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
Daniel Brigham

James Brown said:

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,

James


Thanks, James: Good writing depends in part on honesty -- perhaps successful freelancing as well. Be honest and do a good job. Pretty simple and delightfully so. --Daniel

Daniel Brigham

Kevin Thorn said:

@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


I enjoyed the post, Kevin. Sort of reminds me the "Zen and the Art of Archery Book." Glad you wrote it. --Daniel

Bruce Graham

@Daniel - LOL.

Not inadequate, just "learning" - which is what you posted here for - right?

I reckon this thread alone is worth a few years of lessons you will not have to learn the hard way. Kevin, Holly, me - we already did that....

"Just because work is deadly serious, it doesn't mean it has to be deadly dull".

People remember the fun.

It took me a long time to realise the importance of the process.

I have another couple of new client References coming in, totally "unscripted" by me, will be interesting to see what they say based on this thread...

Bruce

Holly MacDonald

Daniel - my background is similar to Bruce's - I managed training departments, so I know the business side and I also speak "conversational" tech, so I can help translate between what the IT dept says and what it means and vice versa - when my client talks about what they want, the IT dept doesn't get it, so I can help fill in the gaps or at least ask questions to help them find mutual understanding. I also focus on the business outcomes and find ways to fix the problem, not build e-learning. I am steeped in the HPT philosophy and separate out the analysis phase from everything else and do the analysis before we decide to build a solution, so projects are always two-phased. Most times we move ahead, but every once in awhile I'll find that it 10% training and 90% other, so we build something else, or I tell them to save their money and not continue. So, when I answer the question they see that I truly understand their pain and I have their best interests at heart. (Also, differentiate by segment, so what makes me different to a gov't client is not the same to a start-up).

Bottom line: I fix business problems, I don't (just) build e-learning courses. 

BTW - The #4 is there to help you understand what you are competing against (inhouse, big firms, offshore options, etc) so you clearly differentiate yourself, even if it's for your own frame of reference. It's a good exercise, even if it just forces you to follow your own logic. You need to know why they would hire you. If you can't answer that, then you spend a lot of time chasing bad leads or working with the wrong clients. 

A point to James' comment - your reputation is a constellation of different things - if you say you are helpful and speedy to a client, but that isn't reflected in public forums (even places like this), then it will give prospective clients reason to pause. So, if you see this forum, or Twitter, or your local business publication as a place where your prospective clients or referrals might be, then make sure your message matches your actions. So portfolio is huge if you are selling e-learning development services, but I think it goes beyond that.

If you look at Kevin, I'm sure he got noticed through his online presence, even if it wasn't directly, it was indirectly, by someone saying "hey, this guy is really talented". When I see how helpful he's been on the forums, I think: wow, there's a guy I'd like to work with or someone I would recommend. Some of that is his work, some of it is how he comes across.

My own example - I write and stay involved with my local HR association, so whenever someone has a training question (of any kind), and they introduce me, refer me, whatever, it is someone new that I haven't met, but they have already seen my blog posts, articles, attended a webinar I did, etc, and that gives me a platform to draw upon and they feel like they know something about me (and I must be legit, as the HR Association lets me write for them). I answer their question, even if it means I do some free research. They will have an impression of me that I'm helpful and who will be the first person they call when they have a training project? Me. Well, at least I hope its me!

Bruce said it best:  

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.

Good conversation and I'm learning lots too. How would you answer your own question Daniel?

Holly

Bruce Graham

"...My own example - I write and stay involved with my local HR association, so whenever someone has a training question (of any kind), and they introduce me, refer me, whatever, it is someone new that I haven't met, but they have already seen my blog posts, articles, attended a webinar I did, etc, and that gives me a platform to draw upon and they feel like they know something about me (and I must be legit, as the HR Association lets me write for them). I answer their question, even if it means I do some free research. They will have an impression of me that I'm helpful and who will be the first person they call when they have a training project? Me. Well, at least I hope its me!..."

Yeah Baby!

Love it

THAT'S a deliberate, focused, niche sales technique.

"...and I must be legit, as the HR Association lets me write for them..." - ABSOLUTELY!

Great stuff

G0D I wish we had more forum discussions like this one........

Bruce

Daniel Brigham

Holly: I second Bruce: nice niche marketing. So good, I may steal it (or you know, something similar). It all comes down to answering our own questions. What sets me apart? (Feel free to get a cup of coffee as Daniel squirms in his chair and writes about himself.) 

Until I create a niche, I'd say it's my breadth of skill.

WRITING: I taught writing and rhetoric for a decade and am published, so I generally come up with interesting scenarios and questions for the learner. And there's no need for anyone to check grammar, spelling. I'm the expert there. (Reminds me of the Big Lebowski scene where they are "fixing the cable" -- Ich bin expert. 

