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.
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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.
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.
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.
“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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