Everyone has thought, at least once in their life, to leave everything behind and become freelance: the idea of “becoming and being your own boss” is tempting and fascinating but at the same time it is frightening. Freelancing can be hard and also unpredictable: you must find customers, convince them to hire you, make sure to deliver a product that is of the required standards and, potentially, keep the customer for a long time. If being freelance guarantees more flexibility than working for someone, at the same time it requires a specific mindset, an appetite for risk and the awareness that at least at the beginning you will have to work more than normal.
Today, work independently is increasingly coveted and more and more people are choosing this path for the benefits it brings in terms of managing personal life.
According to Upwork, over 57 million Americans do freelance work today and based on stats collected by Small Business Trends 43% of the working US population will turn to freelance work over the next five years. According to Forbes, then, 61% of freelancers have declared to have chosen to go independent by choice. Despite the risks, 51% of respondents in a survey promoted by Upwork said that they will not go back to a traditional job.
A high percentage of freelancers feel they are less financially stable after leaving traditional work environments, yet they choose to keep freelancing, according to And Co.
It’s undoubtful that choosing to become an entrepreneur comes with great responsibility. And it’s undoubtful that choosing to become a freelancer can be a great adventure.
So, whether you’re looking for a side hustle or you really want to quit your 9 to 5 full-time day job, we recommend reading this guide all the way through from top to bottom, but if you prefer to jump around, here’s a table of contents that’ll take you straight to each stage of how to start your career as a freelancer.
Seth Godin’s Freelancer Course on Udemy is also a good place to start!
9 Steps to Start Your Career as a Freelancer
If you’re considering the idea of starting a career as a freelancer, the first thing you may know is that building it may take some time, you may get frustrated, you may not find clients for a few months. It’s all part of the natural process of being a freelancer and the soon you make peace with it, the better it is. Aside from that, let us help you in your journey by setting up the foundation for your successful freelancing business.
Table of Contents
1. Define Your Goals
Before you start freelancing, you need to define what you want to accomplish, what goals you’ve in mind for you and your business and what it may take for you to reach those goals.
Take some time to understand why you wanna start freelancing and define your goals based on this:
Do you want to earn an extra income keeping your regular job or do you want to move to a full-time freelancer position?
Your goals have to be as specific as you can and they don’t have to be long-term: you may change your mind after a while, you may decide to change your career path, and you have to have the flexibility to review goals and ambitions constantly.
We recommend you set short and medium-term goals, moving to the long term step by step: short term goals are necessary in order for you to start, and medium-term goals are an incentive to keep things going and eventually improve.
2. Define your Skills and Competences
We all have skills and in the case of freelancers, these skills are at the core of everything. Think about it: if you’re a good writer, you may offer content writing services. If you know SEO, you may become an SEO consultant. If you are amazing at drawing, freelance designing can be your choice.
If you may have more than one skill to use for your freelancing business, this is totally ok and recommended: just make sure you really have those skills before putting yourself into the market and make sure you are able to nail those skills in case someone asks for your services.
In the freelance world, having a lot of competences can be both a good and a bad thing: the more specialized you are, the better it is.
Realistically, it’s not possible to know everything there is out there and the more you know the higher the risk you know very little about everything.
Make sure you evaluate your competences and your skills and make a list of the ones you really want to use for your business: you may like editing videos but you’re not that skilled at doing it, so it should be better for your brand and your business not to mention this to your clients or prospectives.
You can always learn new things and progress, for example, a second language, but the first step when setting up a freelancing business is recognizing what you have and work to improve that knowledge to give a really valuable experience to your clients.
Once you’ve built your skills to a premium level, then you’re really ready to start your freelance business and look for your ideal clients.
3. Identify Your Ideal Clients
At the beginning of your career, it may be difficult to identify your target clients and you may decide to approach clients of every type. But it is also important to set some rules from the day one and work towards them:
- what type of business do you want to target in a medium and long term period of time?
- which businesses may attract with my services?
- what level of involvement do I want?
These are three questions you need to answer as soon as possible because they will help you shape the whole business: you may end up discovering you’re not interested in working with startups but you like working with individuals and local businesses, or that you prefer one-shot assignments rather than long term commitment.
Don’t get frustrated at first: starting a freelancing career is a learning curve, and sometimes the curve is everything but simple to hike.
4. Determine Your Rates
When planning out your business as a freelancer, you need to have a clear, or somehow clear, idea on the price you want to charge for your services. This will help you putting numbers to your skills and competences, and also establishing how many clients you may need to “survive” and then thrive.
The majority of the freelancers think they’ve to price themselves based on what their competitors are charging for the same services. This cannot be more wrong: you should always charge based on the value you deliver, your expertise, and what you think it’s correct for your lifestyle.
There’s no such thing as prices that are too high or too low, it all depends on the clients you’re targeting and the service you’re providing: if you can prove that what you do has value, your prices won’t be considered high. If you’ve problems in proving your expertise and your services don’t live up to expectations, then it’s probably time to make some adjustments.
On a general note, you should never underestimate or overestimate your value.
Decide your prices based on your expertise, your services, and your value and prove it: they may not be a fit for everyone, but this is one of the risks of being a freelancer.