VOICE OVERS/AUDIO EDITING: o.k., o.k., I'm not as good or experienced as Bruce, but my work is serviceable and getting better all the time (thanks, in part, to Bruce). Clients generally dig the voice, and I can get re-records back to them super quick. I can do audio editing as well: edit narration, lay down background tracks, "fix" narration that has been poorly narrated, etc.

GRAPHIC DESIGN: My material generally looks pro, mostly because I'm really interested in graphic design and know the basic principles.

PROCESS: Because I am pretty much a one-stop shop, I have a good feel for the complex process of creating training and generally am good at explaining it to clients, especially those who are new to e-learning. I've been working quite hard at setting their expectations at the beginning of projects. Not doing so has come back to bite me hard in the past.

TEMERITY: I'm not afraid to fail or ask potentially stupid questions. One of my favorite quotes: "Life is like playing the violin in public, and learning the instrument as you go along."  

That's what I'm working with. --Daniel   

Holly MacDonald

Great, just switch your focus from you to your prospective customers and you're there.

Who are your prospective customers (who is your product/service FOR) and what pain are you solving for them (using these skills/attributes). 

Take the WRITING one - if your prospective customers are health care providers, maybe they care about the precision of the writing b/c clear communication saves lives. 

Take the VOICE OVER/AUDIO EDITING one - if your prospective customers are retail banking organizations - maybe they care about reaching employees who are multi-tasking or rolling out new products faster, so you offer engaging voice overs (and add some stats about how it increases learning) or guarantee fast turnaround, to enable them to get to market faster.

GRAPHIC DESIGN - manufacturing - maybe they care about good graphic design as a form of communication b/c they have employees who don't speak or read English as first language, and you demonstrate the effectiveness of your craft.

You get the point, I'm sure. It's not about you, it's about them (your customers/clients). 

Anytime I get preachy, just tell me. The hard part of getting/giving feedback in this kind of forum is I have no idea if anyone's eyes are rolling!

Holly

PS - feel free to steal my niche idea, just make it yours. I wouldn't have posted it in a public forum if I thought it was my secret sauce.

Steve Flowers

This is a great thread! 

For me, all of the jobs I've gotten in the freelance / sole-proprietor dimension have connected because:

  1. The person knew me from my day job, retired and moved on to another one, and wanted to bring me in full time to help them be successful.
  2. Someone approached me because of something I'd posted online to help someone else.

100% of the time it's been one of these two situations. I've never advertised. Not once. And I turn down half the work that comes to my doorstep. Granted, most of the time I'm making that choice because I have a full time gig working for "the man". 

I've been thinking about qualification and value quite a bit lately. Bruce hits the nail on the head! So does Holly! So does Kevin! Thread full of win. What you can do technically isn't very interesting until you can put it into the context of value. What problem can you (or are you willing to) solve and how frictionless can you make the engagement? Value is at the heart of it. What value can you bring to the relationship?

Qualification is interesting to me as well. I define qualification as an expression of confidence in one's abilities to provide value. In this sense, people really need to see what you can do, how you respond to challenges, and how you get in front of (prevent, predict, or block) potential problems. I think there is a shift afoot towards "show me what you've got" and away from "show me your papers" in terms of the definition of qualification.

Revisiting my two personal job magnets at the top --

  1. Get to know people in areas where you want to work and make sure they see your passion (Holly's story above is a great show of this practice). 
  2. Be visibly helpful. Always. You never know who might be watching

Someone once asked me what I do. The question initially seemed daunting to me. There isn't much that I don't do (some things better than others). My response, after a few moments of thought, was "I solve problems. I measure the distance between where we are and where we need to be and I work shorten or eliminate that space."  That's what I do. I think that's what every employee should have at the heart of their job definition. 

Belen Casado


First I read Daniel's skills description and thought: 'That's great!'.

Then, Holly said something that's key: 'talk about your customers, not yourself'.

And I found the 2nd non told characteristic of these winners we've the luck to have here: they're focus ontheir actual and potential clients.

So we have:

1)    Believe in yourself and in what you can do

2)    Focuson your clients

Daniel, I think that you are for sure agood writer, and in your words I feel you're trying to convince yourself, whileI saw it clear when I visited your website. It seems to be your main strength.

To have another example and not take advantage of Daniel's story alone, I'll talk about mine.

I’ve been an e-learning project manager for 2 years in e-learning consulting companies, a post that in fact included ID and script writing, translating, etc. But I used to visit lots of clients todefine the project, set times, costs and goals.

