How to Hustle Your Way To Freelance Success

How to Hustle Your Way To Freelance Success

Every freelancer I’ve ever met started at the bottom of the barrel. I did. So did James . I’m willing to bet you started at the bottom too. Maybe you’re still stuck there.

So how do you climb your way to the top?

Insecurity can hold you back

Figure out what’s keeping you at the bottom.

Maybe you don’t think your work is good enough. Maybe your rates are low because you don’t think anyone will pay you more. Maybe you haven’t contacted your dream client because you don’t feel you’re “‘ready” yet.

In short, you’re insecure about what you can do.

Know what? When you’re just starting out and you haven’t had a large number of clients, it’s completely natural to feel insecure.

What isn’t natural is to let it hold you back indefinitely.

If you aren’t confident in your abilities, how do you convince a prospective client you’re the person for the job?

Be Professional.

So, what’s a freelancer have to do to get past this insecurity and climb to the top?

You gotta fake it ‘til you make it, that’s what!

Prospective clients don’t know your particular situation. They don’t know whether you’ve just finished a year-long project or just opened your freelancing business. When they look to hire a freelancer, they want someone dependable who’ll do an excellent job for an acceptable cost.

Letting people know you don’t have any work can give the impression that no one wants you to work for them. That’s probably not an accurate impression people should have of you, but it’s like walking into an empty restaurant at dinnertime.

It makes you wonder if the food’s any good. And why no one else is here eating.

Clients will feel good about working with someone who lets it be known that he or she just had a client spot open up and invites people to get in touch if they’re looking for a freelancer.

Don’t tweet about not finding higher paying jobs.

By complaining that you can’t find a better-paying job, you’re telling prospective clients that, well, no one wants to pay you more – so why should anyone else feel they should?

Plus, complaining about pay in a situation where you typically negotiate your own pay is a bit tacky.

Instead, tweet about what you do have and make it sound interesting. No one needs to know you’re being paid $5 for the work or that you’re writing it for a content mill.

Don’t talk about not having work.

Wax lyrical about the freelance lifestyle and how it lets you take the afternoon off. Or how much you enjoy it and the work you do. Or how it lets you work on your own projects.

Don’t have any client work or projects? No problem: Spend time preparing sample works for your portfolio and show them off through social media. That’s part of the freelancer lifestyle!

Unable to move past the low-paying freelance rut you’re stuck in?

Don’t beg your readers or potential clients for money just because you’ve hit a low point.

Try to figure out what you can do to get out of the situation you’re in. If you can’t think of anything, ask for advice or search the web for others who have been in similar situations and found ways to help themselves.

The good news is that faking success is temporary. If you do this next tip right, you won’t have to fake it for long.

Hustle, hustle, hustle!

Hustling isn’t about being dishonest. It’s about using what you’ve got and using it well.

It’s about doing everything in your power to climb to the top.

Don’t have good samples? Write them for free.

If the client hires you, he gets to use them and you get paid. If not, you can still add them to your portfolio. Either way, it’s a win-win.

Got rejected for a freelance job? Follow up after a month to see how the person they hired is working out.

Just don’t phrase it like that!

Have a prospective client you’d love to work with? Introduce yourself.

Send them an email, sing laurels about their work and suggest ways to make their content more effective.

Something as simple as: ‘Hi, I loved your post. It would make a great infographic, and there are more chances of it going viral that way too.’ can be enough to position you as someone who knows his stuff.

Don’t offer to work with them. Help them instead.

Be the person they can turn to for solutions to their problems, even if you have to refer them to someone else.

Can’t find clients? Offer to work pro-bono for a respected charity.

Charities and foundations are always in need of writers. Find a cause you believe in and contact them. Let them know you’re a freelance writer who’d be happy to help them out.

Not only does working for charities create goodwill, but you also get respectable samples for your portfolio and elevate its status in the eyes of prospective clients.

Treat your pro-bono work with as much care as you would a paying client’s work. And don’t forget to ask for three things in return:

    1. Confidentiality. Payment terms – or lack of them – stay between the two of you.
    2. A testimonial if they’re happy with your work.
    3. Referrals.

Just one pro-bono client can lead to good testimonials, excellent referrals and paid work.

Channel your inner 007

Remember those dream clients you wished you worked with? Find and follow them online.

