Freelancing: How to Find Clients/Work

This is a big topic, and honestly, there isn’t a one-size fits all solution. Here are some tips I’ve found that have worked for me, or that I’ve heard working for others, but please let me know if I’ve missed something crucial!

Networking

As with most everything I’ve talked about so far, networking is the most reliable way to get new work as a freelancer; but again, I don’t mean just throwing cards to whoever walks by. It’s crucial to develop strong networks of people who are in your industry, people who use your services, and experts and mentors in your field and adjacent fields, as it’s these networks that may lead to opportunities being sent your way. However, please don’t build your network with the sole intention to get work—build your network to learn from others, to teach what you know, and to find compatriots with whom to share successes and to compare rates, employers, and general industry trends. Your network is your professional base, and can take the place of coworkers as a freelancer. Value these people as your friends and VIPs, as in freelance more than anywhere else they will influence the future opportunities you receive. After all, freelancers generally pass work along to those who they trust to handle overflow from their own clients, and stake their name on sending you as a recommendation. Good standing in freelance networks is everything.

Industry events

These are crucial for building your network. As always, I recommend volunteering—this gives you the opportunity to organically meet new people (including crucial people!) in your industry, for them to see you at work (even though your volunteer work may not be your day-to-day job), and for them to associate you with responsibility. Of course, “volunteering as exposure” is a dangerous road. Only volunteer for organizations or conferences which have a demonstrated record of good work and whose mission you support. A great volunteer strategy I heard about the other day is to still invoice for any work you do (this is intended for, say, graphic design work—not for volunteering at a conference in exchange for an attendee badge) and to “discount” your official rate so the invoice zeroes out. Not only does this let others know your real working rates and are aware of what they’re getting for free, but it gives you firmer ground to stand upon when you are being asked too much, or when you want to start charging for the same work.  And as a freelancer, one of the first things you should develop is an invoice template. We’ll go into this next time.

Previous Jobs

Many companies rely on freelancers to deal with work overflow, and who better to ask than someone who already knows how to do the work? When leaving a job (if you want to continue working with the company (and aren’t being terminated)), let your manager know you’d still be interested in doing some freelance work. You can always reach out to companies you worked for years before, as long as you left on good terms. Keep in mind that the longer ago the job was for you, the more likely procedures and processes have changed, but some companies may be willing to bring you in and bring you up to speed with some (paid!) training. After all, it will be cheaper for them to train someone who knows most everything than to find and train an unknown quantity.

Industry-oriented sites

I suggest these with a huge grain of salt: Many internet forums and databases for freelancers can be rife with predatory clients, and with fellow freelancers based worldwide who may be able to work for cheaper than you can compete with. That being said, good clients can still be found on these sites. Do some Googling and ask around your network to find the appropriate sites for your industry, and to ask how they work—best practices for applying for jobs, posting, etc. And if you do find a good client through one of these sites, make sure to follow up with them after the job is done to ask if they’ll keep you on their roster and keep you in mind for future work. If they offer feedback, take it—people rarely take the effort to give feedback if they don’t think you’re able to improve.

Social media

This one is risky, so again, take the big grain of salt. By posting your portfolio and rates on social media, and by posting your expertise and engaging with others when possible, you can broaden your reach and find clients through Twitter, Instagram, and especially (for some industries) LinkedIn. Building your organic network is still your priority on these sites, but you may find work coming your way through them, too.


No matter which method you use, remember that vetting your clients is a crucial step. Make sure they know your rates beforehand, and that you establish a pay schedule that works for both parties.

Components of a Career: Guest Post by Jacob Burgess, Voice Actor and Writer

Hi friends! This week it’s my pleasure to have a guest post by my friend and general fantastic human being Jacob Burgess. I met Jacob as a fellow Conference Associate at GDC (volunteering at conferences is such a good way to meet fantastic people!!), and I’ve followed his career as he gets bigger and better roles. He’s got a lot to say about careers (and is one of the best networkers and go-getters I know!) so I’ll let him take it away without any further ado!


Hello Rank Up Readers! Jacob Burgess here. I’m a voice actor and games writer.

When Lauren asked me to write a guest post for this blog, it took me aback. One, I had no idea why she asked me. Two, I had no idea what I was going to write about that was a good as the content that’s already here on the blog. Three, and this is tied to one, who the hell am I to do this? Ah, imposter syndrome. You’re a right bastard.

I asked Lauren what she might want to write about, and she told me a bit about the purpose of this blog, which is to help educate people. None of us in creative careers are really told how to do this. That helped a bunch. She is very smart.

See, as best as I can tell, having a creative career is all a system of cobbling it together using existing models of behavior, the circumstances we find ourselves in, professional fortitude, and no small amount of what looks like luck.