Since February I’m in a much smaller company so I’ve started using Articulate to produce my courses. Before, I used to have a whole team of designers, writers, voice pros, etc. That’s why I found so interesting that most of you seem to put voice in your courses, while I still hire professionals.

So now I’m the one-man band and I’m learning a lot, a lot, reading all the community offers here.

I’m also good at writing (in Spanish), have also published and still have projects to be published. I’m a certified life coach and have been a trainer for years. I really like and enjoy ID and always try to create a demo of my own with what I read/see here. But e-learning is not my strength –it’s writing.

The thing is that I don’t know who the client is. I don’t know whose problem I can solve. I’ve written kind of a self-helpbook and people are attracted to it, but don’t know why, who, where to find them. I can do many different things and it seems that each is addressed to adifferent public.

Regarding e-learning, I feel that Ishould translate my courses into English, or I’ll do nothing. In Spain, my English is really good, but I cannot compete with native English speakers IDs in Elance or oDesk.

What do you think?

Belén

Bruce Graham

Belen,

If you want to translate, then do not go to "IDs", go and use translators (!)

If you go to, for example, PeoplePerHour.com, http://www.fivesquids.co.uk/ or Fiverr.com.

Remember - there are lots of translators who are looking for a bit of extra work too, and they will do it for surprisingly little.

As the customer, with Euros to spend, (and yes - you WILL need to spend SOMETHING), then you have the power.

Of course - you will then need to find a native English-speaking voiceover artist who is, perhaps, willing to record the script for you at a 50% discount with a profit-share of 30% gross sales (limited either by amount or period)...

<ahem...>.....

Bruce

PS - for example, a Spanish to English translator, 800 words, £5.

Bruce Graham

A shorter thought (HURRAY! they shout...)...

I have just bought/read "Smash It" (recommended in this thread).

Fabulous stuff

Really pertinent to what we do, really pertinent to developing your business.

Was very glad to see how much of it I already did (!), but helps me get to the next level of developing my "Brand" rather than developing "me".

BUY IT!!!!

Bruce

Daniel Brigham

Holly MacDonald said:

Great, just switch your focus from you to your prospective customers and you're there.

Who are your prospective customers (who is your product/service FOR) and what pain are you solving for them (using these skills/attributes). 

Take the WRITING one - if your prospective customers are health care providers, maybe they care about the precision of the writing b/c clear communication saves lives. 

Take the VOICE OVER/AUDIO EDITING one - if your prospective customers are retail banking organizations - maybe they care about reaching employees who are multi-tasking or rolling out new products faster, so you offer engaging voice overs (and add some stats about how it increases learning) or guarantee fast turnaround, to enable them to get to market faster.

GRAPHIC DESIGN - manufacturing - maybe they care about good graphic design as a form of communication b/c they have employees who don't speak or read English as first language, and you demonstrate the effectiveness of your craft.

You get the point, I'm sure. It's not about you, it's about them (your customers/clients). 

Anytime I get preachy, just tell me. The hard part of getting/giving feedback in this kind of forum is I have no idea if anyone's eyes are rolling!

Holly

PS - feel free to steal my niche idea, just make it yours. I wouldn't have posted it in a public forum if I thought it was my secret sauce.


Ohhhh.... you mean it's not all about me and my needs? (he writes with sarcasm) Seriously, I like that angle: how do your strenghts solve their problems.

Belen Casado

Bruce Graham said:

Belen,

If you want to translate, then do not go to "IDs", go and use translators (!)

If you go to, for example, PeoplePerHour.com, http://www.fivesquids.co.uk/ or Fiverr.com.

Remember - there are lots of translators who are looking for a bit of extra work too, and they will do it for surprisingly little.

As the customer, with Euros to spend, (and yes - you WILL need to spend SOMETHING), then you have the power.

Of course - you will then need to find a native English-speaking voiceover artist who is, perhaps, willing to record the script for you at a 50% discount with a profit-share of 30% gross sales (limited either by amount or period)...

.....

Bruce

PS - for example, a Spanish to English translator, 800 words, £5.


I take your into account for any moment an opportunity arises .

In the while, I think that your last post is key: how our perceived strenghts solve customers problems.

To know that, you have to know who your customers can be.

I've defined 3 clusters:

  1. Big companies: an e-learning consulting company could hire me as a freelance for big projects in THEIR customers.
  2. Medium and small companies: enterpreneurs could need courses for themselves or their staff.
  3. Private citizens: they could look for training courses to develop themselves.

Do you use these clusters? Which are your preferred?

Belén

Bruce Graham

Hi Belen,

Most of my clients are from a subsection of #1 - large/huge multinationals.  I usually start working for a department, or division, European Sales for example. This then usually becomes a springboard for selling to other areas of the company.