Where do they hang out? What topics do they blog and tweet about? What kind of links do they share? Who are their friends? Find out as much about them as you can and then…

Network (the right way)

Unless you’re a pro at cold-calling, you’re going to want to learn how to network the right way.

Talk to people and businesses in your niche. Comment on their blogs, share their content, email them to tell them how awesome they are and how much their post, tweet or book helped you. Show them the results you attained with their help.

Be honest about it, though. If you decide that one of your ideal clients isn’t worth your time, don’t flatter him just to get the work. Keep your integrity intact.

And no matter what you do, don’t expect anything in return. Instead, become the person they think of first when they want to hire someone with your specific skill set.

Once I helped edit a small business owner’s first blog post. All it took was her sending out a tweet saying how nervous she was about sending off her first guest post. I offered to edit the post, and she took me up on my offer. I edited it and then we both forgot about it.

Or so I thought.

A few months later when she started her own blog, guess who she hired as her blog’s editor?

Hustling doesn’t work without hard work

Hustling alone won’t make a success of your freelance business. It may open the door, but it’s your job to walk in, do the work and wow the socks off your clients.

So use your hustling abilities to make opportunities for yourself instead of waiting for them to come to you. Soon, you’ll have hustled your way to freelancing success.

And you won’t need to fake it at all.

What advice would you give to a freelancer who’s just starting out or who needs more work?


Post by Samar Owais

Samar Owais is a freelance blogger who loves to talk shop over at her blog The Writing Base. She’s also the creator of How to Break Free From Low Paying Writing Gigs (And Earn More) ecourse. Sign up for her newsletter and get the first two lessons absolutely free.

Join the Discussion. Click Here to Leave a Comment.

  1. Way to go Samar – spot on.

    I always find it bizarre when freelancers publicly slate their current clients, or low wages. For one, like you said, they chose their clients, and two, it doesn’t attract better paying clients, it attracts other whiny freelancers.

    There may be comfort in having others agree that clients suck, but staying where it’s comfortable doesn’t usually bring many rewards. 🙂

    • “…it doesn’t attract better paying clients, it attracts other whiny freelancers. <- Exactly! Couldn't have said it better myself.

      I know it's simplifying the process but finding better paying clients is as simple as raising your rates for new clients. Even if it's just a $5-$10 raise to begin with. New clients don't know what your current rates are.

      As for slating clients – that's just a big no in my book. It's never okay to belittle yourself by complaining about them.

  2. Excellent tips, Samar. And scarcity is a powerful incentive. It’s important to strike the balance between having room for a new client and not looking as though you’re doing nothing – the advice you give here is spot-on!

    • Thanks Sharon! You’re absolutely right.

      How you project yourself and your business is directly related to the kind of clients and work you attract.

  3. Excellent article thanks, a lot of great points. I think keeping a lid on any complaints about clients or a lack of work is a really important point to keep in mind – insulting people and showing negativity is only ever going to distance you from people.

    And any freelancer that complains they’ve got no work clearly isn’t putting enough work into their own business. When you’re freelancing there’s always something you can be working on, whether it’s paid or not.

    • “When you’re freelancing there’s always something you can be working on, whether it’s paid or not.” <- Yes! If nothing else, work on posts for you blog that will help market your freelance business and showcase your writing talent.

      Instead of feeling dejected and moping around publicly, do something! 🙂

      My personal favorite is working for a non-profit organizations. And not every non-profit will ask you to work for no pay. A lot of them pay too!

  4. I work full time in a job that covers my cost but I want to start writing for an additonal income.
    at present I have one blog and want to start another next year on an entirely different subject.
    I want to get to the point where I can write both consistently and that people who read them think they are good but have no idea how I could find any work doing some writing type work!
    any ideas. HOw do you get the clients!? I haven’t got a clue. I sitll need to read up on how to get people goign to my blog. I have done all the basic stuff.

    • Julie – Interestingly, I’m asked that question quite often.

      My advice? Focus on one blog that showcases your skills as a writer and blogger.

      Let it be known that you’re a writer for hire. Mention it in your About page, put up a Hire Me or Work With Me page and list your writing services.

      Get active on social media, tap into your personal network, create an email signature, look into job boards. Email local companies and offer your services. In short, take the initiative and hustle! 🙂

      If you want to get clients then the point isn’t to create a wildly popular blog but to attract prospective clients.

