How Freelance Clients Find Me

Last week I gave a short presentation for the new eLearning Freelancer group on finding clients. You can watch the recording of the presentation.

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.


screenshot of my portfolioAn 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.

Portfolio links:

Networking = Relationships

Two women chatting in a coffee shop 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

Man typing on laptopThe 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 part 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

Neighborhood housesI’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.

Read More

Props to Patti Bryant for doing an amazing job organizing this freelancer group.

Images (except the portfolio screenshot) from

Ban “Click Here” From Your Vocabulary

Take a look at the following list and see if you can determine which link would get you to the Wikipedia article on Universal Design for Learning:

Without clicking on every link, do you have any way of knowing which one leads to what you want? The text of your link matters.

Why Link Text Matters

Sighted readers often skim a page for links; screen reader users can use a list of links or skip from link to link for the same purpose. Unfortunately, this means that screen reader users can miss the context around the links. Therefore, your link text should still make sense on its own (or at least provide users with a clue as to the content).

What To Do

This is fortunately an easy way to improve your accessibility, requiring no technical expertise beyond creating links. Just link on text that means something and would tell you where the link goes even without the surrounding context. Avoid linking on the words “Click here” or “link.” This applies to blogs, wikis, and pretty much any other online content, not just formal e-learning. You’ve probably seen blogs say something like “I’ve talked about this before here, here, and here” with three different links all on the word “here.” That isn’t particularly helpful if you’re skimming through links with a screen reader.

Checking a box in your e-learning development tool for “Section 508 compliant” may or may not catch vague link text. Write more effectively to link on stronger words. Instead of “Click here to learn more,” use “Read more about Universal Design for Learning” or just “Universal Design for Learning.”


This addresses the following standards:

Further Reading & Resources

Creating Visual Stories That Resonate

These are my live blogged notes from the webinar Training Online: Creating Visual Stories That Resonate by Nancy Duarte. My side comments are in italics. Any errors, typos, and incomplete thoughts are mine, not Nancy’s. Check out Cammy Bean’s notes too.

She started with her personal story, told mostly with old photos on the slides and very little text

Story: likeable hero, encounters roadblocks, emerges transformed

Why are so many presentations bad? We use presentations to create reports–dense “slide-uments”

When you need to persuade, use a story

Every story should have a beginning, middle, and end, with a turning point to move between sections

The presenter is not the hero of the story: the audience is the hero. They are the ones who have the power and must decide to take action. You are the mentor (she showed Yoda on Luke’s back while talking about mentors)

Joseph Campbell story structure

  • Ordinary world
  • Call to adventure
  • Refusal of call
  • Meeting with the mentor–this is a turning point

Freytag’s dramatic story structure; has a shape.

She wondered if great presentations had a shape like this

  • What is
  • What could be (the gap between this and what is is the “call to adventure”)
  • Keep going back and forth between these two

An image of this shape is found in this summary of Duarte’s book

This shape can be used as an analysis tool She analyzed a 90-minute speech by Steve Jobs, who kept the audience riveted, laughing or clapping about every 30 seconds.

Jobs was passionate about his product and constantly marveled at it during the speech

STAR moment: Something They’ll Always Remember

Same kind of analysis for the I Have a Dream speech. Lots of pauses, more like poetry than a traditional speech. King had a rhythm to his speech.  Color coded analysis for the words: repetition; metaphor, visual words; familiar songs, scripture, literature; political references. He moved back and forth between what is and what could be at the phrase level at “I have a dream”; makes more excitement. Familiar references touch something that already resonates within the audience.

The stakes are higher now. It used to be that you could get away with crappy presentations because everyone else is crappy too. Now, there are books and best practices, and TED presentations set the bar higher. Twitter also sets the bar higher; the audience no longer has to suffer alone. They have a back channel and can revolt against a presenter. The audience can say cruel things. (example tweets from the disastrous #heweb09 keynote). Back channel can be good too; people may move to a good presentation they hear about on a back channel at a conference.

Don’t stay trapped in the roadblocks section of your own story. Push through and emerge transformed.

We need to find what we are passionate about to change the world.

Question: What do you do when you’re not fighting for human rights or a product that can’t be marveled at like the iphone?

Answer: some people really need to have passion and some don’t. Everyone needs to be passionate about something, but it may not be work related. People won’t invest in their communication skills if they aren’t passionate.

Question: How much time do we need to invest in our communication?

