Dear Stack Yacker,
Whether you’re looking to grow your skills as a developer, earn extra income, switch careers, freelancing can be a great option. As someone who’s spent about 8 years in and out of freelancing, from doing it part time, to doing it full-time for 2 years straight, I can attest how wonderful this path can be.
Today I’d like to dive into the first part of this series and go over what you should have in place before embarking on your freelance journey. Let’s dive in!
Your Freelance Journey “Packing List”
Whoo! Freelancing! Yes! You’re doing it! Cool! So uh.. where do you start?
Setting off on any new journey is fun and exciting, even more so when you’ve planned and are prepared ( forgetting sunscreen, towel, swimsuit, etc. when going to the beach type of thing.. ). So what is it that you need to make sure you pack for you freelance adventures?
Well, be it as we are all different people that have our own unique story and path, the following below outlines in detail the “items” I made sure to pack, and that have helped me be successful with freelancing.
Write a personal mission statement
Why do you think clients should hire you? What makes you special? Why should they choose you to build their website? Your mission statement will answer these questions, and can be used as your north star to help guide you through the business of freelance.
Spend some time on this, and really focus on crafting those few sentences. If you are looking for a good place to start, try to answer Why, How and What.
Why do you do it?
How do you do it?
What is it you do?
It’s a bit unintuitive and harder to start in that order, so I highly recommend taking the 18 minutes to watch Simon Sinek’s 2009 Ted Talk - “Start with why”, where he explains the entire concept.
An excerpt from his talk, using Apple as an example:
If Apple were like everyone else, a marketing message from them may sound like this: (what) "We make great computers”. (how) “They are beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly. Wanna buy one?”
And that’s how the majority of how many businesses, freelancers, etc communicate to the world about who they are. They expect some sort of behaviour by just saying their name, company slogan and what they sell. They don’t stand out. They aren’t very inspiring. Here’s another excerpt with Apple as an example, using the “start with why” principle:
“Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers - wanna buy one?”
Pretty drastic of a difference right?
Anyway, the point I’m trying to make here is it’s important to tailor a mission statement about yourself, since as a freelancer, YOU are the brand. This will help drive you forward, and stand out from the crowd.
Polish up your portfolio
When you first start freelancing, your portfolio site will often be asked for and looked at more than your actual CV, so I highly recommend you spend some time making this look shiny ✨. If you aren’t a designer, or don’t have design chops, you can always visit websites like Site Inspire for some inspiration. Pick something simple, clean, and and easy to look at (unless it’s your style, stay away from brutalist design 😂)
Next, you’ll need some actual content.
Although you could just throw a link to sites you’ve worked on, you’ll stand out if you go the extra mile by putting up images of the project with a simple case-study write up. Talk about the project, what the goal was, technologies you used, etc.
Don’t have any work you’re super proud of to display on your site? That’s okay - the solution for this is to go to Dribbble, find 2-3 really kickass landing page designs and build them out (with of course attributing the designer). If you do go this route, try to pick sites that are unique from each other - maybe pick on that is a product / e-commerce site, one that blog / editorial style site, and then maybe one that just uses really cool animations. Diversify your portfolio.
One last thing about your portfolio - remember that mission statement you wrote? Include it on the homepage somewhere for prospective clients to see!
Use LinkedIn and other social media outlets
You never know what’ll start driving leads, but social media and LinkedIn are definitely places you want to let people know that you are open for work and do freelance.
Put something in your bio or tagline, like “Freelance Developer”, “Contract Developer for Hire”, etc. You can also use these outlets to post about the work you are doing or have completed. Don’t feel shy to post little blurbs either about the work you do: “Just launched XYZ site - what do you all think?”.
You’re putting in the initial ground work and laying the foundations for your brand. And who knows, you may actually end up getting your first client this way.
Have a dedicated email
You are selling yourself as a professional, so when a prospective client gets an email from “firstname.lastname@example.org”, the appearance of professionalism will dwindle. This is an easy one, but make sure you’ve got an email account that is dedicated to your freelancing business. You can keep it simple with you name @domain, or do something like I’ve done - email@example.com. It’s a little more friendly, fun, but still has context that I write code.
Put on your sales hat
Although you’ll get better with this over time, and find yourself not needing to “sell” as hard once you’ve been freelancing for awhile b/c you’re getting so many referrals, but when starting out, you’ve got to be comfortable with sales and talking to people about your service.
The mission statement you write can definitely help guide this, but you should spend time practicing 30 second elevator pitches, and drafting “cold intro” emails. You want to make sure these are really on point, so I recommend testing them out with your friends and family to see what resinates the most.
Having to sell can suck sometimes, but it’s part of the gig - and if you’re like .. “Christian.. the selling thing is 100% not for me”, not all hope is lost. You might consider teaming up with a friend who has the gift of gab, and give them a commission to help you draft up sales pitches, proposals, emails, etc.
Freelancing is extremely fun and can be quite lucrative and rewarding, and the more you are prepared for your journey the better time you’ll have on it. I appreciate you taking the time to read Stack Yack #004 today, and hope you stay tuned for next week as I get into part 2 of the freelancing series!
P.S - here’s an awesome video series to get you hyped about freelancing, by my favourite freelancer Dann Petty,