At some point in every freelancer’s career there comes a time when you’re going to write a freelance pitch for a client’s project. If the thought of being a salesman isn’t intimidating enough,this at least doubles after realizing how many other freelancers pitching and hoping for the project. All those different screaming freelancers saying, “Pick me!” makes it almost impossible to feel like your voice is getting through. Let’s get you that voice!

In this article we’ll be going over the ins and outs of crafting a freelance pitch that I gained through my years in the industry to help let your voice stand out in a crowd.


Table of Contents:

  1. How I Used To Write a Freelance Pitch
  2. Best Practices
  3. Freelance Proposals and How to Make Them Effective
  4. How to Stand Out as a Web Designer? – video

How I Used To Write a Freelance Pitch


write-freelance-pitch

Starting out in this industry I was like just about every other new freelancer. I didn’t know a thing! Now if you take that and mix it together with being somewhat stubborn, you’ve got yourself a long list of mistakes being made for quite a while. Rather than just listing my mistakes and describing how bad they were, I’m going to also show you what they looked like. Below you’ll find a freelance pitch I would’ve written right now if I hadn’t learned from my mistakes.

Hello,

My name is Jamal Jackson and I am a 20 year old designer, developer, blogger, and best-selling author based in Atlanta, Ga. Through my four years of professional experience, I have gained a good reputation for my exceptional design and usability skills, in addition to my semantically clean coding practices.

I have also written on web industry blogs such as SpeckyBoy Design Blog, Onextrapixel, UX Mag, and 1stwebdesigner where I also wrote a best-selling eBook on Responsive Web Design.

Through my years as a web professional, I have gained a good reputation for my attention to detail on the usability aspects of websites, my creative problem solving skills, and warm, and refreshing approach to my projects. As a front-end developer, I stand out because I am also a designer for one. So I understand both design principles and coding, which pushes me to strive in making my coding always come out semantically, practical, and in the most efficient way possible.

I have worked on such clients as AT&T, Realtree, Compassion International, Delta TechOps, Childrens Healthcare, and March of Dimes. In addition, I’ve been able to work on video conferencing apps whose parent company’s client list includes 75% of the fortune 100.

If you are interested in working with me then you can further learn more about my capabilities from my portfolio site, http://www.5alarmint.com, and you can hear what is being said of myself and work in the Testimonials section, http://5alarmint.com/testimonials.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and consider me for this position, and have a nice day!

Back in my earlier days, I would use some generic pitch boosting myself like this ALL THE TIME! Looking at this today makes me a little sick. No very sick would be a much better description, pleasantries aren’t helping anyone here. Now that we’ve looked at hideous style of pitch, its time to take it apart and tell you what’s wrong with it. To start the dissection and criticizing of my old ways, we’re going to go with the high level than low level approach. This way before we get into the details, you’ll understand the high level aspects and will understand them so much more!

High Level Issues

write-freelance-pitch-issues

All I Did Was Brag

Looking at this pitch you’re probably thinking that it isn’t too bad, I did everything right. I talked about my experience, mentioned what I did, made note of my most proud of accomplishments in the industry, gave a link to my portfolio, and offered a thank you at the end. What could be wrong here, right?

Well if you look at the pitch very closely, you’ll notice a recurring theme. Sadly from start to finish, all I did was brag and offer very little substance to the person/team I was sending this pitch to.

I Never Answered Anything in the Listing

As I already said, this listing was used for every listing I saw. So what do you think the chances are of this actually addressing what one out of the many times I sent this out? The short answer is 0%. To understand why this percentage is so low, just think about fishing. When you go fishing you have the option of using a general bait that all the fish seem to like, or a specified bait only to catch specific fish. I was using the general bait that seemed to appeal to all the the fish, yet it only attracted the bottom feeders.

Too Much Irrelevant Information

So if the listing I’m applying for is for a designer role, why do I have my developer experience in the pitch? Back then I figured it just showed my diversity and would make me more appealing to work with. What it actually did was give off the perception to those reading it that I’m not really caring about or remotely interested in their project. Oh, and probably that I have a somewhat low reading comprehension ability.

Shows Nothing About Me

Looking at this pitch have you noticed that you could easily take my name out, and put yours in? Of course all of my bragging probably wouldn’t match up with your career at this point, but it could be done without having to alter anything else. This is sadly the case because I did nothing to show who I am in this pitch. Without that personality nothing really stands out about me as a person, and such would easily make this forgettable.

Way Too Long

Do you see how long this pitch is? It looks like I was trying to write a high school essay about why I’d be better than the other millions of emails you’re getting for this job listing. A client looking for a freelancer has to read and sort through an endless amount of pitches before they decide on who to work with. So to ask someone who goes through that many emails to read one as long as mine, only invites them to gracefully skim through and skip it.

Picking My Pitch Apart

write-perfect-freelance-pitch

Now that we’ve looked over the four main issues of why this pitch never really worked out for me, let’s take it apart and look at the lines and areas that caused me the most trouble.

Listing My Age and Years of Experience

“My name is Jamal Jackson and I am a 20 year old.. my four years of professional experience…”

I used to think it was a great idea to list my age and years of experience in a pitch. In my head I thought that clients would be so impressed with my age, at the time I was in my teens, and would love to work with me now to build a solid relationship as I grow into the industry. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

Mentioning your age or experience in a pitch shows a potential client that you’re insecure about what you can bring to the project. This is so because both are mentioned to create a rose colored lens effect, making yourself look better after implying necessary viewing parameters.

Listing Everything I do

“designer, developer, blogger, and best-selling author……  written on web industry blogs such as SpeckyBoy Design Blog, Onextrapixel, UX Mag, and 1stwebdesigner… ”

In being harsh with myself, who cares about all that fluff??? Did the listing ask for a designer? Developer? Was it looking for a blogger or an author? Well, there are rarely listings that would seek someone with more than one niche skill set, so overselling yourself makes you look stupid. In fact if you see a listing looking for more than a niche in design or development, it probably would be a safe bet to ignore it. Unless you like looking stupid like I use to of course :)

Pointlessly Talking About Why I’m a Right Fit

“Through my years as a web professional… the most efficient way possible.”