Answer: If you are given something you need to present in 3 days, it’s probably not high stakes. Categorize what is really important and what isn’t, and fight for the ones that are important. When you are launching your new 5-year vision, or making a big sale, you need to put a lot of time in.

Question: Going back to your “present in person” idea from the beginning, what about globally dispersed teams that don’t meet in person?

Answer: Plan and prepare. She stood up in front of pictures of people to practice so she would talk more like face to face in this online format. Your biggest competitor with virtual presentations is their inbox; if you aren’t more interesting than their inbox, they’ll be reading email. Think about getting their attention back. Break it into very small “Halloween candy size” bites to keep them engaged.

Question: You mentioned investing time in improving communications. What are ways people can invest in their skills?

Answer: Be a consumer of good information. You also need to practice it. They have workshops, other people do too–toastmasters

Question: Is there a time limit on keeping interest?

Answer: Depends on the speaker. Some can hold it for much longer. Emotionally charged content can engage people for longer.

Question: Who is your favorite storyteller?

Answer: Several favorites: Cheryl Sandberg (COO Facebook) is one

Question: Are there differences between people in how interested they are in stories? Are women more interested in stories than men?

Answer: Women may have a higher capacity for emotional content. There are stories as little anecdotes, overall themes, or story structure. You need to know your audience. Emotionally charged content may not work with biochemists. Everyone is human though, and everyone responds to story if it applies.

Question: How many slides should you use?

Answer: It depends. Keep one idea on a slide. If you have 5 ideas on a slide, the audience will read ahead and think you are slow. Slide count doesn’t really affect presentation length; if you click fast, you may have a lot of slides. This was about 75 slides for about 35 minutes of presentation.

Question: What do you do with SMEs who want to include everything in their presentation? How do you help them chunk content into smaller bits?

Answer: Slides are free. It’s not like you’re printing and more slides is more money to print. Sometimes a slide does need more information. They usually do printouts for dense information so they walk away with it rather than trying to cram it on a slide. Put a picture of the handout on the screen and tell people to look at the handout instead of looking at dense text on a slide.

Question: What is the greatest lesson you have learned from a webinar that didn’t go well?

Answer: Technology glitches. She had 25 people in the room, 200 online. It was distracting. She didn’t do a technical walkthrough first. Energy is really hard when you are the speaker and everyone else is muted. You have to keep your own energy very high.

Question: Back to the sailing analogy: how do we use the wind resistance idea to catch the audience’s attention?

Answer: The best way is to grab a few coworkers or the potential audience members. Let them think about ways people might resist. Get people who are comfortable being honest about resistance and reactions.

Question: How do your in person presentations differ from what you do in a webinar?

Answer: She really feeds on audience energy, but she tries to not have much gap. She describes things more visually when presenting online to make up for physical presence.

Question: How do you build this in written materials? Can we use this storytelling in emails or other communication?

Answer: Yes, this can work in other forms of persuasion. Her book resonate follows this form on every page, and then the book follows the form.

Question: Best practices for hybrid live/virtual audiences?

Answer: Make sure the technology works. Acknowledge that people who are calling in are humans too to make them not feel like they are outside looking in.

LinkedIn Connections and Generic Invites

LinkedIn Outdoor Banner I know many bloggers have an open connection policy, and that’s great for them, but I am generally more restrictive in who I connect with on LinkedIn. I prefer to connect with people who I could actually say something intelligent about if asked for an introduction. However, over the past few months, I’ve noticed an increase in invitations from people whose names I don’t recognize.  The majority of these invites use the generic boilerplate text (something like “I’d like to add you to my professional network”). Frankly, if you can’t be bothered to write one sentence to customize an invitation, you’re probably not a particularly beneficial connection to have.

When I get an invite from someone I don’t know, I sometimes reply with a message similar to the one below. I’m borrowing heavily from Scott Allen’s example in How to Politely Decline a LinkedIn Invitation, so give him all the credit for the idea and most of the actual text:

Thanks for inviting me to connect on LinkedIn. I would love to start a dialog, get to know each other, and find out how we might be of service to each other. Feel free to send me a message here through LinkedIn.

However, I do use LinkedIn as they recommend; I only accept invitations from people I know well professionally, and in most cases have actually worked with on some kind of project. I’m looking for conversations before connections. Generally, I interact with someone for several months before accepting or sending an invitation.

If you’re truly interested in a relationship and not just a link, I look forward to hearing from you.


