Dealing with the Freelancing/Experience Dilemma

An old cliché asks which came first–the chicken or the egg?

It’s a trick question, because there has to have been a chicken to produce the egg, but all chickens come from eggs.

We freelancers face a similar trick question. Which should come first? Freelancing or experience in your field? It often seems that you can’t have one without the other.

Of course, if you can go into freelancing with a lot of experience that’s great. Experience will help you to market yourself and allow you to charge more for your services. But increasingly, freelancers are starting right out of school with little or no training.

Starting your freelancing career fresh out of school isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You can solve the freelancing/experience dilemma. Here are five tips to get you started freelancing without much experience.

Tip #1: Be the Subcontractor

Many experienced freelancers or small agencies have overflow work or routine tasks that they are willing to subcontract to less-experienced colleagues.

The advantage of subcontracting is that you don’t have to spend much time marketing. The experienced freelancer or agency already has projects for you to work on.

Of course, there are some downsides to subcontracting. Here are two:

  • Lower pay. Since the primary contractor needs to earn money from the project too, the pay is usually less than if you worked directly for the end client.
  • No credit. Often, agencies or experienced freelancers do not want you to take credit for the work you did as a subcontractor because they fear losing their client.

However, if you do a lot of subcontracting work for a particular agency or freelancer be sure to ask them for a testimonial. They can give you this without letting the end client know which projects you worked on. A testimonial can help you get future jobs.

Tip #2: Check with Teachers and Professors

If you’re fresh out of school, no one is more familiar with what you are capable of than your teachers. It may surprise you to learn that many professors and teachers are still actively involved in their fields. Other instructors have professional contacts in the field.

If you know that a particular professor really liked your work, ask him or her for tips on finding freelancing work. Who knows, he or she may even be able to give you a gig. Even if they don’t hire you themselves, they may be able to point you to someone who will.

Again, don’t forget to get a testimonial from your former teachers.

Tip #3: Blog About What You Know

Blogging is a great way to gain exposure and demonstrate your expertise. Start your own blog and start writing about problems you know that your potential clients need to have solved. Make sure every post represents your best effort. Check each one carefully for typos and other sloppy mistakes.

Use your social media savvy and your networking skills to bring traffic to your blog. If you have time, carefully choose a few high traffic blogs in your field and submit guest posts. (Read their guest posting guidelines very carefully first.)

Blogging is a great way to get exposure and build up your web presence. You’ll find that even old blog posts get re-read and shared online.

Tip #4: Network Like Crazy

Tell everyone you know that you’re freelancing. Then tell the people that you don’t know.

You need to be networking online and face-to-face. The more you network, the more likely you are to connect with potential clients.

Invest in a nice set of business cards with your contact information printed on them. Not only does this make networking easier, it also makes that statement that you’re serious about freelancing.

Tip #5: Donate Your Services

I usually don’t like to suggest that freelancers work for free. As it is, too many freelancers work for far less than they are worth.

However, when you’re starting out, donating your services to a charity can be a way to get the initial experience that you need. Just make it clear to the organization that your donation is a one-time occurrence and that you’ll be using the results in your portfolio.

And, you guessed it, if the organization likes what you did for them be sure to ask for a testimonial.

Your Turn

The freelancing/experience dilemma is a very real challenge for many new freelancers.

Thankfully, it’s also often a temporary one. Once you get some experience, you can refer to that experience from that point on.

Have you faced and overcome the freelancing/experience dilemma? How did you overcome it?

Image by Rich Moffitt