  5. Put in the time, no way around it. I’d also tell them to read Godin’s The Dip.

    Nice job Samar.

    • Thanks Demian! You’ve touched on a very important aspect of any business. Success takes time and hard work. Overnight successes are on their way to success well before their night in the limelight comes.

      The Dip has been sitting on my shelf for a while. I’ll definitely be reading it now that you’ve recommended it so strongly. The one book I keep going back to is Made to Stick.

      • One of my favorite quotes I learned early in my career: “It took him/her twenty years to be an overnight success.”

        I just heard this one, too: “You have to work 16 hours a day so you can make money while you sleep.” 🙂

        Dip will take you about 15 minutes to read. “Read” is an overstatement. You’ll get the point in the first five to ten pages–and then scan the rest. Nice kick in the pants–kind of like Book Two of Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art.”

  6. Everyone has to start somewhere, even if that’s doing stuff for free. You have to get your material out there. And you have to practice and slowly pave your way to better opportunities.

    • You’re spot on Tini!

      It’s the freelancer’s job to take that first step – even if it’s a misstep. You’ll make mistakes, you’ll learn and ultimately, you’ll move forward and find better paying work.

      Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  7. You gotta fake it ‘til you make it, that’s what!’ strikes me. I’m just starting out my freelance writing career as a part timer. I’ve never been on job boards such as Elance and Odesk.

    But, once I submitted 2 (only two) guest posts to a popular blog, I attracted high-paying clients.

    In a nutshell, showcasing your expertise in large audiences is what a freelancer should focus on when it comes to “fishing” prospective clients.

    Thanks for the sharing Samar! 🙂

  8. Kelvon, I wouldn’t come outright and say don’t go for bidding sites because I know plenty of freelancers who do really well on them. James began on her freelance writing career on a bidding site too. Wasn’t long before she moved on!

    Personally, the entire process of bidding and competing with lower rates depresses me. Stating my rates on my website and marketing my business through hustling has worked better for me.

    I’m so glad guest posting is working for you!

  9. Awesome post, Samar! Just what I needed to read right now.

  10. I have been freelancing for a number of years. I never thought to volunteer for a charity as a way of promoting my work. Not only is the charity a laboratory for trying new things with writing and getting exposure, it also is a way of giving back to the community who by reading my work on the charity site and elsewhere make me a success. I hate free work, but a charity is a whole other story.

    Good tip for an old dog.

  11. Wonderful advice, Samar! I am coming out of the ‘insecurity stage’ and am now networking with those who influence me most while also taking in all of the information that I can. I think that writing for a local charity would be a good ‘hustle’ move for me starting out, so thanks for making that point.

  12. Great article, Samar. Just wanted to mention a link between freelancer rates and something I read about job interviews: Ask what you think you’re worth (maybe even a bit more). If you’re completely out of the ballpark, most clients will counter your offer. Never ask off the bat what your client is willing to pay. It’s always easier to bargain down than up.

    And as a final note: Ask. The worst that can happen is for someone to say no. But you won’t know until you ask. I did a stint as a network marketer and one of the guys I worked with (who was actually making a lot of money from it) told me this: “I live for every ‘no’, because it brings me closer to the next ‘yes'”. Also remember that a ‘no’ now, may actually just mean ‘not right now’.

  13. Hi Samar,
    Check out local website designers’ websites: Sometimes they feature works in progress in their portfolios. Email the business owners and explain how you can help to create content for their new site. It works!

  14. Fabulous information, Samar. Thank you #HUGS

  15. Sushmita Sen, the first Ms. Universe from India, once said: “How will you know whether someone wants to dance with you if you never ask for their hand?”

    I am trying to take tiny hops of courage in my career. I am 33 and lost a decade to Eating Disorders. Starting over is hard. Feeling like a loser, a failure and an idiot is an everyday occurrence.

    But knowing that everyone has a starting point is hugely inspirational – so thanks again, Samar. #HUGS


  16. I’m a bit late to the party but still wanted to say what an excellent post. As someone who is only 4 months into my freelance copywriting career, I can vouch for the fact that it’s all hard work and hustle at the beginning.

    The secret to success is to stand your ground and keep pushing. If you want it bad enough, you’ll make it happen.

    You give some great tips for making the climb a little easier, without sugar coating it.


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