Recently, I saw someone on Twitter note that they’d always wanted to get into freelancing, but were never quite sure how to start. I immediately thought, “Oh, I have a blog post about that!” But then… I didn’t? Not sure how I managed to fail at providing this particularly crucial piece of advice, but here I am, making up for lost time.
Here’s a quick roadmap to help you get started freelancing, no matter what kind of freelancing you’d like to do.
Step 1: Nail Down Your Goals
And on that note, you need to figure out exactly what kind of freelancing you want to do. Do you write? Do you edit videos? Do you proofread? Do you design logos or marketing materials or magazines?
No, no, no… Scratch that. Better question: What do you want to do? Because freelancing isn’t about sticking with the same ol’ thing you’ve always done. Striking out on your own is the opportunity to remake your career so that you’re spending your days doing exactly what you want.
So — what do you want to do?
Once you’ve decided, write it down. Be specific. And don’t limit yourself to the type of work you want. You can be specific about the type of clients you want. And if your end goal for freelancing isn’t even about the type of work or type of client, be specific about the number of hours you want to work or the amount of money you want to make. Better yet, do it all! Your goal could be, “I want to create valuable marketing content for small business owners and their teams, while working a flexible, 30-hour work week and making double my current salary before taxes.”
Got your goal? Good.
Step 2: Nail Down Your Value Proposition
Once you know what you want, you’ve got to figure out what the people want. And by people, I mean potential clients. Sticking with the specific goal above, if you want to work with small business owners, what do those small business owners want? Do they really want someone to help with their content marketing? Possibly, but they probably don’t see it that way. Instead, they just want “someone to take all their ideas and turn them into content” or “someone who can drive revenue” or “someone who can tell their business’s story.”
Whatever your ideal customer wants, identify it, because that’s how you’ll sell yourself.
Step 3: Prove That Value, Baby
Once you know what you want, and what your potential many clients want, it’s time to take both into consideration as you prove your value. Some freelancers don’t really know how to sell themselves, but it’s easier than you probably think.
All you really need is a cover letter, resume and website. That’s it.
Your cover letter should identify your skills and experience, right off the bat (establish your credibility in just a sentence or two). Then, it should get into the more specific ways you can help your potential client. Lastly, it should provide a link to your resume and portfolio, as well as a way to get in touch with you. That’s it. Don’t overthink it. Once you have a good cover letter, you can reuse the same one over and over, with a few tweaks here and there.
Your resume should be tailored to the types of jobs you want and the types of clients you want to serve, so, if you don’t have one currently, create a resume that focuses on only the skills you want to offer and the accomplishments you want to replicate, as well as the skills you know your clients want in a freelancer.
Your website can be very basic. It can be a free website. No need to get fancy. There literally just needs to be an online home for you to display your resume and portfolio, so you’re not attaching a million things to every email you send to a potential client.
Step 4: Find the Client
Once you have the materials needed to prove your value, it’s time to find the clients. Now, this is where you’ll get a lot of different opinions from a lot of different established freelancers. Some say that you should only get clients from networking or referrals. But this is extremely difficult for new freelancers and even more difficult for new freelancers who want to work in a field outside their current or last profession.
I found my first clients on Upwork. I know, I know. A lot of people hate Upwork and I can see why. The clients aren’t glitzy or glamorous, in most cases. In a lot of cases, they’re just some random business owner across the country who needs one job done. But that job turns into another job which turns into another job which leads to a new client which turns into a referral which leads to lots of cool things in your portfolio, all of which you’ll need when you start cold emailing potential clients. (Plus, now I make tens of thousands of dollars on Upwork alone every year, probably nearly half of my total income; it can be worth a try.)
Already have an awesome portfolio? Already know a few people who could use your work? Then cold email away. Use that cover letter. But if you don’t have the slightest inkling of where your first client could come from, then sites like Upwork can help you at least get your footing as you start freelancing.
Step 5: Congrats! You’re Freelancing!
That’s it! You’re a freelancer! Now, you will want to take steps to ensure your freelancing is actually successful. Be a good freelancer. Deliver on that value you promised. Prepare for tax time by setting aside at least 30% of your freelance income. Avoid bad clients by watching out for red flags. Don’t stop pitching yourself to new clients four months in because you feel like you have enough on your plate; that’s exactly when your biggest client falls through and suddenly rent’s late and there’s only peanut butter in the pantry.
However, if you can keep things going, keep working at it, keep upping your value and finding clients who need that value, you’ll soon realize that this freelancing thing isn’t actually that difficult at all.
Holly Riddle is a freelance travel, lifestyle and food journalist and marketing content writer who dabbles in fiction. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her website is hollyriddle.org and her Twitter handle is @TheHollyRiddle.