Want to be a freelancer? Here are six steps you need to take to get started.
Did you know that more than a third of U.S. workers are freelancers? Freelancing is popular in Europe as well, and the number of people who freelance grew by 45% in the last five years. Across the world, small and large companies have significantly increased their use of freelancers.
If you've decided to become a freelancer, the numbers say you're on to something good. Whether your goal is to earn some money on the side or make freelancing a full-time career, you'll need to arm yourself with knowledge, determination to learn and improve, and lots of patience. Here's how to start freelancing.
How do you become a freelancer?
The freelance market is growing by the day, and if you want to be competitive, you have to prepare accordingly. Follow these six steps to get started.
Step 1: Consider whether freelancing is for you.
Freelancing has its pros and cons (more on that later), but in general, you must possess a specific mindset to be a freelancer. Being your own boss is a great thing if you're disciplined and reliable. Freelancing enables you to set your own schedule, so you can take a day off whenever you want, but you won't be paid for that time because there is no such thing as paid leave.
If you want to be a freelancer, you should maintain a daily work routine, be ready to juggle several projects at the same time and continually look for new projects so you can maintain a steady flow of work.
If you're still working full time, don't quit your job immediately. Instead, combine freelancing and full-time work until you accumulate enough clients and connections to support yourself as a freelancer. Working from a comfortable place of steady work and safe income is a much better environment for developing your freelance business.
Step 2: Find a platform.
Most freelancers use freelancing platforms to find work. While recommendations and social media channels like LinkedIn can also be a great source of gigs, platforms are popular because they allow you to effortlessly connect with clients looking for freelancers. There is always a job available there.
Also, most of these platforms have policies and offer protection both for buyers and freelance workers. On freelance platforms, every project you take on is a mini contract, and both you and the client are required to adhere to its terms.
Choosing the platform with the model that fits your needs and salary expectations is incredibly important for your success. Plenty of freelancing websites encourage the so-called "race to the bottom," where freelancers provide poor quality work in exchange for poor compensation. Ultimately, it doesn't help anyone – buyers cannot find good quality of work and freelancers cannot earn enough money.
Some freelancing platforms, like Hiremotely, base their business model on admitting only top freelance software developers and connect them with clients based on very specific requirements. Being a member of such an exclusive platform allows you to connect with serious clients and get paid for high-quality work. The admission process on such platforms may take several weeks and include several rounds of relevant tests.
Step 3: Build your profile.
You don't have to prepare a classical CV, as most freelancing websites have a predesigned template that you need to fill out with your information, but you shouldn't treat your freelancing profile as a checkbox exercise.
Take time to create a substantial profile that will inform potential clients about your education, skills, expertise and experience. You don't have to write novels – keep it short and sweet. List your skills, experiences, special achievements and explain why you're the best person for the job.
Step 4: Build your portfolio.
Your profile may state that you're an astronaut, but unless you upload your selfie from the international space station, potential clients are unlikely to believe you. So, when you create your profile, make sure you provide a portfolio that illustrates your skills and experience. Here's an example of my inbound marketing portfolio.
But what if you're a beginner in your chosen field? My suggestion is to either take time to create a portfolio with sample works or simply accept several jobs at a discounted rate in exchange for experience.
Step 5: Determine your price.
Speaking of discounts, while your hourly rate or project price heavily depends on your skill set and experience, don't work for peanuts. We already mentioned how this devalues both freelancers and the quality of work.
If you have only a couple of years of experience, of course, you cannot charge the same rate as freelancers with 10 years of work under their belts. However, if you eventually want to turn freelancing into your full-time job, the rate should cover your monthly expenses if you have steady work, no matter how experienced you are.
Step 6: Find work.
If you're actively looking for projects and clients, here are a few tips to help you find them. First, apply only for the jobs you are confident you can do. There is no point in applying for a project you cannot complete on time with satisfactory results. As a freelancer, you're building your reputation from scratch and especially in the beginning, it's of utmost importance to secure positive feedback.
When you apply for jobs, make sure you craft a relevant cover letter that explains why you're the best choice for that particular job or project. Highlight the skills and experience that are relevant to requirements.
Over time, freelancing platforms reward top-rated freelancers with badges, lower fees and access to specially tailored job offers, so it's in your best interest to keep your clients happy.
Some freelancers avoid online marketplaces because they come with the fees (usually between 5% and 20% of your earnings) that can really add up by the end of the month. In that case, try to use various groups on Facebook and LinkedIn to find work. However, be aware that with these gigs, there is no contract in place and no guarantee that someone won't take your work and never pay for it. [Read related article: Should You Require Contracts as a Freelancer?]
Should I be a freelancer?
If you are asking us if you should be a freelancer, then yes, you definitely should. There are pros and cons to freelancing, just as with anything else in life, but in my opinion, the pros outweigh the cons. Here are some of my favorite things about being a freelancer.
- There are always work opportunities. Every hour, there are dozens of new job postings added to whichever freelance platform you use. Of course, you won't be hired for each of those, but there are plenty of offers to go around.
- You control your schedule. You work when you want, how you want and as much as you want. You don't have to beg for days off. You don't have to get up in the morning if you're a person whose focus peaks in the midnight hour. With freelancing, you make the best of your peak productivity, without being tied to the office for specific hours.
- You have an amazing opportunity to gather experience. You can work with different clients on various projects and amass experience that would be impossible to come by in a classical office.
- You choose who you work with. If things aren't working out with a client, you can always find another one. You don't have to stick around in a toxic environment because you're afraid to quit your job.
What are the drawbacks of freelancing?
Even though there's a lot to love about being a freelancer, there are some downsides. Here are a few.
- You need discipline and routine. If you want to be a good freelancer, you have to be self-motivated. There is no boss hanging over your shoulder, checking what you're doing. You're that boss! You have to be strict with yourself.
- Sometimes there won't be work. There will be times when you'll be offered more projects than you can accept, and there will be periods when you'll have a feeling nobody's hiring. This is why you should be savvy and make sure you establish a stable of clients before quitting your day job.
- Sometimes you'll work longer hours. There will be times when maintaining a steady flow of work and income means working outside of your normal working hours – in fact, you may find yourself working longer hours than when you had a regular full-time job.
- It can take a while to get your first gig. Don't feel discouraged if you don't land a freelance gig immediately. In general, it takes between three months and a year to build your first connections and acquire a steady roster of clients. But once you reach that point, you'll see your career as a freelancer take off.