You can sugar coat yourself in a pitch as much as you feel necessary, but that won’t change the work you’ve done. Everything I put into that paragraph could easily be seen, or not seen, just by looking at my portfolio site. So in the end all I ended up honestly achieving was making me looking less skilled than I actually am.


Best Practices


how-to-write-freelance-pitch

Now that we’ve seen some good examples of what not to do at my expense, its time to move on to what you should be doing. So in this section, we’ll be going over solid tips to create a great pitch that will get read and look over some examples.

Tips For Creating A Great Pitch

After going through the mistakes I made in the past with my horrible pitch, you should have a pretty good idea on what makes a great one. Just to fine tune your understanding a bit, here are a few good guidelines to always make sure pitch adhere to.

  • Keep it short, 2 paragraph max
  • Stay on the listings topic
  • DON’T mention your age or years of experience
  • No bragging
  • Keep it simple
  • Show your personality with some appropriate humor/wit

All that seems pretty doable right? GREAT! Now it is time to take a look at a couple of example pitches you could use.

The first example will highlight what to do with a listing that is short, and not asking for any specifics. The second example will provide an outline for how to address listings that ask for more detailed information. Things like specialties, desired rate, and best time to contact.

Example #1

Hello [insert company/contact person name],

My name is [your name], and I’m a developer based in Atlanta, Ga. I saw your listing, and thought I’d be a good fit for the role. Below you’ll find links to my portfolio site and resume, and a form of contact.

Portfolio: yourdomain.com

Resume: yourdomain.com/resume

Preferred form of contact

I look forward to scheduling a time to talk this week about the project!

Cheers,

[your name]

Example #2

Hello [insert company/contact person name].

My name is [your name], and after seeing your listing I feel like we could collaborate well with each other on this project. My specialties are [your specialties]. My desired rate is [your rate], and the best time to contact me is [your best time].

Below you’ll find links to my portfolio and resume, and my best contact method.

Portfolio: yourdomain.com

Resume: yourdomain.com/resume

Preferred form of contact

I look forward to hearing from you later on in the week to learn more about this project.

Cheers,

[your name]

Why Do These Examples Work

Both these example pitches have worked well for me because they satisfy the necessary criteria that each listing asks for. Of course it fits perfectly with the tips/guidelines we got from taking apart my early pitch. Just for reference, lets do a quick run through.

  • Both are short in length
  • Portfolio, resume(optional unless asked for), and contact info clearly displayed
  • No irrelevant information
  • Straightforward and to the point

Now you are ready to start looking for clients and you will know how to present yourself correctly now! Take action!

The next section will cover some more great tips on writing a great pitch and being a great freelancer.


Freelance Proposals and How to Make Them Effective

Whether you’ve done this two times or 200 times, the process will constantly need refining but the most important thing is to be clear, concise, accurate, and on time. Make your proposal bulletproof. Make sure it includes the scope of the project, so that anything outside of the scope will be billed extra. This will help with your time management, your billing, your timeline, and of course, your sanity. We’ll also talk a bit about a proposal system I love and highly recommend. Here we go!


Mmmmm…BidSketch

So I know there’s like 27,000 (approx. :D) proposal systems out there to use. There’s some really great ones, I won’t lie. There’s some that suck too. But the one I ended up going with has worked out very well for me. I actually got involved with this system when it was called SixCentral. It was only out a few months when the creator of BidSketch decided he liked the functionality and wanted to merge it with his system, so he bought it. And somehow I got involved with some testing for him and I’ve been with the system ever since. The thing is that almost every time I send out a proposal or show a peer the app I’m using, they love it. I get compliments on the professionality of it constantly and I think it’s a big reason why I win most of the proposals I send out.

Online Proposal Creator and Management

So What’s So Special About BidSketch You Say?

Well, in a nutshell, it does everything I need and pretty much nothing I don’t. If you remember from the previous article in this series, it’s important to keep it simple. BidSketch does just that. It’s got a very intuitive interface that has a pretty decent design and works extremely well. Here are some of the perks of what it does.

  • Secure Login
  • Manage clients
  • Manage proposals for clients
  • Integrates with Freshbooks
  • Integrates with Highrise
  • Create invoices from proposals if you’re integrated with Freshbooks
  • Preset sections for creating proposals quickly
  • Ability to have multiple sections such as client needs, project scope, pricing, etc
  • Preset pricing items including project fees, monthly, and yearly
  • Generates professional final proposal
  • Ability to send proposal via email from BidSketch
  • Client can make comments, download PDF, change status
  • Ability to control status of proposal (won, lost, pending, etc)
  • And much more!

I don’t think I can say enough about this system, to be honest. It’s pretty incredible and using it to make a proposal is a breeze. All in all, I can create a new client, setup a proposal for them, and send it to them for approval and changes within about 20 minutes. That’s awesome. Most of my time is spent in the details of the project scope to clearly define what I’m going to be doing for them. But even then, most of those are already filled in since the majority of my projects are very similar in scope. I tend to spend more time on proposals that I know will require more work as they are usually larger projects anyway.

Oh, and yes you read that right…It integrates with Freshbooks and Highrise. Suh-weet! Personally, I don’t use Highrise as I really have no need for that at this point in my career, but hopefully someday I will. Freshbooks though…now that’s awesome to be able to generate an invoice from a proposal and have it kick me over to Freshbooks to finish up and send on to the client. It makes my life so much easier when things are streamlined. Keep it simple, stupid. Not that you’re stupid, but well, you might be if you don’t want to keep it simple :D

The Whole Point of Using BidSketch

So after all that, the point I’m trying to make is to find something that’s simple, professional, and fits your style. Just because BidSketch fits mine, doesn’t mean it will fit yours. If you’re into something else, go for it. I want to stress that a professional proposal is vital to your health and wealth as a freelancer. People already look down on freelancers as if we are lesser than agencies and should be cheaper. But the fact is that most of us are professionals, maybe more so than many people working in agencies, and we need to make sure we look professional in all business aspects. Using an app like this will help you win more proposals and also save you time on creating them. Remember that we don’t get paid for making a proposal unless the prospect becomes a client.

