How to leverage craigslist for your freelance career

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Like many of you, I’ve always wanted to have a location agnostic career.

Quite simply, to work from where my laptop is.

My goal was to be a freelancer, but how do you start?

I knew I had a skillset that I could sell, but I needed to solve the ever-challenging problem of finding clients.

Sidenote: Once you finish, read how 4 freelancers built recurring revenue models that changed their business. You'll love it.

At the time, I was rotating through signs and printing companies. First one, then another, next a third as I was stuck in a repetitious cycle. I needed an avenue to learn and to create the foundation for my own company.

That’s when I discovered Craigslist!

I know Craigslist carries quite a reputation, but I decided to take the plunge despite that, and the best analogy for my experience has been an informal contest with unwritten rules! You will discover anything and everything once you peel back the layers to expose its inner workings.

Starting on craigslist

Before anything else, I refreshed my resume and posted it on the resume section simply hoping potential clients would see it and contact me.

Results were a mixed bag.

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I was contacted, but by agencies looking for a designer for their fledgling studios (usually around $10-12 per hour), nothing for freelance projects.

That’s okay, but that didn’t get me closer to my goals.

So, I attempted to directly pursue gig postings. I applied for a few, but was treated to feedback that they received offers roughly $30 for a logo design… A bit seedy, right? It just didn’t work.

That’s when I finally I found the services section.

Offering services

When you offer services, there are a few basic rules: you must have a catchy title, you need to be straight-forward, and you must post a few sentences about what you offer.

Don’t muddle it up with too much detail, people won’t bother to read it. Titles can vary drastically so don’t be afraid to try a few different styles to see what works.

A couple examples that I might try include:

“Custom Logo Design by a Professional Studio | Free Consultation | Get a Quote Today”

“Need a LOGO? I’m LOCAL! Logo Design Proposal Tailored to YOUR Project!”

You can have one account (connected to your phone number) and you can post up to 3 posts per a day, but they must be unique to each other. This helps prevent too much spam, but there are exceptions. Some unscrupulous people pay others to post for them as well, so it happens that you might have 3 posts while your competition may be pushing 6 or more.

Also, craigslist allows people to flag scams, which is valuable, but it can backfire if craigslist doesn’t vet the process and an anti-competitive rival can flag your posts to make them invisible to potential clients.

It sounds bad, but it really isn’t too much!

It is worth noting, however, that I found the lower end of my price range to be most effective.

With some questionable competition undercutting the market, be prepared to compromise on your rate to keep communication channels open. With enough engagement, you will have the opportunity to explain why your rates are worth it.

How I learned to freelance

Yes. Through Craigslist, I learned how to be a freelancer.

It helped me master how to communicate with clients beyond what I could pick up while working for printing companies. It is inherently different when you work for someone else in which you only report to your supervisor.

When you are a freelancer, each client assumes that role.

You must learn how to write a strong email, present yourself as a business professional, concisely communicate your offer and effectively explain how clients will benefit from your services.

To learn how to do this try reading a lot of books, blogs, and then experiment! Craigslist provides ample practice, so see what works best for you, and ultimately you should create template ready documents.

Make template emails and proposals (including a service agreement)

With templates, you save time.  Add “placeholders” to emails and proposals where you can conveniently change the potential client’s name, price, timeline, etc., but keep a courteous and personal touch.

For example:

“Thank you for contacting me, I would love to help you… I will provide [specifics from their project] …”

Remember, craigslist is a game.

Potential clients often send copy and pasted emails to a few different service providers and then you will fight for that project; I used to get the same email to all 3 of my posts that day!

Prompt, yet personal emails will help create quick and personal engagement that provides some momentum over your competition.

Build a portfolio

When I was a student I built a variety of “okay” student projects, but nothing that I felt particularly proud of.

Once I started working for another company, I couldn’t use that artwork for personal gain. However, when I finally started to work directly with my own clients, I finally pieced together a real portfolio worth presenting.

It was satisfying to see the work that I made from scratch benefiting my freelance career and my future, knowing my work went to delighted clients who will actually utilize my designs.

Clients – the good, the bad, and the ugly

Let’s be transparent about client quality—as much as clients vary regardless of where you source them, craigslist seems to take the cake in pure variety…some are literally unbelievable!

I had one client try every excuse in the book: their cat died, their uncle died, a car accident, a broken leg, even their CPA’s mother died!

I am not kidding.

