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Don’t underestimate the power of your work samples, and you’ll learn why in this episode and how you need to be concerned with your work samples and the way that you send them to clients.

I share examples of mistakes that many beginner freelancers make, including sending irrelevant work samples.  I will also explain why I feel it is a waste of time to send custom work samples.

Here are some things we covered in this episode:

  • How to avoid beginner mistakes with your work samples
  • How good work samples can help you overcome lack of experience
  • How to make the client feel like the work sample is a win for them
  • Why you shouldn’t create custom work samples
  • Why work samples should be related to what the client is asking for
  • Have just enough samples to repurpose them
  • Why you should never overwhelm a client with too many work samples
  • Why you should not direct people to your website for work samples
  • How to deliver work samples
  • The importance of reading into what your client says
  • How often you should update your work samples

After listening to this episode, share your action steps and take-aways with our group:

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Read the Transcript:

It’s that time again, for another episode of the Advanced Freelancing Podcast. And today, our episode is all about something that I strongly recommend freelancers do every summer and honestly, every six months when you can fit it in. And that is updating your work samples. Don’t underestimate the power of your work samples, and you’ll learn why in this episode and how you need to be concerned with your work samples and the way that you send them to clients. There’s no doubt that we’re living in an information rich world. We are bombarded with information from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to sleep, right? And your clients are no different. So you have to be very selective about the kinds of information that you share with your clients. And a great example of this are your work samples. Your work samples can overcome a lot of challenges, whether you’re starting scaling or pivoting into a new freelance service area altogether, they help to tell the client a lot about what it’s like to work with you and your overall style.

(01:02):

So when you have other challenges that you’re facing such as you’re just starting your business and you don’t have any feedback or a great deal of experience yet good work samples can help you to overcome that. I see a lot of mistakes around the use and sending of work samples and so much like how you do your pitch and how you do your proposal and your phone call work samples are another great example where this should be client facing and client specific. You might have pieces of yours that you think are great and will work really well for work samples. But the truth is that the client has to care about it. And the client has to feel like this is a win for them when they see the work samples as well. So try to pull yourself out of the equation a little bit and leave some extra room for the work samples to be the thing that’s going to be the most powerful for the client at that particular or point in time.

(01:57):

So I’ve looked at hundreds and hundreds, probably even thousands at this point have work samples that people have sent into me either because I was hiring for a contractor position myself, or I was screening somebody for a nonprofit operation, freelance or a client asked me to help hire somebody to help them with the completion of a project. And every time that I do a project like that, I use multiple different sources, right? I might look on Upwork. I might look on LinkedIn. I might post in certain Facebook groups. I might go to trusted partners. For example, when I’m hiring virtual assistants, who I know have a lot of different resources at their fingertips, from virtual assistants that are in their paid leads communities. And one thing that I find again and again, with all kinds of freelancers is that far too many people send work samples that are irrelevant or work samples that are just too high in number.

(02:54):

So let’s start with the first example of work samples that are irrelevant when you can’t send something that is reasonably similar to, or related to what the client is talking about or what they could use to make their decision. It leads into that dangerous territory of them being uncertain or unsure. And the result of that is that they won’t take any forward action. So what I mean by this is if the work sample is indicative of the kind of work you do, but it’s so far outside of what the client asks for or what you are pitching, that’s only going to be confusing for them, right? So if you are pitching logo design, you don’t need to send an example of a website or a flyer or a PDF that you designed when a simple, like a one page sheet of some of the best logos you’ve designed would have sufficed, right?

(03:48):

So this gets really confusing for clients, particularly in industries where there’s lots of different variations of things. One, a great example of this is writing. So if I’m hiring a sales copywriter, for example, I need to see some form of sales copy from them. It doesn’t mean it needs to be in my industry. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same length as what I’m hoping they’ll complete on the paid project with me, but it has to be related to the kind of style that I’m looking for. So a blog post could give me an overview of their overall ability to write, but that’s not aligned with the specific skill that I’m seeking, which is sales copy. So if a client, it asks for very particular work samples, and even if they don’t, but you know exactly what type of thing you’re pitching, make sure that you’re sending the work samples is most aligned with that particular job.

(04:38):

Now there’s other people out there advocating for sending work samples and in particular, using Upwork by writing custom work samples for every single job that you pitched to. I do not know any new or experienced freelancer who has the time to do that 15 to 20 times a week. Right? So I do not advocate for doing that. I do not think you need to create a work sample that is really closely aligned to what the client’s going to ask you to do and do that fresh every time with a new pitch. In fact, that’s a huge waste of time. Um, actually, because there’s no guarantee on places like Upwork, that you’re actually going to get the client to respond to you. What I like to do is to create a set of samples. They can be reused and repurposed over and over again. So let’s go back to that example of a writer.