Freelance Proposal Writing

Be Clear When Working With Your Client

In your proposal you’ll need to make sure you’re very clear about what you’ll be providing. You’ll also have to make the call as to whether you want to provide things like timelines, maintenance, and hosting.

Personally, I usually don’t provide timelines, but I think that’s about to change. As for maintenance and hosting, I suggest you provide those. I’ve recently come to the realization that I need to generate steady income. It took me a while to get there, but I think that a hosting/maintenance plan is a good way to go. It also helps me because I can have control over the client’s site, just in case they decide not to pay and I get to collect money each month that I can count on coming in. These things are important to be very clear about, but there’s also the scope of the project…now that’s important!

The project scope is vital to your quote. If you don’t make it very specific as to what you’ll be providing, you’ll end up getting stuck with functionality and changes that you may not have taken into account when quoting. Every single project has things come up that the client wants to add, you know, one of those “I have a great idea!” moments.

There’s nothing wrong with adding functionality to the project, but you have to make sure they know it’s out of scope and therefore its an additional cost. If it’s not defined, you’re stuck doing it because they will be unhappy if you don’t. And unhappy clients are no fun, I promise.

Be Concise As A Freelancer

There’s really no need to get all wordy when you’re telling them what you’ll be providing. Just make it clear, simple, and keep it concise. They don’t care about the details of how you will be developing it or what language you’re using but they do want to know exactly what they’ll be getting.

For example, you say “The site will feature a blog that will be built using PHP and integrated into the site” they may or may not actually know what a blog even is. So instead say “The site will feature a blog where you can create articles related to your business. It will include custom designed elements, dates, authors, and categories.”

You must use a language your client will understand and provide the results he needs. And you don’t need to be hardcore coder to do this. And you can learn these skills quickly.

That tells them more what they are getting than the first. And being concise has its fine line. Concise is defined as being short in words but all-encompassing in scope. So basically, say what you need to say in as few words as possible while still making it effective.

Be On Time

I simply cannot stress to you enough the importance of being on time with someone. If you tell them Friday, have it to them by Friday. If you tell them Tuesday, don’t let it be Wednesday. And people also assume that you mean at some point during the workday. So Tuesday at 11:30pm isn’t really Tuesday, it’s Wednesday. Whether or not you’re on time says a lot about who you are as well, particularly if you’re still in the meeting/trying to get their business phase. No one has to choose you, you’re not that awesome, that’s just the way it is.

And if you think you are, check out Dribbble or similar sites and you’ll find out quickly how many people are as good or better than you. Being on time builds credibility and trust. It also shows you care about their project and that you’ll follow through with timelines during their project. It’s important!

Freelance Pricing

Pricing Like a Pro

Now pricing is a touchy subject. It’s important to price like a professional because you are providing professional level services, we hope anyway. But starting out you won’t be able to charge premium prices for your work. The best thing to do is to research a bit what others are charging. If you know some other freelancers, see what they’re charging and take into account how long they’ve been doing it. Then be honest with yourself as to whether your work is as good as theirs. If it’s not, take that into account. There’s some tools out there for you to put in your desired income, expenses, etc and it will calculate what your hourly rate needs to be. Honestly, those are great if you’re able to price like a pro later down the road, but to start out charging $100 plus an hour probably isn’t going to work.

I have a bit of a different model for charging anyway. Many of you read the post of mine on time tracking and why it sucks. I got some conversation going on there for sure. :D The point is that I charge a flat rate for my services. Sure the cost varies from project to project, but charging a flat rate means that I get to set what I make per hour.

If I manage to get the work done quickly, I very well may have made $125 an hour on the project or more.

If slower, then I’ll make less. It helps me to work efficiently because I’m then on my time and not as much the clients.  However you decide to price is up to you though. The best advice I can offer is to research things like other freelancers rates, your location, and the client you’re going for. It’s obvious that some clients will be able to pay much more than others. Just don’t get greedy, that never works out.

Make Sure You’re Available For Work

If a new client wants to get a project done, chances are they want it yesterday, or 3 days ago. I’m not going to say that you’ll always need to jump on projects like that, but to start it is important that you take some things you may not necessarily want to. I’ve found that making myself available for clients, even if it’s a phone call, can go a long ways in how they perceive you and your business.

I’ve read articles saying how you shouldn’t respond to emails but maybe 1-2 times a day. I think there’s a time and place for that, but I have clients now who came to me because they could never get a hold of their “web guy” or whatever. Sometimes trying to take control too much will lead to you losing a good client. Also, in answering your clients frequently, it lets them know that if you don’t answer back immediately, you’re probably not available to do so and they’re more likely to leave you alone for a little while longer.

freelance timeline management

Timeline of Project

Creating a timeline for the project is something that’s always been difficult for me to do. I set one up, then the client doesn’t hit a date, and the whole thing is thrown off. I think the most important thing is to plan for mishaps. If you fail to plan, plan to fail. Here’s some tips on planning your project.

  • Set a start and end date
  • Set milestones throughout the process
  • Be reasonable with your timeline
  • Remember what other work you have going on
  • Remember any vacations/time off you have scheduled
  • Keep it in sync with a calendar of your personal stuff
  • Inform the client of dates, time you have off, etc

The most important part to remember is to keep the client informed of what is going on. They are going to need to approve the timeline as they may need to leave for a week or miss a day here or there. You’ll need to communicate with them on this for sure. Other than that you should be good on timelines, just make sure you actually hit your dates. As I know how hard it is to stand out, that’s exactly what we are going to talk about in the next section.


How to Stand Out as a Web Designer?

Learn How to Stand Out as a Web Designer with Dorie Clark


There are many opportunities as a web designer. However, there are also hundreds of thousands of web designer in the World Wide Web, all of whom are very talented and creative people.

Just imagine the competition as you give your best to position yourself and get the best clients. It’s like trying to get the attention of the President in a sea of people while he’s making a speech.

Impossible? It’s possible. Today’s guest, Dorie Clark, says you can stand out and set yourself apart from the rest.

