Freelancers -- where do you find most of your work?

I know that question is sort of like where's your favorite fishing hole. Hi, all -- I've been a freelancer for about a year and a half now, and for the first time, things are slow. I guess I'm on the famine side of the feast-famine freelancer cycle. Two questions:

1. Are there e-learning groups (besides Articulate of course) that have helped you generate leads/work?

2. How much of your work comes through cold calling? (I have an aversion to cold calling, but will pull up the big boy panties if need be.)

I'm guessing that your work comes from a little bit of everywhere (traffic to your site, repeat business and referrals from clients, cold calling, etc), but I don't really know that till I ask. 

Thank you in advance for your time and input. --Daniel

211 Replies
Ron Black

Hi Freelancers,

I am looking for someone to help me convert some educational courses I have using Articulate software.  I posted the project on; the pr0ject number is Project ID: 845569. is a good site for entrepeneurs and freelancers to bid on jobs that are posted there.  There are other sites like this out there- and to name a couple.  Hope this helps you expand your business!


Bruce Graham

Thanks Ron,

Are you able to post details here, prior to us having to go through the registration process, (which includes entering phone and address details etc.)

If for example you are only looking at US staff to help it just makes it a little easier, then people can register if they find the details attaractive to them and want to bid.



Bruce Graham


You asked a perfectly straightforward and fair question - there's no need to feel that it was in ANY WAY a stupid discussion.

It's actually a discussion that too many people are too cozy to ask/

When I started out on my own I wondered the same thing, however, the answers to the question (and there are many...), are straightforward.

1> Decide what you want to be.

2> Spend every hour you can, every breath you have, and every fibre of your being dedicated to that plan.

3> You need a plan, or else how will you know how you are performing.

4> When you are performing against the plan, plan for the next step - and the next "level" of performance.

5> Every time you say "That cannot be done", be prepared to move out of the way for someone who is doing it.

6> If you are going to be thinking anyway - think big, (Donald Trump).

Hopefully, anyone who knows me well will attest to the fact that these are NOT just BS from me - they are the way that I live my life, in all areas. It actually does not take much to become sooooo much better than the herd. Where do YOU want to be?

Always happy to PM.



Kevin Thorn

A follow up to Bruce's six points:

There are an infinite number of personal growth and success principles out there to read and study. One I read a long time ago from a young journalist who was given the only personal interview with Andrew Carnegie (early 20th century Steel Magnate considered the richest man in the world at the time).

In regard to achieving a goal there are three steps to success:

1. What is it that you want? - (define the goal, target, etc.)

2. When do you want it? - (define the exact time you intend on achieving it. Hold yourself accountable)

3. What are you willing to give up for it? - (There is always a sacrifice)

The first two are easy. "I want to travel the world." "I want a new car." "I want..." AND "I want it by next year." "I want it within two years." "I want it...."

The last one is the one that will test your perseverance in the wake of adversity and obstacles as well as your passion and commitment. You don't get anymore hours to a day so if you're going to define your goal that requires 20 hours a week, what current 20 hours are you willing to give up? 

Of all the books I've read on the subject, this one sorta turned up the fire for me - Crush It!

And to echo Bruce, no question is a stupid question. Unless of course you're asking to take a nap when the lawn needs mowing! 

Daniel Brigham

The tricky part of being an e-learning developer is trying to figure out what you want to be:

A first-rate:

voice over specialist?

graphic designer?

instructional designer?

writer of learning scripts?

Can we do it all well? I think we can. Why just look at Bruce Graham and Kevin Thorn...

Kevin Thorn

Great question Daniel and one that's very hard to answer especially when you're interested in them all.

I'll be the first to admit I can't do it all at one time. That's the hard part. I can do each but as an independent, clients need turn around faster than one person can do each of these layers of development. 

I'm a graphic designer and developer first. I tend to lean toward projects that have a solid ID on their end I can work with. If a client emerges that needs ID work but they have developers (assemblers) on their end, I pick those up as well. The tough part is "wanting" to do it all and seeing areas of design that I'd do something different when working with clients. But, they are the client and tend to get their way!

It's the projects that requires all of it that I partner with others who are true experts in one area over the other.

