I’ve been hiring freelancers for a while, for engineering and design work, and it always seems difficult to find and hire great people. In my experience, talented freelancers tend to under-invest in improving their chances of getting hired. To help with that, here are some tips from the other side of the table.
Host your own website
Engineers have GitHub, designers have Behance, and other creative fields have their own “portfolio” services. Your own site is better than all of them. It gives you full control over presentation, it can include all types of content, and it’s independent of corporate policies. It’s also nice to have a personal hub on the web, rather than spreading all of your work across several sites you don’t own.
Make yourself easy to find and contact
Some freelancers go by two or more names or they only go by their first name. Some have clients send them messages from a form on their site, without any confirmation. Some are ambiguous about what they do or if they are open to freelance work. Trying to get in touch with these people feels like a waste of time.
Use your full name, especially on your own site. This makes it easy to find you across Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. It instantly humanizes you - I’d rather talk to a person than a brand or a pseudonym.
Use email as the primary method of contact. Forcing clients to send a message through a form or through some app works against you. Meet the clients where they are which is usually email.
Make it clear you’re available for work. If you’re available for hire, mention it on your site and on all of your social profiles. If you want to be hired for a specific role or in a specific location, put those terms (e.g. freelance designer New York) on your site and on all of your social profiles. The first search I’m doing is “freelance designer” - if you don’t come up in the results, you won’t get hired.
Stay up to date
Some freelancers let their online presence gather dust - they have old work, old blog posts, old phone numbers, old photos. They may have two or three different domain names, one of which is broken and the other resolves to a spam site. All of this adds up to extreme reluctance on the hiring side.
Remove old work in portfolios and on resumes, especially weak work. I’ve seen many portfolios where strong projects were followed by old junk - it always raises doubts. Focus on your strongest and most recent work and get rid of the rest.
Use a recent photo for profile pictures unless you prefer to use abstract avatars. A recent high-quality photo implies you’re still active and open for business. An old low-res photo looks bad and communicates sloppiness.
Have a process ready for clients. Don’t wait on them to tell you what to do. Clients are too busy managing their processes to manage your process.
Be responsive to messages. I’ve never hired anybody that replied weeks or months after initial contact. Even after hiring somebody, if I have to wait days for a reply, I’m hiring someone else. A quick, immediate acknowledgment goes a long way.
Follow up if you haven’t heard back in a while. A few weeks later there may be another opportunity. Too many freelancers treat a rejection as final, but it rarely is.
Tips for designers
Sometimes you don’t have enough work to show off. No problem - do experiments, redesigns, and other non-commercial projects. A junior designer should have at least 10 good projects in their portfolio.
Label your work so it’s easy to find. If you designed an app for dog walking, write “dog walking app” in the title or description. Most designers don’t do this - they use vague names for things, maybe mention a brand (not useful), or dispense with text entirely.
Add case studies and demonstrate your process wherever possible. A bunch of screenshots don’t really explain the thinking behind the design or the constraints of the project. Clients read this stuff even if other designers don’t.
Tips for engineers
Write posts about work you’ve done, especially if it’s not public. If clients are hiring Python experts and you never write anything about Python, you won’t get hired.
Your site should be a reflection of your technical skills. Make sure it’s flawless. Use a template if you don’t grok design. Errors, broken links, and bad code really call your skills into question.
Always have high-quality code samples ready, whether from your open source projects or from previous jobs. In some cases I had candidates who took a week to send really weak samples - it’s a waste of time for both sides, so get ahead of the request.
Hopefully you found these tips useful. Frankly it doesn’t take much work to stand out - if you’re organized and approachable, you’re ahead of 80% of people. Be someone clients can find and trust and you’ll be set for life.