In her book, Stand Out, Dorie Clark says that our society view success in two ways:

  1. Someones is treated as if he’s already been famous or successful, and
  2. Someone has become an overnight success.

Both views are extreme. There’s no middle ground, so a lot of people have a hard time figuring out what the formula is to become successful or well-known. That is why many people go about life thinking that they are just regular Joes or Janes who don’t have the special qualities to become famous, successful, or well-known.

How Do You Stand Out?

There is a common misconception that in order to stand out, you need to be famous or well-known. Standing out, however, is not just about becoming famous but about giving people the reason why they have to work with you.

Web design professionals are aware of, and have been frustrated by the fact, that the rule of the game these days is the lowest price wins – it is a race to the bottom, the lowest price option. Therefore, there should be something interesting about you that even if you command a higher price than the competition, people will still hire you because you are the best.

However, you have to remember that there is no standard formula how to become a recognized expert. Instead, there are a set of options to find which one suits you best. One strategy is to pick a certain niche and build on it strategically.

Another effective strategy that has been used by a lot of people is doing research and using it as a driver to build their brand. What most people do is they make a research of what works and what doesn’t, then they blog about what they have found out. In so doing, they have turned themselves into a resource, a go-to person, on that specific field.

Standing Out is Not About Controversy

Controversy sells, but don’t pursue it. A lot of people, brands, and companies have been destroyed because they pursue the controversial in an effort to gain fame and success. As a web design professional, don’t seek controversy just to stand out. Instead, focus on who you are and your brand identity.

Let controversy follow you naturally, instead. It means that it is rooted in who you are and what you believe in. For example, if you become controversial because you have to stand for your beliefs, then go ahead and do it. Controversy is fine as long as you are comfortable with the consequences of doing it.

Don’t do it for the sake of getting attention. Do it because it is you and it is what you stand for. You may or may not get away with it, but do it.

Standing Out with the Breakthrough Idea

The breakthrough idea is the question of what is it that you want to be known for and building a following around it. The goal of the breakthrough idea is not to become world famous. Rather, it is to become micro-famous, being famous in your company or community.

For example, if you are working in an agency or company, you don’t want to be anonymous that when a lay-off happens, the company can afford to let you go.

You don’t want this to happen. Instead, you have to build your brand so that people will seek you or want to keep you around.

As you build your brand, make sure that the people you want to know what you do know it because if not, it doesn’t really matter what you do or do not do.

Conclusion

To be able to stand out and build your brand, you want to make it easy for people to talk about you. You can email your clients back and thank them about the compliments they gave you, asking them if they are willing to refer you to colleagues or to any referral sites.

You can also give them excuses to talk about you by sending them gifts or bringing them together in special events. Think of ideas that will make people talk about you and spread the word about you. Be creative and take risks, just avoid the controversies that might hurt you.

Next section is going to be to ensure you don’t give up. Because everyone can hit the wall.


From Failure to Success – How Three Freelancers Learned from their Failures and Succeeded

“Experiencing failure is to be living, and steering away from failure is simply to be alive. “

The quote above perfectly sums up the experience of a freelancer, and what makes many back away in terror. Face it people, we live in a world where only the successful ends of journeys are celebrated. In an industry where we are bombarded with success story after success story, it makes you wonder if those people were simply born winners? To answer this, THEY WEREN’T!


In this section three freelancers share their “failure to success” stories:

  • Spencer Forman of LabSecrets and LabZip relates how Ning unplugged him and his partner and how he started all over.
  • Dainis Graveris, founder of 1WD, tells us how 2.5 million monthly unique visitors dropped to 1.8 million, and a change of focus for our readers.
  • Jamal Jackson’s story of how the dawn of Facebook affected my early freelancing career and how it changed me for the better.

Every success story you can think of has a turbulent journey filled with many failures prior to that celebrated point of success. As a freelancer, you’re going to become best friends with failing and it’s important to have an idea of how to deal with this dear friend.

That’s why here, we’re going to be taking a look at a couple of the common failures that every freelancer experiences, or will experience, and give some advice on how to handle them. In addition, at the end some of the 1WD team members will get a little personal and share their favorite failure stories.

The Inexperienced Freelancer With No Clientele

Inexperienced Beginner - Failure, Freelancer's Friend

Starting a career as a freelancer in the web industry only takes a name and a URL, and you’re good to go. However, actually getting work is nowhere near as easy without some experience behind you. It honestly will make anyone feel like a failure from the start.

How to handle this

Well, there is only one way to get yourself into a better situation. Getting to work! When you have no reputable past experiences, or stellar work, the only thing you can do is work for the purpose of building your brand. Here are some good ways to do this:

  • Pro bono work for non-profit organizations (what is pro bono, why and when spec work is a good idea)
  • Creating themes, plugins, and other assets that can be sold (creates a great passive income)
  • Get in touch with established freelancers in your area to create friendships
  • If you have the knowledge, share it by blogging or writing tutorials
  • Tweak popular open licensed themes and sell them
  • Create your own projects

All these solutions are great places to start if you’re very inexperienced and just itching to get a great leap into the industry.

What is the worth of good advice if you aren’t given any advice on what not to do as well? You now have a good idea on what you should be doing, and how to get going. To add to that here is a little warning message.

DON’T WORK FOR LESS THEN YOU ARE WORTH!

This approach is only a race to the bottom because there is always someone cheaper, and selling yourself short may affect your confidence depending on the type of person you are.

When all the Rain Stops and Your Business Hits a Drought

Freelance Drought - Failure, Freelancer's Friend

If you can find one freelancer who says they never had a drought of client work being presented to them, then I’ll show you a freelancer who is going to have one in the near future. The freelancer’s lifestyle is a roller coaster, with mighty nice highs and awfully dreadful lows. It isn’t possible to create a sustainable income from client work alone because eventually it will just dry up. When this happens, not many know how to deal with it accordingly, even if they’ve been through it before.

Warning

Always make sure that all clients and partners have provided proper written legal documentation showing their approval. If they don’t, then the possibility of them being able to sue once things start moving in a great way becomes highly likely.

Our Stories

Now it’s time for you to read a couple of stories from the people here at 1WD, and see how we turned these failures into great learning experiences. The main takeaway though – Never Ever Stop Learning!

