So, you’ve decided to become a freelancer.
You’ve traded in the, perhaps slim, possibility of building your own online empire and becoming a multi-billionaire, for a career that is centered around helping other people achieve their entrepreneurial dreams.
This is, of course, not an entirely selfless choice. Working as a freelancer may put a cap on your earnings, but in exchange you get to focus on your craft and spend the bulk of your time doing the work that you love.
You also get to pick and choose where you work, who you work with, and the hours that you spend in your comfy home office.
Want to knock off early and spend some quality time with your family?
Want to take an afternoon off to volunteer at a homeless shelter?
Go right ahead.
Want to take a working vacation next to the pool, sipping mojitos?
Erm… sure. It’s unlikely you can work efficiently under those conditions, but you can give it a go. You’re a freelancer – the choice is yours.
Just one snag…
I’m describing the life of a successful freelancer.
It takes time to get to the point where you can afford to turn away unsuitable clients or earn enough to work fewer hours. Initially, money may be tight, hours may be long and client-hunting may take up the largest portion of your time.
But it’s worth the effort.
And in this series of articles I’ll help you get over the initial obstacles a little quicker and with fewer stress-induced headaches.
When is a freelancer not a freelancer?
A freelancer, by definition, is someone who is self-employed and contracts with other businesses for one-off or long-term projects. So, strictly speaking, you’re not a freelancer until you’ve been hired as one.
Which creates the paradox of not being to advertise yourself as a freelancer until you’ve had your first gig.
It’s actually not that complicated.
You’re not an employee or a business owner today and a freelancer tomorrow. The process is usually more organic. For a while, you may be a business owner AND a freelancer, and exist in both states until you’re in a position to operate purely as an expert for hire. It’s a bit like Schrödinger’s experiment but with less cat murder.
But you have to MAKE it happen.
You have to put down some roots, create a foundation, and proactively go after that first gig.
STEP ONE: Putting down roots
In the long-run, there’s no reason why you can’t win gigs in any industry. Whether your freelance ability is writing, design, coding, marketing, project management, or anything else, you can apply your skills to any market. Over the last eight years I’ve worked in marketing, finance, PR, investing, healthcare, weight loss, dentistry, recruitment, literature, and probably others that I’ve forgotten.
And yet, like most freelancers, I started out in one specific industry of my choosing.
For me, it was Internet marketing. It was an industry I knew well having been immersed in it for the best part of a decade. I’d purchased products, hung out on forums, made some friends, attended networking events, and published a blog (that hardly anyone read).
It’s far easier to get your first freelancing gig if you begin in an industry that you know well. And if you already have some knowledge and experience in a particular field, that’s where to focus.
Otherwise, choose an industry that interests you, and become absorbed in it. It can be any field at all, as long as it has a strong consumer base and a good variety of businesses that service it.
Once you’ve selected your starting industry, learn everything you can about it. And don’t be passive. Join the conversation, attend events, and make some connections. It isn’t necessary to become a major player; just be involved.
You also need a website that showcases your abilities or at least allows you to demonstrate your knowledge of your chosen industry.
In a future article in this series I’ll discuss the subject of money in more detail, but for now, for obvious reasons, know that it’s imperative to reduce your outflows as much as possible. So, don’t spend a fortune building a flashy website. All you need at this stage is a handful of web pages containing examples of your work (or knowledgeable articles about the industry, demonstrating your expertise).
Kartra is ideal for this setup because it removes the need to purchase multiple third-party services. A basic setup is inexpensive, and the software handles everything you need at this stage (more on this in the next article).
Yes, if you’re completely broke, you could use WordPress to setup a free blog, but it’s a time sink that you’ll eventually need to upgrade anyway. I originally started out with WordPress and with the amount of time and money I’ve since spent on premium plugins and design work, I probably could have funded a Kartra account for a decade!
My recommendation is purchase a starter Kartra account and either set up some basic webpages yourself, or hire someone on Fiverr.com with some design skills to access your Kartra account and create something pretty.
Again, don’t make the mistake of spending massive amounts of time and money on creating a website and populating it with tons of content. Right now, all you need is a presence, and Kartra has everything you need for that purpose.
STEP TWO: Create a foundation
Once you’ve put down some roots in your chosen industry and made your presence felt, even if you’re just a small voice in a large crowd, you’re ready to make yourself available for freelance work.
Creating a foundation for this purpose is simple. Just add three additional pages to your website:
- A freelance page describing the services you offer.
- A testimonial page.
- A contact page.
Your freelance page is simply a list of your skills and the type of projects that you’re available to work on. It’s up to you whether you add your fees at this point but it’s not essential (I’ll be covering how to calculate the fees you should charge in a future article).
The testimonial page will grow over time. For now, reach out to your contacts, friends, and former employees, and ask them for an endorsement. To speed things up, offer to write the testimonial for them and send it to them to edit and approve.
Wherever possible, ask your contacts to record a short video testimonial. Kartra can host the videos for you and the impact is always greater than the written equivalent.
Finally, on your contact page, list your name, your SKYPE handle, your contact number and a contact form.
I advise against using a free contact form service. You’ll attract spammers and, worse, some messages may be filtered out by your email provider. Imagine missing out on your first proper gig because the email from the prospective client never reached you!
Instead, use an email subscription form that safely records the sender’s name and email address in a database. This is another of Kartra’s facilities, so it’s easy to add this to your website and it won’t cost you anything extra.
How much time and effort should you put into completing your freelancer website? Only enough so that it contains essential information and looks professional. For reasons I’ll cover in a future article you won’t be attempting to drum up a lot of business through your website. Its main purpose is to establish your presence if someone decides to look you up.
STEP THREE: Getting that first gig
If you’ve done a good job establishing a presence in your industry and showcasing your talents, you may find that your first client arrives unexpectedly. My very first gig as a freelance writer was creating a short ebook for $200. The client reached out to me because he’d met me through a forum and he knew, by checking out my blog, that I had the ability to write something interesting and readable.
I doubt I’m the first or the last freelancer to stumble into their career unintentionally, but you don’t need to wait around for someone to offer you a job. Once you’ve put down your roots and set up your freelance website, go right ahead and email people and businesses you’d like to work with.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing a polite email to a desirable client, introducing yourself as a freelancer, and asking if they have any projects with which you can help.
Even if the answer is “no,” you’re putting your name out there and you may find that person comes back to you at a later date.
Crucially, if the answer is “no,” thank the prospect for their consideration and ask if they know of anyone else who may be interested in your services.
It may take some time to get your first “yes,” but the feeling that you get when you receive your first positive response is like nothing else.
It might take some time to reach the point where you can solely exist on your freelance earnings, but there are a number of things you can do to speed up the journey.
You may have chosen a freelance career for reasons other than making money, but you still need to put some of your focus into the numbers to remain on this career path.
In the next article, I’ll cover how to calculate your fees, how to reduce your outgoing expenditure, and the one software tool (other than Kartra) that is essential to your long-term survival as a freelancer.
Questions about working as a freelancer? Post them in the comments below.