How to Build Credibility As a Freelancer (Even If You’re Just Starting Out)

Credibility If you want to freelance, you need clients to hire you.

Simple, right?

But many clients aren’t willing to do that unless you’ve proven yourself by working with other clients.

This catch-22 scenario trips up a lot of budding freelancers. They apply for projects far and wide, spending a lot of time and energy without ever building any momentum.

Everyone has to start somewhere, though.

Stepping into the freelancer world takes time and hustle. You can’t avoid that, but you can make the process a lot less miserable.

Keep reading to find out how you can quickly establish yourself as a capable professional – someone quality clients want to hire – without spending years doing it.

1. Use Consistent (and Simple) Rates

When you’re still establishing yourself as a freelancer, it’s super tempting to be flexible with rates you quote to potential clients. There probably aren’t a ton of opportunities coming in, and you figure it’s better to take on a project at a discount to build a track record and make some cash.

Working for a fraction of your ideal rates (or even working for free) might early on, but a lot of experts don’t recommend it. You pay your dues by knocking out a few projects, satisfying your clients, and gathering testimonials and portfolio pieces to help you land more clients.

However, a lot of new freelancers keep negotiating and discounting their rates even after they’ve landed their first few clients. This can actually hurt your credibility (and chances of getting hired) – especially among premium clients.

If you’re willing to discount your rates, you’re sending a message to clients that you’re unsure of your own value. Your lack of confidence in your abilities translates into a client’s lack of confidence in you.

It can be tough to stick to your guns when money is tight, but present your rates confidently and don’t budge. You’ll earn a lot more respect from potential clients. Because you trust in your ability to create value, others are more likely to trust in you too.

2. Create a Professional Website

A lot of people start freelancing after they get laid off from a job or need to make some money quickly. They troll job boards and apply for projects without ever giving their presentation much of a thought.

This is a big mistake. How you present yourself online plays a huge role in the likelihood of quality clients hiring you.

Even if you aren’t tech-savvy, it only takes a little time and a tiny investment to set up a basic website on WordPress. Your website doesn’t have to win any design awards. But it’s a great place to connect with potential clients and showcase your portfolio and testimonials.

At a bare minimum, setting up your own website shows clients you’re serious about your work. You wouldn’t put together a virtual platform if freelancing was nothing more than a hobby or diversion. Potential clients pick up on that, and many of them are willing to overlook a lack of experience if you position yourself as a true professional.

Starting a website is also a key piece in building your authority in your niche, as well as relationships with potential clients. You can share content on a blog and collect leads’ email addresses to start a pipeline and make your business sustainable.

One more thing: it’s a good idea to create a new email address associated with your website. Who do you think clients will trust more – the guy with a hotmail address or someone with a professional email address?

Your website is your virtual storefront to attract clients. It’s never too early to start one and make sure everything’s in order.

3. Let Testimonials and a Project Portfolio Speak for You

Imagine you’re talking to a great salesperson. They’re one of the best you’ve ever seen – charming, charismatic, and effortlessly easing your concerns.

Even with all that talent, would you take that person’s word over your spouse’s or best friend’s?

You’d believe your spouse or best friend! It’s easier to put faith in someone without a financial incentive to tell you what you want to hear just to get you to buy.

It works this way whether you’re trying to buy a car, figure out which movie to see, or pick a freelancer for an important project. The words of other people trump your own.

The biggest issue with new freelancers: a lot of people won’t believe you can do what you say you can do. You could promise and persuade until you’re blue in the face. Or you could let other people do the talking for you.

That’s where testimonials and a project portfolio come in. Words from happy clients saying you delivered what you said you would deliver – and a track record clients can check firsthand with your portfolio – reveal a pattern of success. If you made others happy and got results, it’s easier to believe you could do it again.

One of the trickiest parts about starting out freelancing is getting testimonials and portfolio pieces. In the beginning, you might have to cut your rates or work for free just so you have a track record other clients can turn to. Once you’ve racked up a few of these, it’s time to display them on your website and raise your rates to reflect the true value of the services you deliver.

4. Educate Prospects with Valuable Content

If you’re looking to establish yourself as a leading voice in your niche, collecting testimonials and portfolio pieces is a great place to start.

Providing useful, educational information to the people you serve can really take things to the next level. Top clients are much more likely to trust you if you’re committed to creating a platform of valuable content.

