The Oxford definition for freelance is as follows:
“Working for different companies at different times rather than being permanently employed by one company.”
Freelancers are ultimately responsible for themselves and accountable to their many clients. They are independent contractors that work with people and businesses in a variety of industries. I’m personally inclined to think of freelancers in the technology and marketing arena, but these self-employed individuals (freelancers) span all markets.
Freelancers tend to value their freedom and control over their personal and professional lives. This vocation can help them live out their beliefs.
Some freelance as a permanent vocation while others use it a temporary vehicle towards launching a business or gaining full-time employment.
The freelancing industry enjoyed impressive growth in the past several years. A large-scale survey of the freelance economy shows that the number of freelance workers is growing quickly, with the number of U.S. freelancers hitting 55 million this year, up from 53 million in 2014 and 53.7 million last year. India has the second highest number of freelance professionals (about 15M), standing next only to the US. These 15M Indian freelancers take up a whopping 40% of total freelance jobs offered worldwide, this clearly manifests the dominance of Indian Freelancers over their western counterparts.
With freelance work being such an enticing prospect, no one would blame you for giving it some serious thought. However, a common issue is simply not knowing how to start. Fortunately, building a successful freelancing career is easier than it seems – just follow the steps below.
#1 Define Your Freelancing Goals
Without clearly defined, easily measurable goals, you’re going to have a very difficult time getting to where you want to go.
- Is freelancing a path to just earning extra income on the side of your day job?
- Do you eventually want to become a full-time freelancer because of the lifestyle benefits of being your own boss?
- Or, are you looking to use freelancing as a stepping stone to eventually achieving a different goal entirely?
Regardless of what your ultimate goal is, you need to make it abundantly clear. This is something that all of the world’s top entrepreneurs agree upon when it comes to successfully starting a business.
Take the time to understand why you’re considering starting a freelance business, and make sure it’s the right move in your progression toward achieving your bigger picture goal.
Only after you have the clarity around where you want freelancing to take you, can you start backing into your shorter-term goals and benchmarks that’ll help your freelance business become a success.
#2 Find A Profitable Niche
Just about everything can be outsourced these days. That’s why there’s a strong likelihood that the skills on your resume contain one or more freelancing opportunities.
You may be required to think outside of the box – we’re not all graphic designers or programmers. However, you may find that your “secondary” skills can offer up freelancing opportunities. For instance, if you are a strong writer, then you have the potential to develop a freelance writing business.
Don’t be paralyzed by a preconception that you do not have the necessary skills or experience – you would be surprised how little experience you need in order to get started. A little faith in your abilities will take you a long way.
#3 Create Your Best Portfolio
The world of freelancing lacks the red tape of the corporate world. Many prospective clients are not concerned with qualifications; they simply want to see what you have done in the past and judge whether it is the right fit for them.
Therefore, if you are good at what you do and can demonstrate your skill through a quality portfolio and positive client testimonials, you have every chance of success. The conundrum, however, is in building a portfolio without experience.
Many freelancers will react to this by picking up the smallest and least lucrative jobs around, but that puts them into a vicious cycle of bargain-basement work. To work for high-paying clients, you need to demonstrate that you are worth big money by doing good work.
So don’t be afraid to do pro work for the right clients when you are first starting out. The free work you do at this stage can ultimately be priceless when it clearly communicates your worth to future potential clients via an extensive portfolio and glowing testimonials. Also, offering your services at no cost is a gentle introduction into the world of freelancing where you do not feel the pressure of having to deliver a service of requisite value.
#4 Set Strategic Prices For Your Services
You need to price yourself based on the value you deliver – not based on what your competitors are charging. Don’t allow anyone else to dictate the terms by which you define your value. That’s not what starting a freelancing business is about. There’s no such thing as prices that are too high. Your prices may be too high (or too low) for the types of clients you’re targeting, but if you do your homework in deciding who to pitch your services to, you’ll be selling exactly what your clients need – for a price they can justify.
Don’t charge too far above your value, but don’t ever undervalue what you’re doing for your clients. They’re going to hire someone to help with their projects, so it’s just a matter of showing them you’re the right person to help. Price becomes a secondary concern if they’re already convinced that you’re the best person for the job. It’s business and they’ll make it work, or it wasn’t meant to be. Keep in mind that you won’t be the perfect person for every client.
#5 Start Pitching
You should only seek paying clients when you are able to demonstrate your abilities (and your reputation) with a quality portfolio and testimonials. Once you have done so by working on pro bono jobs, it’s time to start pitching.
But whom should you pitch? Well, if you branded yourself correctly then you should know exactly whom to pitch. By having such a narrow focus, potential clients are far more likely to take you seriously than if you offered a generic service. Businesses want to work with freelancers who seemingly came into existence to serve them specifically – you can create this illusion through specialization.
Potential clients can be found everywhere: from Google to social media to your doorstep. The possibilities are endless.
The two keys to successful pitching are relevance and volume. Only pitch those clients who fit the mold of your brand and pitch a lot of them.
#6 Thoughtfully Choose your First Clients
Because you have a very limited amount of time to source new clients (and actually do the work for them) as you start your freelance business, you need to get the most out of the clients you do bring on. Both from a financial and portfolio-building standpoint.
Your limited number of clients and correlating portfolio pieces will represent how you’re perceived by other potential clients moving forward.
That makes everyone you choose to work with or highlight on your website, a crucial decision – especially in the beginning. Obviously, you don’t want to overthink it and go into decision paralysis but spend a minute or two thinking through whether or not each potential client you’re considering, will help you get to where you want to go.
#7 Build A Portfolio Website
It’s often the first impression a potential client will have of you, your style, your work, and the past clients (or companies) you’ve worked with in your freelance business.
Your freelance portfolio needs to do the following, in order to be truly effective at selling your services:
- Communicate your specialty & display examples of your work.
- List your contact information & show off your personality.
- Highlight your relevant skills, education, and accomplishments.
- Display testimonials (even if they’re from coworkers or former bosses when you’re just getting started).
- Have regular updates that show your evolution, new clients, and updated sample work.
I tried to cover what I feel are necessary steps in building the foundation for your freelance business. But of course there is much more to it and there’s no way I covered everything there is to know.
If you still have questions or are having any issues with getting started, feel free to contact me and I’ll do my best to help.
Also, if you have some important steps to add, please feel free to share in the comments below.