Breaking in to a creative field, like photography, writing, or design, isn’t always easy. But if you want to make it happen, freelance work is a great way to get your foot in the door with potential employers—and earn some extra cash and experience while you’re at it.
As an editor who’s worked with many freelancers (as well as been one myself), I checked in with some creative friends for their advice on the best ways to get started. Whether you’re trying to make freelance work your full-time gig or you’re looking for some extra dough on the side, here are five ways to land some new projects.
1. Do it Pro-Bono—at First
Doing work for free obviously isn’t a long-term strategy, but it is a great one if you’re just starting out and trying to make contacts. If there’s a website you love or a business you want to work for, volunteer to write a blog, document an event, or do some design work for free. The first time I contacted one of my favorite sites, 20x200, there was no paid writing work available, but they did need unpaid blogging help with their photography competition, Hey, Hot Shot!. They liked my work, and when a paid project came up a couple of months later, they thought of me.
Don’t volunteer forever, but do keep an open mind about working for free. It can show a prospective client you’re passionate about their brand or publication, and that your work is worth paying for.
2. Be Shameless on Social Media
Build a website—even if it’s simple—to showcase your work. I like Cargo Collective for a portfolio format, but Tumblr is best for getting attention. Include work samples, a client list, your specialties, bio, contact details, and any other relevant information.
Then, promote it like crazy: Update your site with every new project or piece of work you do, and post updates to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and any other sites you subscribe to. Everyone in your network should know that you’re available for freelance projects! Also use social media to follow the editors and clients you’re hoping to get attention from, and keep tabs on when they’re looking for extra help.
3. Get Your Work in Their Hands
For photographers, illustrators, and designers, sending out tangible promotional materials (a postcard or piece of art showing your work) can be invaluable. Brooklyn illustrator Aimee Sicuro subscribes to a service called ADBASE, a huge, searchable database of publishers, design firms, and ad agencies from which you can create custom lists. “It's really helpful because art directors tend to move from job to job and ADBASE is constantly updating its content,” Sicuro says. “I try to do a 250-piece mailer every three to four months. Usually I get one new client from these campaigns, which is well worth the effort.”
4. Don’t be Shy
“I hate to say it, but network,” says Brienne Walsh, a writer who's been published in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and Art in America. “Some of the best jobs I've gotten have been from meeting a friend of a friend for a coffee, or at a party. Editors are always looking for new talent, and they’re much more likely to hire you if they know you personally, or can connect a name with a face.”
Alison Matheny, a national magazine art director, who also does freelance branding design for startup companies, also says that recommendations through her design school friends and previous clients have led her to the best jobs. Once you have a couple of jobs under your belt, ask clients to recommend you to their professional colleagues.
5. Look Online
In addition to these targeted methods, browse sites like Elance and Guru, which allow you to search freelance listings and bid on projects you’re interested in. If you’re looking for media projects, Mediabistro has a great freelance marketplace for $21 a month or $145 a year. And there’s always good ol’ Craigslist—its “Gigs” section has tons of listings and can also be a viable way to find work.
The freelance job search isn’t always easy, but a little legwork can go a long way. And once you’ve found a few clients and made a few connections, you’ll likely find that securing work gets easier over time. So, go get your work out there!
Tell us! What’s worked for you in finding freelance work?