Understanding Your Industry Beyond Your Own Role
Dreaming of a career, no matter what kind, what craft, or what industry involves research; Research beyond what you might learn in school. Someone dreaming of working in the music industry would reasonably turn to the internet to get a sense of what that might be like. Going through the Wikipedia page on the history of music, checking out YouTube videos of people trying to make it as musicians, and scanning job boards to see what a potential career in music could look like. This process is doubly important for freelancers. Because freelancers define their own titles and roles rather than apply to be in a role, it’s essential we know where we fit in. A freelancer could completely copy the duties and tasks of a full-time position if they wanted. They could also define their role as overlapping between a bunch of different positions that in the full-time world, would be separated. This is totally okay as long as the freelancer understands how the role they’ve created complements others. If they don’t understand that, how can they explain it to a client?
SOUP TO NUTS
It’s our opinion that freelancers (and really all workers) should be educating themselves all the time. If not that, then at the very least they should be staying informed about the industry they work in, and the craft they practice. If someone were to ask you what you do, you should be able to explain not only your job, but the jobs of everyone around you, and your field as a whole. If you’re a freelance copywriter who creates marketing campaigns for technology companies, you should be able to explain everything about copywriting, everything about those tech companies, and everything that other people who work on these marketing campaigns do. Will you know as much about art direction as an art director on one of these campaigns? No. Will you be as knowledgeable about these tech companies as an engineer at one of them? Of course not. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t educate yourself as much as possible about these topics. Not only to improve your work, but to better define your role as a freelancer and how a client could potentially use you.
When building a freelance resume, profile, portfolio, or whatever you want to call it, you should make an effort to explain exactly what it is you do. Don’t assume clients will immediately know. This isn’t meant to condescend. People, especially in a professional setting, want specificity. Clients don’t want to have a vague idea of what you do, they want to know exactly what you do. If your particular skills don’t fit into one specific role, then do your best to convey where your skills might overlap and integrate with the skills of a role a client might be more familiar with. If you do administrative work but also have decent knowledge of various coding languages, that could come off a bit schizophrenic to a client. People like to categorize other people, as it helps them understand things quicker. If you’re difficult to categorize, then a client may glance right past your resume or portfolio because they simply don’t get what it is you do.
One strategy could be to prioritize one element of your skill set (say administrative work) as your primary service, and use the other element (say coding) as a supplementary skill that improves your ability to provide the primary service. Those skills may seem totally unrelated to a client so try and illustrate their synergistic nature. Tasks that used to require tons of time and advanced coding knowledge (building a website for example), no longer do. Something like getting a website built quickly has almost become a rudimentary task. If freelancing as an assistant you could offer your clients this capability; saving them the money, time, and inconvenience of finding and hiring someone else to complete what has become a relatively simple task. There are plenty of other strategies to best brand yourself for a client's benefit.
WHAT’S IN A NAME
Defining a career for yourself is one of the most fun and rewarding parts of being a freelancer. You can create a new type of job or role, one that’s never existed before. Although it may be difficult to sell yourself to clients without a familiar job title, that doesn’t mean you should shy away from giving yourself a more interesting or unique set of skills than a client is used to. In fact, convincing clients of your usefulness is half of the fun. It’s all part of the creation of a career that is unlike any other.
The best place to start when trying to choose a title is to look at the titles of other positions in your industry. Find job postings looking for those positions and review what the expected skills and tasks are. Is it similar to what you do? If so, perhaps that position becomes part of your title. It can be beneficial to use words in your title that are familiar. While your complete title may not be familiar to a client, they can at least latch on to a word or two that they know. You may want to stay away from flashy title phrases like ninja or guru simply because you don’t want to make it too confusing for a client. Your title is the first thing a client sees when viewing your resume or portfolio. If they don’t get it, or think it doesn’t apply to them, they probably won’t look into you any further. Make sure your title isn’t working against you.
Freelancers can often feel at a distance from the industry they’re a part of, but they are an essential part of that ecosystem and are growing more essential every day. Despite wanting to operate in a vacuum, freelancers need to accept this fact and determine how and where they fit in.