What part of the entire process are you the most comfortable? The area that doesn't take a lot of effort and you can whiz through it with minimal effort? Then prioritize the other skills based on your comfort level. From experience, I'd settle on three solid areas/services you advertise. When you speak with clients you can share other skills but if you're not willing to respond to the demand of a particular skill you're not 100% comfortable with delivering, keep that at bay until you skill-up.

You'll get there. Just be patient with yourself. And to echo Bruce again - have a plan.

Holly MacDonald

Daniel - that's a great add-on (it's almost like we have created our own freelancer SIG organically here!)

True, you need to determine what your core value proposition is and really pin down what you think is your best niche. It's hard to do it all, so this would be a great opportunity for you to develop loose partnerships/alliances or identify reliable sources for you to outsource portions to. My advice is to own your customer relationship and be known for something unique.

Also, really be clear on your leads - what kind of work best suits you right now and pursue those - you may want to do 2 projects simultaneously or only one large one at a time. You may want to avoid government work, or find that's the best fit for you. Maybe you are looking to break into a new industry and would like to get a project in that field to establish credibility. Perhaps you are looking for something that will solidify your expertise in an area. Help yourself identify what the ideal for you is. 

I reject things that are too big for me, I don't want to end up project managing. I'd love to do more video, but that's not my area of expertise, so while I'd be good at the story part, I need to partner with someone who is great on the shooting/editing video part. I'm always on the look out for good graphic designers or artists and deep technical specialists who could complement my skills.

We can't all be Bruces and Kevins!

Thanks for this thread all, I hope my comments add something to the discussion.


Bruce Graham

Love this thread

Just to clarify - I do not "do it all" - but I do think about all of it, and find ways to offer it all. Those are different concepts as so eloquently put already by Kevin and Holly.

I cannot draw - my daughter draws better than me, in fact she did when she was 7, so I have an illustrator I now use.

As Woody Allen (?) said "I'm bisexual - if I can't get it, I buy it".


The things I cannot do include Graphic Design, Illustrating, Video work, and deep-dive LMS advice. But I know people who do - as Holly says, partnering with people you trust as you build your network is fundamental. So - you need a plan to build your network.

My illustrator started by producing the "Storylion" images for me, she responded to an ad I placed on a Job Auction site, I liked some of her existing work. She's now producing graphics for a major "Globally known company" course set I'm producing/project managing. I do not need to be able to draw, (much as I would like to learn...), but as "Chief Visioneer" I have to be able to guide her in what I imagine - she has interpreted my mind brilliantly so far. Her business and expertise is growing because of a small acorn, and we trust each other's expertise completely. When I talk to her, (we've never met...), she closes her eyes to imagine what I am describing. How will you find people YOU trust that deeply?

I knew what the client thought they wanted for an opening "video" piece, I reinterpreted it, and got a video guy to produce it for me. The client, (and their "end-client") LOVE it, and believe me....this is a company that produce some of the most beautiful and compelling videos/animations in the World, so I was quite pleased.

So Daniel, I guess the point here is that you do not need to "do it all", but if a client requires it, you have to know HOW to do it all.

A lot of what I do can be seen here.... 

There's a lovely story about when other car manufacturers took Henry Ford (?) to trial. They were losing business to him because of his new efficient "production-Line" technique. They claimed that he could not be an expert at all the things and must therefore be producing shoddy goods and fleecing the public. He produced a new-fangled device - a box with lots of buttons, switches and lights on it, all powered by electrickery.

When his time came, he spoke to the court - "If I want the tyre expert, I press this button, and he comes to my office. If I want to speak to the engine or coachbuilding experts, I press this button here, or that one there.....and they come running". Case closed. Business as usual, (or in fact somewhat unusually for the time in HF's case....)

That's part of my business model. There's too much to learn, and too many variants, so start (as above...) by plotting out what you can do, what you WANT to do, and what you will leave to someone else.

If you hate cold-calling, (as I do...), find a way to bring people to you instead. Do McDonalds ring up every house and ask if they would like to buy some burgers? Nope. Become visible. Become the most visible at what you decide to do. Become sooo visible that you skirt on the peripheries of loud, but remain professional at all times so that you do not scare people off. At the end of every "first call" I have with clients/prospects I ask them whether I have said anything that scares or surprises them. Usually, the answer is the same - "No, that's been HUGELY useful, thanks.". In a sales situation, people want to be helped, they want you use your expertise to advise them HOW to reach THEIR goals. The contract I talk about above I won because I advised him, (nicely) that I could not help him because I felt his approach was partially incorrect. Follow your convictions and sell your expertise, without sounding too pompous and dismissive.

