Freelance work is a growing market especially with Freelancer and Upwork, and the 3D printing freelance market is no exception. In this Business Monday episode, Tom and Tracy Hazzard talk about 3D print freelance work and the availability of these gigs out there. Learn about diversifying your 3D printing freelance work, and why getting into everything available out there can deter your potential clients away from you. Communicate what you do best, as Tom and Tracy talk about putting your best foot forward that will showcase your expertise and be more appealing to potential clients.
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Diversify Your 3D Print Freelance Work
What are we talking about?
We’re going to talk about 3D print freelance work. The idea is there are two schools of thought on freelance work. One is you diversify so that you can take as many gigs as possible if you want to call it that way.
What kind of gigs? Are we talking about contract 3D printing if you own a 3D printer?
It could be that or it could be design work or CAD work. It could be whatever it is. I’ve been talking to a lot of freelance associations and other things lately doing some Inc. articles and it’s an interesting eye-opening. There are a lot of gigs out there and that’s what they’ve been calling them like freelance gigs. You can go on Freelancer and Upwork and all of those kinds of places. There are a lot of those going out there and a lot of people are doing this. They’re hiring a lot of virtual assistants and virtual workers. We do it all the time. We hire virtual graphic designers and freelancers who work for our business on a regular basis, and sometimes they become much more regular. The idea is the freelance economy is becoming large.
I understand it is growing significantly.
At that, we’ve been doing this for a long time.
We’ve been working independently most of the time on and off a bit. I’ve been doing it since ‘93.
I’ve been doing a little later in ‘97 or ‘98. Thinking about it that way, while we think of ourselves as entrepreneurs and business owners, the reality is a lot of what we do are freelance jobs. We’re a little more advanced than a freelancer but we’ve come through those freelance years. I thought we should talk about it a little bit because there’s a big problem with diversifying your freelance work. In other words, it’s saying, “I can do all these things.” The problem with saying, “I can do all these things,” you don’t get to become an expert or specialist in any one thing. It’s not that you can’t diversify and move on to the next thing and next thing, but you’ve got to give it enough time and that’s hard when you’re a young freelancer.
It’s hard not to take any job you can get. You’re like, “Let me put everything I could possibly do out there so someone will hire me.” The reality is they’re less likely to hire you because they’re confused about what you do and they’re also a little concerned that you do too many things so you’re too busy and distracted. Focusing is a good thing. My suggestion to you is to focus, get a bunch of gigs and references. Think of them as testimonials if you’re going to put them on your website. Also, a bunch of reviews if you’re in a Freelancer or Upwork. I hope you’re not in Fiverr. I hope that we don’t have a lot of readers that are in Fiverr because I can’t imagine there’s a lot of good Fiverr work for 3D printing. That seems way too little to be selling your time and energy for 3D printing but if you’re there, you’re there.
Doing it for reviews and other things like that and trying to get to the point in which you have that dialed in a particular area so you look exceptionally good at something. You then branch out into something that’s complementary to it. At first, it’s 3D design itself, doing the CAD files, doing everything and doing the slicing, but not actually doing the printing. You then branch out and you do a lot more printing jobs. You keep branching out and circling around and going the next logical job over and the next logical job over and keep trying to get more jobs in that particular region. As you’re building up, they start to see you as an expert in those. Another idea is for you to take them and create separate landing pages for them.
I like that idea. We have had this issue in our business because we have multiple different talents that we have and it’s something I’ve dealt with my entire career because I’m an industrial designer. Industrial designers are schooled and trained in a process of how to do design work. It doesn’t matter what kind of object you design. It matters how you go about doing that design work. It’s a process. Oftentimes, I was freelancing and people would consider hiring me. There was this company that does kayaks that I was going to work for at one point. They said, “Alright, what designs have you done in kayaks or boating?” I hadn’t done any but it doesn’t matter. I’m a designer and as a process of design, that can apply to anything.
Sometimes you get people who don’t understand that wanting to see that you’ve done things in their exact niche area and not understanding that that’s not critical. It’s a complicated thing to try to show that you are an expert in performing a service. I agree with you if you have too many different kinds of things you do. It looks you’re unfocused or you’re desperate for work. I agree if you separate those to different domains and different landing pages, then that can help you to segment those different services you offer and to each of those customers, makes it look like you are a specialist.
