How to Stand Out in an Oversaturated Freelance Market

Written by Josh Hoffman on December 4, 2017

Thanks to modern-day internet, with its easy access to freelance marketplaces, social media and search engines, it can feel like every industry is saturated with indys these days. If you’re in a creative services field like design, marketing, advertising and even programming, it has become a freelancer-eat-freelancer world with one prevailing rule: “May the cheapest price win.”

Entrepreneurial freelancing has evolved into a constant lesson in how to stand out; on UpWork, one of the largest freelance job websites, any business or client can search for freelancers by category. Some get very granular, like SQL server developers or PSD to HTML experts. The “Writers and Translators” category has hundreds of subcategories, and within each is a whole world of indys with different backgrounds and specifications, vying for the same jobs. Note how I’ve used the word “world.” Globalization has certainly affected most freelancers, and it makes finding that new project all the more difficult.

One accepted truth is that potential clients will often go for creatives that will do the work well for the least amount of money. That said, freelancing in an overcrowded field shouldn’t discourage you. Using these three strategies, you’ll find yourself standing out and getting ahead of the competition.

Create a Niche Within a Niche

When I first started freelancing as a digital marketer, I wanted to be a generalist. I dabbled in everything under the digital marketing sun, from social media and content marketing to SEO and online advertising.

Eventually, I realized that some of the most successful freelancers develop a niche within a niche, like Aaron Zakowski, who works specifically on Facebook ad campaigns for Software as a Service companies. In my case, the niche is digital marketing, and the niche within that became content marketing. Honing in on this niche within a niche instead of trying to be everything to everyone in the digital marketing services world has led to a lot of content marketing-specific reps rather than a few reps across a variety of services.

This has helped me become much better at my craft. I can tell you from experience that if you want to know how to stand out, follow this one rule: Freelancers who are great at a few things will always be a step ahead of those who are good at a lot of things. When editors see that a writer “specializes in technology, lifestyle, travel and social media,” I promise some eyes roll. This may be true of some, but spreading yourself too thin is a weakness that can masquerade as a strength unless you’ve got the portfolio that proves it.

Take action: To unearth your niche, start by considering your strengths (what you’re good at) and passions (what you enjoy) — the combination of which will serve as a solid foundation for a specialization.

Build a Strong Personal Brand

According to Jon Iwata, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications at IBM, your brand is not what you sell. Therefore, don’t define your personal brand by the services you offer.

Make the conversation bigger than just your services. Consider both your personal and professional attributes, and make these attributes come to life by creating original content that puts them front and center. The more personal you can get with your brand, the more you’ll stand out. Destiny Lalane does a great job of this as a life coach for millennials, offering productivity and lifestyle advice to “help millennials adult.” Her blog and Instagram are both full of personal content, humanizing her while creating empathy — two sparks that draw trust in a personal brand.

Take action: What you’re selling now may be replaced by something new. Focus on what’s not likely to change over time, like your core beliefs, interests and mission. Start by outlining the different themes in both your personal (e.g., sports, culture or travel) and professional lives (e.g., digital marketing, business or customer experience) that you want to portray. Find ways to interject these themes into your content marketing efforts — which brings us to the final point.

Get Your Brand in Front of the Right Audience

At the end of the day, your real job is showing clients (established and potential) your value and relevance. Once they see that, they’ll be ready to hire you at the price you want. Marketing on its own will help you stand out in an overcrowded field, especially since most freelancers don’t actually market themselves consistently. If you’re not marketing yourself just yet, come out swinging with a website, email marketing and LinkedIn.

Take action: For freelancers who are already consistently marketing themselves, let’s dig a little deeper. Take some time to research other freelancers in your field and identify the content they use to market themselves. Then, figure out how you can make your content unique. For instance, if they’re using written content as a marketing tool, think about using a different format, like vlogging or podcasting (from which you can take a leaf out of Gary Vaynerchuk’s book).

If you’ve been paying close attention, you may have noticed that these opportunities have one common thread: Each requires you to be proactive — and that’s a competitive advantage in and of itself.

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