Compile a winning freelance portfolio and references

In week four of the series How to Quit Your Job and Become a Digital Nomad in 90 Days we’ll be discussing how to improve your likelihood of landing clients by developing a top-notch freelance portfolio and list of references.

As you develop a high quality portfolio of your past projects, and acquire references from satisfied clients, landing more projects in the future, and increasing your rates, will become much easier.

Week 4: Compile a winning freelance portfolio and references

By week four you should have a few small projects underway (or maybe even completed). Therefore, it’s time to get serious about building up your reputation and portfolio. This week will cover the following:

Week four outline:

Day 1: Create and maintain your private portfolio

Day 2: Pursue projects that enhance your portfolio

Day 3: Charge a premium so you can offer more

Day 4: Keep clients satisfied

Day 5: Ask clients for great references and recommendations

Day 6: Add follow-up value to your clients

And now, week 4 begins…

Day 1: Create and maintain your private portfolio

Thought

One of the first things worth doing once you begin freelancing is to create an Excel or Google Sheets file with a list of all of your projects, who they were for, and where they can be viewed. Include additional details depending on your freelance niche. For example, as a writer I also include the title of the article and the niche/focus of that article (productivity, sales, etc).

Although keeping track of a couple of projects is easy, it quickly becomes time consuming as you work with multiple clients across a variety of fields. Over the last year alone I’ve written over 300,000 words for 60+ clients! As a writer, this means that my content is sprawled all across the web and very difficult to keep track of – which is why a private portfolio is incredibly beneficial.

Finally, when applying for a project with a new client, it’s absolutely essential to show them relevant and related content. Therefore, by having all of your projects in one place and categorized by niche, it’s easy to share samples that match the style and needs of your current client.

Daily tasks

  1. Create a private portfolio to track your work. Include the project name, client name, published location, niche, data, size, dollar amount, and anything else you think may be beneficial for future review.
  2. Work on current client projects. If you don’t have clients lined up, then reach out to new clients using your current portfolio.

Day 2: Pursue projects that enhance your portfolio

Thought

When starting out as a freelancer it’s essential to take on most projects that fit your skill set. However, what happens if you want your niche to be in healthcare, but most of your early projects focus on law firms? Based on your portfolio you’ll continue to land more and more projects with law firms, rather than in the field of healthcare.

While this is great for your pocketbook, if you aren’t excited about these legal projects you may find yourself as bored with freelancing as you were in your traditional job. Don’t let this happen! Instead, make an effort to complete projects in your specific niche – even if that means you do them for a lower-rate (as long as they are short-term) or create them for free for a non-profit or your own interest.

Additionally, make a deliberate effort to complete projects that will be featured in prestigious outlets. As a writer that may mean Huffington Post or Entrepreneur Magazine. For a designer or programer that may mean doing a contract with an established brand. By landing projects that establish your credibility, you’ll discover that future employers will become much more receptive to working with you at a higher rate.

Daily tasks

  1. Complete one project with the purpose of improving your portfolio. This could mean a product in a new niche, or it may be developing something to submit to a magazine, website, or other outlet to gain credibility and visibility.
  2. Apply to projects that meet your desired focus. Spend a few minutes today seeking out a project on Upwork or elsewhere that will add a new item to your portfolio that you can link to or reference for future work that fits in with your interests.

Day 3: Charge a premium so you can offer more

Thought

There are a lot of people looking for cheap labor online. From the writing world alone, I frequently see requests for 500 word articles for $1 a piece. That’s where my rate starts for 5 words!

Although you may need to take on a few lower paying projects (not $1 projects) when getting started, don’t look at these as paid jobs – but rather as portfolio builders. You should never get comfortable working for under $10/hr (or even $20/hr) once you know what you are doing and have put in a few months of learning.

Instead, charge extra so that you can “wow” your clients. If I think a project will take 5 hours, I quote a rate for 7-10 hours. This gives me extra wiggle-room for revisions, edits, or other activities to add additional value to my clients.

If you don’t cushion your time, what happens when a client wants additional work or revisions? You’re stuck either convincing them to pay more, or (more often) stuck working for half of your initial hourly rate.

Save yourself the headache and hassle of working for pennies by billing a premium at the beginning.

Daily tasks

  1. Determine how much time past projects have taken you. If you haven’t started tracking time yet, do so now. Even if you bill by the project, it’s a good idea to know how much time you’re spending with each gig. This gives you a way to measure the time commitment of future projects.
  2. Work on client projects. Continue working on client projects or your own – and start tracking the time commitment. If you haven’t already, sign up for the free email course Charging What You’re Worth. I just took it and it’s been tremendously helpful for me!