Now before I move on, and this is going to be the main thrust of what I say here, is that everything I say, everything you take in here, is born of my experience and perspective. Salt and pepper to your taste.

Now, let’s explore, in as much brevity as possible, the cobbling together of a career. (Please keep in mind, I’m a voice actor and a writer. My solution to most problems is “More Words”.)

Existing Models:

Using existing models of success to further your career is great because then you’re looking at folks that have done it before. There is a huge industry surrounding doing just that. Doing the work of finding out what works for you and what doesn’t lead to your own success involves a lot of trial and error. You need to fail in small and large ways in order to figure out that what worked for a certain person, or in a certain industry, isn’t going to work for you. Take what you will and discard the rest. I would suggest being aware of anyone who says that their way is the right and only way.

For example: I read, a lot. I try and better myself as much as possible. I want my professional life to be as smooth as possible. This involves reading financial books, books on acting, writing techniques, and other folks’ fiction. I take notes on what in those books strikes me, things that just make sense instantly. I take notes on what worked for that person, and on stuff to try out myself to see if it’ll work for me. I take notes on what just seems like nonsense right off the bat so that I can explore it and then discard it.

Same thing in networking. I might be in a conversation where someone is dropping so many names I’ll need to watch where I step later. They might be able to pull it off and impress or dazzle their conversational partner because they have the humility, body language, and mannerisms that don’t play as desperate. It might just be a natural part of their job or manner of speaking. It works for some people because they get that shine from associating with someone known to be successful. The idea is that if the person whose name was dropped knows and associates with the person who dropped the name, then the person who dropped the name must be worth knowing. I know I don’t have that ability. I know enough about myself where I would reek of desperation and it would come across as me just TRYING to be cool. You can learn a lot about what will and won’t work for you by observing the behavior of others both in person an online.

Circumstances:

Not everyone has the same starting position in life. But I think that seeing progress as a straight line or a pyramid isn’t a great way to visualize a career path. I like looking at it as a sphere with smaller spheres inside it. We’re all dots in that big-ass sphere trying to find a way to the smaller ones, which are the careers we want to have. We all blink into the larger sphere at different points. It might take us longer to get to the smaller one that our chosen career belongs to. Sometimes we will enter other spheres on our way.

Almost no one has a straight path to where they want to be. Some have shorter distances, sure. Some folks blink in right next to where they want their final destination to be. Others have different feelings the farther they travel, or they decide that it wasn’t right for them to begin with. Use whatever you have around you to get to where you want to be. Your path is your path. There is no need to compare your path to others because where we start is out of our control. How we use our circumstances is only in our control. Comparison, in my mind, is useless. (This doesn’t mean it doesn’t creep in, but using the fact that I think it’s a useless tool helps to mitigate the feeling sometimes.)

For example: I live in Victoria BC, which is on an island in Canada in the ocean about 2.5 hours away from Seattle by boat and about 3 hours away from Vancouver by boat and bus. I need to travel a lot to even have a voice acting career, and I back that up by supplementing other work when things are slow. If I lived in LA or New York I would have a much easier time with it because that’s where the industry tends to be centered. However, the circumstances of my life dictate that this is the way things must be. I have put forth the effort by attending conventions, building my network, and being willing to invest the time and money to travel in order to have my career. Sometimes you need to fill the cracks of circumstance with effort and will if you aren’t in the right place physically, socially, emotionally, or otherwise.

Professional Fortitude:

This is the ability to keep going. Not keep going no matter what. Life happens and sometimes things are out of our control. Sometimes you need a break or need to stop or completely redirect. Being unstoppable sometimes means slowing down.

For me, professional fortitude is the ability to accept failure, to deal with the negative emotions that are going to try and use your career to sort themselves out (because sometimes brains and hearts are stupid and don’t always have our best interest in mind. Imposter Syndrome or feeling of worthlessness, for example), not stop (this doesn’t mean don’t take breaks or reflect), to recognize when you should slow down, and not using the need to take a break as an excuse to procrastinate.

For example: I don’t have a solid personal example for this. I just get up every time I’m knocked down or am stymied. I might be crying, and complaining, and cursing the heavens in the moment for making something so damn hard while I do it, but I do it. It’s hard. It’s goddamn hard and sometimes you don’t have anything to propel you forward but Raw. Stupid. Stubborn. Will.

A Small Amount Of What Looks Like Luck:

I say what looks like luck because, from the outside, and a lot of what happens in people’s careers and what we see in media, is that opportunities often times just magically happen. That seems to me to be a running narrative that folks propagate because saying, “I ground out my career for years before floating to the surface/being discovered/being the only one left would could” doesn’t always have a sexy sound to it. I sense a fear that admitting that things were hard or didn’t always go your way is “bad branding.” I’m still chewing on this phenomenon, so my thoughts on it aren’t fully fleshed out.

