Guest post: Carrie Smith)
Your name and reputation can mean the difference between bringing in enough money to live comfortably and having to get another job to support yourself. This is especially true when in the beginning stages of building a freelance business.
The connections you make now are nearly as important as building your client list or applying for new gigs. Why? Because trust is truly one of the biggest deciding factors for a client deciding to work with you or not. It’s also how you land interviews with popular sites and big-name publications.
As someone who’s built a thriving freelance business from scratch, and been featured in dozens of media outlets (like The Huffington Post Live, Glamour Magazine, Yahoo!Finance, and INC Magazine), I know exactly what it takes to establish your credibility. You also have to understand how to build the right platform, and display yourself as an expert in your industry.
Here are my best tips for establishing a name for yourself (even when you’re brand new) and how to get featured on popular blogs and well-known media outlets.
Featured download: 8 Tips to Start Your Freelance Career
How to Build Credibility from Scratch
I had absolutely no contacts in the online space and never had a website or blog before. I didn’t even have a Twitter or LinkedIn account! This also meant that I had no portfolio to speak of at all. This is why I consider building my network, interacting with high-profile editors, and establishing a reputation with experts in my industry, right at the top of the list with seeking out new clients.
So what does it take to build your reputation and a name for yourself when you’re just starting out? Patience is key. This won’t be an overnight process, so know that it will take time and dedication on your part, if you want to build a solid foundation the right way.
There are no shortcuts to this, but I can give you a few pointers to make the process faster.
Work for exposure. In the beginning exposure is going to be your best form of payment. You’ll likely have to agree to lots of projects without any pay, in order to build your portfolio, or connect with influencers. That being said, you want to take on the right jobs and clients who can help you get to where you want to go. Don’t just agree to everything that comes your way.
Set yourself a timeline. You also want to set a timeline for how long you’ll work for exposure and not traditional payment. I gave myself a maximum of 3-6 months before I attempted turning unpaid gigs into paying projects. That way I had enough time to prove myself as a writer and editor, while showing evidence of my work ethic, and felt confident about asking for recommendations or testimonials.
Don’t be afraid to ask. Always remember that your goal is to build a name for yourself and establish a portfolio so you can start getting paid for your work. Once you’ve “paid your dues” be sure to leverage the connections you’ve made thus far by asking for referrals, recommendations, and testimonials from current clients.
Turn free work into paying gigs. Now that you’ve proven yourself, it’s time to turn free work into paying gigs. To do this successfully, you have to be prepared to walk away from the client if they don’t want to start paying you. This is the toughest part, but it’s key to growing and moving your career forward. Be confident in your pitch, reminding them of your past performance, and close the deal.
Get Featured on Popular Sites and Publications
Now that you’ve beefed up your portfolio, and aren’t working for free anymore, it’s time to take your reputation to the next level by getting published in well-known publications and on other blogs.
Here are a few other ways I’ve been able to get featured in well-known publications.
- Sign up for HARO
In case you haven’t heard of HARO (Help a Reporter Out) is an awesome tool for growing your reach and expanding your name as a freelancer. And the best part is it’s completely free!
Once you subscribe you’ll start receiving 3 emails every day (morning, noon, and evening) that contain inquiries from writers, bloggers, and journalists looking for people to interview or to get quotes on certain subjects.
It only takes a few seconds to browse through your preferred category (in my case it’s Business and Finance) and find an inquiry that’s a good fit. You don’t want to waste your time on inquiries that are outside of your niche, or totally off topic for you.
The key to getting published, since the reporters receive a ton of replies, is to be one of the first responders that lands in their inbox. You also don’t want to give generic tips or general advice. Come up with something that’s unique and that won’t be submitted by everyone else. Using this technique is how I got published in this INC Magazine article (I’m #10).
- Pitch Yourself to Podcasters
Podcasting is a relatively new endeavor but more and more publications are turning to it to expand their reach and their audience. Which means they are constantly on the lookout for great stories and experts to interview.
Create a list of podcasts you would like to be featured on (or that you enjoy listening to yourself) and research the contact info for the interviewer. Make sure you have an angle for your story, the more specific the better, and what kind of outcome you bring to the conversation.
I first reached out to fellow bloggers who were just starting up their podcasts before reaching out to bigger names and brands. Since doing this I’ve been featured on Suntrust Bank’s podcast and Side Hustle Nation’s podcast.
A good contact point is Twitter, too! Follow an editor or interviewer on Twitter and warm up the relationship before pitching them your idea of a podcast feature.
Featured download: 8 Tips to Start Your Freelance Career
- Reach Out to a Specific Influencer
In the beginning, I started following one of the most influential people in my industry (but not TOO influential — I didn’t reach out to Tony Robbins on my first try). She was the editor of her own popular blog and brand, but also ran several other influential blogs in the career space I was trying to get into.
I began following her on Twitter, signed up for her newsletter, and started reading and commenting her blog. I even purchased one of her ebooks so I could learn even more about her. This got her attention. She began responding to my comments and replying on Twitter.
Soon enough, she sent out an email to her list saying she was looking to hire an intern for a content marketing position. BINGO! I quickly applied (and followed her instructions exactly).
Within a day or two, she replied to my application and wanted to do a video interview. Long story short, I ended up getting the gig! She told me her decision was easy once she realized that I already knew her brand, understood her voice, and followed her work. I wasn’t just another cold email she had to sift through.
I worked for her company, in various social media, writing, and editing positions, for two-and-a-half years. Her influence allowed me to land multiple job opportunities and media interviews. I got paid to network, and was compensated while learning to establish my credibility as a writer and blogger in the online space.
A recommendation from her lead to an assistant editing position with the Young Entrepreneur’s Council (YEC), which led to a writing job at Yahoo!Finance and then being interviewed in Glamour Magazine (and in print too!). During this time period, I was also able to land better paying clients and take on projects I enjoyed (instead of just doing it to pay the bills).
Anyways, my point is this; find the one person in your industry who can open all the doors for you, then work under them as you build your credibility. Use their influence to build your portfolio and establish your reputation. Get paid to learn and expand your reach.
These are just a few of my best tips for establishing a name for yourself as a freelancer. These have all been tried and tested by me and been found very effective. I now work with other budding freelancers in a mentoring capacity and we’ve applied these strategies to their portfolio too.
With a little dedication, time and patience, these techniques will help you create a reputable name in the freelance space. You can then use it to leverage well-paying gigs and features in big-name publications. Good luck!