The turning point: how to go from seeking work to being sought after

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The bane of freelancing is that you’re a hunter and gatherer. You’re constantly foraging through the forest, searching for an appetizing opportunity, hopeful that there are opportunities to be found.

But being forced to scout day in and day out is a stressful way to live.

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What does it take to have clients competing for you? This is the moment when freelancing allows you to truly design the life you want.

Once you’re in demand at a high enough level, you can work from anywhere you want, charge big numbers and work only on the projects that captivate you. If being this rockstar sounds appealing to you, you’re not alone.

I interviewed as many people as I could who had reached this point in their career so that I could find out what was universal about their success. The most powerful takeaways await you below.

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How do I get clients to chase me?!

Don’t be interchangeable. Identify yourself as someone who has a different take on things.

Every job, you are competing for business with thousands of others who provide similar services. Though you’re a team of one, you’re still facing the same problem every business faces: how do I make my product stand out?

If you want to give clients a strong reason to choose you, you need a competitive advantage. What kind of work are you really good at? This is your “unique selling point” or your “brand.”

How can you find a voice that stands out from the noise? Well, whether you realize it or not, you’re already putting a message out there.

What people see as your brand is the average of all the work you have on your site. Most of us just treat projects on a case-by-case basis without thinking what our “special ingredient” is, leaving clients no real reason to choose us over anyone else. Don’t be interchangeable.

Make the decision to be known for something in particular so that people see you as someone who will elevate the nature of their project.

Ideally, you should know what you want to be known as in 2 sentences or less. All of your work on your website should support this one direction so that you’re painting the most consistent possible portrait of what people can expect when they hire you.

The lens can be something as simple as “I’m the technical guy.” If you’re a web coder and technical stuff is your thing, then you only need to have projects up that show extreme technical acumen.

If you think of stars in any field, you usually remember them for something they’re specifically great at. Even though Tim Ferris has mastered roughly 945 different skill sets, he is still known as the guy who writes about time-saving efficiency hacks.

If your style is all over the map then clients have no idea what to expect of you when they hire you, even if you can totally do the job.

It seems counterintuitive, but to become more popular, you need to narrow the scope of what you show people.

Perfect your craft

Have I mentioned that developing a unique brand is important? Well how exactly does one begin to find a style to call their own? Experimentation and repeated failure.

Exploring your field in your off hours is essential if you want to be unique at what you do. Only by doing projects for yourself can you really control what you’re learning and decide your own destiny.

When you’re exclusively doing client work, you need to execute in a timely fashion to keep from blowing it and losing the client’s faith in you.

This usually means doing the job using skills you’ve already used a hundred times before. As a freelancer, you’re generally only going to get paid to do things you’ve done before.

If you aspire to do something different than what you’re doing now, it requires learning how to do that for free first on your own time.

Sometimes these self-initiated learning experiments succeed wildly and these experiments are where your competitive advantage is born.

I’ll level with you, it is rough to have a day job and then come home and continue working, but don’t listen to people who tell you otherwise, there is no easy road to success.

No pain, no gain. It takes consistency and patience, but standing out from the crowd will pay 10X the effort you put in.

Just say “yes”

Say yes to opportunities. Ever hear the phrase “a big part of success is just showing up?” That happens to be pretty true.

When you find yourself in a groove, don’t let off the gas. You never know what opportunities are going to come your way. I can’t tell you how many times one job has blossomed into an ongoing client relationship.

To really build momentum, treat every project as an opportunity to build your skill set. Greatness isn’t a wish that gets granted, you get better layer by layer—one project at a time.

If you make it your goal to get better or learn something with each project you take on, then you’re constantly building momentum and it’s only a matter of time before you’ll be pretty great at what you do.

There’s no other secret to it. Make it your goal for your current project to be your best one yet. You won’t hit it every time. But at least even if it misses the mark, you’ll have learned something new.

Continue to learn

One of the biggest advantages of being a freelancer is the constant exposure to different environments. Each job is a masterclass taught by another semester of co-workers.

Their practices, their ideas, and their feedback all amount to an education that pays you to show up. When else does that ever happen?

The way to really capitalize on this is to back down from your preconceived notions of how you’d like things to work and to be as adaptable as possible to those around you.

