How to apply to a freelance job

Published Nov. 10, 2020 by Andy L. in Freelance 101

Finding freelance work can be a lot of work on its own. It's easy to think you can automate this process with software or recruiters but narrowing in on your pitch is what takes an okay freelancer to a great freelancer who is highly sought after.

Applying to a freelance role no matter the location is a bit different than a full-time job. Things are fast-paced, less information is provided, and negotiations seem to be more aggressive on both the side of the contractor and the freelancer.

This is a quick guide on how to apply for a freelance job and what has worked for me in the past.
Your mileage may vary but if you're new to the freelancing world this could prove useful!

Be human

When applying for a new role it pays to be human.

I have seen some freelancers use a template or canned responses to job listings that almost always get no response. I think the reason for this is because most employers are not only looking for skills but are more interested in a trusted partnership with someone who can communicate well and be dependable.

When applying keep it real and concise. There's no need to write paragraphs of content in an email or job application. Typically, it is a good idea to state a bit about yourself, why you think you're a good fit for the role and what you charge. In the end money talks but a client needs to trust you first before dishing it out. Make them know they can trust you.

Avoid the following when applying:

  • Listing all your skills and ranking them
  • Oversharing
  • Long paragraphs of text
  • Pushy jargon - Don't be too salesy with your application. Get to the point.

Can you deliver what you say you can? Are you available when the client needs you? These are some important questions to ask yourself when applying for a role. Consider it less of a transaction and more of a partnership. This could mean future work and/or repeat clients. That makes it way easier to have a consistent tap of work on hand that you did almost no outreach to get.

Have some example work to share

Apart from being human, having real work to share pays a lot of dividends. They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover but in the freelance world, especially the creative space, you will get judged hard and fast.

Initial impressions are everything so pick about a dozen or fewer pieces to share with the prospecting client. Going into some detail on each is nice if you can but not a hard requirement. Chances are the client is working through a lot of applications and won't have time to read too much between the lines.

It's common these days to have a website to share some examples of your past work. You might wipe off the dust if it has been sitting a while before sharing.

Only apply if the role is concerning what you can offer

I hope this is obvious but if you already know the client is not looking for someone with your skills or services then you shouldn't waste your time applying. Sometimes we are desperate for work, I get that, but you'd be wasting both yours and the client's time which wouldn't benefit anyone.

Apply only to roles that excite you. Not all of them will be a dream gig but if you can find some that pique your interest your deliverables are going to be of a much higher caliber.

It's okay to say no

Ok, so you applied for a freelance role, shared your rates, and got a response from the client. They counter with a different lower rate or fewer deliverables. You're crushed.

If the sudden turn of events puts a sour taste in your mouth, then that's a good sign to back out. Unless you can't live another week without a payday you can always say no to work. Saying no often means you will find higher quality work that's more aligned with your skills and interests anyways.

Avoiding red flags

In the freelance world, there are more red flags than you can probably count. A lot of prospective clients are looking to get what they need to be done for the absolute cheapest they can. These are not clients you need. Those clients go to,, or and pay \$5 for a logo expecting the highest quality deliverables. That's not right no matter how you spin it.

Those types of low-ballers are a big red flag. Avoid them and move on. Besides low ballers other red-flags might include the following:

  • Scope creep - Agree to a certain set of deliverables but take on more without compensating you for it.
  • Contract violation - Clients who don't abide by your terms set forth before the project kicked off.
  • Low budgets - If a budget is tiny and not worth your time, move on.
  • Pay with exposure - Just simply avoid this. You are a professional. You should be compensated for your time, not exposure.
  • Neediness - There's almost no reason to be on call 24/7 as a freelancer. Where's the freedom in that. Avoid needy clients at all costs for your sanity's sake.
  • Untimely payments - You should be paid on your terms. Make sure to outline this before committing to any project.
  • Client goes rouge - Clients who commit to a project and later never respond again. You likely put in some work already just to get left in the dust. It's hard to predict this one but contracts, agreements, and deposits are good things to utilize to avoid this.

  • Revision overload - If you work in the creative space or copywriting space you're probably aware of revisions. These are expected but can get ridiculous if you don't set some sort of cap. Clients can easily take advantage of you and your time if this isn't in place. Put it in the contract and don't be afraid to express to the client when the time comes that they have maxed out on revisions. If they need more, charge a fee (make sure that's in the contract as well).

  • So many more...

Some of these red-flags are very hard to spot before starting work with a client. You can often decipher a lot from a job posting if it has a description. If the client put a lot of effort into the job description there's a better chance of the work being higher quality. As you move from project to project you'll start to identify these signs more and more making it easier to decide who you might want to work with.

Less is more

I found after many years freelancing that having a handful of quality clients is much better than having a large number of mediocre clients. There is less for you to manage and you are more likely to work on projects you want to work on rather than projects you "have" to work on.

The whole point in freelancing is to have some more freedom. Make sure you are living up to that ideal and not just creating another day job for yourself. You could go get a regular 9-5 job and have less stress, anxiety, and people to deal with.

There is a lot that goes into applying for a freelance role. At the end of the day what counts is good communication, being human, and setting expectations upfront before commitment. Both you and your contractor will have a much healthier relationship that could blossom into something more if things turn out positive.

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