How To Start A Freelance Career Today
With the Internet penetrating to further and further reaches of the globe, it is easier than ever to work from home. Freelancing ups your freedom even more than working at home for someone else. It offers you the ability to set your own schedule and choose whom you work with. Plus, without the need to head into an office, freelancers have location independence, meaning they can travel more, explore the local coffee shop scene or even work from exotic locals. Sounds fantastic, right?
That’s because it is. If you already have a freelance career, of course. If not, you might be feeling more than a little bit afraid, wondering how the heck to make it happen when all you’ve ever known is the 8-to-5 grind. Well, you’re in luck. If you’ve been longing to make the jump to freelancing but have no idea how these tips will help you.
Choose Your Area of Expertise
This might seem obvious, but it actually isn’t. Most people have more than one interest and more than one skill they can offer the world, so they think their best chance of snagging clients is to offer the kitchen sink. This is a misguided strategy, though, because all it really does is tell people you’re an amateur who hasn’t yet figured out what you’re good at. Don’t send that message.
Instead, work to hone your offerings so that potential clients will associate you with one product, and one only. Your best bet for success is to jump out there with a niche offering as narrow as you can make it. Keep in mind that once you have a client base you can expand, but for now choosing an extremely specific approach is going to bring you the most business.
Define Your Unique Selling Proposition
A unique selling proposition is a thing that makes you different from all the other people who do what you do. Think about it: If you’re a new freelancer and nothing distinguishes you from the competition, then most likely your prospective customers are going to choose your more experienced, more distinguished competitors.
Instead, stand out by planning to offer something that no one else does. You don’t have to give potential clients the moon, just get creative. If you’re a real estate agent, for instance, you might offer to drive potential buyers around instead of meeting them at properties. Designers could add a free business card or brochure when clients purchase a full web design package. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s noteworthy. If your clients aren’t so blown away that they tell other people about it afterward, thereby building your business for you, then all you’ve done is waste time and money.
Create Your Brand
Your brand will ultimately serve as the public face of your freelancing business. When people think of you, they should think of a specific logo, colors, typography, and an overall look. You want them to associate you with a streamlined presence, both offline and on. Make sure your marketing materials, from business cards to social media platforms, all reflect the same aesthetic.
If you’re a visual freelancer (such as an illustrator or web designer), your brand should give people a taste of what you do. You might incorporate a favorite drawing over and over again. Writers, photographers, bakers, closet organizers and so on can all use their various platforms to show what they do and highlight testimonials from people who’ve enjoyed their work.
Build a Portfolio
Your portfolio is crucial because it shows people what you can do. Unfortunately, when you’re starting out, it’s unlikely that anyone beyond friends and family (and maybe not even them) will want to pay you for your work. Untested freelancers are a risk so you may have to work for free in order to get those testimonials you need.
Don’t sweat it … just do it. Offer your services around town, and make it clear that all you want in return is to use the work in your portfolio along with a testimonial. Five or six examples is all you really need. If you want, you can offer some lower-priced services at the beginning with the understanding that you’re still new so clients will be patient with you, but don’t do this for too long.
Land Your First Clients
This is the step that really freaks people out. Unfortunately, it’s also the most crucial if your business is going to have any chance of success. Instead of letting the doubts set in, turn off your mind and simply tell people what you do. Don’t allow fear, shame, timidity or excuses to get in your way.
Start with your immediate friends and family, whomever you didn’t use to build your portfolio. Explain to them what you’re doing, and ask them to tell everyone they know so that you can start building a reputation for yourself. Then slowly work outward, expanding to include your acquaintances and online contacts, and finally reaching out to people you don’t even know. Use social media like a boss, making contacts through Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter at a minimum. If you are in a visual field, use Pinterest and Instagram as well.
Don’t Quit the Day Job
Unfortunately, you probably won’t make the kind of money you need right off the bat, and that’s normal. Build up your work on the side and, when you have a decent workload, then quit your job. If you’d prefer to save enough money to quit first so you can really focus on your business, go ahead. You just have to make sure you’ve got enough in reserve and a really good exit strategy to cover you if the unexpected happens.
Keep in mind that no one becomes a freelancer overnight. It takes hard work, dedication to the craft and an ability to weather storms and withstand setback. Your career will be built not on an insanely successful “launch,” but rather on a slow, steady move into the independent realm. It might be embarrassing and fill you with doubt, but that just means you’re on the right track. Keep your expectations reasonable, work hard, show up and eventually, you’ll have all you ever wanted.
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