Jumping into the freelancing industry is a difficult feat, and sometimes scary, if you dive head first into it. With an extensive amount of articles written on how to make it, there’s a lot of information to sort through, and it’s hard to find what will work for you.
As a freelancer who made my way into it between jobs myself, I know how experimenting on what is best for you can take valuable time and energy that could be spent elsewhere.
With that in mind, I have created this step-by-step tutorial on how to start generating income as a freelancer based on what worked to help increase my own income and to turn a hobby into a career.
Phase One: The Planning Phase
1. Find Your Niche
The first step to start any excellent freelancing career is to – wait for it – select a niche. If you’ve looked into freelance writing at all, for copy or fiction or editing, the first step is always to find a niche.
While it’s tedious to hear repeatedly, it’s great advice. By finding one thing you want to work in, you’re easier to see as an expert, and you get work specifically relating to your knowledge base. The more streamlined a niche you can create for yourself, the better off you’ll be in the long run.
Finding your niche is crucial:
- It allows you to focus on becoming very good at one specific skill
- It allows you to make your personal brand more memorable
- It helps you rank your site easier for specific keywords
To find your niche use the combination of the following considerations:
- What would I like to do? What would I enjoy doing?
- What am I interested in learning more about?
- What am I currently good at?
- What other freelancers are doing in my broad niche?
- What can I teach other people? What’s my unique personal experience that could help me shine in this niche?
2. Define Your Services and Pricing
From determining your area of expertise, you’ll need to start outlining the services that you’d be providing and at what cost. Will you be providing each client with an extensive brief to describe your project? Will they need to approve it? Or will there be one revision for projects or two?
Don’t get too stressed out here: You’ll be able to change your pricing and pitching tactics later on but you need something to start.
I suggest creating a write up of all of these services and what it will mean for your clients. I also have a list of questions to pull from when a potential client asks me for an estimate. By refining these things beforehand, you will know exactly what the project is worth, and the client will know what they’re getting from start to finish.
As far as cost is concerned, it ranges from field and expertise. You want your prices to be fair, but not short change what you have earned.
When starting out, determining your prices are hard. I used the following formula:
The minimum amount of money that would make working on this task worthwhile for me
Obviously, I didn’t have too many clients to choose from when I was starting out, but my logic was simple: I’d rather take free tasks from non-profits (to build experience and expertise) than work for a corporate client for a dime.
Knowing your worth from the very beginning make a big difference. Working for free made me feel good and built my connections – which were both more worthy for me than working for cheap just because no one wanted me yet.
3. Learn to Organize Yourself
You’ll also want to delve into the aspects of time before you even get started. How long will each part of the project take you? How much time are you willing to (or can) dedicate to your freelancing every day?
This can dictate your schedule and the number of projects you’ll be able to pick up at a time. If you can further refine your speed, you’ll be able to get more work in a shorter amount of time. This comes with a risk, however. You want to make sure you have time to complete projects and take care of yourself.
So leave room for that as well. If creating a weekly schedule and only working during those dedicated hours will help with both productivity and physical health is what is needed, do it. Being able to maintain this is key (especially since I’ll recommend later to keep your day job until you don’t need to anymore.)
Getting yourself organized is crucial because you will not have a boss or a manager to motivate you to complete tasks on time. You’ll have to keep your own deadlines which is not easy. I recommend using printable planners: Pick a planner that would keep you both organized and motivated.
4. Come up with Your Ideal Client
Once you know your niche and what you’ll be offering to clients, it’s time to make a list. List all the attributes of a client that you feel would be ideal to work with. What kind of company, what type of work, etc.
Dream big on this one. Not only will this be useful later, but it can also become a goal tracker of sorts. If you want to, you can also create a list of things that you DON’T want to work on.
You are your own boss as a freelancer, so it’s your job to meet with clients and determine which jobs are ones that you’d like to take and which to pass on. This list does double duty, helping to remind you what projects you do and don’t want to work on. This step, however, isn’t necessary, just beneficial.
5. Start Working on Your Personal Branding
Before launching yourself onto the world, I would recommend creating for yourself an extensive social media platform and a portfolio website. Doing so, later on, will be slightly more natural, as you’ll have more pieces from a portfolio to assign to the site.
Getting into the groove of being my own marketing and recruiting department has been the most challenging transition to freelancing so far. As you build a clientele, word of mouth will bring more people in your direction.
If there’s no way for them to reach you, you’ve lost a client and maybe even a small amount of credibility. While creating a space to promote yourself is time-consuming, it’s well worth it for building a business for yourself.
Don’t try to be everywhere at this point: Down the road you may always expand your presence to other (niche) social networks. So far register and complete your profiles at the three major ones:
- Facebook (Set up a business page to keep your freelancing and personal lives personally)
Keep a consistent style on all the three networks for more brand recognizability. For example, use the same headshot and the same variation of your first and last name (e.g. if you have to use a middle name, use it everywhere).
Twitter bio shows up in Twitter search results, so getting a bit creative there can help you stand out. Here is a good example of a professional bio that catches an eye by including interests and experience:
Linkedin has no word limit for the bio, so get as detailed as you can here. Here’s a great example of a very detailed well-structured Linkedin bio that makes you feel tempted to get in touch with its owner:
Phase Two: The Start-Up
6. Treat Freelancing Like Your Job, Until It Is
Freelancing is in that nether region of businesses where people think that you can roll out of bed, check your email, work a little bit and be done for the day at 9 a.m. before leaving the house to climb a mountain or give a TEDTalk or something.
