For the self-employed, time is money. Don’t waste it when chasing after gigs.
Whether you’re new to freelancing or returning to self-employment after a break, looking for work can be a full-time project in itself. Not every lead you pursue will pay off. To stay solvent and energized, you need to ruthlessly weed out the duds and make efficiency your superpower.
Following are my top tips for optimizing your freelance job hunt:
Always get a name. Blindly sending your résumé or application into the digital ether usually goes nowhere. Instead, use LinkedIn or your other networks to find someone at the company to chat with briefly. Ask for more details about the work, mention your relevant experience and see if they’ll pass your information to the hiring manager.
Make the hirer’s job easy. When first writing to introduce yourself, give all the pertinent details, regardless of whether the person doing the hiring asked for them. Think related work history, samples, availability, contact information and any other tidbits that might convince them to hire you.
Cut to the financial chase. Talking money right away helps weed out clients that pay freelancers minimum wage or nothing at all (exposure, anyone?). If the hiring manager doesn’t mention rates immediately, ask what the project budget is or tell them your preferred rate.
Pay attention to language. Every profession has its dead giveaways that a company has no freelance budget to speak of. Every time I see a job listing that’s a “fantastic opportunity for the right person,” “looking for a hungry writer” or “in search of a collaborator,” I know the client is looking for cheap labor and scroll on by.
Watch out for tests. Writers, editors, designers and content strategists often get asked to create fresh work samples to land a gig. This might make sense for an ongoing project, especially if the client will pay for your time. But if a client wants you to work for free all day to land an interview for a 30-hour job, that job had better pay your rent for the rest of the year. Otherwise, run.
Consider cattle calls carefully. Thanks to social media, companies now have the ability to announce that they need a freelancer with a particular set of skills for a fast-turnaround project and make the hire within the hour. If the job sounds appealing but you’re not among the first couple dozen freelancers to respond, don’t bother. Chances are that’s 15 minutes of your life you’ll never get back.
Keep multiple versions of your résumé handy. You probably have more than one freelance niche, whether you’re a photographer who shoots portraits, weddings and corporate events or a content strategist who caters to startups, foundations and universities. Having a résumé on file that emphasizes each specialty makes it easier to pounce on flash opportunities like those mentioned above.
Take the occasional shot in the dark. If a job sounds tailor-made for you but you can’t score an introduction to someone at the company or any details about pay, don’t let that dissuade you. Sometimes a listing is too intriguing to pass up. You do, after all, have to play to win.