Don’t assume that your way is the best way. Try it how your peers are doing it and try to see the logic in their approach. Never resist a chance for someone to show you a new way of doing things.

Get excited about your work

Success has a certain energy about it. To be a star, you need to act like one. You can skip the part where you end up in rehab with alot of bad tattoos, but you do want to become memorable.

You really want the people you work with to talk about how great you are to other people so they become your (unpaid!) marketing team.

Catch their attention. Be exciting. Shine. Every industry recognizes passion and imagination, so make sure you convey how much you like what you do.

For introverts, or quiet people out there, this doesn’t have to mean dominating every conversation. If your thing is just doing a really great job, then make sure people can see you’re excited about it.

Always look happy to be there and excited about getting into projects. Passionate people aren’t supposed to look unhappy to be doing something they’re passionate about.

Become the consummate professional

A lot of highly sought after freelancers can transform into divas. Ideally you want to develop a reputation for yourself that’s positive—someone who is reliable and easy to deal with.

Let the others have their ego, you’ll gladly take their jobs when people realize you’re easier to work with. Here’s some tips to keep in mind what a good professional should act like:

Be generous with your knowledge

The quickest way to earn that referral is to share your knowledge with those around you.

When you treat other people’s problems as your own and take the time to help solve them, you immediately win an advocate who will go to bat for what a great addition to the team you are.

Don’t take days off

“You’re only as good as your last job” is a great creed to keep in mind. Show up on time and don’t waste a minute.

Never burn any of the bridges you cross on your travels and it won’t take long before you’ll have a collection of old clients that are all hoping to work with you again.

Never go in unprepared

Make sure that whatever you get hired for you are fully qualified to do.

And if you don’t know how to do something and get hired anyway, then you better put in the work on your own time so that you have it figured out by the time you show up.

Get to know the people around you

Social skills are a big part of making a good impression.

It’s easy to show up and do your work in the corner because you know its a temporary gig, but if you want to be memorable you need to develop a positive relationship with those around you.

Be specific about your dreams

Know specifically what you want to be. It’s not enough to say “I want to work at ____ company.” If you don’t have a plan, you’re not going to get there.

If you want to work at Nike for instance, you better be doing something with shoes in it or else there’s no real point in showing it to the them.

You know you want to be a better coder, but HOW are you going to become one? You know you want to charge higher rates, but HOW can you convince clients you’re worth more?

HOW is the most important question to ask yourself before setting any goals. To get anywhere you need to have a realistic, tangible plan mapped out of how you’re going to get there, or you’re going to waste your time fantasizing without getting any closer to your goal.

Share your expertise

Many experts get to the top simply by teaching.

If you can demonstrate your expertise through tutorials and informative posts, you can quickly get your name out there in the industry as someone who knows what they’re talking about. Anyone can do this!

If putting out helpful information for your peers is a great way to show people you’re an expert who wants to help the rest of the industry. Everyone loves someone who’s willing to help them with their problems.

This takes work, but it’s a foolproof strategy in the long run if you stick with it. Solve problems for your audience, and the popularity will come along with the clients.

Work for high profile companies

I saved this for last because it’s the most obvious, and if you are already doing this then you probably don’t need to read this article.

Top-notch world class companies work on big world-class projects. World-class projects get promoted enough to ensure your name will catch some light, too, if you’re lucky enough to get attached to one.

If you have huge brands and recognizable projects on your resume, that gets you in the door 90% of the time.

At the end of the day it comes down to this:

Make clients aware of your services + demonstrate that you’re worth hiring  = TURNING POINT

You will see that all the points above can be slotted somewhere into this formula. Everything you do should be in service of leaving the impression that you’re an expert and a privilege to work with.

If you can do that then the people who worked with you will do all your marketing for you. Then, the brand you’ve created on your site will seal the deal and convince clients that they should absolutely hire you.

Work in service of these two goals and you’ll have jobs coming to you faster than you know what to do with.

Please share your thoughts with me in the comments!

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About Justin Weiss

I’m Justin Weiss, I teach motion graphics professionals how to succeed at freelancing on my site, Rapid Motions. I myself am a freelance 3D Generalist/motion designer with a love of long nights and short render times. When I’m not producing animated art, I like to dabble in producing music. And when I’m fed up with both you can probably find me sweaty and disheveled working out somewhere.

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