Another way to do it is to keep the services simple. It’s CAD and it’s printing and it doesn’t matter what the portfolio items are under it. You try to treat them as subcategories. We have a lot of retail product design work. While we do it in many different product categories, we have lots of them lumped in the furniture and housewares and other things, but we let them be subsets within the overall portfolio of things we’ve done. That way, someone who does want that knowledge that you’ve done in their particular category before can find it. We leave it in the portfolio section and not listed under our services section.
A lot of times we get caught up in this because you think, “I have to be keywords so I need people to say I’m an industrial designer, a CAD designer or a 3D print designer,” and you need all those words. The reality is you’re not going to rank there. That’s not the point. That’s not how you’re going to get the jobs. You’re going to get the jobs by networking, referrals and other things. You’re going to get them from other places. Trying to cram that into your website only damages the view of you from a potential client. You need to care more about a client who’s viewing you than Google.
At that point for that type of business, you do as a freelancer.
This is critically important as we head into a growing freelance economy or a gig economy as it’s been noted in the press. It’s the number of workers who don’t have traditional jobs who are independent workers.
Those who are not working 9:00 to 5:00 going into some office somewhere.
Those who are not under a W-2 essentially. The number rose to 9.4 million from 2005 to 2015, greater than the rise in the overall employment during that period. It’s estimated to be 15.8% of all workers who are in these alternative work arrangements. That is up over 6% in that ten-year time span. It’s getting more and more competitive and while we’re at the cusp of the 3D print freelancers, there’s probably not a ton out there in all categories. Although 3D Hubs would have you believe otherwise, I don’t think that there are a lot of specialists . They’re not all specialists and talented freelancers. Some of them are hobbyists.
A freelancer is someone who is doing independent work full-time. A lot of people on 3D Hubs that have a 3D printer and they’re taking jobs to try to augment their income on the side of a day job. That to me is not a freelancer.
If you’re a professional freelancer, that’s your role, job and what you do. It’s getting more and more competitive out there. It’s going to get more and more competitive. Now is the time to set yourself apart by getting these good jobs and getting the system by which you market yourself and dialed in. That’s why we bring this up. We want you to diversify yourself so you get as much work as possible, but we want you to do it in a smart and careful way. Make sure that you’re clearly communicating to your audience and to your client base. The clients who want to attract what you do best. It’s clear of, “Definitely, I want to hire these guys or hire this person.”
There’s that cliché that if you appear to be a jack of all trades, people may think you’re a master of none of them. Although I do see people who truly are not well-educated in 3D print industry. They hear about it, they see something on TV, they think it’s fascinating and they’re interested. Anybody who they hear does anything in 3D printing, they tend to think, “You understand 3D printing. You must be an expert.” They don’t think of it as there are many different parts or facets to 3D printing and which one of those are you an expert and you may not be in all of them. They don’t get that. To someone outside the industry, they may not appear like there’s too much.
Which brings me to a point of some of the things that you need to communicate to your clients. Also, if you’re out there looking for a 3D print freelancer to help you with your prototypes and you’re reading this in hopes to understand that greater, and we do get that a lot. I talked to a lot of startups who are working on their startups. They think they want to build a prototype and they think they want to do in 3D printing, but they don’t have 3D print skills. They’re trying to make this decision between whether or not they’re going to learn it or they’re going to hire out for it. The problem that I found so often in some of the prototypes that we look at and review these invention groups that we go to all the time is the prototypes are not manufacturable. The design itself is not manufacturable.
When they get to the point at which they are going to be ready to manufacture and they’ve got funding and they do all this, it goes back to the drawing board. They lose months and months of time and re-engineering and redesign. That’s because they didn’t hire someone to do the CAD drawings who knew more than 3D printing. If you are trying to make a real product that’s not going to be an end-use 3D printing, or it’s more than an appearance model that you need that engineering drawing to build costs or other things, molds and other things off of. You better get somebody who has the skills of traditional manufacturing as well as 3D printing. If you are that kind of person, make sure you’re communicating that in addition to your 3D print skills.