Day 4: Keep clients satisfied

Thought

Particularly when using freelance platforms to find jobs, your success is based almost entirely on the reviews of past clients. If your first two clients give you a negative review, chances are you won’t find any other clients through that site.

Therefore, make every effort to keep your clients happy. How do you do this?

  • Create clear expectations and a defined project scope before beginning work – so that both parties know what the end result will look like. Write this down!
  • Give yourself ample time to complete the project. When I take on a new article to write, even if it will only take an hour to develop, I tell the client that I will submit it in a week. This gives me time to fit it in around other projects and prevents any late deliveries.
  • Maintain communication with the client. I try to touch base a couple of days before the deadline with an update on what’s going on. If it looks like it will take longer to complete then anticipated, let the client know well in advance.
  • Deliver drafts before the final draft. When initially working with a new client, I like to send an outline, a rough draft, and a final draft. I’ve had too many projects where the client says they want an article about “pets” and after I write the post about “dogs” they tell me that they wanted it on “cats”. It’s better off being safe than sorry.

 

 

By making an effort to keep the client happy from the get-go you will be able to ask the client for recommendations and positive reviews. This, in turn, will result in higher paying client projects in the future.

Daily tasks

  1. Make contact with your current clients. If you haven’t recently communicated with a client, get in touch now to fill them in on how things are going and offer any beneficial insights that you may have to keep the interaction positive.
  2. Work on client projects. By now you’re probably experiencing the reality of spending 2 hours a day outside of work developing client projects, but don’t get discouraged! Keep up the work and remember that you’re working towards your dream life.

Day 5: Ask clients for great references and recommendations

Thought

Provided you are confident in the quality of work you’ve done for a client, asking them for a positive review. I generally saying something like:

“It’s been a pleasure working with you over the last few weeks. Because I receive the majority of my income from clients on platforms like Upwork, your positive review will allow me to continue landing other exceptional clients like yourself. If you were happy with my work, I would try appreciate a 5-star review from you. If there are any issues, please let me know directly and I will make every effort to resolve those – as the satisfaction of my clients is my #1 goal”.

Everyone enjoys doing someone a favor. Provided they are happy with your work, a client can feel like leaving a positive review is another type of tip (which it is in a sense) without costing them anything extra.

The more positive reviews you receive, and even recommendations to others when possible, the faster and more successfully your freelance business will grow.

Daily tasks

  1. Ask a past client or employer for either a positive review or reference you can quote on your website/etc. The more references and reviews you have, the easier it will be to land future projects.
  2. Continue working on client projects. As you begin to see money coming in from your side projects, it can feel pretty exciting! With 5-10 hours a week, you should easily be landing an extra $100-500 dollars a week. Just make sure you keep investing this into your transition fund!

Day 6: Add follow-up value to your clients

Thought

I love the idea of going above and beyond with every client. If you can under promise and over deliver you’ll discover clients continuing to work with you and eager to leave you a positive review.

I do this two ways.

First, after completing any projects I stop and ask myself what I could do to really make it stand out in just 5-10 minutes. This could be formatting something better, adding a few quotes, making it visually appealing, including an image, etc.. The key is to do something extra that makes the project noticeably better in just a few minutes.

The second thing I do with some projects is offer something free in exchange for a positive review. For example, if I’ve just completed 50 articles for a client, I’ll offer them a final article for free if they leave a five star review. Or, for smaller projects I might offer a free analysis (that takes me 5 minutes) or other perk.

By offering something free in exchange for a review, you’ll receive far more positive reviews. Particularly if you’ve made a mistake with a client’s project, finding a few little things you can offer to make their experience better goes a long ways.

Daily tasks

  1. Think of something you can offer clients after the project to add additional value. This could be an offer to share the project on your social media profiles, a brief audit of some other element of their business, or a free report. The goal is to simply offer something extra as a thank you for doing business with you.
  2. Work on current projects and offer extras in exchange for great reviews. Building up those positive reviews is crucial to success as a freelancer – so consider offering something extra to a few recent buyers to encourage further positive reviews.

Continue developing your profile and prepare for business success

At the end of this week you should be well on your way to a great portfolio and positive client reviews. Congratulations!

Next week we’ll discuss how to setup your freelancing work as a business – allowing you to maximize the perks and tax incentives that come along with the running your own business.