When joining a freelance site, any of them actually, the first thing you have to create is a profile that attracts clients. It sounds easy, but it is not. The freelancer profile writing, like many other aspects of an online freelance business, is part science, part art. Here I provide a list of things you should aim to write in and things you should omit in your profile.
This article is an extended version of my LinkedIn post in February 2020. Feel free to join the discussion!
The science part
First things first. It is impossible to write an attractive profile if you haven’t define whom you write to. Who is your client? Even more specifically, who is your ideal client? What vocabulary should you use? What strings would you need to pull to gain attention with the headline of your profile? What keywords would be seen as being interesting and relevant? How to explain your unique selling proposition (USP) in as few words as possible?
Let’s do this part using my favorite trinity to categorize freelancer profiles: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. 🙂
My own profile on Upwork is in a constant mode of experimentation and optimization, and since the platform allows three different profiles (general and two specialized ones) nowadays, there is a lot of room for experimenting on how to present yourself.
So, I picked a couple of examples for each of the three categories to demonstrate how to write a freelancer profile and how not to. I give a short explanation of why something works or why it most probably doesn’t.
How most of the freelance sites work is that to get your profile visible, there is only a headline (the title), profile photo, and perhaps a couple of portfolio images and/or the first 1-2 sentences of your description.
Some sites such as Fiverr enforce the format to be just about the result, e.g. “I will” in the beginning. This, of course, changes the structure of the headline, but the general principle is the same: be clear about your niche, nail it down in the keywords your clients use, and be descriptive.
While not undermining the importance of having great visuals in your profile, i.e. your profile photo and portfolio images, most of my focus here is on getting the headline right. The rest will follow if you have any kind of skills in writing (and if you don’t, you can easily hire someone good which is completely worth the money).
So, let’s get the headline right. That’s the only thing that clients might read when deciding whether or not to click your profile. Here is The Good, The Bad and Ugly.
There are many ways to write a profile. Some are good, some are bad, and some are just ugly. It’s crucial to know the difference.
As I’ve highlighted in almost every article so far, the best way to freelance is to specialize in something that helps you narrow down your clients as well as your competitors. The profile headline is the perfect start for practicing this kind of thinking.
All the best freelancer profiles I’ve seen are very specific. Also, when looking at the success rate of those individuals who have very specific profiles, it is evident that the approach of heavy specialization works well. Here are some examples.
My personal favorite is this:
“Tax filing for LLPs”
(Unfortunately, I forgot which freelance site I saw this on and what the specific keywords were, but the essence remains the same here.) This is a service rendered by an experienced freelance accountant with a very specific, yet quite large and profitable, market. Why do I think it is brilliant? Simply because it fills all the criteria of nearly optimal specialization:
- The clientele is explicitly defined: Limited liability partnership type of companies.
- The focus is on something that those clients constantly need (although it might be seasonal, it is predictable), i.e. only a major change in legislation would interrupt this freelance business.
- Of all accounting and tax-related services this person could do, the only offering is tax filing. This suggests that the person is well-established in the process of getting the work done right and in a very efficient way.
- The vocabulary used is a perfect match with what the client understands: A person running a limited liability partnership would know its acronym LLP, for sure. J
The second example is also brilliant in its simplicity:
“Atlassian tools consultant”
What is promised here is one specific service on one specific platform (of course, the services could consist of pure advice and some software integration work, but anyway). A minimum amount of words tells everything essential. If the work is not about Atlassian, this guy would not need to move. Very specific, very brief, very easy to advertise. Indeed, perfect!
The last one is longer yet quite specific in terms of the service, Fiverr style:
“I will write a 500-word article on natural disasters for your website”
Although lengthy, this headline describes exactly what you get. The scale (the number of words), the specialization (natural disasters) and the medium (website). Any longer description would be too long to be shown properly and to be read with ease. On the other hand, a shorter description would be more generic. All in all, it sounds like a perfectly defined package!
I’m not a writer, but I’d imagine keeping a couple of fixed options for the structure of the story and general interest in the topic, it would not take much time to provide authentic articles of that size for anyone interested in a way that you would be able to profit from even though content writing is a highly competitive domain on any freelance site.
The most common mistake is probably writing the profile to be too generic, for example:
Being overly generic is not all that bad as you speak the client’s language, e.g. “I just need a website” without caring about technology stacks or anything else on a more detailed level. Just search any of the popular freelance platforms with that keyword and see what I mean. It’s nearly impossible to differentiate from others with a headline that is too generic.
The other common mistake is to highlight the years of experience in the headline:
“Highly skilled VR developer with 4+ years of Unity3D experience”
Although the headline has all the relevant keywords such as “VR” and “Unity3D,” the number of 4 indicating the years of experience, that being not freelance experience but other work experience in the domain, does not give an appearance of having any significant expertise.
It does the opposite.
The number of years of doing something, not freelance has next to no significance, and certainly should not be the selling point in the profile headline. Those clients who are familiar with how the freelance sites work and understand freelancing in general probably skip these kinds of profiles. First-time clients might click, though.
The third is to write the headline in a question form that is way too obvious to work for advertising your competence:
“Looking for a blog manager?”