Even if someone doesn’t trust you at first or isn’t in a position to hire you, consistent content can draw them in and deepen the relationship over time. It’s a great way to create a pipeline of leads and stabilize your business.

There are countless ways you can do this. Here are just a few you could try:

  • Blog
  • Email courses
  • Free consultations or demos
  • PDF reports
  • Podcast
  • Social media
  • Videos
  • Webinars

Creating a platform and delivering content consistently shows potential clients you: 1) know what you’re talking about, and 2) are committed to building authentic, long-term relationships. Both of these aspects are sorely missing online today! So offering them can help sway the right people to hire you.

A lot of freelancers spread themselves thin trying to be everywhere. That’s a great long-term goal. But when you’re just starting out, sticking to one channel (a channel where your target clients are active) is an easier way to establish yourself. It takes commitment – it’s a long-term play – but it’s a great way to position yourself as a thought leader and charge the high rates they command.

5. Use Proposals to Make a Great Impression

What do you do after a potential client sends out a request for proposals?

Do you spend hours driving yourself crazy trying to figure out what to say, what to leave out, and how to put everything together?

That’s what most new freelancers do. Between marketing and writing proposals there’s hardly any time left to get client work done. Or sleep.

Even with the skills to deliver the results clients want, you won’t get a chance if you submit generic, ineffective proposals. The number of freelancers has exploded over the past few years – and there’s no sign of things slowing down! Solid clients have their pick of who they want to hire. They won’t spend the time reading through boring proposals and looking for hidden gems.

You can save yourself a lot of time and trouble by using a template to model your proposals on, or better yet, proposal software that helps you put together compelling proposals in a fraction of the time most people spend.

Even if you do a great job with all the other tips in this post, most clients will still want to see a proposal before hiring you. So you might as well make them as persuasive as possible without wasting time doing it.

Your Turn

Building your credibility as a new freelancer takes time and effort…

But it doesn’t need to be the brutal grind a lot of people make it out to be.

Following the tips above will help you speed up the process, allowing you to quickly position yourself as an authority within your niche.

Once people trust you the project offers start rolling in. You get to charge the rates you deserve and be more selective about which opportunities you decide to take on. Start today. It doesn’t take as long as you might think!

What’s been your biggest challenge in building your credibility as a freelancer? Did you figure out a way to overcome it? Leave a comment below and share your experience.

About Corey Pemberton


Corey Pemberton is a freelance copywriter and blogger who helps small businesses and software startups get more traffic and conversions online. You can find him on his website or follow him on Twitter.

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Ajay Bansal

Hi Corey!

I am graphic designer with 18+ years of experience. I am trying very hard on upwork (freelancer site) but still no response. I got some tips from this article which is helpful. I want to know still my profiles view are less often. What I can do that at least visit my profile.

Regards
Ajay

Mithun John Jacob

Will you be having Testimonials and a Project Portfolio when you are starting out ?

Corey Pemberton

@Ajay

I can definitely understand your frustration getting started with freelancer sites like Upwork. There are lots of service providers competing for a limited pool of projects, and clients tend to value low price over quality. Getting those first few projects is a “numbers game,” but it will happen for you if you keep applying to a few projects every day.

The biggest mistake I’ve seen on those types of sites is when the freelancers focus too much on their experience and credentials in their proposals. Clients might want to find out more about those things, but only AFTER you’ve shown them how you can add value and help solve their business problems. I suggest taking a look at some of our free proposal templates (or the blog posts about writing better proposals) to help better structure your pitches and appeal to clients.

Best of luck! Thanks for reading, Corey

Corey Pemberton

@Mithun

You might not have a testimonial or project portfolio on your website when first starting out, but the sooner you can add one, the better. A proven track record of success plays a huge part in affecting your credibility. It might be worthwhile to take on a few small projects at a discounted rate (some freelancers even do them for free) just to establish the testimonials and portfolio pieces you need to land better clients.

Kate O'Brien

Sorry – by the way, I thought the above article is great!
Some good points made about valuing your own skills and not dropping rates. I have just started out on freelance VA’ing and only have 1 testimonial so far, but am sure I will have more soon. Thanks for the tips!
Kate

Corey Pemberton

Hi Kate,

Thanks for reading! The very beginning is truly the hardest part. That’s great that you picked up a testimonial. I’m sure plenty more will come in if you’re patient and don’t ever sell yourself short. Let me know how you get on.

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