As a freelancer, you're running a one-person show. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean you only do one job. To land clients and gain their trust, you have to do many things big businesses do—but on a smaller scale.
And you're competing against more freelancers than ever. In 2019, 57 million people in the United States did freelance work. Freelance job openings increased by more than 25% in the second quarter of 2020.
Of course, you're not only competing against other freelancers. You're competing against companies that offer similar services. Creating a professional image shows potential clients that you're a legitimate operation.
These tips will help you build a professional image so you'll have plenty of clients (and a full bank account).
Tip #1 — Invest in your website
Your website is the freelancer equivalent of a brick and mortar store. It's one of the primary ways potential clients will interact with you. You want a website that presents you in the best way possible. That means it should be easy to read, error-free, and clear about what you're offering and the value you bring your clients.
There are thousands of professionals that can help you build a site. You can reach out to colleagues and friends for referrals. You can also find designers and copywriters on platforms like Fiverr, Upwork, and 99Designs.
If your budget is too small for a designer, many tools make it easy to create a beautiful site on your own. Some of the most popular are Wix, Squarespace, and WordPress.
Wix and Squarespace have drag-and-drop templates, so they're easy for beginners. WordPress is an open-source platform with a lot of functionality. Keep in mind that this tool can have a larger learning curve if you're new to building your own website.
Why build your own website and not just use a platform like Upwork? Plenty of folks do quite well on freelance services marketplaces. But a professional website can set you apart and help you attract higher-paying clients. It's a great way to pull together everything you're building.
A word about social networks: Think of your social profiles as an extension of your website and brand. They can be a useful way to connect with potential clients. But they may not be a necessity, especially depending on your industry. If you can't manage that much online activity and aren't in an industry that necessitates social presence, focus on your website.
Tip #2 — Highlight testimonials
Collecting and sharing customer testimonials is one of the best ways to establish credibility as a freelancer. It's called social proof, and it's not just a way to share nice things about yourself. There's actually science behind it. Psychological studies show that people prefer to follow the majority than step out on their own. Social proof capitalizes on that tendency.
A potential client who sees that others have enjoyed your service believes they will too.
So how do you get testimonials?
At the end of a project, ask the client for feedback while the work is still fresh in their mind. If they agree, get their permission to use their name and image on your website. Put the testimonial in a prominent spot on your site so that all your visitors will see what a great choice you are.
Tip #3 — Sign up for a virtual address
Even if you run an online business, you're going to need a mailing address.
Why? Because the bank will want it when you open an account. Your website domain host will want it when you create a website. You'll need to put it on the bottom of marketing emails to follow anti-SPAM laws. You'll need one if you choose to register your business as a limited liability company (LLC).
And you may have a client that wants to pay by check. Or that wants to know they're dealing with a legitimate business—one with a mailing address.
Of course, you could use your residential address. That is not the best idea for two reasons:
Keeping your personal and business addresses separate helps maintain your privacy. The address you use for your business may become public, especially if you register with the secretary of state. You probably don't want a client showing up on your doorstep.
Maintaining separate personal and business affairs sends a message to government entities. You're running a real business. So if you ever get audited or sued, your personal assets will be better protected.
Getting a virtual address presents your clients with a professional image. It also helps you maintain your privacy and keeps your personal and business affairs separate.
Plus, if you receive mail at your virtual address, you have access to it through an online dashboard. Instead of handling paper, you can spend more time finding clients.
Tip #4 — Modernize your phone
Keeping your personal and business phone numbers separate is important for the same reasons.
Of course, the possibilities for disruption to your personal life are even greater. Putting boundaries around the time you spend at work is hard enough when you work from home. If clients start calling your personal phone on the weekends, your work-life balance gets pretty tenuous.
A business phone number allows some separation between home and office. Plus, with a separate business number, you can create a professional, outgoing message. Keep that silly singing voicemail on your personal number.
So what if you want a business number but don't want to get a whole separate phone line?
Google Voice and OpenPhone are two popular options. Signing up for one of these allows you to use your personal phone but keep your number private. Clients see a professional image, and you get to limit business calls to business hours.
Tip #5 — Invest in an invoice system
If you're regularly invoicing clients, you may be ready to invest in a system to level up your invoices. Sure, you can ask a client to Venmo you, but that doesn't project a professional image.
If you don't already have a system like FreshBooks or Wave, consider signing up for one. Some invoicing tools, like Wave, are free. They may charge bank transfer fees but don't require a monthly subscription.
Many invoicing platforms also provide time-keeping tools or integrate with other time-keeping apps. This integration can be useful if billable hours are part of your business model. Some also integrate with larger accounting software systems so you can keep everything in one place.
If you're only invoicing one client every few months, you may not be ready for the investment. But using an invoicing platform will make your invoices look more professional. Clients may see you as more trustworthy.
Professional invoicing can also help you get paid faster. Many include automated reminders for unpaid invoices.
Freelancing can be an exciting way to put on your entrepreneurial hat without starting a full-blown company. It can also be a serious way to make a solid living. Even though you don't have employees and an office, you're still a legitimate operation. Presenting that message to your clients will help you build the brand and the bank account you want.
These tips will help you maintain a professional image, so your clients know they're working with a legitimate freelance business.