Common Mistakes Freelancers Make when Selling Themselves Online

There are a lot of ways to attract new clients while freelancing. You can go to networking events, you can do cold calling, there are online job boards and many more.

No matter what you do, sooner or later your potential clients will come to your web site. It will play big part in their decision whether to work with you. That is why it is critical to optimize it for sales.

I love learning from others, especially from other freelancers and consultants. As a result, I’ve been visiting hundreds of web sites and everywhere I see the same, easily avoidable, mistakes.

You will be amazed how many freelancers and agencies have great looking web sites which are almost completely useless when it comes to selling themselves to potential clients.

I would like to share with you some of the most common mistakes I’ve seen, so that you can avoid them. It’s a handful of mistakes that new, and even experienced, freelancers make when selling themselves online.

1. Your site is not about you, it’s about them

It is natural to love to talk about yourself and what you do, especially if you consider yourself good or expert in your domain. That is how 99% of all freelancers and agencies make their sites.

Here are a few examples of front page titles:

design boutique with people full of passion, ideas, and commitment

creative idea machine, designer, illustrator, and coffee aficionado

hand-crafted websites built with love to make your design shine

These may sound nice and cool, which they are, but they are actually hurting the business. They say nothing about what the client might expect as a result of working with the freelancer. Only the forth one makes some effort by saying at least what the company is doing, but it still missing too much.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end here. Often, the potential customer not only doesn’t understand what you can do for him, but then he is drowned in a list of thousand skills and also words like RoR, Rails, Node, Wordpress, Python. These are words he doesn’t understand and has no idea what the hell they have to do with his problems.

Imagine going to a fast food restaurant to buy a sandwich and instead of the menu and the mouthwatering pictures, there is a lot of information on what kind of stoves they use to make your sandwiches. You don’t care about that, you are hungry and you want to eat.

It may sound ridiculous but this is how potential clients feel when they visit the sites of most freelancers and agencies.

What is the equivalent of the mouth watering pictures in freelancing and consulting? The pictures tell you how you can solve your problem, that you are hungry.

In our case, we can start with words. You could use better titles and more text focused on your clients, which should show that you understand their problem and that you can fix it.

Here is a great example from Bootstrapping Design. I know that this is a product, but the principles are the same. These are the first 3 lines of the home page.

Title: Become the designer your startup needs


You’re building a business, but great design feels out of reach.

What if you could design it yourself?

It starts with the problem from the title, then reinforce it in the next line and then tells that it can help the customer. Afterwards, it continues with more text related to the core problem of the potential customer.

It’s focused entirely on the client.

2. Don’t let the client guess

When your site is focused on yourself, instead on the clients and their problems, you are leaving too much for your clients to guess.

If you are lucky your client might actually understand all the skills and other technological words, but then what?

With the exact same skills, you might be able to solve a lot of different problems.

An email marketing guru setting up a marketing campaign might use the same programming tools that a Ruby On Rails or a Node developer will use to setup a custom web app. Yet, the problem each of them is solving is very different.

Instead, remove all the guessing and focus on specific problems that your potential clients might have.

3. Not using words

This is a problem I see quite often not only with designers, but also with all kind of freelancers. It looks like this.

There is a big picture on the whole screen with very little text in the center like “Peter Pettigrew. Freelance design and development.”, or sometimes not even that but just one big list with images of past projects.

It always looks very cool and minimalistic, but it never sells.

It resembles a little bit the fast food chain example. The purpose of the cool design is to produce a mouthwatering effect, but it doesn’t.

When you enter a fast food restaurant, you go in with one specific goal and one specific well defined problem. You are hungry and you want to eat. It’s very clear and very simple.

However, just like the previous point, a potential client can come with many different problems, and when using no words, you are leaving them to guess how you can help them.

4. Don’t be everything for everyone

With your skills you can solve a lot of different problems. Moreover, we are all good people and we want to help everyone who needs our help and is ready to pay for our service.

As result, even when you try to focus your sales copy on your clients, it becomes too general. You know that you can help everyone and you want to do it.

