Whether you’re unemployed, partially employed or fully employed, you’ve probably come across articles and posts stating that “freelance” is the future of work. You then started asking yourself:
What does it really take to make it as a freelancer?
Can a single person compete against an agency?
What’s more to it?
Is it real or simply a fad?
Fortunately, I’ve had the chance to sit with Marc Chémali, Senior Branded Content Manager at VineLab to get the inside scoop on what it takes a freelancer to succeed.
Chémali, has extensive experience and expertise in branding, marketing and social media.
He was also the main speaker in one of the ChangeMaker event’s workshop entitled “The New Jobs Created by Digital Marketing”.
Here’s what he had to say.
How To Go About Freelancing
First off, if you’re still new, it is recommended that you have at least some experience in the field of your choice.
“Leveraging on previous experience is the first step towards becoming a successful freelancer. It helps you stay organized easily; usually we don’t expect this from a fresh graduate. A fresh graduate doesn’t know the relationship between an agency and a brand, or an agency and another, or how the PR agency works with the creative and media agency to achieve the client’s objective. There are also certain communication skills a freelancer should know. That of course stems from corporate experience ( 1-2 years) ; unless, of course the fresh graduate has taken several internships which is seldom the case,”said Chémali
Identifying What You Really Want to Be
Second, it’s good to know where you’re headed. Are you going to be a freelancer? an influencer? a blogger?
“There’s a lot of misconception around these terms. Bloggers have power on their blog; influencers on the other hand push people to do stuff or buy stuff, while freelancers push businesses to consider them for certain jobs.
Freelancers should not necessarily be bloggers. They should certainly know how to promote their freelance work; however, it’s not a must to have a blog. Freelancers and influencers are similar though. They differ in the fact that freelancers use social media platforms to promote their services while influencers use social media to promote their personal brand, i.e. themselves.One more distinction to make is that an influencer is not necessarily a blogger. Kim Kardashian for instance is more of an influencer than a blogger,” he proceeded.
Platforms geared to freelancers include: Upwork, Freelancer, Airtasker …. These platforms make it easier for freelancers to find customers. Other platforms like Trellis, Aspire IQ, Upfluence, Neoreach, on the other hand are geared towards influencers.
Zeroing in on a Niche
Regardless of what one chooses to be, Chémali admits that trying to do everything at the same time is a recipe for failure. Any influencer, blogger or freelancer is best of defining their value proposition to their target audience or client. In his own words, it’s best to:
“Own your niche, master it, and then try to expand. For instance if you blog about entrepreneurship you could start covering digital trends, attend events, etc… At the beginning stay under your niche’s umbrella, but don’t start defining verticals until after you know what content is driving your audience.” Chémali
Ensuring Your Future Isn’t Bleak
He then proceeded by outlining the following actionable steps a freelancer needs to abide by in order to succeed.
As a new freelancer always look to build trust. Try to lock one year contracts with your clients. The process is slow but it pays in the long run. Be consistent, persistent and always show the client that you offer value. There is no such thing as an overnight success.
Setting Your Rates
Make sure to set your rates appropriately. Have self-confidence, and know what you bring to the table. You don’t want to price too high or too low. Aim for the middle ground. Price less than agencies but higher than others who don’t provide the same service.
Remember you cannot charge as high as an agency because an agency provides account management. This means an agency provides its clients with dedicated resources like a single account manager to handle its brand. Of course it helps to research market rates and competition, but remember you cannot compete with an agency unless you can cover several areas within an agency.
For instance, as a social media manager you can replace a copywriter, a designer and a media buyer if you have the relevant skills and experience to do so.
Diversifying Your Portfolio
At the beginning, it’s recommended to diversify your portfolio . This enables you to decrease your financial reliability on one or two clients. Later, when you’re much more established you can select your clients better. Moreover, if you’re a new blogger don’t stick only to one social media channel. Experiment on all platforms, and then decide where to apply your focus. Additionally, make sure you have the latest content on all platforms.
