking questions that can be helping your business, and listening to see where there are new opportunities for growth.
Follow up, follow up, follow up. - Never be afraid to follow up with someone. There is no reason to think you are being polite by not following up with a potential client or pushing an existing one. Follow up is key to closing new business and making sure prospects are moving through the pipeline.
Get to no faster. - Don’t waste time constantly trying to work with someone who isn’t that interested, or seemingly aloof or hesitant. Getting to no faster will allow you to focus on potential clients that will sign, and on adding new prospects to the pipeline.
What Tools Should You Be Using To Manage Everything
If you’ve been getting business you need to make sure you stay focused, organized, and on-point with your project timelines. There’s an essential set of tools you need to stay aligned with your goals — let’s run through them below.
Trello is a freemium app that makes working on group projects as easy as using sticky notes on your whiteboard. You can easily access Trello on your phone, tablet, and desktop, and it’s drag-and-drop interface and visual way of organizing your tasks makes sure you always know what needs to get done and who’s working on it. Trello has a ton of integrations and the way it is organized makes it easy to have workspaces for different projects and collaborators.
More than 75,000 organizations and millions of users rely on Asana, including AirAsia, AllBirds, Grab, KLM Air France, Kohl’s, Sephora, Traveloka, and Viessmann — and there’s a reason why. It’s a powerful tool in terms of project management. While I prefer Trello more, if you are working on complex projects with a ton of moving parts then Asana might be the right choice for you.
Another app that’s useful for collaborative projects, Notion aims to be your ‘all in one workspace’. It has four essential tools in one neat and organized package. Notion features notes and docs, spreadsheets and databases, a knowledge repository, and a tasks and project organizer. If you want to keep things simple with an all-in-one tool than Notion is worth a look.
Zoho is much more than project management. They’re a full CRM, sales and marketing suite, email and collaboration platform, and even have their own bookkeeping and finance tools. I’d recommend checking out Zoho to see if you like it, and if you do, it’ll be capable of replacing many of the other tools here. While I personally like picking individual tools that fit my needs the best, there is no denying the convenience of having an all-in-one platform.
While some of the previous apps include note-taking features, if opting for an a la cart approach to your software stack, having a note-taking app is a must for capturing thoughts and notes as they occur.
Evernote is a cross-platform app that can basically serve a ton of different purposes. It can be a simple note-taking tool, a task manager, a clipboard, a bookmark keeper, or pretty much anything. Not only does it have a ton of useful features and is simple to use, but it’s available on pretty much platform. For us, Evernote fills the gap between other apps and acts as a way for us to gather our thoughts and notes in real-time, which eventually make it into our other tools like Trello.
Invoicing is clearly important as it is how you are actually going to get paid. Different applications offer different benefits and features so make sure to check them out to see which one is the right fit. They’ll often feature things like payroll, simple accounting, and expense tracking along with invoicing and payment features.
FreshBooks is accounting software that makes running your small business pretty easy..You can easily send invoces right to your clients within the app, and set up automatic reminders for your clients for when they forget to pay. The invoices come with a built-in payment form that accepts all major credit cards — so no more chasing down client checks.
Wave is an award-winning financial software designed specifically for entrepreneurs. They understand how you need to manage your income and expenses and allow you to track everything while connecting to an ecosystem of apps like payroll, payments, and invoicing. Everything is automated and in one pretty neat package.
This is key to using different apps without having to manually enter your password or track your passwords. This is also handy for collaborating with others as you can set up different users for the same software. Being a freelancer means you not only have the software you use, but the software all of your clients use. In order to avoid a mess of forgotten passwords you need a password manager, and LastPass is a favorite of ours.
We all use some sort of a calendar to track meetings, but basic calendar apps are usually lacking in terms of functionality. Use these apps to add your availability and streamline your meeting process.
A new favorite of ours, Undock allows users to instantly schedule meetings without ever having to look at a calendar. Their AI understands the availability, preferences, and scheduling behavior of all meeting participants and uses this information to immediately suggest a mutually preferred time.
Undock is currently in beta and you can join their waiting list here.
Calendly integrates directly with your Google or Office 365 calendar, and gives you a personalized URL where people can view your availability and schedule times to meet you. They offer a basic free plan, and a paid premium plan that allows for group scheduling and other additional features.
To help you stay organized, the app lets you set up custom meeting types and durations, e.g., “30 Minute Check-In” or “60 Minute Project Review.” You can add also add custom questions to the form people use to sign up to meet with you, include a link to a document or web page people should review prior to your meeting, or even make events private.
With Doodle, you can pick date and time options, and poll a group to see what works best for them and you don’t have to sign up for a Doodle account to participate in a poll. You can also create a public Doodle URL, where individuals can request a meeting with you based on your listed availability.
Communication is at the heart of collaboration and as a freelancer, you are going to be communicating a lot to clients and other parties involved in your projects. We recommend the following messaging apps depending on your needs and preferences.
Slack is the gold standard for business messaging. One thing that makes Slack great is the ability to have private channels within a workspace that can feature people outside of your company. This means you can have channels with your clients while having all of your communication in one larger hub. Add in the fact that it integrates with everything and starts for free and you have a winner.
Telegram has a lot of the features of Slack but is a bit more disjointed when it comes to using for client projects. One of the main benefits of Telegram is just how fast it is, and how it works pretty much seamlessly on all different types of devices. Telegram is an open platform, so if you are a developer or are technically capable it could be the right way to go.
Docsend allows you to stop sending files (aka proposals, revisions, etc) as attachments. They give you real-time feedback, advanced document sharing, and permissions control, all wrapped in a seamless package. They also allow you to create signable contracts, so you don’t need to worry about adding an additional platform for signatures. Even better, it starts at only $10 a month and has a free trial.
So that wraps everything up. If you liked the guide and are interested in taking a deeper dive head over to Snipply’s blog where we’ll be publishing even more content for freelancers and those looking to build a freelance team. And if interested in tools to make your world in freelancing easier, check out Snipply’s beta here.
Suffering from editor fragmentation and collaboration headaches resulting from it? Love using Excel but hate Sheets? Want to put an end to your team’s friction over Office and G Suite? Join our waitlist here.