And yes, they wanted all their non-watermarked files in the meantime.

It is difficult to summarize clients in a concise manner. Nonetheless, there were a few trends that I noticed.

Let’s start with the bad.

There were prospective clients occasionally asking for cut rate work ($20 logo designs, $50 website designs). Of course, those individuals did not have any knowledge about branding and its importance for their company or entity.

That’s not insurmountable with some explanation.

Worst yet are clients that don’t want to commit to a payment, they were “only willing to pay after it’s complete, only if I like it.”

Unfortunately, while some competition might accept this, the relative anonymity of Craigslist means work of this nature often won’t get paid for.

Some positive trends were prevalent too.

Generally the calibre of the client becomes readily apparent during initial communication.

Better clients shared many positive traits, such as a willingness to pay 100% upfront even if I only request a deposit. They completed some research on my company’s portfolio prior to starting work, and they will often implicitly trust my design ability and offer complete creative freedom.

With these individuals, I built relationships and I still work for a few of them.

Of course, that’s not to say Craigslist was a complete solution. It’s not.

It’s still good to participate in networking events, manage your social media, and build your brand so that clients will start finding you instead of you finding them.

Still, Craigslist was my jumping board.

I would love to hear from you! Let me know in the comments how you started and what pipelines are the best for accessing clients today?

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About Kay Dee

Kay Dee is a full-time freelance graphic and web designer. She is the founder of KD Branding, a full-service graphic design studio. Kay Dee specializes in creative logos and websites for small to medium sized businesses that will capture consumer attention. Her portfolio and previous clients can be found at www.KDbranding.com.

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Comments

  1. You said it! I’ve been playing the “game” of Craigslist for a little while. I even landed my first retainer client by posting in the Computer Services section. But it can be hit or miss.

    Have you given any thought to a paid Craigslist account? I think it allows for more than just 3 posts a day.

    Thanks for the article!

    • Exactly that: it can be hit or miss.

      While writing this article I posted a few ads just to check if everything stayed the same, and I actually got a really big client 🙂

      I’ve never tried paid Craigslist accounts, I even forgot that was an option… Something to think about. Have you tried it?

      Thanks for reading!

  2. As someone who has had a lot of luck finding design clients via Craigslist job postings, I’ve been contemplating posting in the Services area…this article was extremely useful in giving me insight and a how to. Thanks so much Kay Dee, nice work Millo!

    • I really did have a lot of luck, and I just replied to a comment above saying how I got a big client a few days ago, while writing this post.

      Good luck to you and stay in touch!

  3. Kevin M says:

    I found Craigslist to be the Walmart of freelance marketing. All I ever got was cheapscapes that wanted the same that they would get from a high end studio. While it might be good to get your foot in the door (so to speak) it definitely is NOT the best way to market as a freelancer!

    • Kevin, I think that too. It is not the best way to market yourself as a freelancer but it is good to build your portfolio (if you are just starting), to learn how to talk with clients, to learn how to say yes and even better – how to say no! I think it’s a good jumping board and you never know who is going to find you 🙂

  4. What a fascinating article, Kay – loved your transparency and the examples you provided. Your experience makes me be more apt to look into craigslist as a way to get more clients.

    • Thank you for the nice comments.

      Let me share one more thing then: 2 years ago I needed a help from someone who does Social Media Marketing. I found one girl on Craigslist, we met for a coffee, she helped me… Long story short: she keeps sending her clients to me – business owners that are looking to rebrand themselves.
      So, I found a referral partner and a friend over Craigslist as well 🙂

  5. Hey Kay! It’s you. 🙂 Awesome Article, I didn’t knew you have written it until I came down.

    Remember me? we are in group on Meetup. Amazing article really. I am going to try Craig list.

    Let’s see what it does for me, Thanks and good luck!

    Hope we can meet someday.

  6. Really appreciate this! I totally forgot about Craigslist, and I’m absolutely exhausted battling the $30 logo world. I’m tired of making the final round of design contests and spending days of work with no new client at the end. Maybe this will get me out of the spring lull. Thanks!

    • I’ve never done contests but they can also be good for building a portfolio and getting experience in how to work with clients. I guess 🙂

  7. Nikolina Ivanova says:

    Wow amazing article Kay! Love all the ideas, didn’t know you have such an amazing writing skills too! Wish I read this when I still did freelance makeup, it was a struggle finding clients when I just started!

  8. Excellent advice, might give it a whirl!