For the 53 million freelancers in the U.S.—that’s about a third of the entire workforce, the most the nation has ever seen—there’s a big problem: finding work.
You would think with such a large sector that employment would be easy to come by, but that’s not the case for 34% of freelancers—that’s writers, consultants, photographers, designers, and more—who say securing work is their biggest challenge, according to a study by technology company Contently.
As the working economy shifts under our feet and businesses hire more freelancers, it’s now more important than ever to understand how to effectively navigate the freelance job market, especially if you’re new to the game. If you’re going to make it in this competitive landscape, you need to know two things: 1. What makes a good freelancer? and 2. How can millennials stand out from seasoned freelancers?
We spoke with job experts to uncover the traits that less experienced freelancers can’t live without if they want to find work, maintain gigs, and grow their business of one.
So how do you to get your foot in the door? It might seem like a harsh reality, but taking less money to build your freelance portfolio is one of the best ways to get higher-paying gigs down the road.
“Beginning freelancers are often able to compete with more experienced professionals on price, offering their services to companies that want to minimize cost,” says Sam McIntire, founder of DeskBright, an online learning platform. “As your portfolio grows, you’ll be able to compete for higher-paying jobs that require a robust portfolio of work to prove your value.”
Research what other freelancers are charging in your field and knock down the price accordingly. Remember, less now means more later on.
For freelance, start small. Only by doing your best work from the start will you be able to leverage your portfolio to add more clients. However, you need to make sure these gigs are a good investment of your time and effort.
Start by seeking out long-term freelance gigs that will give you a steady source of income while you branch out and grow your client list. According to Contently, 83% of freelancers pursue new clients every quarter.
In addition to networking within your social sphere, college social pages, career services, friends, and family, make sure you showcase your freelance portfolio online with a personal website so potential employers can search for your work and contact you directly.
Bottom line: Give yourself enough time to do great work; network, network, network; and be clear about what type of work you’re looking for.
What’s more powerful: A personal pitch or a bunch of people singing your praises? Without a doubt, it’s the latter.
When searching for freelance opportunities, ask others you know who may already be working in your target market—make sure they’re people you know and trust—to write testimonials and display these prominently on your portfolio and social networks.
“It’s what others say about you and your work that matters,” says Mark Babbitt, CEO and founder of YouTern, a social community for young careerists headquartered in Carson City, Nevada. “If people can’t find great reviews and comments about your work, they’ll choose the provider that comes highly recommended.”
As an inexperienced freelancer, you may not have a large client list to fall back on for work, but you can make up for this and set yourself apart in other ways. Your answer: Quality, quality, and quality.
Delivering your best work, and on time of course, is what will keep clients coming because reliability is how you become your client’s go-to. And the key is not to let the dust settle—always ask for more work.
Skills vary depending on what type of freelancing you do—and these are some of the best-paying ones—but all good freelancers share certain characteristics.
Effective communication, time management, and negotiation and organization skills are must-haves, but companies also have their eyes on particular skills, including sales and marketing, IT and programming, design and multimedia, engineering and manufacturing, and writing and translation, according to a study by independent consulting firm Tower Lane.
Just remember, do the best work you can do with the work you have, and let those opportunities grow into others. And don’t be afraid to ask other freelancers how they landed a gig, and employers for more work. A question unposed is a job offer lost.
This article originally appeared on Monster and is reprinted with permission.