It is a widely known fact that big clients do things differently. The largest organisations in the modern brandscape will have millions of dollars to spend in marketing budget, but they obviously won’t be keen on spending them all in a risky freelance partnership with someone they just met. Big brands and businesses tend to employ in-house staff, agencies or people they know well; as a result, landing massive clients as a solo freelancer is incredibly hard. But I would be lying if I told you that it is impossible.
Stories of success with agency-sized projects are few and far in between, but they do exist, whether you are in branding, UI/UX, production or any other side of the industry. And that, for many people, should be enough of a motivator to at least try.
How can freelancers land agency-sized clients? Surely experience is a big plus; but it’s not the only factor.
Get out of penny-gig platforms
This is quite obvious, but many freelancers who are just starting out will fall into the trap of believing that the best work can be found on platforms like Fiverr, Upwork or Freelancer.com. To put it frankly, this is simply not true. The most experienced freelancers will know that the biggest clients don’t even look at penny-gig platforms. Sure, you may find the occasional 5-figures budget, but most of the jobs advertised on these platforms are absolutely below average.
What’s worse, you can’t compete with hundreds of professionals from the opposite side of the world asking for a fraction of your freelance rate. It simply won’t work in your favour. The biggest gigs, clients and jobs are outside of these platforms. Here at Creativepool we make the conscious effort of avoiding most of such penny-sized gigs in our studiogigs section, and only select the better-paying jobs from carefully-vetted employers. Creativepool can be a launchpad of course; but at the core of every successful freelance business is a network of relationships which only you can cultivate, nurture and develop.
Image credit: Tosh Hall
Be confident about your services
With years of experience and countless different projects comes great confidence in your own skills and services. However, confidence shouldn’t translate into false promises. If you are just starting out as a copywriter, it’s unlikely that you will be able to go to Coca-Cola with the promise of tripling their revenue – they would laugh in your face, and they may be in their right to do so.
All big clients care about are results, benefits and growth. The only way in which you can guarantee all of that is by showing a solid portfolio of past work that goes beyond words and proves tangible success. This requires time and experience. But when the time actually comes to have that chat with a prospective large client, you want to be prepared for all the questions that may come and all the doubts that may arise.
Aim for the work you love
If you’ve been in this industry for long enough (and you probably have if you’re reading this), you know that there is a special something in working on the projects you have a personal interest in. If you are personally and emotionally invested into the work you’re doing, you’ll not only love every bit of it, you will also end up with one of the best projects you’ve ever created.
As much as it’s reasonable, be picky and only choose to work with the projects and companies you really love. We all had to do work we were ashamed of to get to the end of the month; but once you start building up your portfolio with some of those projects, there’s nothing that prevents you from going out in the open and chasing better work. This all builds up your confidence for when you actually attract that big dream client.
Image credit: Pablo Ladosa
Work with agencies
As I mentioned earlier, relationships can make or break a successful freelance business. You need those relationships to grow and gain some exposure in the industry. You may not love working with agencies rather than directly with clients, but agencies are the ones in direct contact with the clients you are chasing. It is a lengthy process for sure, and it may feel like you are beating around the bush rather than aiming straight for the win; but over time, those relationship will yield results, and your work will get in front of the right set of eyes.
Some freelancers even turn to freelancing after a number of years working for an agency as an employee. You don’t have to do that if you’ve been freelancing for a long time, but if you are just starting out, perhaps spending your first 5 years in an agency environment won’t hurt in the long run. You may even end up working as a freelancer for one of your previous employers.
If the idea of spending a few years as an employee picks your interest, we have over 1,000 jobs here on Creativepool that you can apply for. And if full-time employment isn’t exactly your cup of tea, you will find over 20,000 companies in our creative services directory, so you can start connecting straight away!
Connect with ideal clients
If you know precisely which clients you want to work with, how to reach them and set up a meeting, excellent. But don’t just go for a sales pitch straight away; people tend to be intimidated by sales pitches, and you can imagine a large corporation receives unsolicited pitches all the time. Try to find a key representative of your client and go against everything that your introvert, impostor syndrome tells you: invite them out for lunch. No commitments, no strings attached. Just schedule a call or a meeting to discuss their business, ask questions and learn more about what they are doing. If there is a way for you to enter the conversation and offer your services, perfect; but it doesn’t have to be that way from the start. In time, your name will get in front of the right people and you will be offered a perfect opportunity.
On top of that, we all know that designers and creatives aren’t fond of networking events – but there’s a reason why they exist. Networking events help clients connect with talent they wouldn’t find otherwise. They help with scouting the market for new business partnerships which can bring advantage to both parties. If you are not going to networking events in your search for clients, you are already at a disadvantage compared to other freelancers in your field.
Image credit: Sean Cullen
Price yourself right
Expert freelancers will know their worth, but there are still some out there who will be willing to undervalue themselves. A large client may be willing to consider you because you are cheaper than an agency – not because you are cheap. Don’t be cheap. Set your price right, gauge the client in front of you and be conscious of your skills. This is all about being confident in your skills and services, as mentioned earlier above.
Remember that the most experienced freelancers can charge at least £500 per day. Your time is precious, and your client will understand that. But if your client’s needs are beyond your scope and require the help of a full team of agency professionals, make sure to be honest and refer them to a place where their needs will be better catered for. You don’t want to take in more than you can handle – it will only hurt both you and your prospective client in the long run.
Be reliable, professional, specialised
Clients, big and small, are looking for reliability and professionalism. If you can prove your reliability and make them feel safe when investing in you, they won’t think twice before doing so. If they have doubts, clear them. If they are wary of freelancers, show them why they shouldn’t. Deliver by the deadline or ahead of times, keep your communications clear, welcome feedback and be ready to integrate with their team. Ask clever questions and show both your experience and expertise by drawing from your past projects.
Choosing a freelancer over an agency can feel like a risk to a large client, and building that relationship of trust can take some time. Perhaps they will entrust you with smaller projects first. But once the trust is there, most of the job is done; now it’s about keeping it solid for the rest of your business relationship.
Additionally, freelance UI/UX designer Benek Lifenski argues in favour of becoming a “Multi-Hyphenate” specialist; in other words, a specialist with some understanding of related fields as well. If you are a UI designer, deepening your knowledge of front-end coding can only help you work more organically with a team, whilst still making a difference with your main specialism. This is much different from being a generalist, which would be a “jack of all trades, but master of none.”
Image credit: Tom Sharp
Can you win big clients as a freelancer?
It should be clear by now that winning big clients as a freelancer is not impossible, and in fact, given the right amount of time, it is also something that any freelancer could pull off somehow. It does take some hard work and commitment to build meaningful relationships, as well as a conscious effort to build up your confidence; but once you get past that initial fear, you will only start attracting bigger and better clients. Certainly, by that point, getting to the end of the month with a healthy bank account will be the least of your worries; and you will finally be able to enjoy some much deserved peace of mind.