In reality, I don’t do very much to actively seek out clients; most of my clients find me. Here are the recommendations I shared with the group on how to become visible to clients.
An online portfolio is a requirement if you’re freelancing. Prospective clients need to see what kind of work you can do. Your portfolio is a way to tell your story about the work you do and the work you want to do in the future. My portfolio is on my business website.
You don’t need to have lots of full courses on your portfolio. Most clients won’t have time to review long courses. Short snippets or even screenshots are fine. Include a few sentences explaining your projects and the problems you solved with them. If your examples demonstrate specific tools or skills, mention that in your description.
If I was starting over now, I’d register a domain right away and create my blog as part of my website and portfolio. Since I started this blog as a free WordPress site years before I decided to become a consultant, I didn’t think about the domain as a business need at the time. You can still use a free WordPress site for your business and portfolio, but pay for domain registration so you don’t have to change it later. Many free WordPress themes can be used to build portfolios, not to mention the a plethora of paid and custom options.
- Instructional Design Portfolio Resources: My post on resources
- 30+ Ideas for eLearning Portfolio Samples: If you need to create samples, this will make brainstorming faster.
- E-Learning Portfolios: Share Your Work: A collection of portfolios in the eLearning Heroes community. This is a great place to look for inspiration.
- Excuses for Not Having a Portfolio: If you find yourself saying, “I know I should have a portfolio, but…” this post is for you.
Networking = Relationships
When I say “networking,” don’t picture handing out business cards at so-called networking events where everyone is trying to get something from everyone else. Networking is about building and maintaining relationships. I’ve found it helpful to approach networking with a focus on how I can give to other people, rather than what I can get. Being helpful to others shows people that you’re good to work with, and it demonstrates your expertise.
A significant portion of my work comes via people I’ve worked with before or through those connections. Keep in touch with your former colleagues from when you were an employee, especially when they move to new jobs themselves. Spend time connecting with others in the e-learning field too. Everyone gets overbooked sometimes. I refer work to others when I’m too busy or it isn’t a good fit, and others return the favor.
Social Media and Online Communities
The primary way prospective clients find me is via my blog. They usually search for “instructional design” or “instructional designers,” read one of my posts, and follow that to my portfolio and business site. A blog gives you credibility and makes it easier for people to find you.
I’ve heard from other IDs and e-learning freelancers that they find clients via Twitter connections. LinkedIn Pulse is another possible channel for publishing; this has the advantages of being free and reaching a built-in audience of your connections.
Online communities like LinkedIn groups and eLearning Heroes are also great ways to connect with people. You can demonstrate your expertise. I once got a major project as a result of a question I answered in a LinkedIn group. It wasn’t the person who asked the question who hired me; it was a third party who was reading the discussion. Because I was helpful to someone else, he saw that I knew what I was talking about, and he hired me.
Be A Good Neighbor
I’ve found that when I’m helpful to others and act like a good online “neighbor,” clients just find me. In her post on finding work, Jackie Van Nice explains,
How does all of this lead to work? It just does. Whether it comes from your peers who know of a project you might be right for – or from those silent watchers in the community, on your website, on Twitter, LinkedIn, or wherever else you’re active – the people with the work will find you.
My experience is very similar to Jackie’s; by putting myself out there and being active and visible, work finds me.
- Jackie Van Nice’s 3-Step Formula For Finding Work As a Freelancer
- Ashley Chiasson’s posts on how she finds work. The first post is how she initially found work; the second is how she’s finding work now that she’s been freelancing for several years. This shows a progression that I expect many people can identify with; when you’re just starting out, you might need to seek clients directly. As your reputation builds, clients find you via referrals, networking, and other sources.
- Where to Find Freelance Instructional Design Gigs (Ashley’s old methods)
- Update: Where to Find Freelance Instructional Design Gigs (What she does now)
- Tips for Starting to Freelance
- Freelance Instructional Design: Tips from the Trenches
Props to Patti Bryant for doing an amazing job organizing this freelancer group.
Images (except the portfolio screenshot) from Storyblocks