Really, it’s a one-person show, a start-up company that involves staying up late some nights to get work done that you swore you had time for and hovering over the phone to make sure that you don’t miss any potential clients.
Freelancing requires you to view it as a business and, just like a 9 to 5, you have to log those office hours in to get the job done. If dressing up in business attire is what it takes, then do it.
For me, a dedicated office space that is entirely separate from my rest-of-the-time living space is essential. My walk-in master closet has been converted into the tiniest office imaginable, but I know when I step into that room, it’s time to get to work. Treat freelancing like your job, until it is.
7. Find Your First Clients
Once you get into the rhythm of getting work done, it’s time to find your own clients. They won’t come knocking your door down, you have to find them. Remember that ideal clients list you made earlier? Find it. Research organizations that fit these criteria.
Start reaching out, cold emailing and pitching. If you do your research and genuinely try to create a repertoire with these companies, you’ll increase your chances of getting work from them. Be brief – make it about the client and how you can help them become a better company. Even go for those lofty clients, the “this is my dream job” companies.
By beginning a dialog early and creating a name for yourself in the industry, you might even have them coming to you with projects down the road!
A good idea is to start building relationships with your dream clients’ employees and ambassadors on Twitter. Once you get to know them well, you can always ask for an intro or even a recommendation.
Most happy employees specify their current company in their Twitter bio. Use Twitter bio search to find those public company ambassadors to connect to them and watch what they tweet about the company.
There two free Twitter bio search tools you can use to connect to company employees and ambassadors (or maybe your future interviewer) on Twitter:
- Followerwonk: Provide the company name (or it’s official Twitter handle) and choose “bio search”. Skim through the bios and open profiles of the company employees. You can target the company recruiters by adding “AND Recruiter”, for example [@Zappos AND Recruiter]
- Twiangulate is a bit different type of tool. Using it, you can, for example find recruiters following the company on Twitter but not necessarily working for it. This expands your search and lets you discover more opportunities, even outside of your dream company. To search, authenticate it with Twitter, click through “Keywords” tab, type “recruiter” in the first field and then your company Twitter handle in the second one. Play with more search combinations to discover more Twitter users to follow.
As you work with more clients, you have opportunities to increase credibility in the community. The fastest way to build credibility is to:
8. Be Open and Transparent
Be honest and open about your work, especially about a project you’re working on. If you need clarification, ask for it. If something isn’t working on a piece, it’s perfectly acceptable to reach out to a client and ask their opinion.
“The flow isn’t working here, do you have any recommendations?” Sometimes, the client will even give you the missing link in your work to make it stronger.
9. Be Professional
Be professional in all things. You’re human, and you deserve to have fun, but when your client comes to you, they expect you to be professional, even more so if your client is a company.
Also if it’s to politely tell them no, you can’t work on their project at this time but would like them to consider working with you in the future, professionalism will make it more likely that they will come back.
10. Keep Your Deadlines
Keep your word with your clients on when you will have the project to them and update them periodically about the process. You’re allowed to ask for more time if you need it, but don’t do this often. If it’s rare, then if they can get within reason, the client will give it to you. But never abuse this. The more often you delay on a client, the more your credibility will take a hit.
Credibility is important because eventually, you’ll have clients coming to you. There is nothing like word of mouth when it comes to freelancing. This will become your greatest marketing tool the longer you work as a freelancer.
11. Work on Your Visibility
To keep this momentum going, keeping yourself visible to your clients is vital. Join at least a couple of online marketplaces for freelance services to start generating some income until you build enough income and contacts to go on your own.
These platforms include:
Here are more popular freelance marketplaces to check out but limit your initial list to no more than 3-4. Each of them requires some time setting up your profile and keeping it active, so don’t go too crazy. For most freelance marketplaces, the process works pretty much the same:
- Register and complete all the fields on your profile to the best of your ability
- Check new projects in your niche daily, read requirements carefully and apply to those where you fit
- Complete the projects you were accepted for and try to be flexible. At this point your review score is more important than income. Once you build some reputation, the orders will be coming much easier and you’ll be able to ask for more.
If you already set up your social media platforms and website, great. This is where you will be able to do that. If you haven’t started these platforms, do it now.
You can direct potential clients to your portfolio page, cutting down on time that you have to sort through dozens of nebulously labeled pieces to send them the right one. You can also include your bio, a rundown on your expertise and criteria needed for each project, and your rates. These platforms can also help lend an air of credibility to your job.
12. Keep Improving Your Knowledge and Skills Daily
Increasing your knowledge base in your chosen field will help to solidify clients to using you as a freelancer. That 10,000 hours to an expert rule applies here as well. If you work in one, and only one, niche, every project you take will only increase this. Jobs will become faster, more seamless. Knowing what the client will become easier and your pay per job can grow over time as well.
While doing all of these things may not get you the insane amount that some freelancers say they make in a month, these tips will definitely increase your overall income and help you pave the way to making a living freelancing.
Don’t underestimate the amount of work that you’ll need to put into your fledgling business, but it’s all worth it to be able to support yourself and to be the boss. Also, rolling out of bed and going into work in your pajamas is the best. Don’t worry, your boss won’t care.