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Notable! How to ACTUALLY Get Freelance Work: What I learned after 3 months of beating my head against a wall

Discussion in 'Hustles, Freelancing, Bootstrapping' started by UnrealCreative, May 18, 2017.

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  1. UnrealCreative
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    Back in January, I started Freelancing to make some additional income while working a job, with the chance of growing the service into an agency. It's been really good practice for building a business, learning about all the processes and systems that make up one and maintaining it well.
    A few months later, I'm bringing on my first intern to take off some of the workload.

    Granted, it wasn't always like this.
    As the title suggests, I metaphorically beat my head against a wall trying to get that "first client" from Upwork (which never came, by the way). On the other hand, I'm slightly reluctant to post this because my margins aren't huge. Certainly not enough to live on, yet.

    But, this is written for those who have tried Upwork but aren't getting the results they want.
    It's incredibly discouraging to keep going when you've had zero responses...for months...
    A change in approach is all it took, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

    Now, I'm not saying that making a lot of money on Upwork is impossible. BUT...
    If you're having a hard time getting responses, then it's probably time to change your approach!
    So, this is written for the guys who are just on the edge of making something happen,
    but just don't know it yet!

    The biggest problem I have with Upwork is that it is a closed feedback loop.
    If you don't get a response to your custom-tailored, you-focused application...
    ...you will have NO idea why it didn't work.
    That alone is enough to drive anyone mad.


    With that in mind, let's remember the reason why you're doing this in the first place.
    If you're trying to freelance, the goal is "to add value." NOT "to be an Upwork rockstar."
    Upwork is not a magic bullet. It is simply a source of leads, and other sources exist.

    With that being said, there are plenty of lead sources and methods of reaching out.

    One of my favorites is reaching out to posts on Craigslist.

    Yes, Craigslist.

    Now, it does have some flaws.
    But I like it for a few reasons.
    Take my analogy below.

    I've tried reaching out by Cold Contacting Agencies, Responding to Upwork Requests, and Responding to Craigslist Requests.
    Imagine in your mind's eye an image of yourself - and in your right hand is a glass of water.
    The Glass of Water is the Service you're offering, and your objective is to give this water to someone thirsty.

    So, You walk into an agency, and get right in the face of the owner.
    You ask, "Do you want some water?" Their reply...
    "No, I'm fine for now. But thanks. Come back in 2 months when I might be thirsty."
    Well that's a while, so on you go.

    You walk into the door of Upwork, right up to the first person that catches your eye.
    You ask, "Do you want some water?"
    Well, this Upwork dude is drowning in a sea of a million other "Do you want some water"-ers, unable to gasp for a sudden breath of air to give you a reply. Or so it seems. So, to prevent your sudden death of drowning in a sea of forgettable "Do you want some water"-ers, on you go.

    But this time it's different, and you'll be surprised by the result.

    You walk into Craigslist, right up to the first person that catches your eye.
    You ask, "Do you want some wa-"
    Before you can even finish your sentence, this Craigslist dude knocks you over and snatches your water because they've been dragging their feet through the hot desert for 29 days (their post expires after 30!) prepared to die and DESPERATE for someone to hand them a glass of water!

    All in all, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
    Here is a comparison for Upwork and Craigslist; Proposals Sent vs. Responses Received

    Upwork: (Started January)
    38 Proposals / 1 Response = 3% Response Rate (wtf?)

    Craigslist: (Started Mid April)
    13 Proposals / 9 Responses = 70% Response Rate (!)

    I'm telling you, this didn't take long;
    If you've been beating your head against a wall, maybe all you need is a change of approach!
    You don't have to make this freelancing shit so complicated!
    All you need is a small change. Once you find that change, it will make all the difference and grant you the overwhelming confidence to keep going. Because you know "There is a way!"

    Anyway, There are some cool things about Craigslist.

    So far...

    - You have a smaller talent pool to compete with, AND prospects are already actively looking for a solution. You never have to go in cold ever again, and they'll be overwhelmingly grateful for your help.

    - You keep your prospects in the loop. They don't just disappear after the job is filled like Upwork

    - FEEDBACK! If your prospect doesn't respond, you can ping them and find out why!
    This is Impossible on Upwork, and this information will be vital in revising your strategy.

