How to Get Clients as a Freelancer with Grace Smith

Grace Smith considers herself a “jack-of-all-trades creative.” After founding the book blog Words Like Silver when she was in middle school, her love for creative pursuits grew – so much so that, after graduating college amidst a pandemic that changed some her original plans, she began freelancing. I sat down with Grace via Zoom to talk about how to get clients as a freelancer, managing contracts, and more!

How to Get Clients as a Freelancer with Grace Smith

How to Get Clients as a Freelancer

How did you start your blog, Words Like Silver?

It’s always really hard for me to talk about the beginning of my blog because I was in 7th grade. I can try to think about what I was thinking at that time, but I really have no idea. It’s something I wanted to do one day and it just kind of stuck.

I really liked to read, so it was a fun outlet and a way for me to branch out among the 40-something kids in my grade at the time. Besides that, I’m also an identical twin. My blog started at the point where we started to have divergent personalities. I think to a certain extent, it was conflating my need to be very distinctive as opposed to just being like a similar version of Hannah (my twin).

About a year after I started my blog, I went to Book Expo America, which is a big publishing event that happens around June. I met a ton of bloggers, authors, and people who were very involved in the industry. At that time, my age was really novel for people – they were like “oh, you’re 14! That’s crazy!” People in the industry ended up taking me under their wing then.

I always say I got grandfathered into publishing. There’s a lot about it now that’s very different from when I started, but the people who I knew then are the people who are editors and publicists now. I got into it before being “viral” was as much of a thing. I don’t have a million followers, but I’ve been doing it for 10 years, so now I can still request a book and get the same treatment as someone who has tons of people on Tik Tok listening to their book reviews.

The blog turned into the umbrella for how I got into a bunch of other things. I wanted to make my graphics look nice or read more about business because of what I was doing. I’ve gained access to the opportunities that have now turned into my freelancing because of my blog. My blog is not directly monetized, but it’s the jumping off point for everything else I get that is paid.

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When did you officially start freelancing?

I feel like I started doing all of this before it was a conscious decision. I would do little jobs for people over the past couple years, but I guess necessity is the mother of invention. This summer, I didn’t particularly want to apply to full-time jobs since they’re all remote, so I took on clients myself.

I wanted to work in hospitality marketing with hotel and restaurant photography. Then, in March, I knew that was just not the way to go. I knew I still wanted to do lifestyle stuff – everything about making your life beautiful and curated and traveling. Ultimately, I wanted to be compensated to go and see beautiful places. Now, I’ve started freelancing for a lot of different types of lifestyle companies and it’s turned into something very similar.

How did you get clients as a freelancer at first?

I went down a rabbit hole. I knew that anyone I want to work for, social-media wise, would know how to target people with hashtags. So, if I want to find a client who’s looking for a social media intern or someone to run their accounts, they’re probably hashtagging #socialmediaintern or #socialmediainternship. I followed those hashtags, and whenever I saw someone post under that, I’d send them my pitch. That’s how I got my first client, a home organizer. By growing her following so much, I was able to use how much I’ve grown her following to help legitimize my work with other clients.

Since then, it’s been leapfrogging to bigger jobs that take me less time. I want to be working less jobs for more money, but I had to work a lot of little jobs that took up a ton of time for way less money to get there. I was lucky enough to do this because I’m able to live at home and don't have to financially assist my parents – which is, in itself, a huge privilege.

How do you manage your time and invoices as a freelancer?

My projects shift weekly. I’ll have certain, bigger contracts that happen once a month and other tiny ones that are happening weekly. The only thing that’s kept me on track is using HoneyBook, which is an invoice platform that I’ve started using. It shows me that I can depend on this much income and shows me my expenses.

When I first got into this, I was just doing it over Venmo. It was very casual, and I was kind of just a handyman. Now, I have two big agency contracts; one as a freelancer and one technically as their intern. It looked way sketchier to send Venmo screenshots as pay stubs on apartment applications as opposed to the HoneyBook platform. Then I remembered taxes, so I knew I needed something that wouldn’t hurt in April when I realized I had no idea what my income looks like.

In Honeybook, you can put in a project and mark which stage it's in. Social media is a weird landscape freelance-wise because everyone does it differently. Some people work on a monthly retainer; other people prefer to work with an hourly scale. Honeybook is an easy way to bundle everything and see what kinds of projects I have at one time. It has a time tracker, too, so you can put in your hours as you go.

At any given time, when I’m looking for a software, I try four at one time and see what sticks. HoneyBook is what stuck. I’m a very visual thinker, so it’s helpful for me to have it all laid out.

How do you handle the money-side of freelance work?

I always have one contract that gets me my bear minimum essentials. I think about it very much in terms of this contract is my rent, this contract is my groceries. I’ll have one or two clients at a time that are very steady and the rest are rotating. As I keep going, if people want to keep me on, things change. I tell clients if they keep me for more than three months, then my price increases. I’ve started to get to the point where past clients are referring me to new ones which is nice! It requires less time for me to go out looking for people.

How to get clients as a freelancer

How did you craft a pitch that you felt comfortable and confident sending to people?

I think of my Instagram wholly as my portfolio. Whenever someone asks for my portfolio, I give them my Instagram link. If I’m shy to talk to anyone, I hope they just stalk me on Instagram and figure me out. Pinterest is kind of the same way

If someone reads my blog, looks up my Instagram, and sees my curiosities Instagram highlight about the late-night thoughts I have, then they probably have a good idea if I would be a good fit to work for them. I’m very much visual and style-based, and I love when people approach me. I think the easiest way to get to that is to put what you want online. Photos you like, your style. It always benefits you to put out what types of clients you want or what type of work you want and why.

When you talk to someone, you learn so much about them that you’d never know from their curated Instagram feed. I think the reason people feel comfortable approaching me for a project is because I have those conversations via Instagram. People get so in the weeds about what they should post and what it should look like. It’s really a conversation with your followers.

Did you ever imagine that you’d be doing freelance work after you graduated college?

I always joke that one day, I’d love to just be an influencer. Not necessarily an Instagram/fashion/travel influencer, but having a voice of authority and people liking my taste because it’s my taste. That’s why I like Pinterest and blogging – because I like sharing what I like. I’m really into psychology, and it’s all backed by that.

I have multiple dream jobs! It’s not so much that freelancing is a dream job in itself. When I land my ideal clients, that’s a dream job. I want to be comfortable enough not to worry and be able to spend all of my time doing creative pursuits. Whatever gets me to that point will be my dream job!

Right now, I’m still in the busy phase of freelance work – but it’s letting me move to O’ahu, get to take pictures, and do design for interior designers, so I’m very happy about it.

What would you say to someone who is looking to become a freelancer but they don’t know where to start?

Join Facebook groups! “Create and Cultivate” is a big online community, and “I Love Creatives” is very similar.

The Create and Cultivate Facebook group is super active. People are always posting things and asking for someone who can do something for them right now. People share things like, “my graphic designer isn’t awake yet because we’re in different time zones. Can anyone Photoshop an image for me? I’ll pay you!” I think it’s the most open group I’ve been a part of; everyone is asking questions and you’re always getting answers. All of my little jobs that got me started were me responding to posts in Create and Cultivate.

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