How to Find + Negotiate Freelance Work

Published 5 months ago • 13 min read

01.03.24


I’m excited because… this is for YOU. Well, they all are, but this one really gives you the start you need to get into freelancing; maybe that’s not attractive to you right now, but if it ever might be, you have to do the work now. This issue has a more conversational and natural flow as it’s heavily based on my experiences you can learn from. Grab a matcha and enjoy.

I probably should’ve made this an ebook.

Storytime (a.k.a. my qualifications)

Remember when frozen yogurt shops took off? It was great because I was pregnant. My local shop had the most delicious, new flavors every day, but the only way to find out was to go in. You won’t walk in, check it out, and leave - you’ll walk in and end up eating froyo. Every day. Probably not a good idea.

At the time, social was new to businesses, and I ran social and email at Rubio’s. 🐟🌮

I’m a solution seeker. "What do I want the froyo shop to do so I can know what the daily flavors are?" I want them to post on Facebook every day.

So, I asked them to and told them why it would be beneficial and other things they could do. I gave away an entire strategy for free.

Looking back on my career, that exact approach has closed the most deals. The potential client sees my value and understands they need to do what I'm recommending, but they don’t have the time or resources, so they hire me.

They loved the idea and asked how much I would charge to do it for them. I had no idea. Do people charge for this? In 2010, they paid me $200 + free froyo, monthly.

I was efficient from the start. As part of their opening work, employees were to text me a list of flavors, photos of each card, and one custom creation. I oversaw strategy, execution, and community management.

I was hooked - it gave me such an inspirational high. I got to do something to help businesses be better while benefiting myself by getting the information I want and getting paid for it.

Love what you offer and be committed to it as a natural part of your lifestyle.

I always say I’m not a salesperson. I don’t cold call; it gives me anxiety, and I hate being cold-called. If you ask me to talk about myself, I will. If I have to approach you directly and convince you that I know what I’m doing - no, thank you.

I’m not saying don’t do sales because if you’re great at that, great! I look up to you. I take alternative routes.

Most likely, you are a solopreneur - working alone on your business. Businesses need sales, marketing, accounting, execution, and many other things - all of that is you.

You have to be (not want to be) cut out for freelancing, especially if it will be 100% of your income. You have to be hungry and curious, dedicated and driven - this isn’t easy and isn’t a quick income fix. It’s not quick at all, but that’s why it’s so rewarding.

I’ve learned that I can do a lot more than most, and I do it well, and it doesn’t take me 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week. I’m efficient.

Because of that, Rubio’s was my first and only full-time job.

You pay for my expertise, not the time it takes me. <- I heard that from my stylist years ago and told her I’d be stealing that.

The rest of my life story short, I went on to work in various ways, but never full-time: contract, freelance, part-time, advisory, and fractional. I’m available for freelance work (let’s talk) and leaning heavily into consulting, advising, and strategy. When Blake and I get a chance to work together, I’ll do anything - we make epic shit happen. Call us. Actually, don’t; please email, text, or DM.

SO HOW DO I DO IT, CHELSEA?

Hang on. Check out where all of my income since 2008 has come from (not including blogging or speaking).

Referrals and word of mouth drove 63% of my business. What’s a good benchmark on that? Applying to jobs is not an avenue that has ever consistently fueled my business. The only job I ever got through an application was Rubio’s. I applied on Craigslist. I hate the robot resume reviewers - it’s constantly proven that even the most qualified get passed over. The system is broken, so I do my own thing.


5 Ways to Get Freelance Work

If I only gave you one tip, it would be to NETWORK

🙄 right? Maybe you’re not rolling your eyes; maybe you’re not in my generation. When someone says networking, I immediately visualize a bunch of middle-aged people in a poorly lit yellowish banquet room with drab linens. Everyone’s wearing an ill-fitting suit and probably holding a briefcase while fake laughter fills the air. 🤢 Ew, it screams corporate America.

Thankfully, networking is so much more than that. Networking can be whatever you want it to be, but it requires you to show up and be seen and searchable.

BE AUTHENTIC

Genuinely engage with individuals and communities you want to surround yourself with. Connect without a hidden agenda and present confidence, not insecurity, by presenting yourself as if you’re already acquaintances.

Like I said, I don't do cold calling; I'm in the business of community, so that's what I do. I build relationships with people in my network, and I engage and start conversations as if we are already acquaintances. Vibes, remember?

When I got into the "professional" (lmao) world, I was commended for being authentic often. One instance really sticks out: I was at Foodservice Social Media Universe (the best networking conference of my life), and I was at dinner with the speakers (I told you, I get what I want) and one I really looked up to said: "You are so authentic, yet professional, and so young - we need more of you." Guys, this is a global keynote speaker, and I was 26 with a newborn and deployed husband - I was more than keeping my shit together! 🎉 Anyways - I'm not sure why we have to tell people to be authentic, but do that - in every aspect of your life. It's more difficult and transparent when you're trying to be something you're not.

CONNECT

Talk to people. You are your brand.