Spencer Forman’s Story

Failure Freelancer's Friend - Spencer

“Hello… it’s Spence, the Evil Genius, from LabSecrets”, a software development and consulting company that produces turnkey social networking and monetization solutions for entrepreneurs.

Here Spencer takes some time to discuss with us his favorite failure, and the great outcome this lesson allowed for him to attain.

I went from over 6,000 happy customers to being unplugged and called an idiot by my industry peers.

Earlier in my career I had success with WidgetLaboratory on Ning. One day we had over six thousand happy customers, making tens of thousands a month, and then one morning woke up and Ning (and their Venture Capitalists no doubt) unplugged us and all our customers. Had 3 TechCrunch articles, some funny ValleyWag posts, etc, all outlining it. While most of our customers thought we were in the “right” and supported us, we were called “idiots” by Michael Arrington and others…

My partner took it very hard. I enjoyed it, because I love a good dog fight. Admittedly, it looked grim.

But entrepreneurs and freelancers have to believe in the impossible.

Within a week or so, from the ashes, I was on Skype with London and we were scheduled to fly there to meet with a startup called SocialGO, who ultimately hired us to build a product to compete with Ning. Within days we had a six figure contract and fee sharing deal.

That was certainly a memorable time with a massive “FAIL”… followed by what I like to think was a huge recovery/learning experience. It led me here today with all the “Lab” stuff.

My partner ultimately moved on. He was less of an entrepreneur/freelancer and more of a “hired gun” developer who could just sit and code for cash. That was a good choice for him though, as it liberated us both to be the best we can be.”

Jamal Jackson’s Story

Failure Freelancer's Friend - Jamal

“Hi! I’m Jamal Jackson and I freelance under my Five Alarm Interactive(FAI) brand as a designer and developer. I started freelancing in 2008 when I was 16 after spending  a couple of years prior to that creating MySpace layouts.

What mattered most to me, and still does,  was the feeling of being respected by my peers.

So sometime at the beginning of 2008, I think, I really don’t remember, MySpace was overtaken by Facebook as the popular social networking site. Well, for a person who was making a fine living for themselves, maybe a few thousand dollars a week when I wanted to work, that was a devastating blow.

My entire niche market was slowly vanishing before my eyes, and there was nothing I could do about it.

My only two options were to either give up and call it a day for my career on the outskirts of the web industry or change my skill set.

So I changed my skill set and targeted a different market. There was only one problem I didn’t expect… You really don’t get a warm welcome from others when you claim MySpace as your first taste of the industry. Looking back, maybe some of it was warranted since none of the people I knew back then are still around today.

Anyway, because of my less than impressive background and tender age, I had trouble getting work or being taken seriously. That really hit a nerve and shaped my whole career because nothing became more important to me than respect. Having that as my main goal quickly led me down a road of very little income.

I turned down a lot of opportunities to create a stable income and clientele simply because I felt the work I would be doing didn’t satisfy me creatively. Mix that together with the clients that I really wanted that did not probably bother to read my cold emails or proposals, and you got yourself one hell of a mess.

I realized when I was about 17 that I wasn’t going to get the respect I deserved, or grow creatively for that matter, if I continued down this path. I started to get more active in web communities, more specifically, ConceptFeedback, and man, the first time I posted my work it got destroyed. However that is what I needed, the harsh criticism from creatives who I now view as friends helped me grow amazingly fast. I gained more confidence from this, and started to present myself better on the web and in my approach to clients.

A year from that I started blogging seriously, and started working with Dainis and the 1WD team. Blogging helped me build a name in this market, and define who I was as a creative.

The moral of my story is that I needed to transition from wanting respect as a creative, to wanting it as a business. Doing this changed my whole perspective and allowed me to finally start growing my company seriously.

This brought me opportunities to work for high profile clients from March of Dimes to AT&T, and allowed me to turn down job offers from some of the biggest names in the Atlanta area.”

Five Alarm Interactive

Failure Freelancer's Friend - FAI

Dainis Graveris

Failure Freelancer's Friend - Dainis

“Hey there, my name is Dainis and I am the founder of this very blog 1stwebdesigner.”

Today I will share my failures and what changes I have made, that up to now are still in the process of settling down.

I was very frustrated that I lost my passion and started to drink much more frequently and lost my joy for work.

I could tell that for the past two years when I thought 1WD was a big success, it was instead slowly going to ruins. And the reason? The very reason why 1WD was liked by so many – because we approved a lot of guest author articles. The problem was that guest authors just wanted quick cash and visibility, but they didn’t care much about community. I didn’t push community hard enough because I was blinded by the growing traffic numbers.

If traffic is growing – then to grow business – we need more articles which will help improve traffic, right?

Wrong!

While I was blinded with Google’s huge traffic and growth (over 2011 we improved monthly traffic by one million unique visitors), in March, everything changed. I am glad now that it worked out so, but it was very frustrating for all of 2012.

We had 2.5 million unique visitors and suddenly that number dropped to 1.8 million. Google Panda and Google Penguin stopped favoring 1WD as they did in the past for reasons which are still not clear to me.

For the past year I tried everything – worked on 1WD’s loading speed, worked on better SEO, worked on going through 40,000 blog comments to remove spammy ones, started editing and cleaned up existing blog posts. Nothing worked.

I was very frustrated that I lost my passion and started to drink much more frequently and lost my joy for work.

..and then I learned my lesson. How 1WD was founded. For the first two years most articles were written by me, I was super engaged with related web design blogs, with community – replying to comments, engaging with everybody. As 1WD grew, I worked more in the background, managing the business itself. Outsourcing tasks to writers, hiring more people. It was all good and valuable experience, but all this time I was pushing only TRAFFIC.

More, more, more..I was always thirsty for more visitors, because that’s how I measured how successful 1WD was. And after painful blow, it took time for me to understand.

I understood that traffic is nothing if there is no loyal following, if there are no like-minded people, no readers who love and stand by what 1WD represents.

As Steve Jobs said after he was fired from Apple:

[ctt title=”It was awful tasting medicine%2C but I guess the patient needed it. – Steve Jobs” tweet=”It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. – Steve Jobs @1stwebdesigner” coverup=”2OAin”]

In the last several months, we stopped working with a lot of guest authors and we are now focusing on a smaller team who really love 1WD’s vision and will stand by it.