Like Holly -  I have been desperate to get involved in some video/animation work, but when it came up, I knew I could not learn that well that fast. But I'm a great planner, visioneer and project manager - and at the end of the day that was almost more fun, and it came out beautifully.

A lot of the time your clients will actually want you not only to produce "stuff", but be able to guide them in "industry best-practice", remember, at the end of the day they are hiring you so that they can beat their competition in some way, so do not get locked solely into the world of Instructional Design. Enter their world.

Seek solutions and ideas from other places and disciplines. One example which I posted about here once was 3D-printing/rapid prototyping. I decided it would be fun to try it with pre-release Storyline, so we built the course right there and then in the room with the management, who probably thought the day would end with a set of PowerPoints. It ended with a (draft) fully-functioning branching course, which let THEM be able to imagine much better.

I believe that we are in a golden-age with "online learning", (whatever that actually means these days....), and with Storyline especially we have a real chance to make things different. Courses at $25k a time have always been available, but only to the few. We have the ability to offer that functionality at a fraction of the cost, to a massively expanded audience, and that in itself is increasing the client base. People are looking for people like you, Kevin, Holly and me. People want good people. Start to run, don't give up. You will lose bids and clients, you will undersell yourself - but if you do not fail you can never learn. Look up "T.E.F.C.A.S".

Time for breakfast.

Till later.


PS - I don't talk funny, it's Kevin that talks strange

Belen Casado

I love this thread too!

Daniel was brave when he asked somethingthat some of us were wondering, and weren't sure that it was related toArticulate or to designing better courses.

I think that there’s a component that is missing inthe formula of success that Bruce, Kevin and Holly explain so well: they seemto be very self-confident.

They show clearly what things they know and whatothers they look for experts who know. The image I get from you is like you allare trustable, that you understand, that you know… even if in some areas you just know someone who knows.

I looked up for TEFCAS and it reminds me to NLP, asresults are only that, results, and not negative events to be avoided.

Thanks to the discussion Daniel brought, I’ve beenchanging my website and I’m proud of what I’m getting. Of course it isn’tperfect but… does perfection exist?

Bruce Graham

Belen Casado said:

Thanks to the discussion Daniel brought, I’ve beenchanging my website and I’m proud of what I’m getting. Of course it isn’tperfect but… does perfection exist?

...and if that one change brings one more client to you, then this thread has been worth it

If it continues to bring you clients, then it could be said to be "perfect"


Daniel Brigham

So many good takeaways from you all:

1. Focus, man, focus.

2. Sometimes you need to turn down a contract, so something better can come along.

3. Determine what you do better than others and be (sort of) loud about it.

4. If you hate cold calling, than have customers come to you.

Regarding 2, I'd sort of forgotten that I write better than 99.3% of IDs -- I taught writing and rhetoric for 10 years and publish a fair amount, so I SHOULD be better. I'll start selling that harder.

Back to mastering Storyline...Daniel

Holly MacDonald

Kevin - you are too kind my friend

Bruce - thanks for TEFCAS, it's new to me...

Belen - yes, we are probably exuding self-confidence, but you could "fake it before you make it".

Daniel - you have a knack for synthesizing what we seem to take paragraphs to do!

I've just spent several months working on redesigning an entrepreneur bootcamp program (which incidentally I took for both subject matter interest and connections more than money). One of the critical things that tech start-ups do in this program is establish their positioning statement, which I find is a really powerful exercise for any business (including freelance ID).

You distill down the following:

  1. Who your product/service is for - be really specific: "state/provincial government agencies"
  2. What their "pain" is that your product/service fixes: why they would need your service: "who have many regulatory training requirements"
  3. By what key features: what you actually offer "we have a rigorous process to pinpoint the quickest way to provide training to dispersed teams"
  4. Contrast what you do to what your competitors do or what the alternative is: "unlike inhouse teams who are always juggling many different projects"
  5. Highlight you key differentiator: "we complete projects on a fixed price basis within 6 weeks"

Whatever you would fill in the blanks is how you focus on your best fit client/project. I just made one up to illustrate. Just thought I'd put it out there in case it helps. 