(05:26):

If you do sales copy and you do proofreading and you do academic work, I would make sure that you have an aligned work sample for each one of those, right. A proofreading one could just be a document that you’ve tracked changes on and shown how you edit things. So it’s important for a client to see something that is similar to what they are looking for, because otherwise they don’t know if you have the specific skills. So another great example is in the world of graphic design, I recently hired a graphic designer to complete a speaking one sheet for somebody. And there were lots of examples in the portfolio of this person that convinced me, they had the visual ability, the knowledge of color, all of these types of things that made them a great designer overall. But I couldn’t see any examples of the style of sheet that I was looking for.

(06:14):

Right. There were really colorful flyers and there were coupons and there were Facebook ad creative images, but I was looking for something very professional that would help to showcase the speaker at hand. And so when I further asked the designer for that information, she sent me something that wasn’t perfectly aligned with the project, but it made total sense why she recommended it. She said, you know, here’s a flyer I did for another client, um, promoting their upcoming speaking event. Um, they were doing a live training at the time. And so this is what we use to encourage people to come to the event. So not the same thing as the type of PDF that I would need the designer to make for me in this project, in which they’d be writing up reasons why event organizers and conference planners should hire the executive speaker that I’m promoting, but close enough in the same idea, right?

(07:04):

It’s going to have the same level of professionalism. It’s going to be about the same length and it’s going to be very similar, right? So she did not have to go and create a whole new custom work sample and spend time and energy doing that, just to showcase that she knew about the kind of thing that I was looking for. I do this all the time when I’m pitching for clients. Um, I often have clients who will say, um, you know, show me your best personal injury blog, writing sample for legal blog writing. I might not have a personal injury sample at that point in time that I can use due to NDAs or whatever the reason might be. So I might say here are some bylined pieces that would be about the same length and depth of subject coverage as what you’re asking for.

(07:48):

They’re in consumer protection or they’re in family law, but I’m recommending these as the work samples, because you’ll get a really good perspective on how I approach legal issues and answer important questions for legal consumers. So that, that also gets back to this idea of like, you don’t need to create custom samples. You need to have just enough samples where you can repurpose them and send them along to clients for the things you’re pitching foremost. Now, if you submit a pitch twice a year for a type of project or are asked to do it and provide work samples, don’t go out and create something custom, right? You don’t need to do that. Um, but if it’s something you’re pitching for regularly, I like to have work samples. I like to have different versions of my resume. And of course I have different versions of my pitch and proposal options, depending on the specific

(08:45):

That’s example, number one of a big mistake that you can make with your work samples, which is just having them be irrelevant, right? They’re not in line with what the client needs to see to make a decision. And if we give a client data points that they can’t use, and that’s not helpful to them in making their final decision, we’ve made the process more difficult for them. And a confused client is not a client, whoever buys an example and problem. Number two, when it comes to your work samples are sending way too many. It’s awesome. If you’ve designed 500 websites, it’s an incredible accomplishment. If you have so many work samples that it’s hard for you to decide what to send, but that doesn’t eliminate the need to cut down on what you send. Just like a confused client, never buys an overwhelmed client is more likely to be nitpicky and not view all of your information instead of viewing things that you’ve specifically chosen for them.

(09:43):

So in this case, it’s actually far better to send three to four work samples that are aligned with the style of the type of project, the skills in question, rather than saying, here’s a link to my website portfolio with 50 different examples. This is the reason why clients don’t have time. They are not going to go look at your website and 50 work samples. Whenever I’m hiring someone for my own business or on behalf of a client or somebody else, this probably eliminates a lot of people from the candidate pool without them even realizing it. So if I ask in a Google form, for example, in hiring a freelancer, please share the link to your two most relevant work samples based on all the information I’ve given you about the job at hand and their response is to say, here’s the link to my website portfolio.

(10:30):

I’m not going to click it because I know what I’m going to see when I go there and you haven’t put any extra thought into it. Now, if you put the link to your portfolio or to a specific piece in your portfolio or say, uh, click on the missing portfolio link, you want to see, um, the third thing down is super relevant, but even then you could have just sent the third thing in your portfolio, right? You have a much higher chance of the client looking at the material when you have spoonfed it and delivered it right to them. You’ve been respectful of their time. You’ve done some strategic thinking about what the best thing to send to them is, and you’ve made it easy for them. This is especially important when you’re competing against other freelancers. So when you’re responding to a Facebook post that has a call for freelancers and contractors, where there’s lots and lots of people applying when you’re replying to a Craigslist ad or an indeed ad or an Upwork job posts, you’re competing with other freelancers.

(11:26):

And if other freelancers more effectively and efficiently, get to the point and share the right samples before you do the client has a much higher likelihood of hiring them. So rather than sending 15, 2050 work samples choose the top three that are most relevant to the job at hand and explain why you’re providing them, right? Because if the client doesn’t have the right information, it’s like to do one of those math problems that you got on the sat where they actually didn’t give you all of the details you needed to come up with the equation or the solution to the equation, right? Clients get very frustrated with that. So if they’re saying, Hey, I want to see your best example of a social media campaign. And you send something that’s instead from running a Pinterest ad, that’s confusing to the client because it’s not the same thing as running an organic social media campaign.