We stopped publishing regular daily list articles – while we thought we could maintain high standards and deliver quality articles every day, in all honesty we couldn’t – we became like a factory just trying to produce more and lost creativity along the way.

We got engaged with our community again, we asked for feedback and listened to what the readers want to learn here. Each comment written here by readers is being responded to! If you take the time to add your experiences, tell your story – we repay the same way.

We started creating videos, because it is the closest way that we can connect with you – our reader! I knew we needed videos, but 1WD grew and we stopped trying new things, became defensive. Common problem by every company that becomes big and stops experimenting, because now they have something to lose.

While I am telling this story, and it’s not yet finished, we haven’t yet recovered from the Google hit, but now I don’t want us to. Community is all that counts, if you appreciate our work, then we have accomplished our goal.

With 1.8 million unique monthly visitors, we don’t need more traffic. We need people who can place their trust in us, and then we can work on our own products that we know you want. How? Because we ask you questions, listen to your feedback and take time to engage with you via the comments.

I hope you enjoyed this story and keep coming back here to see how the story continues.

And again on failures – if you fail often, then you will be the most successful person. That’s how it works.

It’s not how we fall, it’s how we get up again.

1stwebdesigner

Failure Freelancer's Friend - 1WD


Challenge Time!

In the comments section show me how you would add personality to the examples I put in this article. I can’t wait to read them!

Editorial Team

Written by Editorial Team

41 Comments

  1. Great post, thanks! I’m trying to enter into freelancing and I must confess I’m having a hard time finding customers. This read has been very helpful for me, I have one question, is it good practice to offer my freelancing services to companies posting “formal jobs”?

    I have found that in my country there is a lot of demand for the skills that I’m offering but all the companies want a person who works within the company.

    Thanks in advance for your advice.

    Reply

  2. Nikhil Malhotra June 7, 2013 at 14:29

    Yes a very valid point mentioned regarding the shortening of the pitch.Agree to the fact that it should be to the point.

    Reply

  3. Hi Guys!

    Nice article! This was very helpful information. It is all coming at the perfect time. Keep it coming. I’m learning so much from you guys.

    Thanks,

    Wendy

    Reply

  4. Thanks for this article post Jamal,

    And for sharing your experiences and insights to making a good pitch. I am lucky so far as my projects have come through word of mouth, but now that I am no longer doing my course I will need to start marketing and pitching for projects. To be honest, I probably would have ended up with something similar to your first example, so I am really glad to read this, and learn how to pitch better.
    Not sure as yet how I would add personality in to it, I would probably try to use something I have experienced relevant to the post/project I am pitching for.

    Reply

    1. Hey Mike,
      That’s great that you get word of mouth clients, not everyone can have that type of client source. That is one approach to adding relevant experience, not so much personality. I wonder if the personality part should be a whole new post entirely??? (ponders)

      Reply

  5. First of all thanks for this helpful tips. I am freelance graphic designer. I’m confuse about pitch before but now its very clear. I joining freelance designing online since 2010 and just a starter. I have no website yet. Is the free-website builder nice for client to link my portfolio? I have no enough fund to purchase my website. If you have more advise to help me promote my skills, it is very welcome.

    Reply

    1. Hi Jerald,
      Do you have a Dribble or Forrst account? Whatever you can afford to do to show off your work, I say go for it. The main thing is that you fully describe the role you played in the work you are showing. Also, if possible, try to save up the best way you can to afford the hosting for your own website.

      Reply

      1. Thank You Jamal for your advise. It helps me a lot. If i finish to fill in a new account about my portfolio in other site, i am going to attach the link here for asking feedback. Thank you.

        Reply

  6. I am very very happy to know that “How to Write a Freelance Pitch That Gets Clients” subject. Really I need this topic.

    regards,
    tobarok

    Reply

    1. We are here to provide you what you need to learn to grow yourself Tobarok. Glad you liked it, and I’m hoping that since you liked this piece you’ll try the challenge at the end. It’s really really ultra amazingly fun!

      Reply

  7. Nikhil Khandekar March 28, 2013 at 11:23

    Hi Jamal,

    You have some sane points here. It’s not something that could be termed ground-breaking, but it is important.

    Short, to-the-point content is what works, everywhere.

    Your article has some grammatical errors, but otherwise it is a fine and very useful article.

    Thanks a lot!

    Nikhil Khandekar

    Reply

    1. Hi Nikhil,

      Thank you for finding my article useful. Thats true that this isn’t meant to be a ground breaking piece, been there and done that, and if it was written with that intent it wouldn’t have provided what readers needed. Which is practical advice based on my freelance journey up to this point.

      Thanks for joining the discussion, make sure to try out the challenge. Show us what you got!

      Reply

  8. Thank you for this post. As a fairly new guy to the freelance world, this will be very useful to me in the near future.

    Reply

    1. Welcome to the world Isuru. I hope you don’t mind the absence of sleep in your life now :). Take a shot at the challenge I posted, it should be great practice for you.

      Reply

  9. Thank you for a clear and to-the-point post. I’ve been looking around for some good and simple guidelines and found most rather long and foggy. Just one question if I may: Are there any reasons against including your work/resume in pdf format?

    Reply

    1. Thanks Dorry, glad you appreciated the straight to it approach I used here. To answer your question, there is nothing wrong with including your resume with your pitch if it is asked for. I just found in my time freelancing at agencies where I’ve seen people go through freelance and position pitches that your resume will be shared and viewed by a lot of people. Its easier to share it by a URL than an attachement. Is there anything else I can answer for you?

      Reply

    2. I would also add that I have moved to trying to send my LinkedIn profile vs a resume when I can. For the reason Jamal stated.

      Reply

  10. Long time waffler here as well.. It seems that it is something a lot of people do to try get all the info across the table by telling the whole story. Time I trim the fat on my pitches.
    Thanx for the post ;)

    Reply

    1. Thanks Ciaran for joining the discussion! Yeah man, we all gotta cut the fat. Get our pitches in beach shape cause Summer is coming. Bad joke there, bad bad bad!

