5 essentials for every freelancer

You can get clients and make money as a freelancer without these five things. But having these will make it much easier.

I’m writing this both as a freelancer (18 years and counting) and as someone who frequently hires freelancers (for my own projects and for client work).

1: Your own (owned) space on the Interwebs

You need a website. Your own.


Please make one. Please have one. Please put all your freelance stuff on it and please, pretty please, stop sending me to your Linkedin profile because you don’t have a website.

I want to know more about you than Linkedin will tell me. And I don’t want to have to run around the worldwide web to find it.  Yes, I’m going to search your name and check out your online reputation. But I don’t want to have to visit five different sites to learn the basics of your expertise and how you might be able to help me.

As a freelancer, here’s why you want your own space:

  • You can decide what’s most important about you as a freelance service provider, and highlight it the way you want. Maybe you don’t your Harry Potter fan fic to be the third thing that potential clients find about you. However, if you’re depending on your Linkedin profile and some scattered clips to be your ‘professional online presence,’ you don’t get to control what people find. And trust me: they’ll look, and they will find.
  • You can filter all the potential clients and focus on the ones who are the best fit. You do this by clearly stating your core services. You weed out the people who want something you don’t offer.
  • You can keep track of all the work you’ve done, in one place. It’s quick and easy to share a webpage with a list of your best clips. It’s time-consuming and frustrating to recreate that list for every client query.
  • You can get more clients through the introductory funnel and into the part where they actually pay you. By providing clips, basic info, an easy way to learn more about you, and a contact method all in one place, potential clients are much more likely to become paying clients. They want to work with freelancers who are easy to work with; having all your important freelance info available in one place makes working with you easier for clients.
  • It also makes things easier for you! All the questions you answer for potential clients can become blog posts or pages on your website. Some clients will educate themselves. Others will still email and ask you, but now your answer is readily available: send them the link or copy-and-paste. Either way, you’ll be more consistent and you’ll be able to do this preliminary work faster and with less effort.

Here are some ways to get started:

  • WordPress. Use WordPress.com if you’re not tech savvy and want a quick, simple solution. Create a self-hosted WordPress site if you want to put a bit more effort and/or money into it. Not sure what those terms mean? Then you want to use WordPress.com, and perhaps hire someone (check Upwork or Fiverr) to help you do it. It’s a worthy investment.

WordPress is reliable and full-featured and it’s been around for a while. Yes, there are alternatives (Square, Wix, etc.) but these are babies compared to WP. Remember that many Internet-company-babies do not survive into adolescence.

  • There’s a cool upsurge of text-based website platforms, such as Blot and Small Victories. If you can create a Word document and save it in a folder, you can create a website. There also very affordable.

2: A biography, in several versions

Nobody really enjoys writing about themselves, but it’s an essential part of being a freelancer.

You’re meeting most people—potential clients, colleagues, collaborators, etc.—online, rather than in-person. You have to provide enough information to fill in the gaps that exist when we’re not physically present with someone.

The biographies you need:

  • A long version. This is the “full life history” version of your biography, but remember that the long version is still only a page or so. You’re still condensing to the most important information. Provide some personal background, then use that to lead into your professional education and development, career choices, work expertise and experience. Cap it with a summary of what you’re currently working on and offering. This is the biography that can live on your About page.
  • A short version. This is the ultra-condensed version. It’s similar to an elevator pitch — you could write it as an elevator pitch. It’s what you’ll send in when you submit a guest post. Pop it at the bottom of your newsletter or put it on your social media profiles. You’re going to drop most of your personal history. Focus on two to three important work achievements or areas of expertise. Add a briefer version of what you’re currently working on and offering.
  • Various tailored versions. When you need a bio for a specific use, you’re going to use your short version most of the time. Take 10 minutes to tailor it for every use. This is a quick and easy move, but it can make a big difference in how you appear to clients, readers, editors, etc. When tailoring your bio, consider these three things:
    • the expertise you want to emphasize,
    • the audience you want to reach,
    • the action you want to produce.

3: Your core services and rates

You don’t have to put these on your website. Many freelancers don’t publish their rates online (to my everlasting frustration).

