Freelancing can mean a lot of different things at different points in the same career, much less across an entire industry. Most folks experience freelance as an intro-level to an industry, or at least as a way to build a basic portfolio to garner them further attention and bigger opportunities.
The Dark Ages of Freelancing
A lot like war, freelancing itself doesn't really change all that much. As you make a name for yourself, the opportunities grow and you have to deal with less riff-raff (hopefully), but the elementary formula doesn't change. You're making a business our of selling your skill set and business sense against the freelancer on your left, who is offering 'vaguely similar quality' services for vastly less money, and the business on your right with manpower and experience galore, with that price tag it brings along. Everyone's gotta start at square one in one way or another. Since that's the case, everyone has their own 'dark ages' of starting out, where they've gotta fight tooth and nail to build a foundation to grow from. These starts can vary widely, even among the most wildly successful cases.
After having the incredibly good fortune of being able to employ myself full time as a web developer, I wanted to take this chance to look back at what I did right in getting this far, and what my next immediate goals are in expanding my own projects and business notoriety. I'll probably be leaving out the body count and anything that could be used to tie me back to any organized crime families later, but... that's just the spring of one's youth, right?
Hitting the Ground Running as a Freelancer
I've already covered the topic of breaking into the web business before, so I'll be keeping it more brief here. My greatest successes in landing early projects involved being able to sustain myself outside my freelance projects with part time work (and an awesome wife who also brought home the bread during that time), and being, ah, stubborn about getting a foot in a door. I focused incredibly locally, dropping off business cards at local businesses and markets. On those projects I particularly wanted, I'd pre-build at least a homepage theme as a sales pitch. Usually, that's the theme that ended up being used anyway.
You'll get a lot of chaff with the wheat using this approach, and not a whole lot of incredibly complex projects. Most of my portfolio was local restaurants and bands, done for, at MOST, a couple hundred dollars. What it does, though, is build you a sizable, local portfolio of business prowess and coding examples.
Freelancing From a New Perspective
Where I'm at now, just a year after joining on at Fuel Medical, is a VERY different place. The sheer amount I've learned and grown working in a small, dedicated team is worth volumes. Combining that with additional business skills I've been polishing has also taken my freelancing to a new level as well. Most of my work in the last year has been from a new professional contact and his established group of clients. As he's pursued a larger professional project, he's needed someone to continue maintenance and new project growth of his existing client base. Thus was born an awesome partnership of steady work and well satisfied clients.
Along with this continuing partnership, my next prospect for growing my own freelancing project is to re-focus on local clients I establish for myself. Instead of going back to scatter-shot, see what sticks methodologies, though, I've been taking my time and investigating each potential client by hand. I've noticed a few differences in what stands out to me in the businesses I have been prepping to reach out to. First, an original indicator was a business that cared enough to have a website, but ended up with one that was woefully inadequate. Now, I find myself looking for either businesses that have very little web presence (that could absolutely boom, if utilized correctly), or potential clients who have a pretty snazzy site, but aren't getting their money's worth due to lack of polish like SEO, mobile-responsivity, social, etc.
Part of my ethos as a freelancer has always been full-service solutions, as opposed to walled-off specialization. Everything has it's place, but on a personal level, I enjoy handling a project from sales pitch through ongoing maintenance and growth. My time since joining Fuel, plus my constantly evolving freelancing, has finally equipped my tool set with enough quality tools that I can genuinely help a business grow in multiple ways. No longer am I stuck building a website and echoing industry advice, but actually able to apply, adapt, and see the effects of my trade on many levels.
To that end, I'm refocusing to a smaller, more dedicated effort. Time will tell how this new venture approach fairs!