Start bidding for jobs on freelance sites and you’ll find that the biggest competition comes on jobs with the highest budgets. That’s hardly surprising: the bigger the budget, the higher the overall revenue the work will earn. The offer of several thousand dollars for a few weeks’ work rather than a couple of hundred for a few hours’ is always going to be a bigger draw. But as a strategy for building a freelance business, focusing on the major projects may not be the smartest move. With a little thought, those minor projects — work that’s easier to land as fewer freelancers challenge for them — can lead to major wins, long-term relationships and the kind of accomplishments that make any freelancer proud. There are a number of things that any freelancer can do to build a major client from a small job.
- Pitch Big
The simplest idea is also the hardest to do successfully. But it can work sometimes. As you’re discussing the requirements of the job, suggest ways in which the client could build on the work to generate bigger results. You’re not presenting a complete proposal so much as opening his eyes to opportunities he might have missed.
So a graphic designer hired to design a single Web page might suggest adding similarly themed pages for each product range and marketing them separately. An app developer hired to create a simple game could pitch ideas for add-ons or design tweaks that would allow it to target different markets.
The challenge is that there’s always a good chance the client would have thought of these ideas before and rejected them because of a lack of budget. In that case, the small project will remain small at least until the client has enough money to buy more. But it’s also possible that the client will be grateful to receive free growth ideas from a professional that he hasn’t considered. And he’ll have all the time you’re working on the small job to consider it.
- Build Your Experience
If that client won’t take your ideas perhaps another one will. Every project builds experience broadens your portfolio and teaches you something new — even if it’s only about working with a different buyer. When you’re looking for new projects then, and considering the small jobs as well as the big ones, you’ve really got two choices: you can pitch for the familiar, the kinds of work you’ve done a thousand times before and which you should be able to win relatively easily; or you can opt for work in a field you’ve never done before.
Pitch in a new field, and there’s a greater chance you won’t win the job against someone with more relevant experience but as any freelancer who has bid for work knows, pitching is full of surprises. The kind of work for which you’re more than qualified can go to someone else, while projects you pitched on as a Hail Mary can often come flying in.
A small project in a field that’s new to you might not lead to bigger work with that client but it is an opportunity to expand your range and push for bigger projects that you lack the experience to win now.
- Build Your Own Big Projects
Freelance work contains a giant irony. On the one hand, freelancers work for themselves. We’re our own bosses, free to set our own schedules and able to choose our work. On other hand, we actually have lots of different bosses, our freedom is limited by deadlines, and our ability to choose work is restricted by our need to pay the bills.
When a client of a minor project doesn’t take up your suggestion to turn that small job into major work, there’s nothing to stop you exercising the free choice embedded in freelancing: you can do it yourself.
A graphic designer whose idea to develop the look of a website into a series of themed product pages was rejected by the client, for example, can create those pages, using different products and a different look, and try to market them. He’d be able to take the experience gained by working on that small project, and having offered that experience to the client, use it for his own benefit.
The risk is greater than working for a client, of course. It would require using different skills — marketing as well as design — but the rewards would be bigger and so would the satisfaction, and the degree of freedom. Every job teaches something; you have the choice to turn that lesson into something bigger.
- Grow with the Client
Building your own large projects on the back of paid small projects may be satisfying but growing with a client is no less satisfying. One of the best things about being a freelancer is watching a client, with your help, go on to greater and greater things. As the client grows so do his needs, feeding you a constantly growing stream of new and more interesting work.
Those sorts of clients aren’t easy to identify and your contribution is always likely to be a minor part of their success. If you’re hired to create an app, it will be your skills that make the app work but it will be the client’s marketing prowess and smart ideas that make the app a success. As that success comes in though, you’ll be a part of it, and the client won’t want to rock the boat by looking for a new service provider when the current one is working out so well.
There’s little you can do to help these kinds of clients grow faster, except perhaps for doing your job to the best of your ability (even though it’s small). But when you’re pitching for small jobs, try to focus on those clients who are at least professional in their job descriptions, communication and attitude. Those are the people most likely to succeed and grow — and take you along with them.