7 Questions to Self-Audit Your Freelance Visibility
It’s easy to romanticize the archetype of an artist so ahead of their time they only gain fame after their death: Van Gogh, Vermeer, Bach, and so on. But if you’re a freelancer, you intend to be able to pay the bills with your art. If people aren’t able to discover you exist, you’re not going to be seeing much financial success. You don’t want clients deciding they want to hire you a decade after you kick the bucket — you want them hiring you today.
At a basic level, if your work isn’t high quality, then all the visibility in the world still won’t help you. But this post is aimed at those of you who have worked hard to hone your craft and just need that push to start making money from it. Among all the artists I interact with on Twitter, Instagram, and through coaching, the most common problem I see is talented people who aren’t adequately capitalizing on the art they already have. Read through the following steps and conduct a self-audit of your own visibility for potential clients.
How does my portfolio website look?
First and foremost: do you have a portfolio website at all? As a student or someone just starting off, having a page on Behance or Dribbble alone can be enough. But if you’re freelancing, this is your business. You need to treat it like something you care about, because if you don’t, then why should someone else? Make a proper portfolio site — use a responsive site builder like Squarespace if you don’t have development experience — and get a domain name that’s short and easy to spell.
Don’t worry about overdesigning. Keep it minimal and simple, because your work should speak for itself. At bare minimum, you need your work on display, an about page, and a place for people to contact you. If you’ve got social media accounts (which you should), link to those from your site as well. If anyone discovers you on any of your channels, they should be able to find all the others without any resistance.
Am I utilizing Instagram?
Especially as someone working in a visual medium, (at the time of writing this) Instagram is a critical place to be. Unlike Twitter, it’s image-centric by design, so people go there to see cool pictures and videos. You should be posting art there as regularly as you’re able and taking care to build up a boilerplate of hashtags to make sure each post is pulling in new followers. Consistency is key. Given how busy I am, I post about once per week, but if your workload is slow, I recommend you do it even more frequently. I’ve gotten plenty of inbound solicitations for work purely because of things I posted on my Instagram feed.
How well am I using Twitter?
Twitter is a trickier beast than Instagram, in my experience. It’s conversational by nature, so don’t be afraid to reply to or interact with others; your feed will fill up and shuttle tweets away so quickly that it’s pretty rare a single interaction will even stick around for long. If you are like myself and don’t often have things to say to your followers, at least try to cross-post images every time you share them on your Instagram.
Don’t fall into the trap I see many artists partake in by self-promoting constantly. Nothing feels more gross than clicking onto someone’s profile and seeing a giant feed full of advertising. It gives the impression you’re just there to make money and don’t have any interest in being part of the community or helping others out. Your presence in the community and the cool work you share will do the promotion for you.
And as one last warning for Twitter: be careful what you tweet. As a freelancer, there exists the potential for a client to find you on any one of your channels, so all of them should show what a professional and trustworthy person you are. If you’re using your Twitter feed to rant about how much you hate your clients or how much a certain job sucks, then why in the world would a business want to hire you if this was their first impression of you?
How do my Behance and Dribbble pages look?
There are plenty of arguments to be made about whether Behance or Dribbble is the “better” site, which one yields better results, and so on. But at the end of the day, with minimal effort you can post work to both for free, so why not? Art directors and producers often browse both sites to look for up-and-coming freelancers to pull into projects, so uploading to both is time well-spent.
Dribbble is particular about image specs, but its “shots” are geared well toward the bite-sized imagery you might be already sharing on your Instagram or Twitter feed. Behance, on the other hand, is the kind of place where you’ll want to really dress up your projects before sharing them. There are fairly versatile built-in tools to arrange project pages, but many people make one long image in Photoshop to showcase their work and then upload it in a few pieces to have more direct control over the page layout.
Do I have a LinkedIn page that I use semi-regularly?
LinkedIn is one of the primary social networks of many small business owners, marketing and art directors, and C-suite executives. Being plugged into this network of people who may not have a presence on channels like Twitter and Instagram can be invaluable. Make sure your profile features a professional-looking photo of yourself, examples of your work, a link to your portfolio, and well thought-out descriptions of the types of services you offer as a freelancer.
When it comes to sharing content on LinkedIn, I wouldn’t recommend cross-posting the same images you share to your Twitter and Instagram. Try to stick to things that are more appealing to non-artists and potential clients: blog posts and articles, case studies for larger client projects you’ve done, and so forth.
Should I be using freelance platforms like Upwork?
In all seriousness, I briefly used Upwork at the beginning of my freelance career and know many others who have used it at various points as well. My personal experience was better than most, but I still cannot recommend them. Not only do you have to bid at an extremely low hourly rate to be remotely competitive in that environment, but they also take a massive cut of your earnings afterward. Look at the top freelancers on these sites and how low their hourly rate is, then take 30+% off of that to see how much they make per hour. In many cases, you may as well be working an entry level retail job. If you want to make work that matters, and that others value, dredging the bottom of the metaphorical client barrel is not a good place to start.
How do I stack up to my role models?
Which people in your particular creative discipline do you look up to most? Part of doing your self-audit can be to audit their web presence as well. Look at how they present their work in their portfolio. How do they talk about themselves on their “about” pages? Which hashtags do they use when they share work on Instagram? It can be enlightening to compare, and you may find a few tips to improve your own presentation skills.
We live in the golden age of freelancing. The internet has made it easier than ever to get your work in front of the eyes of potential clients without even leaving the comfort of your home (or coworking space). This broad, widely accessible power means that you’re up against more competition than ever before, too. Standing out in a sea of freelancers is challenging, but having a solid foundation in the above areas will help give you an edge. It just takes time, patience, and making sure you consistently put out content. How does your strategy differ from my own? Let me know what you do to maintain your inbound marketing.