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Getting Started: Top Freelance Tips for Beginners

Apr 7, 2021
(updated: Jan 11, 2024)
Max 5 min read

Freelancing is like diving headfirst into a whole new world. It’s often one where you move from being an expert in a certain space (like writing or content creation, for example), then take on handling the myriad responsibilities and challenges of a small business owner.

Once you jump into the freelance world, you’ll probably feel like asking yourself, “Where’s the instruction manual? Where are all those freelance tips and tricks and hacks that are supposed to do this job, and this whole ‘being your own boss’ thing, easier?”

We’ve put together a few freelance tips for beginners that can help you find great clients, keep your business running smoothly, and ensure you’re living your best freelance life.

Consider (And Show Off) Your Experience and Qualifications

Starting a full-time freelance career can seem stressful and overwhelming. A good first step is to sit down and make sure that you're ready for the challenges of freelance work. Are you comfortable motivating yourself to get started, avoiding distractions while you work, and pushing yourself to pick up the slack on a project you're doing all by yourself? If so, you may have the skills necessary for becoming an effective freelancer.

Once you've decided to give finding freelance work a shot, it's time to begin assembling a portfolio with examples of your work. Whether you're a graphic designer, writer, virtual assistant, or makeup artist, building your portfolio is a great way to show potential clients what kind of projects you have experience working on. If you're comfortable branching into web development, designing your own website can be a terrific calling card that allows you to inform future clients of your contact information, the services you provide, and testimonials from your peers.

Use your connections

When you begin freelancing, you should make a little splash for yourself and make sure people know about your newfound availability. Many people get their best work from referrals, and statistics show customers are generally willing to make a referral for a freelancer or service provider they like. 

Take time to promote yourself, communicate with your networks, and ask for work. You don’t have to be aggressive or obnoxious, but you can spend time reconnecting with people through LinkedIn or checking in to see how their work is going.

Brainstorm a list of potential connections, then set up a task list to remind yourself to do some weekly outreach. Keeping in touch can easily go by the wayside when you’re beginning a freelance business. If you treat it as a valuable business development process, rather than a diversion or a distraction, you’ll be more likely to strengthen those connections and be the person they call or recommend when there’s work to be done. 

Venture Onto the Job Boards

Freelancing can certainly feel isolating, and many new freelancers don't know how to get started finding their first freelance gigs. A good place to start is a job board. Job boards are sites that allow clients to post job listings for freelancers or for freelancers to post listings with offers for clients. Because the internet is full of job boards, they can be a great place for finding your first few gigs and begin to generate some word of mouth.

Although job boards are certainly a good place for looking for a freelance gig, they have a few downsides. First, some job boards take a percentage of each transaction, with some sites taking as much as 20% of your total payment as a fee. Second, just because many job boards contain hundreds or thousands of job postings doesn't mean they're all ideal: some may be scams, and the prices being offered for others may be lower than you'd like. 

Consider letting your first few gigs be more about creating contacts and learning the ropes than about getting a big paycheck. You may find that the experience you gain during your first few gigs is more valuable than cash, at least at the beginning of your freelance career.

Get Your Name Out There

By this point, you've probably worked on building a portfolio, started searching for potential clients on job boards, and connected with other freelancers to make connections in your field. But another great area to explore is social media, which can be a great way to engage potential clients and generate word of mouth. 

Post examples of your graphic design work on your freelance business's Instagram page, or link to samples of your best copywriting on your Twitter account. Having a robust social media presence will prove to potential clients that you're both tech-savvy and willing to go the extra mile to engage customers.

If you're looking for a more direct way to approach potential clients, try cold emailing them. While directly emailing someone you'd like to work with may feel daunting, as long as it's done well, cold emailing can be an effective way for landing clients.

Make sure that your email is appropriately personalized for each recipient, contains clear information about your services, and ends with your contact information so the client can easily get in touch. Taking the initiative to send a cold email is just the kind of move that could have a huge payoff at the start of your freelance career.

Use Tools That Can Help

Starting your new freelance career can be difficult, but there are tools that can help with the administrative side of your small business. Freelance platforms such as Indy have become increasingly common. These platforms make it easy for freelancers to draw up and send out contracts, design and track invoices and payments, and track tasks and billable hours.

Write Your Proposals Wisely

Many new freelancers struggle with estimating the time it will take them to complete a project, because they’re working on their own or because they’re working with clients whose style and preferences they don’t know yet.

Consider the way you work best and the way you’d like to be compensated when you’re creating a proposal for a client. A freelance writing tip, for example, might be to consider the length and complexity of the work you’re evaluating.

If a piece is shorter but easier to write, it might make sense to charge a set price for an article. If it’s a topic that requires more research and will generate lengthier pieces, you may want to charge by the word to get the best value for your time.

Many beginner freelancers bidding for work tend to undercut their rates to try to seal the deal on a project. However, taking this approach can put you out of the running for more lucrative work because your time is being consumed by labor-intensive, low-paying projects.

Set rates that you believe are fair based on your experience and industry. If you choose to drop your rate in a freelance bid, make sure you have a reason behind it, other than just trying to get the work. Some considerations might include: 

  • Whether you’re learning and gaining new skills while working with the client
  • Whether there’s a possibility of long-term or more lucrative work coming down the pipeline from this client
  • Whether a client could open doors to a new industry or provide valuable referrals

Get a Contract in Place. For Everything.

It can feel awkward to push for a contract if a client seems uncertain or unready. However, you need to protect your interests when you’re a freelancer working on your own.

You don’t have time to go back and forth with a client when money is on the line. You need the terms of your agreement spelled out in black and white so you can easily reference it if a dispute arises in the future.

You can create simple contracts for yourself especially if you use a productivity tool for freelancers. Many of these programs include step-by-step processes to create a contract that’s professional and yet still customizable for your business. 

Don’t Let Scope Creep Take Over

When you’re freelancing, it can take a lot of effort to land a client. Once you have a relationship with them, you may feel ambivalent about rocking the boat. Or, if they’re nice, you may struggle to say no to them.

However, if you’re not careful, their work can spiral out of control. For example, one freelancer shared that she had a $4,000 retainer in place with a client for marketing and freelance writing services. The client continued to make small asks - a flyer here, a website update there.

When the freelancer added up the extra work she’d done, it totaled more than $10,000 for the month - well over the agreed-upon rate. Those extra hours could have gone toward business development, toward profitable work for another client, or could have been billed to the existing client. However, because the scope grew without the freelancer speaking up, she wasted a precious commodity - time.

If you see scope creep happening with a freelance client, don’t be afraid to speak up and say something like, “While that’s not part of the work we currently have in our agreement, I’d love to help you. Let’s talk about what pricing might look like to get this taken care of for you.” You’ll show the client that you know your worth and value, and you’ll reduce the possibility that you start to resent the client as well.

Creating the Freelance Business You Want

When it comes to offering freelancing tips for beginner freelancers, here’s the top thing you need to keep in mind: remember why you started. Did you start freelancing because you wanted to manage your own schedule? Because you wanted to be more creative? Because you wanted the flexibility to spend time with family or to travel?

Build a freelance business around your life, instead of building a freelance career, then contorting your regular life to accommodate it. You’ll be happier, more resilient, and more successful when you do. 

Get started today!

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