Becoming a freelancer is a great way to start working for yourself. You can work for multiple employers at a time, hone a variety of marketable skills, and work as much or as little as you want. Even if you’ve never worked freelance before, you may be able to land a project if you know how to market yourself and where to look!
Preparing to Freelance
- Contemplate your marketable skills. Whether you’re a writer, photographer, mathematician, web designer, marketing guru, illustrator, scientist, or underwater basket weaver, there is probably a freelance job out there for you. What do you enjoy doing? What are your strengths? Make a list of everything that you think you could possible monetize.
- Don’t write off any of your skills or passions. List everything that you think you’re good at, regardless if you’ve heard of freelancers doing it or not! Don’t limit yourself before you’ve started.
- Consider the market. While most skills can be effectively monetized, you probably want to consider early on who needs particular skills. If you want to make freelancing your full-time job, you may want to pick a skill that you think a lot of people would be willing to pay for, or at least broaden the scope of what you are willing to do. Conduct a little research on the marketplace before you get started.
- For example, strong academic writers may find work easier than an expert on 15th century German footwear. Consider how many people will need what you’re selling, and decide if you can broaden your scope.
- Gather the materials you’ll need. Be ready to hit the ground running. If you are going to search for freelance writing gigs, make sure you have a reliable computer and Internet connection. If you’re a photographer, make sure you’ve got a camera. If you’re striving to be a freelance statistician, make sure you have the common software used in the field. Don’t expect to get hired if you aren’t prepared to get to work immediately.
- You should be willing to invest into your business. Don’t forget the saying, “You’ve gotta spend money to make money.”
- Create a plan. Figure out a reasonable hourly rate. What are your competitors charging? Remember, as you gain more experience, you will be able to raise your hourly rate. Decide how many hours you want (or need) to work. Of course, once you start freelancing you will get a better idea of how quickly you work, how many hours certain projects will take, and how many projects you can realistically take on at once. However, going into this new job with a plan will help ensure that you aren’t strained for money or time as you are beginning.
- Find a mentor. The best way to learn about a new industry is to talk with someone who has been a part of it for a while. You can find a mentor in various ways. You can ask family, friends, teachers, co-workers, etc. if they know anyone who freelances. You can view work online, and reaching out to someone who does something similar to what you want to do. You can find networking events in your area online. Regardless of your method, you just need to put yourself out there!
- A mentor can help you determine your rate, give you some pointers, and, ideally, even give you a few contacts to get started.
- You need to be able to show your mentor that you’re committed to this endeavor. Make sure you have done your research and gathered your supplies before you reach out to someone.
- Remember that they’re doing you a favor by helping you out. Show them gratitude and respect. Work hard to show them that you’re a worthy mentee.
- Develop your personal brand. Don’t forget that as a freelancer, you are your business, and you have to sell yourself to sell your product. Think about what makes you different from the competition. Are you witty? Are you particularly efficient? Do you have an impressive educational background? Whatever desirable traits you have, use them to your advantage.
- Your personal brand should be clear on your résumé, your online presence, your business cards, and communications you have with potential and current clients.
- Accept opportunities. When you’re first starting out, you probably won’t have a lot of previous work to show. In order to build a portfolio or a résumé, you should savor any chance you get to show your stuff. Volunteer to do freelance work for very cheap, or even for free. This experience can help you learn as well as give you future references. Beggars can’t be choosers, and most freelancers will typically begin as beggars.
- Spread the word of your business online. Create a webpage, a LinkedIn, a Twitter, a blog, a Facebook, an Instagram, whatever! The easier you are to find, the better. When you apply for jobs and submit résumés, you can add links to your various media platforms. This allows your employers to easily check out your previous work.
- This is why it’s important to take all the opportunities that come your way (at first). Even if you aren’t making the big bucks when you first start out, any work and experience can be used to fluff up your online presence.
- Fight for jobs. In the freelance world, it pays to be resourceful, determined, and competitive. Just because you’ve created a website and a personal brand does not mean that employers are going to start flocking to you. Apply, apply, and apply some more to jobs. You have to go searching for jobs you want.
Putting in the Work
- Find your first project locally or online. When you're working to get your very first client, don't get discouraged. It can take a few tries! Be creative in your search and be open to all sorts of projects, because you need work to build a portfolio, gain experience, and eventually get higher paying jobs. Contact local businesses and explain how your services could benefit them. Send your cover letter and resume to websites you frequent and admire. Use Google to find job posting for the particular service you're offering— you will be shocked at how many different job boards there are for various types of freelancers.
- Upwork, Toptal, Elance, iFreelance, Craigslist, Project4hire, Demand Media, and dozens of other websites post new jobs daily. Never underestimate the power of the Internet! Check these websites daily to stay on top of available jobs.
- Understand the value of the smaller jobs. When you are beginning your freelance career, the smaller, lower-paying jobs can actually be your best bet. More experienced freelancers may overlook these jobs, so you can snag them. Send the employer a personalized cover letter, and show a sincere interest in the job they are offering, no matter how small. By completing your first projects, you can get start gathering positive references as well as more material for your portfolio.
- Make yourself work, even when you do not have a project. It can be tempting to relax when you are discouraged or between jobs, but this is a time to show off what you can do. Create things for your website, attend networking events, do pro bono work around your community, do anything! Just keep producing content, seeking clients, and marketing yourself. When you rest on your laurels, you may be missing potential clients or letting your skills get rusty.
- Create a schedule. Working freelance jobs gives you the luxury of setting your own hours, but it can also become dangerously easy to procrastinate. Try to outline a schedule and stick to it! The good thing is that you can design a schedule tailored to your personal work style. Whether you work best in one hour increments with frequent breaks, or if you work best by sitting at a desk for ten hours straight and pounding out a project, you should still make a plan.
- Make sure you consider time that will be spent receiving feedback from the employer and making necessary edits.
- It can be hard sticking to a schedule when you are your own boss, but it is even harder scrambling to finish a project with an impending deadline. Effectively managing your own time will help you produce quality results, which in turn will lead to more jobs.
- Accept criticism gracefully. Freelancers typically work for many different employers, which means they constantly tweaking their style to fit a new job’s requirement. With that process comes some growing pains. When an employer gives you feedback, nod your head and take the feedback. They have hired you to complete a task as they see fit, so what they say goes.
- Preserve bridges. When you are self-employed, it is crucial to network successfully and have excellent references. No matter what, don’t burn bridges! While a perk of freelancing is that you are your own boss, you are also the face of your whole company. It will be hard to sell your work if you can’t sell yourself, and it will be difficult to sell yourself if you have a poor employment history.
- Keeping your employers happy will help keep work coming your way.