Also, this is not all bad because the exact job and competence are described in very few words, but since it is in a question form, it can only be a very generic one. Moreover, it is slightly too obvious since everyone on the platform is indeed “looking for” some kind of freelancer, so instead of repeating the question, you should describe what you do best.
Then the types of profile headlines that just don’t work from any perspective and should never be considered.
The first part is excessive modesty. There are many very humble people, famous or at least semi-famous people, Nobel Prize winners, etc., who only describe themselves with the most simple expressions such as “actor”, “scientist,” “engineer” or “professor.” That kind of humility might work elsewhere but on freelance sites, it simply doesn’t.
There are profiles with a headline that has just one word, e.g. “engineer” or “programmer.” None of those people seem to get much business.
Because the headline doesn’t give any reason for a client to click it. It just doesn’t tell what you do! Being an “engineer” of an undefined domain doesn’t say anything. Being just a “programmer” is too generic for anyone to grasp what exactly you do, even if the client is a non-techie. One simply cannot imagine the result you could deliver!
The other ugly type is the opposite case: too much boasting and exaggeration. For instance, “rockstar designer” or “WordPress development superstar” indicates desperation for attention or something like that.
Another all-too-common way to express the same with a little bit more specific wording is something like “I provide the best websites.” You get what I mean. The freelancer who truly is the best one in class rarely needs to highlight it in the headline. Just show the track record instead.
When doing a quick search on a couple of sites, it was interesting to note that all freelancers defining themselves as rockstars or superstars appear to be the complete opposite in a closer examination. Hundred dollar projects, poor ratings, etc., the only exception being someone who belongs to an agency and does not rely on his/her individual profile only for advertising the services.
Simply don’t use this kind of wording.
The art part
Then the art part is all about refining the above and packaging the profile in a way that appears attractive to be clicked on. When writing the headline, there are a few things you can do:
- Only use keywords that your ideal client would know.
- Only mention 1-2 services that you deliver better than most and pick the common nominator that describes your specialty best.
For the detailed part of the profile, the bulk text, there are a couple of good principles to follow.
Many freelancers, especially software developers, device long lists of all kinds of technical keywords that they claim to have experience of. Programming languages, stacks, technologies… these lists seem endless.
If the ideal client is another software developer, this might work to some extent, especially if a certain combination of different competencies is preferred. But if the client is not a developer, this approach does not work at all as they don’t know the keywords advertised.
This relates to another issue that is also common: having too many services. It’s fine to have multiple competencies, but the fact is that especially when starting a freelance business online, it is a far better option to give the impression of being good at one thing than equally good as most others in doing multiple things.
Impress by conciseness, not length. Include only those bits of your history that build a good image in your client’s eyes. That’s a good principle.
It is also good to provide the context of your services. Why are you a good person to provide the services you claim to deliver? You can tell your background story about who you are. You can mention what is unusual about your work history concerning the services you offer.
This can be done in a short way, for instance, “after working 5 years in the advertising industry, I turned freelance.” It can also be a bit longer story about how you became good at what you do. A personal touch makes your profile exactly that – personal. Which is the opposite of generic, boring, or sterile.
It is better to use standard expressions, standard English, and vocabulary that most people understand in general. If your style is slightly informal and funny, that’s OK, no problem there. It could be a big advantage for various industries, for instance, content writing. The experience of reading through your profile should reflect who you are and what to expect when talking with you the first time, so being a bit colorful might be a good idea. A completely sterile profile that is just boring to read would give the opposite impression.
Something that is probably not good is to be too informal, which is, of course, a bit hard to define. “Hi peeps” and “thx” might be out of line and not suitable for professional communication, which is something that your written profile most definitely is.
The last part, which is sadly often neglected, is technical validity in terms of writing. Use correct English and proofread the profile. If your spelling tools don’t seem to do the job, hire a professional to get it done right. Again, it is totally worth the money, as your profile is the first thing that your potential customers would see. It is simply annoying to many to read headlines that are only half correct, and text that appears just wrong. Regardless of how good your actual service is, the client’s expectations would carry over from the profile to the first discussion with you.
The final touch: The photo
The last part is the photo in your profile. People buy from people, so the main impression you should produce is to be an easily approachable and friendly person. Clickable, in short.
Some seem to use pictures of their beautiful girlfriends or fashion models just to gain attention. This approach backfires the moment you get a little bit more traction than a casual $100 gig. Bigger works require your own voice and face to be in the game. Therefore, no cheating.
Color photos work always better than artistic grayscale photos on freelance sites, simply because it is not an art competition, it is a matter of sticking your head up in the crowd. Color catches the eye better than black and white and their different combinations.
The photo part of creating your freelancer profile is not done well by uploading your passport photo with a neutral look or trying to give an overly serious impression. A person I know wants specifically to give an impression of being a “serious highly competent designer” which is fine. But if the photo looks like something The Joker would do, you’re probably not doing it right. If picking a nice photo is hard, you can use some of the online tools or if everything else fails you can ask your mother. Mothers know these things. 🙂
If you can’t appear any friendlier than The Joker, better give it up. Online freelancing is for The Good only!