Christy Tucker

My experience is similar to Scott’s; maybe 5% of people actually reply to a response like this.  As he aptly observes, “Makes me wonder how much value there could possibly have been in that link in the first place if they aren’t even willing to start a dialog and get to know anything about each other.”

I generally accept invites from people whose names I recognize from Twitter, #lrnchat, blogs, etc., even sometimes when boilerplate text is used. But if it’s a generic invite, you’re relying on my memory to immediately place the name, and I probably don’t always make the connection between a real name and a Twitter name. So please, if you’re going to send me an invite, please take the time to customize the message and remind me how I know you. And if I don’t know you, please start with a blog comment or some other communication rather than using the LinkedIn invite as the first contact. It’s not that I won’t connect with you ever, just that I’d like a conversation before an invitation.

What about you? Do you accept invitations from anyone, or do you filter them? Am I the only one with a pet peeve about generic invites, or do you find them irritating too?

Image Credit: LinkedIn Outdoor Banner (2007-0032 0002) by tychay

Lurking or Legitimate Peripheral Participation

During the July 7 early #lrnchat about social media and social learning, there was a lot of discussion about lurking.

Can I Play?In response to the question “What are some ways you learn through social media that aren’t collaborative, with other people per-se?”

I replied:

I do a fair amount of lurking (ie “legitimate peripheral participation”)

I also retweeted this message by Colby Fordham:

We all like sharers, but there is a value in lurking. [You] have to [learn] the rules and important topics.

and Jane Bozarth replied

…and then stop lurking

Often, lurking is just a temporary phase, and you do jump in afterwards. But is that always necessary? I have lots of online communities where I sit on the periphery and lurk, long past the initial phase of learning how the community works.

A few examples:

  • YouTube: Most of the time on YouTube, I’m just watching. I’m not creating my own videos, commenting, sharing, or bookmarking. I have a few videos, but I’m lurking at least 90% of the time.
  • Kongregate: Technically, I am not a lurker on this gaming site by the strictest definition, since I do rate games. I read through the forums and chat  sometimes, but rarely jump into the conversation.
  • News: I don’t get a newspaper in “dead tree” format; I get most of my news online. I read several newspapers and blogs, all of which have commenting or community features. Most of the time I don’t even read the user discussions, and I never add my own comments.
  • Slashdot: I skim the RSS feed, but I don’t have an account and have never commented.
  • Wikipedia: At one point, I contributed quite a bit (2500+ edits), but it’s been over a year since I’ve been active.

I learn on all those sites. (Yes, even Kongregate: I learn game strategies on the forums. What I learn is of limited use in the rest of my life, but it’s useful for my goals when I’m on that site.) I’ll be honest; I’m not really interested in getting sucked into the high drama conversations on most of those sites. Wikipedia, for example, can be pretty intense and nasty. It’s the only place online I’ve actually been directly threatened (although there was no actual danger, it was still disconcerting). If I’m going to be part of conversations, I’d rather they be part of the learning community, or at least more productive than many of the conversations at the sites above.

Would I be a better gamer if I was active in the Kongregate forums? Most likely. But I’m not looking for a high level of expertise in gaming. So why should I expend my energy there, when peripheral participation gets me enough expertise to meet my personal goals?

In the #lrnchat conversation, Jane called this behavior “taking,” and she’s right—I’m reading and taking advantage of the resources without giving back. I give back here, but I don’t give back in every community that I use. My giving is very uneven, and sometimes I just lurk.

Is it wrong to lurk, or is it appropriate to have different levels of participation in different online communities? Should we exclude anyone from reading the RSS feeds of our blogs if they aren’t commenting,  bookmarking, +1-ing, etc?

In Digital Habitats, Etienne Wenger, Nancy White, and John D. Smith call lurking “legitimate peripheral participation”:

From a community of practice perspective, lurking is interpreted as “legitimate peripheral participation,” a crucial process by which communities offer learning opportunities to those on the periphery. Rather than a simple distinction between active and passive members, this perspective draws attention to the richness of the periphery and the learning enabled (or not) by it. (p. 9)

Do the people active in a community learn more than those on the edges? Yes, I do believe that. But if your goal isn’t to be an expert, peripheral participation may give you enough learning to meet your needs. You can learn via social media without it actually being social learning.

What do you think? Are there communities where you are in the center of the action, but others where you’re on the periphery? Is there a place for lurking in learning communities, or should everyone be an active participant? If we’re designing learning with social media, can we focus just on social learning, or can we also support use of social media for peripheral participation?

Image credit:

Can I play? by jaxxon