      Would you mind posting your new pitch, or accepting the challenge I proposed at the end of this article?

      Reply

  11. I’m student of MIT and started part time freelance web development. Starting pitch is very important as I learnt from my teacher of subject “English”. In my communication I just tell client about my portfolio and request him to give few mints for discussion.

    Example:

    Dear [Client Name],

    I’m Shopify designer available for discussion with you in details about all aspects of your needs. I’ve designed some store-fronts which you may check from my portfolio [URL].

    I’m offering my services with quality assurance and money back guarantee also support after completion of project. To get started this project asap I’m waiting for your kind response.

    Kind Regards,
    [Your Name]

    As I’m also student so I’d love to get help of your people if there is something to change. I’ll be very thankful to all of you.

    Reply

    1. Hi Ahamd,

      That’s great on being at MIT! Boston is a great college town, and I can’t wait until I make time to visit it once it gets warmer.

      Heres some advice on your pitch:

      – Mention your name, not that your a Shopify developer. Inform them of who you are, not what you do. What you do will be a given.
      – Make it a bit more personally tailored to your potential client, not so much templaty. We’ll cover this in a later article :)
      – Check your grammer. Good grammer is always important, got some run-ons in there.

      Reply

  12. Michael Musgrove March 27, 2013 at 23:24

    Sound advice. As someone who has worked giving business grad students advice on finding jobs, as well as sorting through hundreds of resume’s and cover letters, you’re spot-on.

    Direct brevity is appreciated by tired eyes that have read a stack of letters just like your first one at the top. Most people reviewing your stuff at this stage have so many applicants, they’re usually looking for reasons NOT to hire you as they gloss over what you provide. Keep it bottom lined, let your work speak for itself, and tell them explicitly how you can help them. It shows you’ve done your homework and respect their time and, at the end of the day, all they’re really looking for is someone that will help them get their bonus.

    Reply

    1. Hit the nail on the head Michael. Despite how social media has gotten many incoming entrants to the work force, this is still a very much impressionable world. You can tell your whole life story in a pitch, thinking that it will be read because it is so interesting that nobody possibly could be bored reading it, but in the end it will only be scanned and tossed back into the pile.

      Is there any advice you could give everyone else? Many of the readers here are young graduates, or new to the industry. I’m sure they’d appreciate it, me included!

      Reply

  13. It’s kind of cool that I already send my emails that way without reading anything like this article or someone telling me to tailor my emails this way. Depending on the job or client, sometimes it is ok to go a bit longer with these emails to show that you’re not just sending the same ‘template’ to many jobs and you’ve actually put some thought into it. I like to do that by mentioning something about the job/company so they know I did some research before applying.

    Reply

    1. You’re a lucky son of a gun Eddie! That is true, you have to tailor all your pitches to who the potential client is. Its always great to mention something about them, going that extra mile is very important. Now that I think of it, maybe I should do another post expanding on this one. I wonder if I will??>>!! :)

      Reply

  14. Nice artlicle Jamal,

    However, if you have no published portfolio or website displaying your mock-ups, how would you approach a buisiness? What should one do?

    Is it advisable to pay hosting for a site that only shows mock-ups? How does one get their feet wet?

    Reply

    1. Hi Sherry,

      If you don’t have a published portfolio then yes you should have at least some form of online presence that shows your work. Just make sure that in each mock-up/piece that there is a clean and clear description of what you contributed, especially if it is a major project.

      Is there any other advice I can give you to help you out?

      Reply

  15. I’ve made many of the same mistakes you’ve described above. Just this morning I re-tweaked my pitch (well, pretty much scrapped it and started over) and coincidentally my new pitch meets the majority of your tips above.

    Reply

    1. Thats great Monique! Let us know how the redoing of your pitch has changed your results with clients. We’d all love to hear it.

      Reply

  16. I found this very helpful and shall be applying what you have said in the article (I often waffle on too much with stuff which is in no way relevant). Nicely summarised, thank you.

    Reply

    1. Thanks Yasmine, hope all works well for you. SN: Your gravatar reminds me of a Tim Burton film, do you have scissor hands? Please say yes!

      Reply

  17. Diana Hickman March 27, 2013 at 11:13

    Thank you for this. I’ve been struggling with this part of gaining Freelance projects since I graduated from Design School. They teach you design, jargon, art, etc., but the one thing that is vital to any success: How to write a proposal and be a freelancer. It’s hard to learn this on the fly. All other articles just list off the “best practices” but never give examples. I like how you gave an example of a bad proposal and then gave examples of good proposals and why. I realize now that I’ve been doing some of the things in the first proposal when putting in my bids on Elance.com. I’m going to try some of these points today. Thank you again for putting this out there. It helps a lot.

    Reply

    1. Congrats on graduating design school, where did you go? I wanted to go to SCAD back when I got out of HS, but it costs a TON!! Well its not the design school alone doing that, its school in general. We grow up and are told college is the end all be all, and that we will take a 4 year crash course in a program that will give us everything we need to have a successful career. I’ve found, and I can assume the rest of the team here at 1WD, thats not the case. That’s why I feel so many are hurting in this industry, because nobody told them anything better.

      Steps off soapbox. Yeah, I wanted to make sure I shared my past and what I learned from that so you all can learn from it. Let me know how your pitches went, and feel free to post them in the comments here for me to look at :)

      Reply

      1. Diana Hickman March 29, 2013 at 10:27

        I went to the Art Institute of Pitsburgh Online Division for my Digital Design Diploma, but I also have three other degrees in history. They taught me all about history and digital design, but nothing about how to market yourself. It is a good school though. Typically my project bids go something like the following.

        When I first started writing proposals I wrote stuff like this:

        “Hello,

        The cover of a book implies what the book is about. In this case, the book is about taking accountability in a relationship that is ending and bringing closure to the relationship. For that reason, when I think of the cover for this book, I see a flower…a white or red rose with a heart behind it faded out with the title across the top and the authors name under the title. I see a quote on the front cover from the publisher or a reader (if you have one) as well as the information on the back cover (summary, bar code, etc.). We could even put wedding rings on the rose stem. These are just a few ideas I have when looking at your description. Attached is a book cover that I did for a school project last year. Thank you for considering me for your book cover.

