When getting started as a freelancer the most important task initially is to build a portfolio. Whatever your select talents are from graphics design to writing or web development, clients will want to see good examples of past work. But how can you know which projects are worthy? How do you know which skills are the most impressive?
I want to use this article as a loose guide for credible traits in a portfolio. Every freelancer needs to draw in attention for their accomplishments. This is how you can land future work and also create some buzz around your name. And once you have some credibility the process of networking and landing gigs becomes a lot more manageable.
Create what you Love
This is a topic which is often overlooked so I want to bring it up first. Working as a freelancer you will not always be able to select the type of projects you’re building. This is one particular nuisance if you prefer to design, say, blogs instead of eCommerce or business websites.
But why not instead stick to what you love doing best? There is no reason you can’t branch out and try building an eCommerce website layout. But it probably won’t match up to the quality of work you truly enjoy creating blog themes. So although those projects may not make it into your portfolio, they are still worth the money and the learning experience.
When you can focus on what you love the creativity will come a lot easier. This is how you truly build amazing products by following what peaks your interest. I have come across some amazing freelancers who focus on mobile UI and perform a damn good job. A stunning portfolio of works in one particular niche will build your credibility for the long haul.
Interfacing with New Clients
How you interact with clients is another big area geared towards credibility. There are some instances where people will try taking advantage of your time and labor. But there will also be instances of clients who are genuinely fair, honest, and willing to work together on ideas. If you can focus on the latter then you’re likely to meet other clients who behave in a similar manner.
Ultimately it comes down to having respect for each other’s ideas. Nobody is perfect and nobody can understand everything. Have some patience working with your clients and try to meet them on ideas somewhere in the middle ground. But also be upfront about any problems if there is something you both need to work with.
Freelancing does include a lot of give-and-take between ideas and philosophies. And in many cases the freelancer’s voice may not be heard. During the early days when just meeting people you want to be very polite and work through problems to resolve them as quickly as possible. This leads to quicker turnovers and you aren’t stuck working on the same ideas for too long.
But don’t let yourself get cornered by clients who are overly demanding and not willing to pay enough time or money. Have some self-esteem in your client relationships and know what your time is worth. It’s okay to turn down projects even if you really need to fill in your portfolio. It is better to have a collection of really outstanding projects with great clients than a slew of projects with dips in quality.
Get Yourself Out There!
Networking should be your #1 concern once you have some solid ground to stand on. With just 1 or 2 pieces in your portfolio it’s worthwhile to get in touch with as many potential clients as you feel necessary. Oftentimes the quickest way to meet new people is by checking through job boards and replying to freelance opportunities.
Aside from building your own website it’s also a good idea to get out and join some related social networking communities. Behance and Dribbble are two examples focused around design for digital artists. You may be surprised how many people will find you online, and having these profiles on external websites can give more prominence to your name.
After you have been networking for a while you will likely put together a few solid contacts. These are people who you have worked with in the past and who you trust based on their judgement and responsibility. If you have the opportunity try reaching out to see if anyone can recommend you to somebody in need of freelance work. Recommendations by a friend or colleague are much more personable than meeting somebody via email.
Develop a Sense of Style
Whatever work you do there are always various styles and formatting setups you can follow. Web/graphic designers can fit into many different categories from minimalism, illustrated layouts, online magazines, etc. But this is also true for work which isn’t design related – writing, programming, marketing, each topic has various styles and trends you can follow.
I think developing a style for yourself during the early days of freelancing can define how you go about projects in the future. It’s similar to defining yourself with a sense of fashion by selecting certain clothing choices. This style is how people will see you and see your work.
Now this isn’t to say that somebody can’t work within many different styles. There are plenty of mobile designers and web designers who are able create with any style. But I also think that designers tend to have 2-3 styles they really enjoy working with. These are the areas you may wish to focus into and empower yourself with a solid skillset. Try glossing over some other designer’s portfolios and see if you can vibe with any of their creations.
Looking over other ideas to give yourself a head start is often a good solution. But you won’t find the best answers until you pause and look into yourself. Reflect on what you truly love to create and would want to focus your energy into. This process won’t be accomplished in a day or even a month. But don’t get discouraged and always keep pushing yourself forward. The best freelancers develop a knowledgeable skillset through years of practice and hard work.
I hope these ideas can help newer freelancers to determine their own standards in quality. There is no one set rule for building the best digital products. You’ll need to spend years practicing in your field to understand the best solutions.
But over time you will develop this knowledge and it shows through in your work. Effortless advancement is the strongest approach as a freelancer since you are always learning new things. Allow this new information to flow naturally and you’ll notice work to be much easier and less tedious – especially when you’re enjoying the time. If you have similar ideas or questions on the article feel free to share with us in the discussion area below.
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