Whether you are just starting out or are already are one of the 53.7 million freelancers who make up the U.S. workforce, you just might find these 10 tips to build your credibility as a freelance instructional designer helpful.
I think you will agree that we are so fortunate to live in a time where we have the ability to define the way we work. Technology has shifted the work norm from 8-5, working for a company with a boss, and working in a brick and mortar building to picking our own hours, being the CEOs of our own businesses, and working from anywhere in the world!
I once rented a beach bungalow in Costa Rica for 3 months and managed my freelance and consulting business from there. It was an AMAZING experience! Freelancing opens up a whole new way of living for many. Right now, today, about one third of the US workforce is forging their own way as a freelancer. See the study commissioned by Upwork, here.
Building your credibility as a freelancer is simple but not easy, especially if you are just starting out. The following 10 tips to build your credibility as a freelance instructional designer can help you stand out as one of the many millions of freelancers in the US today.
Tip 1: Set Up a Professional Website
Your website is like the window front of your business. If you want people to come inside, your ‘window front’ needs to look amazing and inviting. One of my colleagues has an amazing website that immediately makes you think, “WOW” and speaks to the quality of her design work. Check it out for yourself at SherylRhoades.com.
Like Sheryl, you want people to click on content and explore your site. If you’re just starting out, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars building your site, but you do need to make sure that it looks good and that everything works. With tools like WordPress, Google, and YouTube, you can easily build your own site without hiring a website designer.
Tip 2: Build a Portfolio of Your Work
At least once a week, I see questions like, “How do I build a portfolio?” Some people go all out and build webpages hosting work samples. Others, like me, have a file of portfolio examples that I pull from to show clients. I like to tailor my portfolio examples to specific clients and the projects they are hiring for.
However you decide to set up your portfolio, you will want to make sure that the items you include look professional, are error free, and show a wide range of skills. For example, I have samples of facilitator guides, participant guides, webinar facilitator guides, post training debrief cafés, live and OnDemand training courses, “How To” video trainings and more.
What if all of your work is proprietary work that is not yours? Don’t fret, you can always rely on your past experiences to create your own training content to show. You don’t need to use the actuals from a client a or a company that you worked with. Your skillset is yours and you can use it to come up with your own original content. Yes, this takes a time investment on your end, but it is worth it in the end, especially when it gets you hired.
Tip 3: Look the Part
It’s not enough to say that you own your own company. You’ve got to look the part. How do you look the part? Here are some things to consider:
- Do you have a legitimate business name?
- Are you using your home address or a business address?
- Do you have website?
- Do you have business cards?
- What’s your email address?
- What’s in your email signature?
These are all things that factor into how others view your business – credible or not credible.
Tip 4: Provide Social Proof Through Testimonials
Anytime you work with a client and things went well, ask your client to provide a testimonial. The more testimonials you have, the more credibility you have.
There is a psychological phenomenon called social proof that can help you boost your credibility. Social proof is where people will look to see what other people are saying or doing to make their own judgment. When you have testimonials, you are helping people form their judgment about your work based on what others have experienced.
When I ask for a testimonial, I remind the client of all of the things we accomplished together by listing out the key deliverables and/or results. Then, I ask for very specific things like, “how was it working with me? What value did you receive? Why did you choose me?” Even if the client doesn’t use any of these questions in their testimonial, it gives them a starting place to build their testimonial from.
Tip 5: Give Away Your Knowledge
Another way to build your credibility is to show what you know by giving away free content. You can give away free tools, resources, and courses. Check out my FREEBIE page here. You can blog and provide expert tips and tricks, too.
All of these content avenues are opportunities for you to demonstrate your knowledge in your field. Even if your client doesn’t care about any of these things, when they see all of these things on your website, it creates the proof that you actually know what you are talking about and that you can do the things that you say you can do.
If your super bold, you can volunteer to lead workshops and webinars, too, which is another way to build your credibility and network. Check out this free webinar on how to create training videos by Nadya Nathan out of the UK. I participated in her free webinar and received personalized one-on-one coaching from her. It was awesome. She knows her stuff! She is a credible resource. How do I know? I know because she gave away her content and knowledge for free.