PS - it's not a bad framework to look at a course design either

Daniel Brigham

Holly: Quite helpful points regarding positioning. Whose pain are you gonna solve (be specific) and how are you gonna solve it? And btw, what makes you different? I wonder if you need that last point (5)? 4 and 5 seem similar, but I think I see why they are both in there. I can also see why you took this project on.

And Holly--I've got an honest question for you? What do you do better than most IDs?--i.e., how do you answer qs 4 and 5. Of course, I wouldn't mind hearing Bruce and Kevin's answer to this question (and whoever else wants to engage).

I call it "How I say I'm the best without seeming like an arrogant ____________." --Daniel

James Brown

You know I have actually have received a couple gigs requests simply by word of mouth; no advertising on my end. They read my posts, looked at some of my examples, and offered me the gig.  I think the biggest thing people need to remember is to create an e-learning portfolio and keep it up to date. I'm in the progress of creating mine and if people can see what you can do, it goes a long way. I remember one person a while back who use to respond to people offering gigs here in these forums with a link back to a website that honestly had so many broken links it made question this persons ability as a designer. In my opinion, if a person says they can do something, it had better be reflected in their work that they display and if I look at a website that is hard to navigate and is full of broken links, that person would be crossed off the list. As I have always said, "Honesty is the best policy." If you can honestly do something put it on your resume; otherwise leave it off. In the long run if you are honest, and you do a great job, you will get gigs coming to you.

Hope that helps,


Kevin Thorn

@Daniel - to answer Holly's #5, I've never given it much thought...until now. Most of the time I look at what's out there and do something totally opposite.

I differentiate because I can help with the needs analysis and front-end design work, actually do the ID if needed (although not my strongest area), create any graphic or illustration on-demand, develop just about any solution, and have extensive experience in delivery methods and environments. So what? Lots of folks can do that. The difference is the visual narrative across the entire spectrum and helping the client "see" their own vision from concept to reality. 

Again, lots of folks do that and do it better than me, but I'm one guy - meaning I can hopefully guide a client from cradle-to-grave (including LMS testing) without passing off pieces and parts of the project.

There are gobs of skills involved in a single elearning course. Toss in multi-media, audio, and SFX and you've got to have either a bucket of people you can reach out to or be confident in your skills to design AND build anything a client throws at you. Not to mention the ever-so-painful perishable skill of project management. I think Bruce mentioned it earlier that over time he's discovered quality artists who can not only interpret his idea but have quick turnaround. Having a set of partners who you can cover your weaker skills is an ideal state to achieve.

Like I said earlier, I can do the ID work but it's not my strongest skill. It takes me twice as long because I over think it. Since going solo, I partnered with a solid ID who has similar design methodologies. They are better at client management and communication than I am and knows how to ask the deeper questions during the needs analysis phase. We work in tandem initially so we're both on the same page with what the client wants, and then they go off and design the course and I start building the UI and other graphics. Over time we've constructed a storyboarding process to fit Storyline and when I get that document, it's as clear a day to read. As a developer, that's a huge time saver. It reads like an instruction manual and I just go to town developing! Here's the bigger thing - working with others you learn new styles and techniques, too.

I'll say it again, Daniel. GREAT question and hope others who are reading this thread can pick up some tips to take the jump. I've been where you're at and can't think of a better community to share my experiences - and mistakes - in order to help others.

That said...In terms of honing your craft, I started writing this a month ago but it's been sitting on the shelf since. This thread inspired me to finish it up and post it.

An Archer's Analogy to Goal Setting

Bruce Graham

Questions, questions...thoughts, thoughts.

"Best" is probably not the best way to think.

Until very recently I used my (now vanished?) downtime in order to practice and perform my other love - close-up magic.

I have a book that has over 30 ways to perform the famous "Cut and Restored Rope" routine. Very often, newbie (and veteran) magicians ask (on magic forums - yes, they do exist...) - "What is the best way to....", or "What is the best ?". The answer is the same - "Best for what?".  I have to try and be the best that I can be, in any way that a client may want. Sometimes I will not be the person for their job. That's just life.

This thread is almost exclusively non eLearning, we are talking sales skills/techniques. Many of us " into IT" because we hate those nasty, brash "salesy" types.'s the news...if you want to be a freelancer, you gotta sell.

By that, I mean you sell your uniqueness, you sell your way of doing things, as Holly says "You take away their business pain".

This is an image I occasionally use to illustrate what I will do for a client:

That's all they want!