        Diana ”

        See what I didn’t add? No portfolio url or resume? This way didn’t work so I tried a different route.

        “Hello {Client Name},

        I see you are looking for a book cover for your book, {Book Name}. I also see you will need help with laying out your book for publication. Will this be for a print book or for a Kindle ebook? I would love to work on this with you to create a cover that will help your book fly off the shelves. Attached are samples of my past book covers. In order to complete your project, I will need the following:

        – Information you wish to see on your book cover
        – colors you wish to see used and what kind of fonts you wish to see used

        I believe I can have a completed book cover for you within 16 hours of finalizing terms and escrow. My hours are Monday through Friday with some weekends (9 to 5 pm Mountain Time). I also work some evenings if the creative flow is really going strong. Please see the attached for samples of my past work. Thank you for your time and consideration.

        Sincerely,
        Diana”

        It’s a little better but still didn’t get the job. There’s several bids of this nature. I think I went wrong by adding my “hours of operation.” This one I was following advice from techniques I’d learned from a Elance Workshop. So I started changing it up.

        “Greetings {Client Name},

        I see that you need 5000 websites visited to pull their logos from, translated to the size and resolution of your specifications within the short amount of time of ten days from the founding of escrow. I can do this for you. It would be relatively easy to visit all those sites and pull their logos for you. I can do 500 to 1000 logos each day, maybe more depending on how complicated the logo is to convert. I set the price for the many hours it will take to do this at $3000 USD, which comes out to around $0.60 per logo. I also set an estimated delivery date “within 2 weeks.” Working daily until it is done, I can estimate you would have your logos sooner than that depending on the websites availability and conversion process. To complete your project I will need the following: The list of websites to pull the logos from, the size they need to be set to and the other specs you require as well as what delivery method you require. Will it be a zip file uploaded to a drop box or will I upload and submit it to you via the workspace in multiple zip folders? I look forward to working with you, if you should chose me for your project. Thank you for your consideration.

        Sincerely,
        Diana Hickman

        The above was for a project ripping 5000 logos from various websites that they give you the list and resizing them. They never closed the project posting or picked a freelancer to work on it. That bid has been sitting there for almost a month. I finally archived it. Elance didn’t have the name of the client, so sometimes the “greeting” is just plain “Greetings” or “Hello.” Now a project bid went something like:

        “Greetings,

        I see that you need a one page handout to be given out at doctors offices offering insurance services. Since you have the content and copy already, it won’t be hard to design a special page specific to your needs. I can do this for you for within three days of final escrow if you should chose me. Please see the attached url for my full portfolio and resume.

        In order to complete your project, I will need the following for your project:

        – All copy that you wish to see on the handout.
        – Any graphics that you need to be added such as the logo for your company
        – Basic color scheme you are looking for in your final handout.
        – Specific deminsions for your printer and final format you need for the printer. (If you have a link to the printer’s site for the deminsions this will work too)

        What you get from me:

        – One on one consultation via Elance messenging system
        – Three revisions and corrections (a correction is misspelled words, rewording, etc. A revision is change in any part of the design to your specifications)
        – Final copy in PDF form for easy printing, as well as Adobe Indesign or other program of choice for submission to your printer

        Once we settle on escrow, I can have a finalized handout to you within a few days. I look forward to working with you. Thank you for your consideration and time.

        Sincerely,
        Diana Hickman

        I tried various ways but almost all of my bids were turned down due to either too high of a bid or not the right style of work and some clients didn’t choose anyone or completely closed out the job. The above proposals are all only a part of the story. Along with the proposal, you have to add how much you’ll work for in monitary amounts and then how long it’ll take you to finish the job. You also have the option to add samples of relevant work to demonstrate that you can do the job you’re bidding for. I used to add five samples of my work but I felt like I was repeating myself since it’s all in my portfolio website or on my profile that they have access to as soon as I submit my bid. It seemed redundant to add something that I already have on display. Either I’m doing something wrong in my bids or people are just too cheap to pay a fair price, even though on some of my proposals I severely underbid myself. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong but I can tell you that it is vastly frustrating and discouraging. It’s hard to keep submitting bids for projects that are turned down every time. Over the next few weeks I’m going to try writing bids the way you have in this article. I know that once I get the “right” way down, and learn how to price my work more accurately, I’ll start getting bids, but until then it’s very frustrating.

        Diana

        Reply

        1. Hi Diana,
          The problem you’re experiencing is two fold. One it could possibly be your pitch, and two its where your pitching. Sites like Elance attract clients who look for the cheapest person they can find, they aren’t always necessarily looking for quality and its rare for them to want to build a lasting relationship.

          I’d suggest trying out other sites like AuthenticJobs, or Twitter. Both have some good people looking for creatives quite often.

          Reply

  18. Love it! I used to have something similar to your example and finally shortened it but I like the two samples you gave they are very short and to the point. Says exactly what you need it to say without losing the reader’s attention. Great post, thanks!

    Reply

    1. Thanks JXL, if that is your legal name and mug shot.

      You just have to think about what the client does to find a freelancer. If you have to send a pitch to get them, then that means at least 20 other freelancers are doing the same thing you are. And I don’t like reading long drawn out bragging, so why would they? Right? Its only common courtesy.

      Reply

  19. Necolas Hamwi March 27, 2013 at 10:19

    Wow, I’m so shocked to say i wrote some really bad pitches :P

    Thank you, this is really helpful!
    (Oh, i think i’m the first one to comment! Cool!)

    Cheers,
    Nick

    Reply

    1. Hey Necholas, no judgement from me on that. We all do at first, its like with anything in life. You live, and you hopefully learn.

      No prob, glad you liked it. Maybe not the first comment, but close enough!

      Reply

  20. Pitch is very important for a freelancer.
    It help a lot to the freelancers.
    Nice to read the post.

    Regards,
    Sandeep pattanaik

    Reply

    1. Hi Sandeep,

      Yes, your pitch is very important when your a freelancer. It gives off that first impression, and that what gives potential clients their initial thoughts on you.

      Reply

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