I will produce for them, or produce courses that they provide/sell to their clients.

One thing I do is always work on hourly-rate projects, I do not work e.g. "3-weeks @ 40 hours per week" for a client, that way I can do many projects at once, filling in the troughs with work for someone else.

Bruce

Daniel Brigham

Belen Casado said:


First I read Daniel's skills description and thought: 'That's great!'.

Then, Holly said something that's key: 'talk about your customers, not yourself'.

And I found the 2nd non told characteristic of these winners we've the luck to have here: they're focus ontheir actual and potential clients.

So we have:


1)    Believe in yourself and in what you can do

2)    Focuson your clients

 

Daniel, I think that you are for sure agood writer, and in your words I feel you're trying to convince yourself, whileI saw it clear when I visited your website. It seems to be your main strength.

 

To have another example and not take advantage of Daniel's story alone, I'll talk about mine.

I’ve been an e-learning project manager for 2 years in e-learning consulting companies, a post that in fact included ID and script writing, translating, etc. But I used to visit lots of clients todefine the project, set times, costs and goals.

 

Since February I’m in a much smaller company so I’ve started using Articulate to produce my courses. Before, I used to have a whole team of designers, writers, voice pros, etc. That’s why I found so interesting that most of you seem to put voice in your courses, while I still hire professionals.

 

So now I’m the one-man band and I’m learning a lot, a lot, reading all the community offers here.

 

I’m also good at writing (in Spanish), have also published and still have projects to be published. I’m a certified life coach and have been a trainer for years. I really like and enjoy ID and always try to create a demo of my own with what I read/see here. But e-learning is not my strength –it’s writing.

 

The thing is that I don’t know who the client is. I don’t know whose problem I can solve. I’ve written kind of a self-helpbook and people are attracted to it, but don’t know why, who, where to find them. I can do many different things and it seems that each is addressed to adifferent public.

 

Regarding e-learning, I feel that Ishould translate my courses into English, or I’ll do nothing. In Spain, my English is really good, but I cannot compete with native English speakers IDs in Elance or oDesk.

What do you think?

 

Belén


Belen, what is the possibility of creating e-learning for Spanish-speaking people? One would think there is opportunity. I know there is a need to translate English courses into Spanish. Perhaps that could be a specialty? Very few of the people on the forum could do that, but you can. --Daniel

Sarah Blake

Not sure if this is appropriate to post here, but the company I work for needs to hire three or four ISDs/e-learning developers ASAP for a recently-expanded project for the U.S. Army. Full-time temp work from July 9 through the end of September. We've had an extremely hard time finding people who actually have the skills they say they have, particularly in Articulate Presenter & Storyline, so I'm hoping some of the freelancers in this community might be interested! Ideal candidates will be in the Washington DC/Northern Virginia area, but exceptional remote candidates can be considered.

To learn more, shoot me an email and resume at sblake@afsc-usa.com.

Belen Casado

Daniel, you opened my eyes, really!  

I think that I can provide that service, and do it really well, as it combines my e-learning skills with my Spanish writting skills.

So, definitely, yes! What I need to do know is to offer it. Till now, I was only addressing my webs to the local market, but with this cool proposal, I think I can really give value at an international level.

I start working RIGHT NOW!

Belén

Daniel Brigham

Belen: I believe there is a large market for translating course into Spanish. In the U.S. job seekers who speak Spanish are quite coveted. You are the person to translate these courses. You might begin a search on US companies that employ many Spanish-speaking people. Perhaps start in select southern states: Texas, Arizona, California.

Perhaps an even better idea is to translate part of a course into Spanish and post it here and other appropriate places. That's probably where I'd start actually. --Daniel

Daniel Brigham

Sarah Blake said:

Not sure if this is appropriate to post here, but the company I work for needs to hire three or four ISDs/e-learning developers ASAP for a recently-expanded project for the U.S. Army. Full-time temp work from July 9 through the end of September. We've had an extremely hard time finding people who actually have the skills they say they have, particularly in Articulate Presenter & Storyline, so I'm hoping some of the freelancers in this community might be interested! Ideal candidates will be in the Washington DC/Northern Virginia area, but exceptional remote candidates can be considered.

To learn more, shoot me an email and resume at sblake@afsc-usa.com.


Hi, Sarah: I am a contractor and Articulate specialist. I will email you my resume and my portfolio. --Daniel Brigham

Bruce Graham

To all who have contributed to this thread....

I have asked whether I would repost my thoughts/comments as a guest blogger on another forum.

What I will aim to do is extract the most interesting (?) thoughts, and then link together with generic "...and then this happened/was asked" threading.

I will point people back here, but just thought I'd let people know.

Bruce