Communication is key in freelance work. I can tell you from many years of doing this, communication is key. How you communicate to your potential markets and how you make it clear what it is you do and you don’t do. We are involved in the 3D printing industry, but we’re not out there trying to 3D print things for people. It happened to us that somebody we met at a business conference understands that we have a lot to do with 3D printing. They sent me an email and said, “We have someone we know who needs to have a life-size bust 3D printed. Do you do that? Can you do that?” I’m like, “No. First of all, we’re not in that business. Second of all, our 3D printer doesn’t have a big enough build volume to be a full life-size bust to print one that big.” I had to refer them elsewhere because that’s not even the kind of work that we’re interested in.
That’s what comes your way when people don’t understand.
People assume because they heard your name and 3D printing that anything involved, you do.
Be sure to communicate all of those things. The other thing that I want to leave you with and make sure that you guys get across is it depends on who your audience are. If you’re trying to seek freelance work as a subcontractor within other engineering and design firms and things like that, your language needs to be much more technical. Also, your portfolio needs to be that much more dialed in and note technical things. Things you know and understand, the materials you’ve used the types of products you know, the manufacturing techniques you’ve used before and designed for. That needs to be clear. When you’re trying to do it for a more novice audience, pitching yourself to startups and founders and those kinds of things, then you need to have a much more generalist language. You need to think about that carefully because what happens a lot of times is you will think, “The smarter I sound and the more technically capable I sound to them, even if they don’t get it, that’s going to make them hire me.” What it does is it scares them off.
Often it’s like, “I don’t know many more things than I thought. I need to research this further.” That’s the worst thing that can happen because maybe when they research it further, they find somebody else that they can now comp against you where they didn’t have anyone before that so you talked yourself out of a job. You have to be thinking carefully about how your website is crafted and how you communicate. What I suggest you do when you’re doing these freelance jobs is when the inquiries come in, ask more questions and not talk as much. Ask them what they’re looking for and what they need. Listen to that and then only tell them the answers. The things that you do that fit that. It’s like writing a specific prescription. Think about it like a doctor.
Rather than tell them, “I can do this and this,” and they don’t need all that.
They’ve listened and they gotten lost and they’re like, “Do I need that? I’d never heard of that before. Maybe I need that. Now, I’m confused. Maybe I need to do some more research and do some more homework.”
You talked your way right out of a job.
You are an extreme specialist like a doctor. The last thing that they’re going to do is go in and say, “We have this drug and this drug. We can prescribe any and all of those and we can do all these kinds of treatments. We can do all these kinds of things.” No. They say, “Our general service is about this particular type of medicine.” You’re like, “That fits me. That’s where I need to go.” When you go in there, they ask you questions, and then they write you a prescription or give you a treatment plan. That’s what you’re going to do. Think of yourself that exact same way. That’s how good a specialist you are. They’re coming to you because you fit the category they’re looking for which you’ve dialed in and given yourself great testimonials and show a deep dive of work on. You’re prescribing to them the planet which is going to make what they need accomplished done, not more and not less.
The next time, they’re going to come back to you is because the experience with you was so good. It’s always great not at the beginning of a job, but at the end of a job to say, “While I was working on this, I noticed that you do this as well. I can help supplement your work on that.” They’re like, “I’d love to find out more.” That’s the time when you do it. Don’t give it all to them at the beginning. I see this happen many times. They’re thinking, “Let’s add on to the job now, let’s tell him we can do this and this.” That’s too overwhelming. They weren’t budgeted for that. They weren’t ready for that.
If you perform, they’re going to be happy with you. If they learn what else you can do, your chances of getting work are good.
I hope this helps as you start to plan your 3D print freelance work and help you grow it successfully.
This is a good topic because there are many things to consider in what you could do in 3D printing or what people are capable of. Sometimes less is more and other times, it’s the way you frame it and more is good but maybe you need to not put it all out there to the entire audience. That made a lot of sense to me. I like that.
If you have any suggestions or have any questions, you can send us a message anywhere on social media @3DStartPoint and @HazzDesign also. You can also go to our website at 3DStartPoint.com and leave a comment or leave an email.
Thank you so much, everybody. We’ll be back for another episode.
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