This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.
What do you think matters most in landing that next gig? Your portfolio? That high-profile client on your résumé? Your LinkedIn references?
I recently spoke with 3 Brooklyn-based content producers across a range of creative fields, putting to them the question:
What are your top considerations when hiring freelance talent?
Their answers were not what I was expecting.
Event producer Laurea de Ocampo says "From the first e-mail I notice response time.
Just as you, as a freelancer, are on the lookout for clues as to what working with this client will be like, the reciprocal process is going on: Your potential client is gauging what working with you will be like.
So what to do when that inquiry drops in the frantic hour before that deadline on that other big project?
It's often as simple as a quick e-mail that says "Thanks for getting in touch, maybe we can jump on a call tomorrow morning." This way, you’re promptly responsive, but also have time to review the request when you don't have quite so many other pressures.
Demonstrate from the get-go that no matter what else you have going on, you are responsive and clear about what, and when, you can deliver.
Even if what you're "delivering" is something as minor as that first phone call.
Join the Union (it's free!)
Point B Productions' Scott Patterson notices right away if the prospect provides what is asked for: "If I ask for a link to their portfolio and there's not a link, that's it. It's over."
Pureworks Studio head Victoria Jordan also puts reliability at the top of the list: "When you deliver reliably, you make me look good."
Conversely she says, if you do have to be late with a delivery, don't ignore the problem but communicate a heads-up as to when you can deliver, so she can adjust expectations with her clients.
Does reliability matter more than your portfolio?
"There's a boatload of talent out there, but it's much harder to find professionalism," observes Victoria.
Similarly, your work may begin even before the scope of the project has been discussed.
Laurea again: "In those first meetings or calls I'm noticing whether they've done their homework. Do they show up knowing about the brand and the context of the project?"
I've been freelancing so long that when I started there were no search engines. (Fortunately, no one had heard of stuff like "content strategy," either.) But nowadays, there's a ton of information at your fingertips.
Check the website of the person who contacted you. Check the end-client's website. Research other players who may be down the e-mail thread.
Stalk a little (in a good way). What are they about? What's important to them?
You may not get a chance to show off your knowledge in the meeting, but you’ll have some background for the discussion — and can save yourself from asking a dumb question.
And if you can organically work into the conversation, "Yes, I saw on your website..." you’ll show that you take initiative, and that you're resourceful and committed enough to learn about the context of the project and the client's goals.
4. And yes, even punctuation.
Don't hate me.
In high school when they taught us how to write a "business letter" it seemed as dumb to me as it probably did to you.
But here's Scott again: "You clearly have to write halfway decently, and politely with correct spelling, and actually care about punctuation. That shows you care about little details right off the bat."
Scott needs freelancers who are going to be thorough, quick and accurate. People who get it right without having to be told that details matter.
From the very first communication, he's assessing if you are that person.
The conclusion after talking to these 3 producers?
It starts, and ends, with good interpersonal and communication skills.
Sure your portfolio and résumé will be reviewed to make sure you're a match for the job.
But before you even get that far, your contact is looking for clues to what the experience of working with you will be like. Will you be a good match for them?
So before you send that e-mail or make that call, take a moment and consider the signals you are sending.
It may well make the difference between being in the running and being left on the sidelines.
For a related article aimed especially at those starting out in the freelance world, see "Why Your Portfolio Doesn't Matter."
Declan Zimmermann is a Brooklyn-based motion graphic artist who believes great animation is fueled by solid design, constant exploration and falafel from the corner deli. He's been freelancing since before the dawn of the World Wide Web.