Post Updated: December 4, 2020
That place probably receives hundreds of pitches each week—I’m not going to bother. I can only assume that a bunch of people already applied for that gig, so I don’t stand a chance. So many people want that project, there’s no way I’ll be the one to land it.
Sound familiar? Have you told yourself things just like this when thinking about putting yourself out there for freelance opportunities?
I won’t sugarcoat it: Freelancing is highly competitive. When freelancers are projected to become the majority of the workforce in the next decade, there’s no shortage of competent workers out there who are capable of doing the very same things that you do.
The way I see it, that knowledge can inspire you to do one of two things:
1) Talk yourself into the fact that you’ll never cut it and find something else
2) Use that high level of competition as your inspiration to really stand out
Have you previously been falling into that former category? I can’t blame you. Our brains are so nasty to us, and sometimes it’s easier to preserve our own egos and not set ourselves up for disappointment. Been there, done that.
But, today I want to encourage you to put yourself in that second category. Yes, there’s a lot of competition in the freelance landscape, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for you—for your unique experiences, knowledge, and skills.There's a lot of competition in the freelance landscape, but that doesn't mean there's no room for you—for your unique experiences, knowledge, and skills. Click To Tweet
With that confidence boost out of the way, you’re saddled with this question: When there are so many other qualified freelancers out there, how can you have a prayer of standing out and landing the gigs you want?
Let’s break it down.
“Oh, here she goes again—ranting and raving about why it’s so important to have a niche.”
If you’re muttering that to yourself right now, I really can’t hold it against you. I’ve made a point of hammering home the importance of finding your own niche.
But, there’s good reason: It’s one of the best ways that you can stand out when there are so many other freelancers out there.
By zoning in on only a specific industry, type of client, topic, or service, you can build a much stronger and more impressive presence and reputation in that area—which increases your chances of landing the projects you want most.
For example, let’s say that your niche is content writing in the health and wellness industry, and you see a gig posted that involves contributing two blog posts per week to a fitness website.
You can bet that there are plenty of freelance writers out there who are going to toss their hat in the ring for that job with general elevator pitches and unrelated clips.
But, there will be way less writers like you who specialize in this area, have a background in personal training, have numerous relevant clips to share, and have their own personal fitness blog to boot.
Believe me, I understand the temptation to keep things broad in the interest of not closing yourself off from any potential opportunities. However, in my experience, having a specific area of focus for your freelance work is what separates you from the competition more than anything else.
While many people tend to equate the freelance life with an opportunity to work from home and not have to deal with people, your success as a freelancer really all boils down to being able to build and maintain solid relationships.
This is especially true when you’re trying to stand out for a gig or a project you really want. The more you can make a personal connection, the more memorable you’ll be.
So, what exactly does this mean? Well, building these relationships can (and, in all honesty, should) start well before you even see an available gig posted.
Let’s say that you’re a freelance photographer specializing in wildlife and nature photography. There’s a regional outdoors publication in your area that you’d love to take photos for—but, they don’t currently have any opportunities posted for another freelancer.
Now’s the perfect time to start laying the groundwork! Follow that publication on various social media accounts and engage by leaving comments and sharing posts. Find the name of whoever on that publication’s staff manages the freelance photographers and connect on LinkedIn with a personalized message—or send a friendly tweet or introductory email.
Continue to interact with that outlet every now and then (there’s no need to go overboard here). If and when you see a callout for another freelance photographer? You’ve already established a connection and some name recognition—before you’ve even submitted your materials. Or, if you decide to take a deep breath and cold pitch them before they post a gig? You won’t be totally unknown.
Of course, you can implement these same tactics even after you’ve applied for a posted gig. Showing a continued interest and level of engagement with that outlet never (seriously, never) hurts!
Take it from someone who writes career advice for a living: Ultimately, standing out in the competitive freelance landscape is no different than getting noticed in a traditional job hunt.
It sounds brutal, but that freelance client doesn’t care what they can do for you. They don’t care how much you admire their mission or how much you’d love to work with them or what new skills you’ll develop or how good this opportunity would be for your own career.
What they do care about? What you can accomplish for them.
This is something that way too many freelancers (and, of course, job seekers) forget about. When sending in their materials for consideration for an open gig, they include a note that looks something like this:
I can’t tell you how excited I was to see this opportunity posted! I’ve read PublicationXYZ’s articles religiously for the past several years, and being a part of a team that produces such amazing content would be such a unbelievable honor.
Sure, that’s complimentary—but, it’s also highly self-serving. It talks all about what you stand to gain from landing that opportunity, but doesn’t mention a single positive result for the client.
When putting yourself out there for any sort of freelance opportunity, make sure to ask yourself questions like:
With those important tidbits in mind, you can revise your initial message to look more like:
As a writer of personal finance content, I’m a long-time fan of PublicationXYZ’s work. With my experience in paying off my student loan debt within five years and my reputation as the notorious “penny pincher” in my group of friends, I’m able to craft finance stories that connect with readers and encourage conversation about money. I’ve done that for numerous finance-focused publications and outlets, with 15 different articles ranking on the first page of the search results for several popular personal finance key terms. I would love to bring my unique perspective to engage PublicationXYZ’s readers and attract new ones as well.
See the difference? It’s pretty drastic, right? You’re selling yourself based on what you can achieve for them, and it makes all the difference.
Think about it: With the exception of charitable donations, you probably aren’t willing to invest your own hard-earned money in something just because it makes somebody else feel good. You want to know what you’ll get for your money.
Freelance clients are really no different. Spell out exactly what they’ll get if they take a chance on you.
You’re scrolling through Twitter, when all of a sudden you see it: a tweet that reads:
DreamCompanyX is currently looking for a freelance graphic designer to help with ebooks, webinar slides, and other design assets. More information here: [link].
Do you know what I see way, way too many freelancers do? They reply directly to that tweet with something like:
I’m interested! Email me at [email address].
This is me! Check out my portfolio.
I’m sorry (no I’m not), but this is one of the laziest ways to go about this. You’re leaving the potential client to put in all of the legwork. They have to click through to your profile or navigate to your website or portfolio to see if you’re even worth contacting, and then find a way to reach out directly.
What are the chances that a client—who’s obviously busy, given the fact that they’re hiring a freelancer—is going to go through all of that? Slim to none.
If you want an opportunity, you need to invest the elbow grease (and even go above and beyond when possible). Click through to the link that outlet provided to find out more about the project and how you can go about being considered. Follow those directions exactly. After doing so, feel free to reply to that tweet by saying:
Sounds awesome! Just submitted my materials for consideration—keeping my fingers crossed to hear from you.
What should you do if the outlet didn’t provide any additional links or instructions on how to be considered for that gig? You may have no other option but to reply to that tweet to find out more—but, you can bet you should be including more information aside from just your level of interest and your email address.
Instead, respond to that tweet with a message like this one:
I’m a full-time freelance graphic designer in the e-commerce industry. I checked out your site and think I’m a good fit. How can I pass along more information?
A message like this one pitches you as a qualified fit and also keeps the ball in your court by asking how you can move forward in the process—rather than leaving the next steps up to the client.
So, in short, don’t just respond to available opportunities by raising your hand and asking clients to pursue you. I can promise that you’ll be disappointed with the results.
I won’t deny it—freelancing is competitive. But, that doesn’t mean there’s no space for you to land awesome gigs and build a career.
You absolutely can stand out and score the projects you want. However, it’s going to take some added effort on your part.
The good news? There are plenty of freelancers who just (for whatever reason) don’t go that extra mile—so implementing these tactics means you’ll have an even better chance of separating yourself from all of that competition. Go get ’em!