    That's all for now. But stick around.
    In the next couple of posts I will dissect my entire process here,
    and show you some very powerful tools to get the same results.

    Stay Tuned!
     
  2. TeveTorbes
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    Agree. Business is like tuning an instrument - every method is a different pitch and finding harmony takes patience and feedback.


    Why are your margins thin with so much demand? Why can't you charge more?
     
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  3. UnrealCreative
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    Hey Teve, thanks for your question. To be honest, this is why I was slightly reluctant to post.
    I'm in the process of raising my prices for new work.

    If I were to go back in time and do it differently, I wouldn't charge so low right out the gate.
    My service is recurring, so I wanted to do whatever it takes to get the foot in the door, do an amazing job for the customer, and keep them coming back.
    Also, a big part of that thought process was to collect testimonials to show to new work.
     
  4. SinisterLex
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    It's awesome to read posts by those willing to TRY different things and make their own way.

    Thanks for sharing.

    It's a struggle sometimes -- a grind. But this is the path of real results.
     
  5. TeveTorbes
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    Ah. I assumed it was 'one and done' gigs - you're absolutely right to do it like this.
     
  6. Era
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    Great Thread! Have you tried replying to craigslist posts with people looking to hire a 9-5 employee rather than a freelancer and pitch them on why they should go with a freelancer instead of hiring an employee?
     
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    This is really creative, thank you for sharing this. I may try my hand in this.
     
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  8. UnrealCreative
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    Glad you asked, and absolutely! One is in the pipeline right now.
    Will let you know how that one plays out. There is literally no difference between "employee" and "reliable freelancer."
    If your deliverables are subcontracted, what they don't know won't hurt 'em.
     
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  9. MJ DeMarco
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    Admin Post
    You're describing Channel, Messaging and Reach ... I talk about this in Chapter 40 of Unscripted. ;)

    Thanks for sharing what is working for you.
     
  10. abrakamowse
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    Did you try reddit? I'm thinking about posting some of my services there too. I have Upwork but I never tried Craigslist. But I know a colleague who get jobs there. Maybe it's time to give it a try.

    Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-N900A using Tapatalk
     
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  11. UnrealCreative
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    Good question.
    Reddit was an amazing place to get my first "practice clients" in - a technique I'll discuss in the next post.
    Since then, I haven't bothered all that much with reddit as a viable lead source.
    In my experience, the audience I was interacting with wasn't very receptive to paid services.
    This thread is a good dissection of Reddit from the advertiser's perspective.
    (sadly, the picture isn't pretty)

    But don't let it be a discouragement.
    Ultimately, your results are going to depend on a lot of things. There's no telling until you test.
    By all means, start picking your colleague's brains and see if you can glean anything from it.
    It's clear SOMEBODY figured it out!

    I'll flesh out finding work on other platforms in a later post.
    But in the meantime, feel free to PM me with your current progress and results.
    Maybe we can assess your strategy thus far.
     
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  12. Azure
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    I don't think he was referring to Reddit ads, but rather answering and responding to Reddit business owners problems with your solution. Ads aren't well received on Reddit because for the most part redditors are losers with no money who absolutely had people with money.

    The diamonds in the rough are the seleft few business owners on r/smallbusiness and related subreddit. My first 3 lead generation clients are from those subreddit.
     
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    very helpful. ty
    ok what part of CL are you getting
    leads from ? i go to CL everyday
    there is s lot to sift thru. ty
     
  14. abrakamowse
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    Cool. I will send you the results. I actually got a very good customer from there. So, I want to try to post there more frequently offering my services. I didn't advertise really on reddit. I just go to subreddits were people offer services, like or search for job and someone contacted me. And Im doing some stuff for him. A pretty good customer really. I let you know what I find out. I will also post the results here in the forum.

    Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-N900A using Tapatalk
     
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  15. abrakamowse
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    Yes Azure, that was what I was doing. I search subreddits about jobs, services offered and I post a message offering my service and a link to my portfolio.

    Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-N900A using Tapatalk
     
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    Thanks for sharing numbers. I guess another way of looking at this:

    If you're going to hire, use Upwork. The supply far outweighs the demand, allowing you to get better labor cheaper.
     
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    I totally agree--this dynamic on Upwork makes it a great place to hire, especially if you know the subject matter yourself and can judge competence without relying too much on reviews.

