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The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Freelance Business

Dec 17, 2020
(updated: Dec 1, 2022)
Max 5 min read

It’s time: you’re ready to take the leap and launch a freelance business. But how do you get started? It can be intimidating, making such a large career change, into what is ultimately an unstructured environment. Forging out on your own may not be something you ever felt suited for. Don’t let that narrative hold you back! We all have stories we tell ourselves to protect ourselves from something new and intimidating. But lots of people make promising careers out of freelancing, and realistically, you’re smarter than at least a few of them. 

The lack of structure is what can make freelancing so attractive. You can freelance as a side hustle or be a full-time freelancer. You can set your hours, rate, clients, and location. Getting started is easier than ever, and even with all the customization, there are still some constants. Here’s the ultimate guide to getting started in freelance! 

Define Your Skills

Maybe you’re starting out with a profession in mind, or you’re more drawn to the freelance lifestyle, itself. If that’s the case, take a moment to assess your skills. What product or service can you provide to clients?

  • Write down all of your skills and interests 
  • Narrow the list down to skills that can be done remotely 
  • Which of these skills excite you the most? Can you see yourself doing it over the long-term? 
  • Are there any ways you can improve that skill? 

This will give you a baseline for getting started. For instance, let’s say your skills include researching, social media, analyzing data, underwater basket weaving, and brand development. The majority of these activities can be done remotely, and perhaps you’re most excited about brand development and data analysis. Becoming a freelance digital marketer seems like the perfect fit. It’s a profession you can see yourself pursuing over the long-term and it aligns with your existing skills. Some areas of improvement might be getting a certificate in the newest technologies, like Google Analytics, so you can better track your impact. 

Find Your Niche 

“Find my niche? Why do I need a niche if I already know what I want to do?” A niche is not the same as a profession. A niche is the specific corner of the market where you can claim to be an authority. Let’s say you want to be a freelance writer - what type of writing do you do? Are there any industries you like writing for the most? What differentiates you from all of the other writers out there? Taking a moment to determine your specialty will set you up to be more successful and attract the right clientele.  

The person who does it all is not reliable, and they know nothing about your unique needs. If you can find a niche and cater your business to a corner of the market that excites you, you’ll find a collection of highly engaged clients who know that you’re the right choice for them. Rather than just being just a freelance writer, let's say your niche is writing about local events in San Diego. Your target market will be much more clear, you’ll have a more specific marketing plan, and you can become an expert on your subject matter. 

Build a Website & Portfolio

Let’s face the facts: a business without a website looks suspicious. We live in a digital age and not having a website for your business is a huge red flag. How else will people reach you without the necessary details in one place? Your website should limit the hurdles clients have to go through to verify your legitimacy. Instead of having them scour the internet and coming across your embarrassing Myspace page, direct them to a neat little (marketable) package. Your website should include contact details, references, information on pricing, your background, and most importantly: a portfolio.  

A portfolio is your shining beacon of legitimacy, guiding potential clients to your business. It gives them concrete evidence that you know what you’re doing, and that you can be relied upon to solve their problem. You can continue to hone your portfolio over time as your work improves, but start off with a few key projects that display your existing skill. 

Set Pricing

I get it: setting a price for your work can be a bit cringy. There’s so much pressure in our society to not talk about money, but remember that no one else is going to advocate for you. This is your business and you’re the person who best understands your capabilities. No one else can tell you what to charge for the quality of work you produce. While there won’t be any definitive answer online, you can use a few points to help guide decision making. 

  • Who is your target market? If you work with higher-end clients who have a substantial budget, don’t undersell yourself. Alternatively, if you produce quick and easy, lower-quality services (quantity over quality), recognize what pricing is realistic for that. 
  • Examine your financial goals. What are your financial needs and how much do you want to be making? Take that figure and work backward. How many projects are you able to complete in a month? What would they need to cost to hit your financial aspirations? 
  • Are there any industry-specific factors that would increase or decrease your pricing from the average? Is there a particular skill set you have that your competitors don’t? Perhaps that’s something to consider in setting your prices. 

Pitch Yourself to Potential Clients 

Once you have all of the building blocks in place, it’s time to pitch yourself! There’s lots of ways to get your name out there and start growing your freelance business. 

  • Produce relevant content. Start a blog or use social media to share useful and informative content. You want to provide answers to your target market’s questions and illustrate your credibility as a thought leader. You want your target market to seek you out, going forward. 
  • Use job sites to find new projects. There are plenty of websites that cater specifically to freelance businesses. They often have lots of informational articles on best-practices and they have processes in place to help teach you how to pitch yourself. It’s a great place to get started. 
  • Use your network! This might mean asking friends and family for business, or asking previous clients for referrals. As you expand your network, you’ll open up a slough of new connections to potential clients. 
  • Streamline introductions with a business card. As you’re networking, you’ll want to cut down on the awkward fumble of exchanging details. Have a business card prepared so you can focus on building connections. 

Alongside these points, explore industry-specific approaches. There are going to be different norms in each industry, and familiarizing yourself with them will get you in the flow much quicker. I hope this has shown you that freelancing in your expertise isn’t some far off pipedream. It’ll be challenging, and you’ll have to learn some new skills, but the rewards are plenty.

Get started today!

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