Staying Up- to Date with Current Trends
Even if you can leverage on previous skills it’s important to stay up-to –date. Keep reading about your industry, about what works and what doesn’t.
Expanding Your “Know-How”
Not only should you read about your industry and its trends. It also helps to learn new skills. Strive to acquire sales skills, communication skills, and even design skills. If you’re a freelance writer for instance learning Photoshop and Illustrator could help you reduce costs and gain in the long run. Additionally, whatever freelancer you choose to be, you should work on your sales skills, and branding “know-how”. So it helps to attend seminars, trainings, workshops, and even learn online.
Bringing Your A-Game Forward
Again it’s not only a matter of researching your industry, knowing your clients, and setting your market rates. It’s also a matter of excelling and showing that you’re among the top. As a freelancer you’re always seeking more clients; as an influencer you’re always on the lookout for more people to influence. That’s where social media “know-how” and strategy come in.
There are many digital certifications out there but it’s best to choose the ones that come directly from the source. For instance if you use Facebook to market yourself, it helps to get a Facebook Blueprint certification. Other beneficial certifications to aim for come from YouTube, Twitter, or Google ( Google Digital Garage for Google Certifications) .
Working on Your Content Strategy
Regardless which platform you’re promoting yourself on, it’s important to have a content strategy. A sound content strategy answers four main questions:
What, How, Where & When
- What, as in what are you saying?
- How, as in your language, and tone of voice
- When, as in the frequency, quality and consistency of your content.
Examples of influencers with great content are: Dana Hourani, a lifestyle influencer with 110K followers on Instagram. Dana covers lifestyle in style, sounds, and sights. Another example of an Instagram influencer is Bloggerwanabe who posts funny content relating to our lives. She’s a lifestyle/comedy influencer.
Zeroing in on Content Type
As for what type of content to post, it all depends on your objective.
Bear in mind that there are five types of content:
Informative content educates and appeals to rationality. It’s slightly longer than engaging content which is short in form. A good example of engaging content could be asking followers what they think about a new trend in the business industry, and having them comment on it.
Seasonal content on the other hand, is content posted in certain seasons like Fall, Winter, Summer etc…while promotional content is content that highlights a certain offered promotion.
Hence, if you’re planning to offer services, your content would veer more towards the informative side. If however, you’re working with an influencer, you would strive more towards the engaging side.
Finally, make sure to monitor your analytics.
If you’re always posting on Facebook, or Instagram check your Facebook page insights, and Instagram insights. If however you have your own site, make sure to monitor it with Google Analytics.
Knowing your readers’ demographics, age etc.. can really help you in delivering better content that caters to your target audience’s interests, and needs.
Later, at more advanced stages, you could master the art of re-targeting, or hire a media buyer to reach more clients.
Learning from Real Life Models
Last but not least, it helps to have someone to look up to.
It helps to learn about the people who paved the way before you; this will encourage you to move further and stay motivated all the way.
Let’s name a few to inspire you:
- Sandra Younes, instructor at NDU and creative director at SYDAS, has been teaching advertising for ten years. She also has extensive experience with international advertising agencies. This enabled her to establish her own design and art studio as well as her own pearl jewelry design company “Loulicious”.
- Talal Morcos, a make up artist and fashion designer, who acquired his make-up clientele during week ends when he had time off from his full time fashion design job at Zuhair Murad. Morcos hosts workshops in GCC and has thousands of followers on Instagram.
What mostly made them succeed was their dedication, and their hard-earned portfolio in their respective market.
Summing It All Up
To sum it up, it takes a highly adaptive attitude and a consistent drive to succeed. Not only do you have to adapt to environmental changes, but you also have to constantly self-develop yourself and build a strong portfolio.
This will take time. Chémali himself acknowledges that it took him five years to establish his side hustle; he ‘s a marketing consultant and adviser on the side. As a final word of advice,
“It’s okay to make mistakes. You cannot afford to be a perfectionist in the digital age. The industry moves so fast; it can kick you out in no time. So, keep trying ; after all you will only become a star performer by going the extra mile.” Chémali
Also published on Medium.