    For anyone interested in working on Upwork as a freelancer, I'd advise hiring some simple things out as a client so you understand that experience...might not be what you'd expect.
     
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  19. UnrealCreative
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    PART ONE: Defining Your Services

    In this section, I want to talk about structuring the services you'd like to offer.
    We never want to stretch ourselves too thin in the services we provide,
    so this section will help distill your offerings down to the ones with the most impact.

    I like to use the sliding scale below to structure our efforts.
    Skills -> Services -> Keywords -> Sales

    Each one I'll touch on. But for Now, we will focus only on Categories and Services.

    If you haven't already, I would highly recommend reading @SinisterLex 's 15 Days to Freedom thread here.

    There are two seriously important reasons for going through it and actually doing the exercises...
    and it has nothing to do with copywriting!

    1: It will get your mindset out of the rut of scarcity and into abundance.
    This mantra should be nailed into your head: "I will help someone, somehow, without expecting anything in return."
    Now, there are some people who will rebuke this with an "If I just help people all day, how will I make any money?"
    Well, that's a valid argument - but the truth is in the beginning like most people, you'll be scarce and selfish as hell.
    Not only is it overbearing in your day-to-day, but your prospects will smell it if you don't break through your conditioning.

    All in all, our Mantra is an overcompensation for our default scarce and selfish behaviors.
    With experience, I've found it's better to weigh on the side of giving than to be selfish.
    After a while, you will discover the appropriate balance. But that's not a worry here.
    Remember: This will compensate.
    Hey, you may even discover that you're more selfish or scarce than you previously thought!

    2: It will teach you to genuinely UNDERSTAND your customer on every level, and to LISTEN to them.
    Once you've removed the scarcity junk from your mind and replaced it with abundance, something awesome happens:
    Empathy happens. With empathy comes solutions, and solutions will make your customer's lives easier.
    It'll make your customers extremely happy - and you'll share the joy of doing an incredible job for someone!


    Now that we've got our head on straight,
    let's think about how we're going to help people.


    ASSESS YOUR SKILLS:
    Skills
    -> Services -> Keywords -> Sales

    What skills do you have that are enough to help someone?

    You don't have to be a master at your craft.
    Just skilled enough to solve someone's problem and get paid for it.
    Honestly, you could even try to do something a little outside your skill level.
    It won't be a problem because your willingness to help someone will compensate for it,
    and you'll likely learn the skills needed to complete the job in the process.

    So really, don't sweat it.

    For the purpose of our discussion, write down different categories of skills you have to help someone.
    It doesn't have to be very specific right now. We will refine the list later.

    For Example:
    -Graphic Design
    -Video Production
    -Web Development
    -Audio Production
    -Sales

    REFINE YOUR SERVICES:
    Skills -> Services -> Keywords -> Sales

    I'm a big fan of "Grow What You Know" a la @Andy Black , so when refining your list, I would pick your strongest skill.
    For the purpose of this exercise, let's say my strongest skill is Graphic Design/Visual work.
    I'm going to create a list of services - broadly speaking, this is a list of things you could do with your current skillset.
    It'll serve as a basis for our Keywords later, so your list may look like this:

    GRAPHICS:
    -Logo Design

    -Social Graphics
    -Web Design
    -Event Flier Design

    -Book Design & Formatting
    -Photo Repair / Correction
    -Photo Editing
    -Tee Design
    -Sign Design
    -Design Coaching

    Looking at our list, there are a few things I ask before really deciding to offer a certain service.
    Remember CENTS obviously, but there are a few other things to consider.
    These are variations of questions related to "Time" and "Scale."

    - Is your Process Replicatable?
    I think when we start off freelancing, we will often bite at anything that we know we can do. This is fine, but we don't want to stay here forever.
    With some experience, you will begin to understand the scope of what you do and set boundaries for what you'll not do.
    You'll begin to notice patterns and processes/routines/whatever in your freelancing practice.

    The important thing to know is that If your processes are defined and replicatable, it can be streamlined.
    If your processes are streamlined, it will take a lot less time for you to perform a service, and it will be easier to train someone else to perform those processes in the future.

    - Does your work have Good Retention Value (RV)?
    The best sort of service in my opinion is one which someone will consistently need to be served.