Blake and I have gained new clients separately from showing up at Little League. I run social media for our league, and Blake is the videographer, but most new clients have come from natural conversations with other parents when we aren’t volunworking.

I’ve met new clients in elevators, bars, and planes. Potential clients are everywhere; you’ll never know unless you talk to people.

New business can be closed in a day, but sometimes, someone doesn’t need me or think of me until a year later. But they remember me and hire me.

BE CONSISTENT

Show up consistently. You could be the greatest at what you do, but if people can’t find you online or haven’t met you, how do they know you exist?

LinkedIn, X, Facebook Groups, in-person conferences (so much networking and new business happen at cocktail hours). You need to show up where your community and potential clients are. My Instagram doesn’t bring me much new business, but LinkedIn and X do.

When you show up, you have to be human - show your personality, give a glimpse into how you think - what makes you unique? Why should I know you?

For the love of everything, please discuss more than work and your industry.

USE FREELANCE SERVICES

From Fiverr* to MarketerHire, there are various services for freelancers to get new business. These are my favorites because they cover the part of my business I don’t love because it takes away from executing: finding the clients, invoicing, billing, payments, tax forms - the backend, and sales stuff.

*I have never been a gig worker on Fiverr, only running paid and organic social for Fiverr Business, Affiliates, and Learn.

There are several different models, but you’ll sign up or apply to be a part of the platform and apply to gigs and/or pitch potential clients.

They do the backend. I do the work. I get paid on time.

I won’t tell you which services you should use because we all have preferences. I prefer to work with the services that you have to apply for and/or pay a small monthly fee.

FREELANCE/CONTRACT FOR AGENCIES

I’m shocked by the amount of people who don’t know this is a thing. I have freelanced for major PR/Marketing companies. Companies love freelancers because they don’t have to pay taxes, healthcare, etc for you - that’s all on you.

The great thing about being a freelancer and not a full-time employee at an agency is that you don’t have to be in all of the meetings that should’ve been an email or have to sit on awkward mandatory Friday coffee talk video chat. Ew.

I’ve worked as little as 5 hours a week and up to 60 some weeks for several agencies. More often than not, I was the only or a very critical role in social media for the agency and all of its clients and new business pitches. (100% pitch/win rate in 2023 💁‍♀️)

Like freelance services, agencies manage clients, invoicing, and legal stuff, and you get paid on time.

I’ve never applied to an agency; they always seem to find me on LinkedIn, X, or at a conference. Agencies find me on LinkedIn and X because I’m active there and have always naturally talked about the realities of and strategies for social media. They don’t find me because I have a profile. I have a presence.

I once got a client via this DM, and I quote: “I have followed you for years; you are hilarious and know what you’re talking about. I have $X,XXX per month for my brand, what can you do for me, I want to start today.”

JOB BOARDS

Yes, LinkedIn jobs, Indeed, whatever. There are freelance positions listed, but often, people don’t know what they want or if they should say part-time or freelance. Broaden your search beyond including freelance or contract - you can negotiate that later. Apply, and if they reach out to you, ask for the compensation range and if they’re open to freelance/contract and include a little blurb as to why it would be a good idea for them to consider this.

If I can identify who posted the job, I’ll send them a personal message and sometimes say I see you have this as FT, but I can do this in half the time, or whatever your selling point is. Now, you’re not another resume to sift through; you made their ears perk up so you better have something good to say and make it quick.

If they say no thanks, it’s okay because it’s not what they have their mind made up to find, but I have successfully acquired freelance work this way.

Unpopular opinion: I don’t track what I apply to or who I message. That adds unnecessary stress to the process. You guys have intense spreadsheets - for what? To calculate your failure rate? It’s not a failure rate, but you’re looking for some kind of solace there - stop it, keep moving forward, and find that next job or gig. You can see who you messaged or emailed in your sent folder.

  1. Apply
  2. Shoot your shot

CREATE CONTENT

That can mean whatever you want it to mean. Remember, you are sales, marketing, community manager, and more.

Create content that resonates with what you want to be hired and known for. I have always talked about social media and community on LinkedIn and X, and it works because I naturally infuse my personality, snark, and unique point of view based on experience.

I’ve been hired for community management jobs because of the funny shit I post on IG stories about my life or the snarky mix of life and social media and business on X. A lot of my content may have nothing to do with my business, but people have specifically said they like the way I speak/write, can tell I’m big on community and connecting, and appreciate the way I naturally recommend products and services instead of being a marketing fortune cookie like everyone else. 🥠

I’m being myself. That’s my branding.

• Network

• Freelancer services

• Agencies

• Job boards

• Create Content


You found your next client. Now you must do the not-fun part (I hate this, help me love it): money talk.

Them: What are your rates? Me: Well, what do you need?

I don’t have flat rates. Sure, I have numbers in the back of my mind, but if I’ve learned anything from agency life, it’s that no two clients are the same. Not even close. So, how could their scopes and my offerings be? Some clients text me 20 hours a day, while one texts me once a quarter to ensure it’s all good. I would never charge them the same.

