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How Can I Start Working as a Freelancer? A How-To Guide

Dec 6, 2020
(updated: Dec 2, 2022)
Max 5 min read

There is an aura of mystery to freelancing if you haven’t done it before, with no shortage of pressing questions:

  • How do I get started?
  • How can I find clients?
  • Can I make real money?
  • Do I need experience?

…and a bunch more. These were my questions before I began freelance writing. And I’m guessing these are your questions too. Before diving into the nitty-gritty, I have some good news. About 57.3 million people in the United States freelance, making up 36% of the country’s workforce. Although this means there’s competition, it’s also indicative of the sheer size of the industry, meaning that with skill and some hard work, there’s a whole lot of room for you to carve out your space.

But how?

Why Do You Want to Freelance?

Let’s talk about this first. You should ask yourself this question before quitting your day job.

Starting a freelance career is possible, practical, and potentially lucrative. But it’s important to make sure you’re looking to build a freelance business for the right reasons. Here are some examples of “wrong” reasons:

  • “It seems easy”
  • “Everyone’s doing it”
  • “I want to become a glamorous digital nomad on social media”

If working remotely to travel the world is your goal, that’s great! But it’s important to consider that doing so requires dedication, planning, and a certain level of comfort with uncertainty. Take steps to understand what it is you want out of freelancing and how you can construct a path forward for achieving those goals.

 How Do I Start?

The best freelancers are not jacks of all trades. They’re specific. They’re experts. Identify what your skill is and how you can turn that skill into valuable, sought-after expertise. Some popular freelance skills include:

  • Digital Marketing
  • Content Marketing
  • Graphic Design
  • Writing Blog Posts
  • Programming

And it gets even more specific. For example, if you write blog posts, consider focusing on one niche area, like technology, finance, or fashion. This is how you establish yourself as a content expert.

My #1 tip: Start freelancing before quitting your full-time job. Doing a couple of projects on the side will give you a taste of what freelance work is like. You’ll learn how to be responsible for your own schedule, hit deliverable deadlines, build a small business, and develop relationships with your own clients.

Ah, the magic word: clients. There is no freelance business without clients.

How Do I Get My First Clients?

Building a clientele is the single most important – and daunting – part of building a brand-new freelance business. Many blogs will recommend you check out gig sites like Upwork or Fiverr. While these aren’t bad suggestions, you likely won’t find the best-paying clients here.

Instead, think local. Are you a runner? Why don’t you contact your town’s running store and ask if you can guest post on their blog? Or maybe your friend’s mom owns a financial advisory. Can you contribute content to her company’s website?

Building your portfolio locally can help you build your business. Reaching out to potential clients that you have a personal connection to will yield stronger results because the trust is already there, and the communication is easier. By gaining experience locally, you now have proven work to show global clients. Starting out is all about gaining experience. Look through the open doors you already have before attempting to break open new ones.

Can I Make Real Money?

Yes. Though it can be difficult when starting out, you can make more money freelancing than you do at your 9-5. Check out these two people who used freelancing to build a six-figure income:

 Do I Need Experience?

We’re all familiar with the “need experience to get experience” paradox and how difficult breaking into that cycle can be.

The experience will always help, and potential clients will want to see your past work before hiring you for new work. If you’re a writer without experience, for example, start a blog. Create 2-3 blog posts about the niche topic you want to write about, and leverage that works for writing samples with potential clients. Maintaining a full-fledged blog isn’t necessary if that isn’t your goal, but using it as a leg in can be helpful in getting those first clients.

I built my own freelance writing business by writing high-quality articles for my university’s online magazine. Though this work wasn’t paid, I was able to use it as proof of my writing ability to garner clients and ultimately expand until getting to work full-time as a writer.

What It Takes to Be a Successful Freelancer

When it comes down to becoming a freelancer, you simply need two things:

  1. A skill (like writing, graphic design, or programming)
  2. A plan

To be a successful freelancer does, however, require a bit more work. The amount of time you put into your freelance business is up to you. It can be part-time, or you can take the strategic steps to become a full-time business owner. There isn’t always a right or wrong, and it can be a side gig or a career—or whatever it is you want. What is most important is pursuing a career that works best for you and considering the pros, cons, and steps it takes to make it work.

Get started today!

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