    I'm not a big fan of "One-and-Done" gigs, or buyers who only want a service done once in a while. The main reason for this is time.
    Say that you go and create a $100 logo in under an hour - which is easy money on the surface - but that client may have taken 3 hours to find and close. Also, that client will probably never buy from you again.

    With a recurring service on the other hand, you can take the same amount of time to pick up a client, knock the project out of the ballpark, and have them coming back for the indefinite future. The time needed to find clients really adds up, so I'd rather lock down a few solid paying clients instead of dozens of one-timers. It's a much different game (and in my opinion, a more rewarding one) when your goal is to create lifelong relationships with your clients. Your few hours of searching Craigslist can bloom into strong ties with your clients and potentially years of steady income.

    Now, what about the off chance that you perform a service that has good retention value,
    but you still haven't been able to create an easily replicatable processes?
    This may be a point where you're experiencing growing pains.
    I've found that unless your processes are replicatable, than it's going to be harder to retain customers.
    There is only so much you can do alone and your performance will suffer over time.

    But if your service is replicatable and consistently needed, guess what?
    You have a recipe for creating an agency!

    - Does your work require you to "be" at a specific place at a specific time?
    Even if you're working online, there may still be the need to work during a specific timeframe depending on the type of work.
    I typically like project-based services, with a clear outcome that can be delivered within a timeframe.
    This gives you the freedom to work when you're fresh and perform your best, not when you have to.
    Obviously you'll have meetings and need to talk to clients, but it can be done on your time.

    - Are you working Online or Offline?
    There is a real allure to people who'd like to "work from anywhere." Images of people in hammocks on the coast of Fiji with a laptop come to mind. Sure, working from anywhere is cool, but remember that the end goal is to build systems so you'll not have to work much at all.
    This can be done Online or Offline, and I'd argue the biggest advantage of being an online freelancer is your worldwide reach;
    NOT that you can work anywhere you'd like.

    It's certainly a nice benefit, but not the goal (I mean, who wants to work???) So this is something to keep in mind.
    Additionally, depending on where you live, your accessibility to clients may be a lot smaller for offline work.

    - What do your margins look like?
    Just like we can't do unscalable stuff forever, we can't settle for low margins, either
    (This is an area I'm currently fixing. Taking on an intern so I can grab higher-paying work in the meantime).
    @Fox said something in his facebook group that hit home really well:

    "If you want to do well with this you need to plan to have margins.
    Margins are going to allow you the breathing room to maintain success.
    Laptop breaks?
    No worries - you got some margins.
    Need to take a week off?
    You got margins.
    Want to travel a little?
    Margins."

    Margins is incredibly important. So keep it in the back of your mind.
    If I were to do it differently, I'd ask for more from my customers in the beginning BUT offer a money-back guarantee.
    So, you better be sure as hell to deliver your money's worth and then some!

    Let's Make an Example...

    Now, my personal favorite flavor at the moment is to perform a service with...
    -A Defined, Replicatable Outcome.
    -A Good Retention Value
    -A Way to Easily Train Subcontractors
    -A Clear Deliverable to be completed within a timeframe, but on my own time.
    -The Ability to reach a Worldwide Audience.
    -Okay Margins (Changing This)

    So for the purpose of this exercise, a good pick based on my flavor would be Social Media Graphics.

    We're working with:
    -A Defined, Replicatable Outcome.
    -Clients who need consistent work accomplished (Either a Marketing Agency or Business)
    -A Way to easily train or find other Graphic Designers to do what you do.
    -Clear Deliverables to be completed within a specific timeframe.
    -Worldwide Clients, and because of this line of work, a potentially worldwide impact
    -Good Margins. You are contributing to your client's brand value.

    Next Steps:

    Hopefully this will get you thinking about exactly what service you'll provide, setting you up with a solid foundation in the beginning.
    Maybe you already have some terms in your head that you'd like to search Craigslist for.
    By all means, go ahead and type some search terms into the "gigs" section for the largest metropolitian areas.
    Maybe respond to some posts if you're experienced (or brave!)

    Here are a few to start off:

    San Francisco Bay Gigs

    New York City Gigs

    Los Angeles Gigs

    Now, our first search is NOT going to be pretty. There will be a lot of garbage to sift through usually.
    But in the meantime, I think you'll be hugely surprised by the number of leads to work with.

