How To Start Your Freelance Career in 2 (-ish) Weeks
You can make money freelancing faster than any other type of online earning (you might have heard of sites like Fiverr). To build a career that brings in solid income though, that takes time, and honestly, a solid start.
I think that start is where a lot of us get hung up.
I hear from so many people who are excited to get their freelance business going, but who then get caught in loops of questions, planning, and overanalyzing.
That trap is completely avoidable, which is why I put together this guide to help you get moving on the first steps in your freelance career. I’ve also included how much time you should spend on each stage, so that you don’t get caught up asking questions and miss out on progress that you could be making.
Remember, the whole point is to just get yourself out there and start getting feedback so you can come back and make the changes you need to do better every time.
Decide on a Skill (1-day)
This step is the foundation of your life as a freelancer, but it really doesn’t take long.
I’m betting that between hobbies, school, and time at work, you’ve got an idea of at least a few skills that you can use to help businesses solve their problems (the foundation of freelancing.)
Take a day to think about what you’ve done and what you’ve learned in your life.
You’ve got options ranging from writing, to graphic design, web development, virtual assisting, accounting, academic research, Facebook marketing, customer service…pretty much anything you can be paid to do employed, you can do freelance. (The only difference is your relationship with the company.)
If you’re looking to jump on the fastest growing trends and best chance for earning, check out Upwork’s reports on the top growing freelance careers each quarter. It’s a useful list that’s got some really valuable information.
Remember, you don’t need to be a pro. All of us freelancers are always working to get better. You just have to start.
Pick a Niche (1-week)
This is where SO many people get caught up.
It’s also where well-meaning freelancers trip themselves up and miss out on an opportunity to specialize in a way that makes their lives easier. It doesn’t make much sense at first, but focusing on a smaller number of potential clients is a great freelance business strategy. Let me explain.
Companies looking to work with you want to know that you can handle their specific problems. They want to know that you’re focused on what sets them apart. They want to feel special. You know what makes them feel special? Letting them know that you only work with companies like them and that you aren’t running around to any and every business out there.
When you specialize in a niche, you give yourself a few benefits.
- You make your marketing easier (since you stay up on news and don’t waste time sifting through every Internet haystack.)
- You make your work easier (since in a niche, the types of work you do tends to overlap.)
- You do less work for more money (since you’re specialized, you can charge more.)
If you want to do everything and be a jack of all trades, I understand. But I’ll also let you know that you’re almost definitely shorting your earning potential and slowing down your growth. You are not every freelancer.
Choosing a niche though, can take time, because you have to research niches to get an idea of whether they’re a good fit for freelancers, and determine whether there’s any money to be made.
To shave that process down some, I recommend spending some time working through these questions and spending time looking around the Internet for some tips.
Remember though, be creative! You can specialize by industry, business size, business stage, the populations those businesses serve, or even a mix of those factors.
Figure Out The Benefits Your Work Offers (1-day)
Remember how I mentioned you helping businesses solve their problems? Well, letting them know how exactly you do thatis pretty much the only way you’ll get hired as a freelancer.
That sounds intimidating at first (trust me, I’ve been there…still am sometimes), but if you keep in mind that it’s a process that you get better at, it’s a lot easier to get started.
Here’s what I mean.
For most services, all you need to do is tie your work to what makes your potential clients money. For writers, that can mean drawing readers or generating sales through content marketing. Designers, it can mean increasing conversion rates with great images. Design packaging? You improve the customer experience to help draw in repeat business. You see where I’m going.
If you’re still having a hard time figuring it out, check out some other freelancers’ websites and profiles for inspiration on where to start yourself.
Again, remember, that as you work and talk with clients, you’ll better understand how your work benefits them (because they’ll likely tell you), so don’t think you have to be perfect today.
Create Your Base Profile (1-hour)
A profile can seem like a ton of work, but that’s only if you go into it unprepared.
Good profiles are pretty formulaic and are just restructuring a few basic elements, most of which we just covered. The easiest way to start though, is with an exercise.
This exercise comes from the folks over at Copyblogger and is beautifully simple.
I help __________________ (do) __________________ so they can ___________.
Notice that to complete that, you basically just need to fill in you niche, your skill, and your benefit. Once you fill that out, you can expand it as needed for your freelancer website, LinkedIn (magic for freelancers), and other bidding sites.
Later on, after you get some clients to brag about, you can add all those happy testimonials on too.
Start Marketing (On-going)
This is a hard one to really internalize, but freelance work will not come to you.
Let me say it another way.
If you want clients, you have to put in some effort to do two things:
- Find them
- Let them know you exist
It’s easy to get a client or two, start working, and then get frustrated, nervous, or flat out terrified that you’ll never work again. (I dealt with that a LOT in my first couple of years, and it usually came down to either getting lax in my marketing, or not taking the time to ask whether what I was doing worked.)
You might be thinking that you won’t be able to find enough clients, but I can almost promise you…you are VASTLY underestimating how many businesses there are out there that could benefit from the freelance services you offer.
Bidding sites are the easiest place to start. That’s where you’ll find clients who have projects that need to get going ASAP and who are ready to work with freelancers. (It also saves you the work of invoicing, accepting payments, all that good stuff.)
Another method can help you tap into great opportunities, and that’s doing everything from scratch. Building a prospect list is as simple as taking your niche to a site like Manta or Hoovers, or even a general search engine and contacting them…that’s via LinkedIn, email, even the phone if that’s your thing (it’s totally not mine, but I’m going to throw it out there anyway.)
Don’t get me wrong, you really can have clients coming to you, but that generally happens after you’ve put in the time to develop your website, network on LinkedIn, and get your keywords and SEO right. That takes time though, and is something that only happens after you’ve put in the effort to really learn how your niche connects as well as how to communicate the benefits you offer.
Rinse and Repeat
For some people this process works the first time. That’s because some of us are working in jobs that translate very easily to freelancing. Those people can just slide their talents and connections over to working on their own.
Others (like me) will need to take the time to go through these steps, figure out what isn’t working and then make adjustments, maybe all the way back to the very beginning.
Regardless, keep at it and you’ll find yourself getting better at this process bit by bit.