Natalia Fedorova, Regional Coordinator

13 January 2021

How to Get Your First Freelance Gig

So here you are starting at the Upwork home page. Your profile there has a photo and a couple of words about you… What’s next? Hopefully some creative tasks and not requests for generic websites. Starting is indeed the hardest part when it comes to freelance. Here’s how you overcome the challenge.

Finding Gigs

Designers often find their clients on Behance and Dribble while developers stick to Upwork. No matter the website, list your skills, experiences, and state preferences for individual tasks and niches within your specialization. This way you and the client are truly interested in the same thing. 

“Some people look for their first freelance opportunity from their friends or relatives. I’ve been there and would strongly advise you against that. The business communication here may get awkward, especially when it comes to payment. The freelancer can end up spending more time than they anticipated, and the client would struggle to understand why the work could not have been completed faster or cheaper”, says Vasyl Stanislavchuk, Python teacher at Beetroot Academy Ukraine and Team Lead Python Engineer at Lohika, “when you have little experience and still need to study up on some tech, working with friends is not a bad idea. If, however, your friend asks you to make them a business card website for free, this is stretching it.”

Vasyl started freelancing on Upwork. He was worried that it’s unlikely that a client would give a gig to someone with no rating on the website. A client, however, showed up quite soon. They needed a parser, a software solution separating a piece of information from a data array, at a fixed rate of $5/hour. Upon completion, the client gave Vasyl the highest mark.

“Actually, $5/hour is very little for any programmer. I was just looking for simple tasks to increase my website rating”, Vasyl explains, “if you’re switching to IT from elsewhere, don’t be shy about charging at least $10 per hour. Increase the rate as you gain more experience.”

You can use social media to promote yourself. For example, Instagram is a great platform to showcase your talent, find freelance opportunities, and stay in touch with fellow freelancers.

Valentyna Bakhal, UI/UX Designer, “I suggest you run an Instagram page covering your design process. You can show how you edit images on Photoshop before uploading them to a website or the first steps of building a landing page”. 

Money Before Honey

Valentyna found her first client three months into studying at Beetroot Academy. She was commissioned as a sticker pack for an organic goods manufacturer. The assignment was quite an ordinary one but the customer proved to be anything but.

“They didn’t like the first iteration while also not explaining why. The second version was approved. A few hours later, they request adding triangles to the background, changing the colors… Wait, didn’t we agree that the next iteration will only come with minor changes? The answer to that was an image with a wine label. The client requested me to crop the man watering grapes out of this picture, as no one would realize that anyway. I refused to plagiarize someone else’s work and suggested that we part ways. Luckily, they compensated me for the previous effort”.

A lesson here: always ask for advance payment. If the client refuses to provide any, that’s a red flag. Could they be trying to scam you? As a rule, freelancers request half the fee in advance to protect themselves.

Valentyna returned to freelance after two years at a design studio. She had been saving up for three months to cover for potential low periods while expanding her portfolio. Combining that with studying at Beetroot Academy was difficult but worth it. Valentyna has improved her project flow as well. All clients must provide an advance payment and describe the statement of work before calling her. Valentyna uses the answers to see if she should proceed with the client.

“If the client says “do how you see it since you’re a professional”, don’t let that flattery catch you off guard. If your potential client can’t explain what they like or dislike, ask for references of individual competitors or trends in the field”, Valentyna advises.

Clients are very happy when they find full-stack developers or designers that have front-end development skills to execute their solutions.

“I expanded upon the UI/UX design course with the Front-End Development one. Now, I can add a button to the website, create blocks with videos or embed Google Maps onto the website”, says Valentyna, “In my opinion, the more skills I have, the more clients trust me”.

Securing Clients

Before suggesting a service, assess how functional it is. A very creative solution may be rejected if it does not solve the business task. Take initiative: suggest a plan of attack, define the result and expectations from the collaboration. Once you have the statement of work, think of an alternative solution. It could be more efficient than what the client may have suggested on the call.

Display examples from your portfolio on the profile while highlighting actual websites/software solutions/design works if you have any. State fixed and/or hourly fees. Once you’re in contact with a potential client, explain key moments from the workflow for their project. People generally won’t try to contest your rate if they understand the complexity of the work ahead. Last but not least, stay available to the client as much as possible.

Creating Portfolio

“Your portfolio should have various examples. [In design, these would be] a landing page, complete design of some online store, and an application. Showcasing both the web and the mobile versions of your solution is a must these days. There will be clients wanting a simple page that sells while others need more. Show that you can do it all”, urges Valentyna.

You can use your final project from Beetroot Academy as the featured example of work on the portfolio. Don’t drop the idea even if it may not quite be a finished product at the time you’re graduating. 

“My group created a Telegram bot to prepare for the External Independent Evaluation that Ukrainian high school graduates take to apply for university admission, says our Python teacher Vasyl Stanislavchuk, “I can see that all the students added the project to their portfolios. We’ve collaborated with the UI/UX Design and Front-End Development graduates to create a landing page for the bot. This is one of the ways to build upon the final project so you can show the better version to potential clients”.

When expanding your portfolio with personal projects, go for something personal. If you’re into fitness and complement it with optimal nutrition, create a calorie calculator. If you prefer to keep things organized, make a to-do list app. Finally, don’t be shy and create a website about yourself. You’re a freelancer now.