By far the biggest marketing tool you have as a freelancer is your reputation. So much so, that a good reputation can actually negate the need for any other marketing tools completely.
A good reputation takes a long time to build and during this process I do not advocate bypassing other marketing methods; in fact, blogging and twittering can actually be a big help in building your credibility.
Reputation through reliability
As a freelancer, the biggest thing I can offer the web agencies I work for is peace of mind. They’ll often contact a freelancer when they’re understaffed and need a piece of work doing quickly. People who are efficient, friendly and professional will keep getting the work because agencies are terrified of handing over a job and not getting the results back.
The best way you can offer that peace of mind is to:
- Quote realistic timeframes and deliver on time
- Communicate your progress effectively
- Alert them to any issues you’ve found
That last one is important. You have to make sure if you run into anything e.g. an unsecure application, an inaccessible interface or a HTML email that looks pants in Outlook 2007, that you let your client know. They may be aware and not care but if they are not aware you may save them hassle later (whilst covering your own behind). If your client hands you a design featuring 9px red on black Comic Sans for the body copy — it’s your duty to let them know why in your professional opinion that it’s a bad idea.
The more reliable you are to perceived to be, the more your reputation swells; supplement your engorged rep that with a dash of networking and you’ll soon find not just more work but you’ll actually start to see the work come to you instead of you seeking it out.
Reputation via your client list/portfolio
Another way to build your reputation is to work for big name clients. If you find yourself freelancing at one of London’s most well known agencies don’t be surprised to find the other big agencies becoming a lot more interested in your services. The same is true for the actual pieces of work you do — if you find yourself working on a project for a large commercial client that will always stand out far more than doing work for a local ecommerce business.
Let’s put it this way, if you were interviewing candidates for a new web developer role and one of the applicants had a 2 year stint at digg or facebook on their CV I would think the vast majority of employers would be very impressed by that. Does it mean the applicant is any better as a programmer? Yes, it’s possible but it’s not a given.
It’s very important to be seen not to be making a mess. If you work for a company who are continually delivering poor quality to clients you need to get out of there. This is not the same as abandoning ship on the way down — far from it. In fact, if you’re building your reputation up it can *sometimes* be a good idea to stick around for a bit as this gets yourself a reputation as a web firefighter rescuing cursed projects.
In my career to date I’ve worked for a couple of companies who were consistently botching projects and I left. Imagine how all those banking executives from banks like RBS are now fairing in the jobs market. Even if they did sterling work I wonder whether the mistakes of their superiors are now counting against them in interviews.