Portfolio Tips

for Web Designers and Developers

How to Land More Freelance Work

January 20, 2015
How to Land More Freelance Work post thumbnail

Interested in landing more freelance work? In this post I go into detail on how to get your ideal client to hire you.

We'll walk through steps to figure out who your ideal client is, then explore the most important things that a client needs to be convinced of when hiring you.

Are you a full-timer rather than a freelancer? My next post covers tips for designing your portfolio to land a full-time position. Get sent the full-timer post as soon as it's published and find out the differences between the two.

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What's your ideal project and client?

The best place to start with landing more freelance work is figuring out what type of project and client you'd like to work with most. This will give you a clear focus throughout the design and development of your portfolio.

Question #1: What does the project that you'd like to get hired for look like?

Once you've got these answers down, you can begin to frame your portfolio around the type of project that you'd like to work on most. If your goal is to get hired as a developer on an Angular projects, describe yourself as an Angular or JavaScript developer and show work and experience that backs that up. If you'd like to design a mobile app, show the client why you'd be the best person for the job (we'll get to this more later in this article).

Question #2: Who's your ideal client?

Understanding your ideal client's needs will give you a huge advantage in landing them.

Now that you've painted a picture of who your ideal client is and what type of project you'd like to work on... and if you haven't done that yet, I'd highly recommend it. Spend a quick 5 minutes answering the questions above and clarifying focus on the type of work that you're trying to land will be the most important five minutes that you'll spend when designing your portfolio.

How do you encourage your client to hire you?

Now that you have a clear picture of the client you're aiming to land, it's time to think about their needs in hiring a freelancer. Catering deeply to their needs will give you the best possible chance of landing them.

With you ideal client in mind, let's start to think about what they're looking for in a freelancer. What would an ideal freelance candidate look like to them?

Here are the 3 biggest needs that a typical client is looking for when hiring a freelancer...

Client Need #1: Trust

Put yourself in a client's shoes for a second.

Let's say that you're a small business owner.

You need someone to build out one of the most important parts of your business: your website.

You have a deadline that you need the website to go live for.

You're investing a lot of your own time in finding the right designer and developer as you want to get the website right.

What's the most important thing to you?

It's trusting that the work will get done, and to a high quality.

Your client needs to be able to trust that you'll get the job done.

From your client's point of view, when hiring a freelancer there's a huge risk of them:

Trust is the biggest factor in a client's hiring decision. So what are some ways that you could alleviate their concerns and build the trust required to get hired?

Tips for building client trust

Get referred

Having someone that the client knows already refer you for the work is the the biggest hack in landing more freelance work. A great referral can even circumvent the need for a portfolio, as the client may completely trust the word of the referrer. The more that client trusts the person referring you, the more likely you are to get hired.

Get your client on the phone

I'm going to quote my buddy Galen Vinter for this tip:

The first step in building trust in your client is getting them the phone. I close projects I want ~50% of the time that I want via email, and ~90% time when I can get them on the phone.

Getting your client on the phone builds a personal connection with them, making them feel more invested in you.

Use testimonials from past clients in your portfolio

Client testimonial from Galen Vinter's portfolio
A client testimonial from Galen Vinter's portfolio

These are great for building trust. Ask previous clients or past co-workers to write one or two sentences describing why they think you're great to work with. This will increase your credibility and give visitors an insight into what you're like to work with. Add these to your portfolio site with a small head-shot of each recommender, their position, and the company they work at. You can add these to your LinkedIn too.

Professional communications and interactions

Clients will gauge how trustworthy you are based on all of your communications with them: emails, phone calls, your portfolio, etc. Ensuring that every interaction with them is consistent, timely, confident and professional will go a long way in building trust.

Client Need #2: Experience

Experience doesn't mean a 3-up on your portfolio describing your knowledge in HTML, JavaScript, and responsive design. These aren't things that your client cares about, or understands. In other words:

Your client isn't interested in your coding skill.

That's one of the big differences between trying to get hired for a freelance business client rather than a full-time team. The full-time team cares about the quality of code you write, as they're going to be writing it with you. A business client doesn't, as they're never going to look at the code. They don't see it as a big deal, they believe that they have bigger things to be concerned about.

So, how do you show a client that you're experienced?

Your client wants to know that you've successfully executed similar projects before.

That's why a referral works so well. The likelihood is that the referee is saying, "Oh, she did an incredible job of building a website just like that for me earlier this year!".

Tips for showing a client your experience

Showcase as many relevant projects as possible in your portfolio

A collection of projects from Isaac Paavola's portfolio
A wall of project screenshots from Isaac Paavola's portfolio

Nothing shows your experience better than showing past projects that you've worked on. The more relevant to your ideal client's business, the better. The more projects you have, the more your client will trust that you are experienced in building their type of website. Projects don't need to be paid, showing a project that you completed for free or for practice will help show off your experience too.

If you don't have any similar projects, build one

Building an example of the type of site that you're looking to work on for future clients is a great investment of your time. Even just one great example will do wonders for showing clients your experience. That one site could begin a chain of many freelance projects in the future, as well as giving you the confidence to pitch clients that you can execute on their projects.

If you can build a site for an actual local business that needs it (for free if needed) that's great. If not, just make a business up, grab images from the web, and build a beautiful website to use to show to clients.

Curate the work in your portfolio to show specialization

Who would you rather hire to build your restaurant website... someone who has built 10 of them before, all at a high quality, and that knows the needs of restaurant businesses? Or someone that's a generalized web developer, that can build any type of websites?

Clients will pick the specialized person every time, and with good reason. They believe that that person will be more experienced in taking care of their website, as well as better understanding their business needs.

The more specialized you are in one particular type of freelance work, the more likely you are to get hired for more of it.

Client Need #3: Business & technical consulting

To best serve the client's deepest needs, and show them that you're the right one for the project, you first need to fully understand their problem.

Senior designers process diagram
A sketch showing the importance of understanding who and what you're designing for, by Russ Maschmeyer at Facebook via Daniel Burka

Each client is different, and has different motivations for hiring you. These typically arise from their business, competitors, or ego. Some examples:

Understanding what your ideal client's needs are will give you a huge advantage is landing them.

Tips for technical and business consulting

Speak to clients as early as possible

It's important to get your client on a call or speak to them in person as early as possible. Doing this helps build trust with them, shows them that you understand their problems, and lets you demonstrate that you're the right one for the project.

When clients contact you from your portfolio get them on the phone as quickly as possible to let them talk out their problems. This will help you discover their underlying motivations for the project.

Ask questions, then listen carefully

Let them unload. Keep asking clarifying questions, so that you can find out their underlying motivations.

Being patient in listening attentively before offering up solutions will make the client feel like they're being heard.

Use case studies on your portfolio

Describing work that you've done with past clients is a great way to show that you understand their business needs and problems. Articulating the business problems that a past client had and how you worked with them to resolve them will help show your client that you spend the time getting to understand them and their business.

If possible, include data for how your work improved the client's key business metrics: e.g. traffic, sales, repeat customers.


Your portfolio will help you land more freelance work, but it's not the most important thing to focus on. Having conversations with clients, listening to the challenges that they have, showing that you understand their business, building trust, and gaining referrals will help hugely in landing more freelance work.

Interested in finding out the differences between landing more freelance work and designing your portfolio to land a full-time position? Sign up below to receive my next post, which covers designing your portfolio to land a full-time position. It's out on February 3rd.

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