(12:21):

And you’ve given them data that they don’t know what to do with the best case scenario. They ignore it. And they’re much more likely to just be confused by it. And again, remember our confused clients, don’t buy our overwhelmed client, don’t buy. So don’t send me many work samples, do not just direct people to your website. That is not what your website is there for. The portfolio page of your website is there to show credibility. And it’s there for people who have landed on your website in a paid or an organic traffic way. It is not there for you to send people to when you’re pitching other things, because they won’t go there. They’re too busy and they don’t know what they’re going to get by clicking on that. So it’s much easier to just say, Hey, here’s the two samples that I chose to apply to this particular job with.

(13:07):

And here’s why, so I recently was in a situation speaking with a freelancer who was applying for a position that called for a variety of different skills, right? So I didn’t ask for specific work samples and say, Oh, this one is most important. I need to see an email marketing campaign, or I need to see a social media audit. But after speaking with me, he read between the lines and said, Hey, based on what we discussed, I put together a quick sample email newsletter for you. And I ran a report on the engagement metrics of the Twitter page in question. So that showed that he has the strategic mind to recognize that it’s not in his best interest to send me the work samples of everything he’s ever done. He’s using the pain points and the clues that I gave him on the call to decide which work samples to send.

(13:56):

I see this all too often. So many different kinds of freelancers, and yes, it’s really easy to be like, go to my website.com/portfolio, or here’s a folder with 16 different samples in it. Don’t do that. Send them the link to the exact samples that you want them to see, make it easy, easy for them to view it. Do not send it as an email attachment because people get weird about attachments and that can get you flagged as being spam. So send a Dropbox link, send a Google drive, link something that they are more likely to click and open, but make it be strategic. And it should go without saying that your work samples should be the absolute best work you have. If you spent 20 minutes putting it together, the client can tell that. And what is the point for them to use that, to evaluate you for a position they are far more likely to decide not to work with you at all.

(14:48):

So if you put any effort into something in your business, it really should be your pitch and your work samples. They work really well together to convince a client that they, the client should give you a chance. And it’s really, really unfortunate for me when someone has a great pitch and they have a great profile and great experience, but it falls apart on the work samples because the work samples were sloppy. They have mistakes in them, or they were sent, you know, 2,500 times. And I don’t know which one is most important as the prospective client. So I just click on a random one that random one might not be your best work. So make it easy for the client to see that you’ve read into what they’ve written, read into what they’ve said, and that you’ve selected a work sample that is most in line with that.

(15:33):

I strongly recommend going back and updating your work samples a minimum of every six months, because you get better. You work on cooler projects, you have more examples to work with. And as your skills improve, you want to capture that in your work samples and provide clients, things that are the most relevant for you. Now that six month period is also a good opportunity to say, have I been doing any new services that I need to create work samples for, or that I need to create case studies for? Because now I’ve worked with my first handful of clients and I have some early results, keep this information updated. You know, um, as a writer, sometimes I go back and look at some of my previous writing samples and I’m shocked anyone hired me, right? Because they were terrible, right? They weren’t terrible when I started, because that was the best I could do.

(16:18):

But as I’ve sharpened my skills, I don’t want that to be representative of my work. And I know that as a freelancer, you’re constantly improving. You’re taking feedback, you’re learning new things, taking courses, uh, implementing those skills at a higher level. And we want clients to know that as you transition farther and farther away from being a beginner, don’t make those beginner mistakes with your work sample. Thanks for tuning into another episode of advanced freelancing. If you’re not as pumped as I am about the launch of the six figure freelancer book in October, I don’t even know why you’re listening. Right? So check out six figure freelance book.com. You’re going to learn more about what’s in the book. It’s over 70,000 words of actionable strategies based on my experience, my experience, coaching and insight from 19 other six-figure freelancers. You’re going to love the book and there’s some really cool resources that go along with it now is the perfect time to preorder. So again, check out six figure freelance book.com. Let me know what you think.

Meet Laura:

Laura Briggs is empowering the freelance generation. Through her public speaking, coaching, and writing, she helps freelancers build the business of their dreams without sacrificing all their time, family, or sanity. Laura burned out as an inner-city middle school teacher before becoming an accidental freelancer with a Google search for “how to become a freelance writer.” Since then, she’s become a contributor to Entrepreneur, Business Insider, and Writer’s Weekly. She worked for more than 300 clients around the world including Microsoft, Truecar, and the Mobile Marketing Association. She’s delivered two TEDx talks on the power of the freelance economy for enabling freedom and flexibility and how it’s being used to address the technical skills gap in the U.S. Laura is the host of the Advanced Freelancing podcast, a sought-after public speaker on the gig and digital freelance economy, and a freelance coach focused on aspiring six-figure freelancers. Laura’s books, courses, and coaching have reached over 10,000 people.

As a military spouse, Laura is passionate about serving her community and founded Operation Freelance, a nonprofit organization that teaches veterans and military spouses how to become freelancers and start their own business.