But, ya know what, sometimes it is just luck. Sometimes it’s is 100% raw, pure, golden good fortune that propels a career. Most times, I’ve found, is that those people have put themselves into places and done things to maximize their chances for those opportunities to come their way. For me, it’s going to cons. Having a online presence. Making friends and not just contacts. Again, whatever works for you given your circumstances.

That’s the key in my mind. In a career, freelance or otherwise, you’ve got to do a lot of self-exploration and find out what the sweet hell works for you, no matter what works for other people.

If I were going to go back in time and tell myself something from 5 years back, it would be all of this. I don’t think I would have listened because, “Do what works for you” is, on it’s own, some bullshit advice. Figuring out what works for you is hard. It takes a lot of self exploration, willingness to fail, and time. Once you do figure out what sorts of things jive with you though, that’s most of the work done.


Like this? Want to know more about Jacob, or possibly hire him? Find him on Twitter @jacobburgessvo

The Job Search: Pre-Employment Networking

Now that you’ve narrowed down the type of employment you’re looking for, the general kind of job you’re interested in, and may have found some possible leads, you’re ready to get interviewing. But sometimes getting the interview takes more work than just sending your resume through an online system.

Enter networking.

Networking, at its core, is collecting a roster of people with whom you share interests, experience, and/or skills, and who one day might be in a position to help you by sharing opportunities—a favor you should be prepared (and willing!) to return. Networking is not getting your name in front of faces, nor is it about quantity of leads. The best networks are built through careful curation of people, with whom you’ve built relationships. You should like the people you keep in your network.

I’m planning to go in-depth into networking in the future, but for now, I’d like to start with helping you figure out where to network. As a job seeker, this can be really difficult: Others have ruined this for you by jumping the gun and asking for jobs from people they barely know, so your path is littered with suspicion and caution from others on it. That’s fine! The key is to show you’re earnest about getting to know the people you’re networking with, and are interested in their work, as well as that you’re interested in possible future collaboration or connection, should it arise.

Don’t ask someone you barely know (or were just introduced to) for a job.

Cool, that’s out of the way. If someone asks what you do, you can say that you’re looking for a position, but unless they ask what you’re looking for/interested in, steer the conversation back to getting to know them instead. You want connections first—the opportunities will come later.

So, where do you go to connect?

Informational Interviews

This tactic was not around when I was graduating (or if it was, I didn’t know about it/capitalize on it…and, looking back, that seems much more likely), but it’s an incredible resource. An informational interview is meant to give you a window into someone who is already established in your field. It’s easiest for students to organize these interviews, but even if you aren’t a student, professionals usually respond to polite requests for informational interviews on who they are and what they do. Alumni networks are a great way to get in contact with people who might be willing to do an informational interview. Facebook, too, can be a great resource—you’d be surprised how many friends or relatives of friends are working in things similar to where you want to be.

The key for informational interviews is to learn from the person you’re interviewing. Keep the conversation on them, unless they ask you pointed questions about yourself. Even if they do, redirect back to them. Ask about their background, their education and work experience. Ask them for advice and guidance, but throughout the whole interview, be polite and listen. Ask first if you want to take notes, but above all, be a keen listener. Not only will these tips help you on your journey, but an informational interview is also a soft interview for the interviewee: they’re getting to know you and your interests in an informal setting, and if something comes up that matches your skills and experience, they may be able to send it your way. However, that should never be the end goal—in an informational interview, connections and mentorship are key.

Professional Organizations

Professional organizations for your industry or career type are great ways to meet people in all stages of their career. Usually the organizations will bring people together for social functions, lectures, or activities, and all can be great ways to meet people. These are especially great, because they bring together people who are experts in your field and who understand what you do and the challenges you may be facing. However, they’re higher stakes: Keep in mind these people may be your future employers and coworkers, so keep it professional, especially when alcohol is served.

Do a search for organizations both nationwide and local, and find the chapters operating in your area. For some careers, this may be Meetup groups or hobby interest groups—what you’re really looking for are the local experts who are in the know. They can be your greatest supporters throughout your career.

Conferences

Conferences for your career or interest are fantastic ways to meet people, but can also be very challenging. Most people at conferences are attending for a specific intention, so meeting and socializing with people can feel impossible, especially for shy people. For this reason, I recommend volunteering for the conferences. Volunteering is a great way to get your name out there—people will recognize you, they have to talk to you, and they see you at work (another form of soft interview). Attendees are often more respectful of volunteers than they are of the typical conference-goer, because you’re both giving up your time to work for them while also acting as an organizational authority. You also get an immediate bonded group of other volunteers, who can form the base of your network, and who can introduce you to others who might help in your career.


Of course, these ideas are just scratching the surface. Have you had luck networking in other capacities? Please let me know!