    Just to test, here are the results of just searching the New York Site:

    [​IMG]

    I mean, how can we go wrong with a FULL PAGE of Warm Leads, from ONE city alone?
    Now, Ultimately we don't want to try drinking through a firehose...
    So in the next 2 posts, we will dig deeper into using some very powerful search tools to help narrow our search!

    BONUS: See the "-intern" and "-internship" keywords from the search query? These are called "search booleans," and they are used to EXCLUDE terms in the search results. Unfortunately, Craigslist is notorious for lots of employers looking for interns. So, adding these two terms will help narrow your search to more serious prospects. In a later post we will dig deeper into search booleans, allowing you to REALLY streamline your search process :)
     
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  20. UnrealCreative
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    Very Cool!
    I'll need to get this brain dump down before next Tuesday's release date and see how much lines up, haha!
    All the Best, Based God MJ
     
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    [​IMG]
     
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    Admin Post
    Marked NOTABLE, moved to Hustles/Bootstrap category.
     
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  23. mtnman
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    This is funny to me. And I also think you're a bit confused about Upwork, and precisely how much work it is to hire/manage people on a platform who are primarily focused on WIIFM. (what's. in. it. for. me.)

    Ditch that, and you'll learn stand out from the heard real fast. (it's not that hard, half the userbase isn't even native English speaking and delivers copy pasta from a spinner that barely passes copyscape, and reads like a monkey wrote it with a banana)

    Think I'm kidding? I hired 19 people and spent over $4k the last two months on Upwork just for run of the mill content alone, and let me tell you... it's a part time fucking job just to deal with it all. Hate it. Not to mention, there is some functionality that is SERIOUSLY lacking in the UI of the buyer side, making it impossible to clone existing offers... making it take 5 times as long to setup bullshit milestones in the structure/format that most people like to use. Holy waste of time.

    It takes a very long time to find good reliable people on that platform. The juice isn't really worth the squeeze if you ask me, which is probably not helping the barrier to entry for newbie freelancers. Eventually I will write a public review about Upwork, to both send to their team, and to illustrate the 40 some screenshots I have of the most common bullshit excuses that typically end up arriving after a few jobs... even from 5 star hires that have earned $30k or more on the platform. Pretty ridiculous when people can make $50/hr.

    It usually goes a little something like this:
    • Hire first project for nominal fee to make sure they don't return gibberish
    • Renegotiate fee/rate based on quality of work
    • Normally they want everything you can throw at them from this point on
    • Return one or two projects on time and in good shape
    • Next thing you know... the dog has died, a hospital trip ensued last night, lost internet, didn't have my computer so typed this on my phone -- can I text it to you? (dafuq?!), I'm so sorry I have a family emergency, there has been a death in the family, sorry I had to move back to Kenya, and my all time personal favorite... "hallo Matt. is it possible you add me more work??" (while impersonating an English professors credentials, including his picture) GTFO lol
    The only positive that has come out of all this that made me feel good, was being able to help two kids under 15 earn some extra cash... I have an unlimited budget for them. Now I get all my writers OFF of Upwork as fast as possible and on the phone, and simply Venmo them. So. Much. Easier.

    Not to mention the recent complaints about Upwork raising their fee structure from 10% to 20%, and freelancers wanting you to pay more just to make the same money. What freelancers also don't know, is you also get charged a CC fee every time you upload funds... bringing their total take now from both sides, to just under 25% combined.

    I've listed some pain points, maybe someone out there will use this to their advantage, or perhaps a competing platform will see this and beat them under the hood... because the UI could definitely use some tweaking!
     
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2017
  24. Roli
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    Roli Silver Contributor Read The Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED FASTLANE INSIDER Speedway Pass

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    Lol, I read that the same; however, I think he was saying so that he didn't have to repost the same stuff; rather than accusing you of doing so :happy:

    Great thread, please keep it up.
     
  25. pbellot
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    pbellot Contributor Read The Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED FASTLANE INSIDER

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    I spoke to my wife about this. She gave me a little bit of "side eye" when I told her what I was looking at. "CraigsList?!?", "really?" "Isn't that a little shady?" Is the response I got. What I see is a whole page of leads to jobs/work. It never crossed my mind to look on CL. I'll do the same as @UnrealCreative and post my results. I'm really curious to see what happens.
     
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