Tip 6: Social Media Presence
If you have a social media account for your business, make sure that it is nurtured, loved, and represents you in a way that makes you proud. Sometimes, we get so bogged down by the sheer number of things that we need to do that we get into the bad habit of just ‘checking things off’ as done with little to no regard to quality.
Just because something is done does not mean that it was done well or meets any specific need. When working with social media, invest some time into it. The whole purpose of your business social media presence is to attract potential customers so keep it interesting, informative, and attractive.
Tip 7: Education/Certification
Nothing trumps real world experience but if you have a degree or a certification in instructional design, you can highlight it to further establish your credibility as a freelance instructional designer. Where do you highlight it? You can highlight it on LinkedIn, add it to your signature in your email, and talk about it in the bio section of your website.
Tip 8: Know Your Worth
Before speaking with a client, know how you plan to charge. Will you charge by the project or by the hour? Whatever method you choose, you need to know how to price yourself and about how long it takes you to complete various tasks. What you don’t want to happen is for a client to ask you your rate and you respond with, “I don’t know. What do you think?” Confidently knowing your rate sets you apart from the amateurs who are still struggling to figure things out.
In addition to knowing what your rates are, you should know your payment terms as well. Are you looking for a Net 30 payment or something else? Often times, your client may dictate these terms, but it is always good to have an answer when you are asked what your preference is. Need some help figuring out your payment terms? Check out this article by John Rampton where he covers 10 Invoicing & Payment Terms You Need to Know.
Tip 9: Tools & Documents
For more details on the types of tools you might want to use in your freelance instructional design business, check out my blog post, 15 Best Freelance Instructional Design Tools.
How can tools help you with your credibility? That’s a great question. When you don’t have professional tools, such as a professional email, calendar, or video conferencing tools, you present like an amateur or a hobbyist. Paying clients want real results and usually want to work with real professionals. They don’t want to close their eyes and hope that you can deliver. When their early interactions with you are professional and you are using professional tools with ease, you build your credibility with them.
The documents and forms you have or don’t have also impact your credibility. For example, as a freelance instructional designer there are 3 pretty common documents you will likely use. They are 1) the NDA; 2) the proposal; and 3) the contract. Because these are tools I use often, I have them ready to use with my branding, logos, and information already populated. If a client asks me to submit a proposal, I pull out the proposal, fill it out, and send it to them. If I need an NDA, BAM! I’ve got one. Got a contract? Yep! And, these are all professional looking and tailored to my business.
Tip 10: Create Systems
I have systems for everything. From filing to scoping meetings to contract administration to billing to managing projects and much more. When you have a system in place for specific activities, you can walk through processes and meetings with ease and professionalism. Again, it’s about setting yourself apart as a professional and making your prospective client feel comfortable that you’ve got it together.
Recently, I was hired by a client from up North to work on an ID project and at the onset of the project, she told me that she would be very involved and would likely have trouble letting go and letting me run with the project, even though she hired me to project manage the instructional design project. I assured her that would be fine and that she should do whatever she is comfortable with.
However, once she saw my systems in action and how I manage my projects and my transparent communications, she completely stepped aside and has confidently let me lead her project. We talk once a week or as needed. It is an amazing partnership, which we both value and benefit from. She has told me many times how nice it is to work with a professional. And, I feel the same about her. Win-win!
Credibility is Compounding
Before I close out this post, I want to say one more thing about building credibility. Building credibility is compounding. Meaning that all of the little things that you do compound overtime to strengthen and build your credibility as a freelance instructional designer. You don’t have to do everything to build perfect credibility to start but you do need to start and add to your credibility arsenal as you go. Eventually, you will have all of the credibility that you need to win over new clients time and time again.
Got questions or comments?
My free Facebook Group is a great place to add your questions and engage with other instructional designers on different topics related to instructional design, so jump on in and join the conversation.