But you should—at the least—have a list of your core services and the standard rates you charge for these services. Here’s mine, if you want to take a look.

Then, when you receive a client query—or want to pitch a new potential client—you have your services and rates ready to send.

Here are a few things to remember:

  • Your core services don’t have to be your only services. You can adapt, expand, and adjust to work with specific client needs. But your core services give you a starting point, and your rates help you to more accurately estimate what you’ll charge for specialized work.
  • Defining your core services helps you to focus and specialize. This is the fastest route to gaining a good reputation and a roster of repeating clients. If you’re a new freelancer, focus and specialize. Focus and specialize. Later, once you’ve established a reputation and have more completed work to show, you can expand in all sorts of directions.
  • Baseline rates: set a standard rate for each of your core services.
    • Generally, you need to make your baseline rates higher than you think they should be. Every now and then I come across a freelancer who has vastly overestimated the value of their services. But it’s rare. Far more common are freelancers who vastly underestimate the value of their services.
    • Avoid hourly rates. They limit your income-earning potential because they tie your income directly to your time. This is a trap. Avoid it. Per-service, per-deliverable, and per-project rates give you more flexibility. That said, I understand that some services are almost always based on hourly rates. Some freelance platforms (such as Upwork) are based on hourly rates. And maybe you’re cool with hourly rates. If hourly rates make sense for you, use them. Just understand that when you use hourly rates you are limiting your income-earning potential. If you are okay with this, cool. Personally, I am not okay with this, so I avoid hourly rates.
    • Raise your rates annually. Do it. It can be a small adjustment. It will add up to be a significant change over time, it will help you raise level of service you provide and are known for (from “average” or “new” to “expert and worth it”), and it will help you raise the quality of your clients.
    • Give discounts, but not pointlessly. Discounts are great, but don’t ever give a discount just because a client asks for one. Give a discount when there’s a good reason to give a discount:
      • When a client purchases a package rather than an individual service.
      • When a client contracts for multiple services or deliverables.
      • When a client wants to have an ongoing work agreement (an ideal situation for a freelancer, unless you really dislike the client).
      • When a client is providing extra resources or time or is contributing some other type of value.

4: Your No list

This is a simple but powerful list.

It can be known only to you. It is a list of the services you do not provide, the projects you do not take on, the work you will not do.

It will help you focus and specialize. It will raise your standing in the eyes of your clients, because saying no is something you can do only from a position of power. It’s not about being arrogant or unapproachable: it’s about knowing what you’re good at and what you want to offer. You’re the only one who has the right to make those determinations, so start making them.

If you’ve done a certain kind of project and absolutely hated every minute of it, put it on your no list. Use your brain, of course, and figure out what it was that is a No for you. Maybe it was just a needy client; in that case, it’s not the type of project you want to avoid, it’s a particular type of client.

Define what you will and will not accept. Define what you will and will not offer. Write it down, and stick to it.

If it feels aggressive or unhelpful to make your No list public, don’t. Keep it handy, where you glance at it daily and can refer to it as needed.

However, do consider that you can use a No list as a simple way to filter out the clients, jobs, and offers you don’t want. I’ve had a No list on my website for several years and a few of my favorite clients approached me specifically because of it: they liked my clarity and thought we would be a good fit. And they were right.

5: Proof of your skills

A general rule of thumb that I’m making up right now is this one:

  • For every core service you offer, have at least one proof of your ability.

If you’re providing expertise in a certain topic, prove your expertise with your writing or completed projects.

If you’re offering a specialized service, give me a way to see something similar that you’ve already completed.

The more advanced and expensive the service, the more proof you need to provide that you’re able to do the work and do it well.

You can also offer testimonials from clients as proof of your skills, but I consider those secondary. I don’t trust everybody’s judgment. Your Client X may have been super happy with your design work, but their standards may be way different than mine. Provide testimonials and positive feedback, sure! They are powerful. But also provide actual proof of the work you’ve done: links, screenshots, even written descriptions are powerful.

Of course, the best place for all this material is your website! Aren’t you glad you have one?

Photo by Richard Bagan on Unsplash