Most clients just want to be able to sleep soundly at night, knowing that something that has been bugging them, or something in which they have a personal and/or business interest will be dealt with.

Our role is to take our "armoury" of skills and capabilities, and (initially...) provide a compelling and appropriate vision of how we can help the client's pain go away. Of course - we have to be able to execute.

**NOTE - there's a huge difference between "I can help you get there..." and "I will be doing all of this for you myself". I know what I do not do, and I tell my clients, up front, what these are BUT then also provide the solution to the complete need they have.

Sometimes, your "best" will not be good enough. I have a current client who is asking all kinds of financial questions, (how many £m turnover I had last year etc. etc.). I wonder if I would have been excluded from being a registered Supplier if I had to do all that stuff before, (I have already completed several pieces for them so hopefully all OK!). Sometimes you willl be seen as too small, however, if you can get introduced via a 3rd party, perhaps someone who is doing classroom training already, you can "infiltrate" that way. Once they are confident in your product and professionalism, hurdles like that can dissappear, or at least be perceived as less important.

What is my USP, (unique selling point....?)

I am blessed with a background where I ran eLearning at international level for Oracle. That's a good start :) Saying that, the main thing that brought is that I have a wide experience of business and the business operations that come with that. This means I can talk the talk in most areas, not just talk "traininig stuff". Currently I'm working with companies where I'm discussing online auditing techniques, restaurant cleaning schedules and techniques, Market Research, environmentally sustainable construction, general business process techniques, and international insurance products for the South-American market, (to name a few). You need to remember that whatever client you have, eLearning is not the answer. eLearning is only the solution, or part of it...the solution to business problems (using the term "business" loosely) .

Along with that, I can offer voiceovers, illustrations, video and animation, consulting and advice, and instructional design - offer, not necessarily do. I offer all this at what I consider to be a good price compared to the others who are operating in my marketplace.

Because I can talk about the business issues - it often re-frames the requirement (in my favour) when in a competitive situation. It's not necessarily about being the "best", it's about offering a vision of the future, where you have assisted the client reach their goal. When you have done it once, you will get asked to do it again. If you look at the References on my website, (called "Is He Any Good?" - because that is what prospects really want to know....), you will see a lot of what my clients write is not actually about the "coursework", it's about the process of getting there. THAT'S what sells, it's back to "...sell the sizzle, not the steak". I have been asked to lunch tomorrow to provide some advice to someone who runs a sales organisation in one of the World's largest companies. That's not because I told him all about Triggers, Variables and Layers - it's because previously I delivered an entire package, at a good price, worked effectively with his staff, and got great feedback from users. THAT's how you find work as a Freelancer.

As James said:

"...In the long run if you are honest, and you do a great job, you will get gigs coming to you..."

I have not had to "advertise" for over 3 years now, people ring me up or find me via the plethora of online nooks and crannies that I inhabit. I am cretainly not complacent about that position, however, it does allow me to concentrate on what I'm good at.

In the same way as Kevin doing the "exact opposite", I have a tendency to do the same. A lot of folks thought I was made developing a Website that could not handle SEO, (as was built in Storyline). That is enough of a "portfolio" to get me started in most cases. I have had more than enough calls and work off the back of that site, because it is a course (!) - just happens to be a course about me.

@Belen - yes, self-confidence (but never arrogance...) is very important. After all, if I do not believe in me completely and explicitly, how can I expect a client to do so?

Also - as mentioned by James, (and I was wondering how long it would take before it came up!), being a member here, and posting here helps. This forum is very often "scouted", and correctly so.

Hopefully that answers the outstanding questions.

BTW - everything in this thread is also appropriate for people who work as Instructional Designers but are not freelancers. You need ALL of these skills if you are work in a corporate. I have met soooooo many people that sit around going "No-one thinks training is important etc etc". To them I havve to say - "Get off your chair, and (re)engage with the business like people who have a place IN the business, not just at the peripheries". Harsh - but fair I feel.


Daniel Brigham

Geez, Bruce, you're making me feel inadequate.

Kidding (mostly). Two things you said that especially strike home: 1.elearning isn't the solution per se  2.when people rave about you, they are not so much raving about the product (the course), but the process of working with you.

Seems a good idea for freelancers to stress how working with them is a pleasant process. Totally makes sense, because even though clients may not know it beforehand, creating elearning is a laborious process.