So, you want to start freelancing. Congratulations on deciding to take your destiny into your own hands!
One question I’m asked regularly is: “How do I start freelancing?”, and there’s honestly no simple answer. You just have to do it, but this guide should help.
How Do I Start Freelancing?
My recommendation is to always start freelancing while you’re already employed. It should start as a side hustle—and make no mistake, it is a hustle. Make sure that your current contract allows you to freelance.
Know What You’ll Offer
When you’re first starting out, it’s pretty easy to fall into the trap of taking any work you can find. You’re looking at projects as dollar signs and are trying to make enough money to survive, have fun, and motivate you to keep going. An easy way to avoid this pitfall is to write out a list of things that you’re willing to do as a freelancer.
There are always things that we don’t want to do, but reality means that we need to be willing to compromise with ourselves from time to time. Think about what your skills are and what kind of work is most likely to be profitable while generating references or referrals. This part is important.
One example, for me, is that I absolutely refuse to do freelance web design work. Am I capable? Sure, to an extent. Is it my strength? No, it’s not. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you should. Know what services you’ll provide—and know which ones you won’t.
Know Your Rates and Costs
If you’re going to take on projects, you should never put yourself in a position where you’re fumbling if someone asks you your rates. Know what you’re worth. Do some research. Find out if you’re worth $20/hr or $50/hr. Be willing to negotiate without undervaluing yourself.
If you wanted to work a minimum wage job, you’d be doing that instead of giving it your all to become the freelancer you know you can be.
If you’re taking on fixed-rate projects, know what that means before you jump in. Fixed-rate often favours your client, but it can be a great way to get projects because clients love to know their costs in advance. If you charge $250 for something that takes you 20 hours, then you’re doing yourself a disservice. If, on the other hand, you can charge $250 for something that takes you 7 hours, then you’re in a better spot. Learn how to estimate. You may make mistakes, and it may cost you in the short-term, but if you learn from those mistakes you’ll be able to provide better quotes.
Know How You’ll Get Clients
Everything up to this point has been easy. Acquiring clients is the hardest part of freelancing. It can be very time consuming and means that you’ll be part expert-in-your-field and part salesperson.
Work Your Network
I’m going to assume that you have some connections. If you don’t, then one of the first things you need to do is start networking. Shake hands, buy people coffee, and send follow-up emails. You need references to be able to start freelancing, so if you’re able to leverage your reputation in order to get those, then you need to do that.
Use your network. Build your network. Be willing to help others do the same.
When I started freelancing, many of my first gigs were found online. Businesses are more comfortable hiring remote workers nowadays, which is something you can really use to your advantage. Whatever skill you’re trying to bring to market has a demand—you just have to find it.
I secured my first freelance gig through a message to a Facebook page that said they were looking for writers. That gig has served as a valuable reference to published written work for several years, and depending on what my client is looking for, I still use it from time to time.
Talk to Local Businesses
Don’t be afraid to reach out to business owners if you think your skills will be valuable to them. Maybe there’s a really great restaurant you follow on social who’s fumbling to grow their online presence. Perhaps that same restaurant’s website or Google Business listings can use some TLC.
Regardless of the situation, don’t be afraid to ask. Sure, get used to hearing “no”, but someone will appreciate what you can do for their business.
Poach Clients… or Not
You probably have some great relationships with the clients you work for through your current employer. It may be tempting to poach their clients. After all, you’re already doing all of the work, right?
Wrong. Do not poach clients.
Your reputation is important. If you’re working for a company that values your contributions to the team, you can leave on amicable terms, which could lead to a great reference and a killer project. If a former client reaches out to you, how you handle that is in your court, but I can’t advocate poaching. It’s just not cool.
Don’t be Afraid to Start
Confidence in your own abilities is a critical part of your success as a freelancer. If you’re looking to get started, then consider the points in this article and take the plunge. You can start freelancing right now—if you’re motivated.