How Freelancers Can Compete With Large Businesses

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The fear is real when you’re starting out as a freelancer. Where do you find clients? How much should you charge for your services? And what about all the other businesses that already do what you do?

The latter question is especially daunting when you find yourself competing with large, well-established companies. As a solo artist, you’re probably thinking, “I’m just one person. I can’t possibly compete with Giant Corporation.”

Yes, you can.

Solo freelancers have plenty to offer that larger corporations aren’t ready to provide, and employing a few competitive advantage strategies can help you assert yourself as a worthy resource. Begin with these steps to distinguish yourself among even the biggest fish in the employment pool.

Pursue Your Niche

Large companies tend to think in broad terms, which may be profitable, but it doesn't leave much room for specialization. While it may seem counterintuitive, narrowing your focus and freelance services can actually help you land more work from clients. A study by Career Advisory Board and MBO Partners reported that 90 percent of freelancers felt more successful after establishing a specialty in their field, particularly when it involved relevant technical skills. For instance, a technical writer with document design experience may be more appealing to clients compared to a general copywriter.

Think about what your ideal client needs on any given project and work to fill those roles. If you aren't yet equipped, sites like Lynda offer online courses and tutorials in business, web development, design and more. And don't worry about paying the site's monthly fee: You'll get free access using your public library card.

Get Personal

For clients, the benefit of hiring a consulting larger business often comes down to power and resources, but rarely are they associated with personability. A 2015 digital marketing study found that freelancers are just as likely to gain small and medium-sized business clients compared to their agency counterparts. As a solo worker, you have an opportunity to establish long-term trust and loyalty with a client by simplifying and addressing their needs from the beginning. One way is to set up a discovery session in which you meet with a client to ask questions about their current projects, any challenges they face, and offer your insight before signing a contract.

While a larger company may assign a single project to multiple employees, there’s value in being known as a point person.

Illustrate Flexibility

One of the benefits of freelancing (for you and your clients) is flexibility, and even Fortune 500 companies are taking notice. In a 2017 University of Oxford study, researchers interviewed 9 companies to learn why hiring freelancers was gaining popularity:

  • Scalability: The ability to adjust the workforce on an as-needed, per project basis.
  • Expert Advice: Relying on freelancers to provide skilled work or answers that full-time employees can't currently deliver.
  • Reduced Cost: Hiring a full-time employee takes time and money. It also means providing benefits, paid time off, office space, and other items not required by freelancers. While your hourly rate might be higher than a salaried employee's, the overall cost to hire you is likely much less.
  • Geographic Freedom: Location isn't a factor for freelance work, which means that companies can bring in the best talent, independent of the local candidate pool.

    The study suggests using online platforms like Upwork, Freelancer and PeoplePerHour to connect with Fortune 500 members and other high-profile clients.

    Rely on Your Network

    Word-of-mouth recommendations are a powerful selling tool. According to McKinsey & Company, a marketing and sales firm, they account for 20 to 50 percent of all U.S. purchasing decisions, and hiring practices are no exception. For freelancers, taking advantage of this asset means building a network of fellow gig workers and sharing information. Consider joining a professional society or group and share your job resources. A simple referral from a peer can give you an advantage over the larger competition.

    Yes, you’re only one person, but you also have plenty to offer. Consider your strengths and use these competitive advantage strategies to highlight them. Many clients are looking for specific skills, and therein lies your freelance success.