Looking for help in crossing over to freelance

Hello folks. I've been an instructional designer for seven years and six of that I have used Articulate products in my work. Currently I am not working and spent several months off due to health reasons but I am ready to get back to work now that I have a clean bill of health again. I am really leaning towards becoming a freelance designer rather than going back to am employer for several reasons: 1) I live in the South suburbs of Chicago and most of the work is located In the North and NW suburbs (at least 60 mile drive each way) which is a long hard drive, and 2) I prefer to be closer to home with some flexibility to my time because I have a son with ASD and being closer to him would help out my family tremendously. I really could use some help finding out what steps I would need to take to become a contractor. I'm really quite ignorant as to what I would need for say setting up a proposal, figuring out a rate, etc. Does someone know where I could find a good "How-to" web page or blog? Would someone be willing to walk me through what I need? I realize I am asking for much but I am determined to look for another option other than the 9 to 5 routine which just does not work work for me and my family. Your feedback would be most welcome!

29 Replies
Phil Mayor

Hi Wilson,

Sorry to hear it is not flourishing yet. it probably took me a year to build up a client base to be comfortable and feel established.  It is a long slog more than a sprint.

There may be a few things you can do to make yourself a better prospect for clients.  Marketing yourself is so important, I just had a look at your profile here and it looks like your old employer is still listed, also your weblink goes to a dead link.  

You may want to look at your portfolio and focus it more towards the corporate world (I ave not seen your portfolio as I cannot find it).  I built my portfolio over 3 days looking at good web site design examples and rebuilding them. Look at what others have in their portfolio and see how they are marketing themselves. Also keep it updated, I have set time aside this year to refresh my website this is often the first place prospective clients get an impression of me and is also where I send clients to see my website, I get work because of it, but also need to keep it updated.

See if you can find anyone who can give you an objective view of your portfolio, family members are not great, you need somebody who can bid candid and honest.

Try to be persistent when you follow a lead, follow it up and then follow it up again, but also expect a lot of silence but persistence does pay off.  If you get rejected try and find out why.

You will find you need to change the way you sell yourself as time goes by.  Your portfolio is a way of opening the door, but once the door is open you need to sell your offering to the client, their are some great books and articles out there on how to sell yourself.

Have a look at any of the communications you have sent to prospective clients, was there anything different in communications with those who replied and those who didn't. It hasn't failed yet so keep on going.


Wilson Santiago

Phil that is great advice.  I had my portfolio yup but took it down to rebuild it as I thought it was dated.  I am currently redoing it in Wordpress and hope to have it back up this coming week.  Selling myself has been my weak point, but I really need to work on that even more than work samples.  Again, my thanks on your advice.

Bruce Graham


Firstly - sorry to hear that it's not turned out the way you wanted or hoped.

Now...I want you to take what I about to say as advice, and in the spirit is in intended. I have a lot of thoughts, not necessarily in the correct, or in fact ANY specific order.

1. You have replied to 12 (?) adverts. It took me 150+ before I got my first bite. Many people advertise just to get price comparisons, or to figure out how much their internal staff should cross-charge for an internal job. This is a basic sales technique, you should have possibly expected it?

2. I was down to my last $1000 in the world, (including all lines of credit) before I got a "real" contract. That was a 3-month contract that I still doing about 25 hours a week on, on average, 4.5 years later.

3. Success has NOTHING to do with a portfolio, but a good portfolio is part of your success.

4. Google "phil mayor elearning", or "bruce graham elearning" - look at the "Web" and "Image" options. What do you see?

5. What happens when you Google "Wilson Santiago elearning" and look at the same?  Not a lot I'm afraid, apart from a rather glum shot of you with a cup of tea, and lots of elearning examples from other people such as Jackie Van Nice. That is one of the differences between success and failure. Jackie has created a fabulous world of elearning examples for the challenges, and no doubt it has served her business VERY well. That is great selling and sales technique. It does not have to be complicated, but without an "angle", you will not succeed.

6. This business is global. I cannot speak for Phil, but around 80%+ of my business comes, unsolicited, from the US. I have worked/am working with Emmy winners, US Universities, Wall Street institutions, Californian Cable TV advert companies, one of the World's largest pharmaceutical companies, a real estate company and countless others. So, among others, I am your potential competition. Your sales pitch needs to be as good as, or more compelling than mine. See point 3.

7. The reality of this business as a freelancer, (mine anyway...), is that you will spend about 75% of your time doing the (often dull...) corporate "electronic PowerPoint" that the companies need quickly, or which they do not want to do themselves, for some reason. Only occasionally is a job fun, interesting and cutting-edge. What that means is that you need to sell yourself, your vision, and understand how to upsell and so on. You seem, 3 months after your initial post, and the advice given, to be insecure about your selling skills. That is what you have to do as a freelancer - sell. There are a million others like you, so what is your niche, your persona, your offering?

8. Boards like this provide rich pickings. Every word you write is seen by an invisible audience of potential buyers. This post from me is, in itself, an advert/part of my "sales budget" - showing me, my personality, my experience, and demonstrating some credibility. Combined with PeoplePerHour.com and LinkedIn (referenced above), this is where most of my work comes from. I have only had to do a pitch once in my time as a freelancer, and that was to a US institution, pitching against 5 other US eLearning companies. Me and my little one-man band won it - $40K. Why? Because I sold them a vision of how my eLearning could help them meet their business aims a success, and it was a VERY simple design and build, 4 x 10-minute modules, but my Proposal (you know how to write one - yes?), was exciting and disruptive...

9. I often employ "Disruptive Selling" a technique that I learned from a UK-based multi-millionaire serial-entrepreneur who I used to work for, (see example at  http://thesaleshunter.com/resources/articles/sales-call-best-practices/disruptive-selling/). Find a way to make yourself different. I know how people sell, and what they are likely to say, so I often explain to potential clients why another technique (mine...), may be better. Introduce some FUD, (fear, uncertainty and doubt) into their minds, without overtly criticizing the approach of competitors. Plant ideas, investigate concepts. I believe it is all of these things that make a successful freelancer.

10. What is your professional network like? I do not think he'll mind when I say that on most days I either talk to, share ideas with or collaborate on projects with Phil. There was a massive opportunity that presented itself last year, and the client could not agree which of our styles/offerings they preferred, so in the end we suggested a collaborative project. I trust Phil completely. Who do YOU trust as a business "partner"? Who trusts YOU? I have a trusted network, but I can only count on the fingers of one hand who they are, but I would trust any of them to help and support my business aims, and it's mainly because of their approach to the industry, not their portfolio.

11. In your post you say "...and hope to have it back up this coming week...". Do not hope...DO. Think more like Yoda, every second of every day. Do not sound pessimistic to yourself or others. The human brain sometimes has problems differentiating between fantasy and reality, and strangely; the more optimistic you are, the better things get. Think World domination.

12. Do not give up, until you want to give up.

13. Realise what being a freelancer is about - "If you build it they will come" is not true here.


What are you going to do next?

Wilson Santiago

Wow Bruce, I am quite a gobsmack by your post, and I am grateful for it!  Thank you for all the advice and observations.  I see now that I have not done a good job selling myself and my skills.  Going to print out your post and read it each day.  If I can't do it then I'd better get out and do something else.  Thanks!