Unfortunately, this lack of focus means also that when a potential client comes to your site, it won’t be clear for him that you can solve his problem.

Instead, it’s better to focus on solving specific business problems with your skills. Let’s look at a some examples of how people do it.

Imagine a team who needs to ship a project and as the deadline approaches they need an additional developer to help them, but they need this person only temporarily.

I know someone who specializes in this problem. He helps teams and companies to ship their products by joining them for 2-3 months prior to the deadline. As a result he is always solid booked for at least 6 months in advance.

Another freelancer I know is focused on launching sites for small businesses who don’t have online presence yet. In his case, because of his focus, he was able to optimize his process and now he can launch a unique site for a new customer specifically targeted at their business in a matter of days.

This is what focusing on specific problems can do for you. Moreover, you will naturally become the expert in solving those specific problems instead of other more “general” freelancers.

5. Portfolio not focused on results

A lot of the portfolios on the web consist of a few beautiful pictures, probably with a project and company names and also a small description of what was done, and sometimes a list of the technologies used.

This sounds right, but it is not and it is losing clients.

It’s not clear at all what problem you have solved. A logo design can solve many problems. The same goes for developing a new company web site, or writing a better marketing copy.

Not only that, but is also not clear what you’ve achieved. Maybe your clients will understand what problem you tackled, but what was the result after your work? Did your client business improved?

To answer all of those questions and make your portfolio useful, you can use case studies. Make every work in your portfolio a case study.

Each case study should focus on 3 points.

First is about the challenge that this project had to tackle. You should write about what was the situation before and what goals there were.

Second is a description on what you did and what was the approach that you took to meet the goals in the current situation.

Last you should write about the outcome of your work and what the project achieved.

Using case studies will make your portfolio useful to your potential clients. They will be able to identify themselves with some of the problems and with some of the outcomes they desire.

They will also see that you can deliver results consistently when there is a business challenge.

None of these will happen with a traditional full of beautiful pictures portfolio.

6. Don’t show your rate on your site

Fortunately, this mistake is more and more rare but I still encounter it from time to time.

Giving yourself a price can initially sound like a good idea. You instantly remove many cheap clients and at the same time you give a high perceived value.

In addition, when negotiating a project you don’t need to talk about pricing because this is already clear, and we freelancers don’t love talking about pricing. We love doing our job and talking about the projects that we work on.

This may sounds great but let me give you an extreme example. Imagine that you are freelance copywriter, who is so good that no matter which company site you take, by working on their copy for exactly 1 week, you are able to increase the company revenue by 5%.

You have your rate on your site. It’s $5000 a week.

One day, two companies come to you, a small local company and a multinational billion dollar company, each hiring you for one week. At the end of the two projects, you are happy that you succeeded with both and the revenue of both companies increased by 5%.

Now you have $10,000 in your bank account.

Great, right? Let’s do a little math.

Your small local company probably has a yearly revenue of $200,000. Therefore 5% increase is an additional $10,000 a year, and they earned this just by investing one time $5000 in you. It’s a great deal and ROI (Return on Investment).

Now, let’s look at the multinational. Their revenue is something like 60 billion. 5% is 3 billion per year of additional revenue and this is just for a mere one time $5000.

So you see, the same exact skills for the same exact amount of time can produce very different value. That is why your pricing should account for that, and this is impossible if you put a pricing on your page.

You might think that it is unfair to clients to charge them differently for the same thing, but it will might only be unfair if the resulting value is the same.

You are not charging them for your time or your skills. You are charging them for the value that you helped them create.

What’s next?

Try and apply everything above and you will see better results over time.

Everything wrong that I mentioned seems just so natural, but it doesn’t deliver results. I know all of that and I am still constantly making mistakes.

The key is to keep iterating. You improve, then a few weeks you come back and you improve your site again, and so on. This is the only way to break the bad habits, by replacing them with good ones.

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We are Stefan Fidanov & Vasil Lyutskanov. We share actionable advice about earning more and working with better clients as a freelancer and consultant.

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