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I almost guarantee you have a freelancable skill, even if you’re not sure what it is yet. Here are three steps to help you get started freelancing in any field, so you can make money online from anywhere and everywhere.
I started my journey as a freelancer almost accidentally. I was backpacking in India and realized my savings weren’t going to last me all that much longer, and if I wanted to stay on the road, I needed to figure out how to make money online, and quickly. Or else it was back to the attic in my parent’s place, and the ole’ 9-5 (or 1am-9am, as I was working newsroom night shifts before I left to travel)
It took a little bit of trial and error before I figured out three crucial things:
1. How to use the skills I already possessed to work as a freelancer
2. How to market myself as a freelancer
3. How to build up that personal brand to a point where freelance jobs found me.
The good news: it didn’t take nearly as long as I thought it might. It was a few short days before I had my first (albeit small) freelance gig where I could make consistent money online, it took 2-3 months for me to build up that workload to where I was back to saving money, and 6 months before I started having jobs reach out to me.
I wish I had some guidance when I started my freelance journey, and in the spirit of that, I’ve written this little guide on how to get started as a freelancer.
It can be intimidating to start working as a freelancer, especially if you spend time checking out other freelancers in your industry. You might see they have plenty of positive reviews, tons of work, and they charge high rates, and it can feel impossible to compete with that. I guarantee you it’s not, if you follow these steps.
If you want to get to the point where you can use the skills you already possess to work as an online freelancer and make money from anywhere, here’s the three steps I took to make it happen.
#1. Figure out what you can offer
To start, you have to figure out what you can offer as a freelancer. This may be obvious to you, and you may already know which skills you can market, or you may still be struggling to find your niche (I want you to keep that word in mind, niche).
If you know what you can offer: refine your specialty and consider niching down even more. Look at freelance job postings which fit your offering, and see how you fare against their requirements. You may find new opportunities you hadn’t previously thought of, or may be able to hone in on a specialty.
If you don’t know what you can offer: Start by outlining your general skills, and ideal freelance work. Then, spend time on freelance job boards (which I talk about here). Search for open positions by skill, and see which related jobs come up. Start a list of appropriate postings as a guide, to help you find your offering.
In general, if you’re just starting out, it’s best to start big and broad, in my opinion. For me, I was looking for things related to news, writing, social media copy and management, and website management, to name a few. I had varying experience in all of these areas over the years, but in reality, they were a wide variety of roles which require different skills. Starting big will allow you to be considered for more roles, and help you get that all important foot in the freelance door.
#2. Establish yourself as credible
When your potential clients are looking for a freelancer, they’re going to want to work with someone who is highly skilled in what they’re looking for. Even for lower paying jobs, no one wants a “bad” freelancer. In order to land freelance jobs, your potential clients need to trust that you’re an expert in your craft, even if you’re new to freelancing.
Everyone starts from somewhere, and just because you’re new to freelancing doesn’t mean you’re ill fit for the role. But as a new freelancer, you’re going to lack a body of freelance work, as well as positive reviews from previous clients. To overcome that, you need to take two steps to help establish yourself as credible, and as a trusted authority, if you want potential clients to choose you.
Be searchable: having a digital presence will greatly strengthen your appearance as a freelancer, and give credit to your body of work. You may already have a digital presence in the form of social media, but is it consistent to your work as a freelancer? If you Google yourself, what comes up?
If what comes up is not related to your work as a freelancer (or even you at all), I recommend you spend a day or two creating some new digital personas. For professional purposes, a new Linkedin, Twitter, or Instagram account can all be excellent places to create a digital presence.
My tip: I highly recommend also having a personal website. It can be a free website using something as simple as your name in the web address, or you can pay for a domain. Website builders are incredibly user-friendly and easy to use, and this personal website can be a home for your portfolio, which not only comes up when people search for you, but that you can send out when applying for jobs. Wordpress is a great place to build and host a free website, but for this site, I use GoDaddy.
(Note: there is a difference between wordpress.org and wordpress.com. Wordpress.com is a better option for sites that you want to host for free, and that you don’t want to monetize. For a breakdown of the differences, read more here)
Have work samples: If you already have a body of work which is suitable for your freelance work, make sure it’s tidied up, and in an easy-to-digest format, which is mobile friendly (since many of these prospective clients will be looking at your work on their phones). Save published pieces as PDFs, have your videos on a YouTube channel, create a one-sheet of your designs.
If you don’t already have work which is suitable for freelancing, dig up something else to show. Start an online personal blog today to show that you can write or manage a website, create a batch of custom graphics right now, or find a way to link your previous work with your current freelance goals.
Having work samples can greatly increase your chances of finding freelance roles, and even if you haven’t worked as a freelancer before, it’s important to muster together something to show for the skills you already possess.
#3 Start searching for freelance roles (and spying on the competition)
Now that you know what areas you want to work in, and you’ve established yourself as credible in that craft, it’s time to start perusing the job boards (again, check out this post for more details). I recommend starting on these freelance-friendly websites because they can be great places to find freelancer roles, set up profiles, and get notified about new listings.
Be aware these gig sites charge a fee from your income. So why do I recommend starting here? They tend to be great places to access a massive volume of jobs in a wide variety of pay rates, and it can be much easier for beginners to start landing freelance jobs.
And why do I say spy on the competition? It’s not really spying, but it’s important to have a ballpark of 1) what skills your competitors offer (to figure out what skills you can offer in rebuttal) and 2) what rates they charge.
When you’re brand-spankin’-new and looking to pick up gigs, you will likely need to undercut your competition in pricing. It doesn’t have to be by a lot necessarily, but it might be crucial in coaxing new clients to put a little faith in you and your new profile. When you deliver on your promises and get some positive reviews, then you can start to tick your prices upwards.
When I say undercut on pricing, I don’t mean severely undersell your skills and work for much less than you deserve. But it’s true that in any field, when you’re new, your “starting salary” is probably less than what you’d like, and it can take time to build it up. Follow the same principle as a freelancer.
Pro tips to keep in mind:
-It might be a slow go. This is something that could take time, patience, and some tweaking to figure out the right formula. You may be trying to go for one type of freelance gig for weeks with no bites, but when you switch your messaging, you start to get offers.
If you’re not getting any bites for an extended period of time, I recommend two things:
-Look for jobs that reoccur. It can be frustrating to apply to job after job, to hear crickets on the other side. And if you land only one-time jobs, you’ll be sending out a lot more applications. In my opinion, the best freelance jobs are the ones that reoccur consistently, whether it’s daily, weekly, or monthly. Once you have a few of these going simultaneously, you’ll spend a lot less time looking for work and a lot more time making money online.
Once you start landing freelance roles, you’ll have much more leeway to do things like charge higher rates, and move your work off of freelance websites which charge fees. That personal website you built will be bursting with work samples, and your web presence and freelance profiles will enable clients to reach out to you with potential roles.
-Don’t let yourself burn out. Like I just said, it can be frustrating to send out tons of applications, and hear nothing. Treat this like a part-time job, one that you work on for a few hours a week. If you notice you’re starting to get frustrated by a lack of results, pull back on the applications and work on refining your offer, being searchable, and having a body of work to show.