Learn more about this topic on our How Charge for Your Freelance Work Guide.
5. Create Your Freelance Website
Having a portfolio website is very much needed for a freelancer: for the majority of the freelancing jobs, the website doesn’t have to be visually stunning but it has to be complete and full of information about what you do, what’s your offer, what’s your expertise and the clients you’ve worked with or you’re still working with.
Create examples of what you can deliver to give your prospectives a clear idea about you and your business:
- If you’re a writer, add a blog to your website and show what you can do;
- If you’re a designer, make sure your website is visually appealing;
Your website should reflect you and your personality, and it has to be something that you proudly want to share. Do not be afraid to put yourself out there, regularly update your site to show what you’ve done, and treat it like a baby: the more you nurture it, the more jobs it may bring to you.
6. Create Processes and Use the Right Tools
As soon as you start putting together an action plan, you need to have all your processes nailed down. This means you need to have the right tools at your hand, you need to know how to use them and, most of all, you need to be extremely organized from day one, even before effectively starting to earn money.
Use a planner, either on paper or digital, to order your tasks, make sure you give your self a list of things to do every day to accomplish results and to avoid getting lost in the myriad of things to do.
And don’t forget to start using the right tools since the beginning to become a better freelancer.
All the software you use should make your life easier and that’s why this is a crucial part of your business. Learning discipline is part of any freelancing business, and it has to be set from the first day, even before starting.
We recommend the following software for people starting their freelancing career:
- Invoicing software: We have a whole guide on the best invoicing tools for freelancers.
- Project management software: Wrike is a comprehensive and easy-to-use project management tool. You can try it for free and see how it goes.
Monday is a cool, easy-to-use, and visually nice project management tool perfect for freelancers. You can also try it for free.
Last but not least, Trello is a free tool to manage and assign tasks.
- Email/marketing automation software: GetResponse is a good tool to take track of your email list.
7. Carefully Choose Your First Clients
Finding and choosing your first clients can be daunting: we don’t recommend to rush into it but not even to be too picky. You need to build a portfolio, you need to start showing people that you know how to do things and you can help them, you need to build your brand. Your first clients have to be businesses you feel confident about, businesses you would use yourself but also businesses you may not want to work in the future but that will help you in building your career.
You can go for cold pitches or use one of the many Job Boards where you can offer you services at the price you want: the competition can be stiff, but you have the chance to build your portfolio and get your name in front of many people.
We don’t advise working pro-bono for exposure: if your work is considered good enough to help a company it means that it’s good enough for you to get paid.
We recommend you get your name in front as many people you can: building your own website and showing what you can do, it’s proven to be one of the most effective ways to find clients, even first clients.
Companies want to have proof of what they’re buying, and in this way, you’re giving them the perfect proof they want.
8. Learn how to sell your expertise
If you want to start a freelancing career, knowing how to sell yourself is imperative. With 57 million freelancers in the sole US, you need to be able to pitch yourself in a way that demonstrates your abilities and why you are the best person for a specific company.
Ideally, you should be able to use the same strategy used by startups for their elevator pitch: one sentence can be enough to tell the world who you are.
You should always be able to answer these three questions: Who are you? What do you do? What do you want?
Here’s an example:
“Hi, my name is Allison. It’s so nice to meet you! I’m an SEO manager, specializing in overseeing successful initiative launches from beginning to end. Along with my 5 years of professional experience, I recently received my MBA with a focus on UX. I find the work your SEO team does to be interesting refreshing—I’d love the opportunity to put my expertise to work for your company. Would you mind if I set up a quick call next week for us to talk about any upcoming freelancing opportunities on your team?”
This brief text answers perfectly to the questions above:
Who are you? – Hi, my name is Allison. It’s so nice to meet you!
What do you do? – I’m an SEO manager, specializing in overseeing successful initiative launches from beginning to end. Along with my 5 years of professional experience, I recently received my MBA with a focus on UX.
What do you want? – I find the work your SEO team does to be interesting refreshing—I’d love the opportunity to put my expertise to work for your company.
Call to action – Would you mind if I set up a quick call next week for us to talk about any upcoming freelancing opportunities on your team?
Aside from this cold-call strategy, one way to pitch yourself properly is by building your brand: use your skills to create something, show this something to as many people as you can and use this as your elevator pitch.
9. Set Up Boundaries
It is extremely important that as soon as you start planning your freelancing career you also set up boundaries: never mix your personal life with your freelance business, and make sure you consider your freelancing career in the same way you may consider a day job in an office.
Make sure you never blur the lines between home and work: it’s important to acknowledge that you may need a lot of time, in the beginning, to be sure your business will start with the right foot, but at the same time you need to find a way not to be overwhelmed and, most of all, not to mix work and life.
Define when you want to be available for your customers, at what time it is reasonable for you to stop checking at emails when it’s time to just say stop and switch from working to personal mode. It can be hard at the beginning, but it’s something necessary: freelancing burnout is something every freelancer experience at least once, but you need to be sure you put in place the conditions to avoid it as much as you can.
Now that you’ve got an understanding of how to start your career as a freelancer, it’s time to start bringing this idea to life. Entering the freelancing world can be overwhelming and it requires a lot of focus and effort but you have every reason to start doing it!
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