As a freelancer when you are first starting out, it’s hard to attract paying clients. It makes sense because you haven’t built your portfolio yet therefore have nothing concrete to show clients. However don’t fret because there is a simple way to fix that. Doing unpaid work. At least until you’ve built your portfolio.

Something to remember when you are first starting out is that there are other types of non monetary compensations that can add lifetime value.

Tip: Before becoming a full-time freelancer,  make sure that you have an elaborate portfolio. It adds to your credibility and you will in turn attract more clients.

RELATED: Find Clients as a Freelancer With These 7 Tips

-Ask for a testimonial

If you’re a photographer, start taking pictures of your friends. They will be pleased to model for you and get some free photos out of it. Plus they will be more than happy to write you a testimonial. Having testimonials from clients is an important factor when building your portfolio. In this case even if you are doing unpaid work, the value that you get is exceptional. For instance, when starting out with my blog, I needed to find  photographers that were willing to do unpaid work. In the end, I collaborated with many of them on a trade basis. They would use the photos taken during the photoshoot for their portfolio and I would use them for my blog. In addition, since we were both starting out, we decided to cross-promote each other by highlighting their work on Instagram. In this case, the value is mutual as we both get content for our portfolio.


Even when doing unpaid work, there is still a way to negotiate. For instance, a friend of mine who is a photographer was reached out to by a big media agency to do unpaid work. At first, my friend was very shocked as the media company is very well known and has a hefty budget. However after some more thinking, my friend came up with a brilliant idea. He agreed to do the unpaid work only if the company would secure a paid opportunity for him within a 6 month period. They signed the contract and eventually my friend landed the opportunity promised with another big company that he is now a freelance photographer for. This example shows how an unpaid opportunity can turn into long-term paid work. So before declining unpaid work, try to negotiate and secure future value.

-Foster relationships

Relationships are very important especially in the freelancing world. Maintaining great relationships is a must for your business. If you think about it, we are all connected so by having exceptional relationships with your clients, you are giving your brand a good reputation.  People will be more likely to recommend you to their friends if you have worked well together in the past. For example, I once did an unpaid collaboration with a brand and they loved the final outcome. We kept in touch and they later reached out with a paid campaign. It’s important to maintain a great relationship with clients.

Often times, freelancers become blinded by the idea of instant gratification while some exceptional opportunities take longer to come. During your freelancing career, make sure to foster great relationships with clients and keep in mind the non-monetary  compensations that can be as valuable.

If you are looking for short-term gigs, sign up here and find the right career for you.

Christy Joseph, Writer, Shortstints

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