I work backward; I figure out how many hours it should take a month, add some buffer (you will always use the buffer), calculate that number, and see if it’s reasonable or not. Often, my pricing matches agencies, but I can’t be a solo chick saying pay me as much as you’d pay an entire agency. It feels wrong to me.

I always try to get a number from them upfront. “What’s your range?” I don’t want to spend my time crafting the most insane pitch and come to find out they have $500 a month.

Protect your time.

They’ll always ask how you charge: retainer, hourly, or per project. I always ask what they prefer because my next questions are: how often do you pay, who pays it, etc - I’m not on this planet to chase invoices.

I will and do get paid on time.


3 WAYS TO GET PAID

Retainer

A steady income stream with a predefined set of monthly hours or services.

I’m usually uncomfortable doing this unless the SOW is extremely clear and I get good vibes from the client. Seriously, vibes are everything in selecting partnerships. If I’m getting vibes that there’s going to be scope creep or the client is going to get demanding or needy - I will either choose not to work with them or slow down the conversation and go over the SOW in detail, ensuring they know what they are entitled to and what to do if they need more (pay more).

I “permalanced” at an agency for 4+ years, and so many times, they tried to come to me and offer me a monthly retainer for my work. Every single time they offered me this out of the blue, it was significantly less than I was making hourly and monthly - uh, no. After four years, two panic attacks caused by, well, agency life, and raising my rates for the first time in 2 years, they said you’re amazing; we don’t want anyone else, but we can’t afford you. So, I left. Wonder if all those contracts I got renewed every year got renewed ever again. I doubt it.

Hourly

Charging per hour worked, providing flexibility for projects with varying scopes. Crucial at agencies for client billing.

I don’t like to work hourly for anyone other than agencies. A local restaurant client would faint if I charged per hour, and I probably wouldn’t get paid. That's why you need to already have in mind your preferences or situational preferences when it comes to getting paid.

Community management shouldn’t be tracked hourly, and if you don’t understand why, please read How to Build a Thriving Community and stick around. You’ll get it.

Project

A fixed rate for the entire project - great for well-defined tasks.

These are usually 3-6 month projects for which someone comes to me. I’ve filled in for maternity leave, launched products, helped get brands off the ground, etc. I work without longevity.

As long as I get paid as expected, I don’t care which option you pick. Preferably not hourly.

Include payment terms in your contracts.


How to Charge for Your Services

Freelancers command higher hourly rates to account for self-employment costs (taxes, health insurance, retirement, time off, and expenses) while offering employers specialized expertise without the overhead.

Calculate Your Costs

List (we love a spreadsheet or note) your self-employment costs, including taxes, health insurance, retirement, savings, time off, and business expenses.

Evaluate Your Expertise

What are your unique skills, experience, and specialized knowledge that set you apart? I have many of these, but I only pick the ones I WANT to do/be known for.

Research Rates

This is a tough one to recommend because everyone's rates are all over the place. Job listings with the salary listed are helpful but don't take those as the standard rate or salary.

I’ve calculated a pitch before that came to 10k/mo for services, and I knew that was a fair number for my work but not a number that the client could stomach, so it goes back to getting their budget range and pitching within it.

Communicate Clearly

Outline your contracts' pricing structure, payment terms, and any additional fees to avoid misunderstandings. I like it when they come to me with a contract because it tells me they’ve done this before. Read every word; it shouldn’t be a massive contract. If it is, it’s probably a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo. The contracts I write are 1 page.

Talk about/confirm payment terms verbally so there’s that extra emphasis that you know the terms and you will hold them to it. No one should be chasing invoices. Everyone deserves to get paid on time, regardless of their employment status.

Provide Options

Give good, better, best scenarios. Aim for them to choose a good scenario. The best option should be attainable - both the deliverables and compensation, but is usually something to strive for. Make the good option look like trash because it is. Your entire pitch deck was probably great, but this page converts.

Don’t title this page cost, billing, or some other negative word - it’s an investment, so call the page “Your Investment.” I’m really GIVING AWAY gold here.


Freelancing isn’t a solution or a quick fix; it’s a business.

I told you how to find new business and price it, but I have not yet told you how to win new business. Yet.

This isn't turning into a freelance newsletter, but it could turn into more than 1 issue - if you liked this, please take 30 seconds to fill out a quick survey: https://forms.gle/RjnGsPbYPHRziDW57

I know that was a lot, but it’s really the tip of the iceberg. Each point could be its own newsletter. But I’m here to help, not just write to you once a week. Reply or DM me on socials.

There's a lot to come in 2024! Next week, we're really talking about reputation management. Figured I had to get this issue (aka how to make more money) out to kick off the new year since we're all motivated!

Chelsea

My content is timeless ⇢ read previous issues here

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Your weekly practical advice, insights and strategic guide to social media, community management, marketing and freelancing. Created from 15+ years of creating bespoke social media strategies and building thriving communities for 150+ clients and 25+ agency partners. My approach is simple: lead authentically, solve problems, connect, and make a difference.

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