How to Be a Successful Freelancer (for Beginners)
Are you tired of working your 9-to-5 desk job, looking to start a side-hustle to add to your vacation fund or hopeful of paying off that student loan debt? Freelancing is an excellent and affordable way to use your existing skills to earn extra income — and eventually replace your day job — by offering services to others. It’s so easy that you can get yourself set up to start landing clients today.
What Is a Freelancer?
A freelancer is a person who markets their services to clients for a fee. Typically, freelancers work with multiple clients. Those relationships can involve one-off jobs or ongoing work for the same client. Freelancing is a form of self-employment.
Many freelancers also work a traditional day job and use their side gig to make money in their free time, while others earn their entire income as freelance contractors. With the right skill, the sky is the limit.
Why Should You Work as a Freelancer?
Freelancing offers you a ton of flexibility, freedom and independence. You decide when you want to work, with which clients, how much and how often. Work from the comfort of your home on your own schedule.
One of the pros of freelancing — getting to work from home — can also double as a con. You can find difficulty in staying productive and creating an appropriate mental space to work efficiently. But, with practice, you’ll soon train yourself to stay focused, even on days when it feels impossible. Also, keep in mind that building a client base and generating consistent income from your freelance business can take time — so maybe hold on to your day job until established.
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How Do You Get Started as a Freelancer?
First, figure out your marketable skill. This could be as advanced as computer programming or as simple as dog walking. No limit exists to the type of jobs freelancers can offer.
Getting started is quick and easy, and you can start generating income as soon as you land your first client. If you’re not sure how to get your new side business up and running, a few simple steps will help you start on your path to success.
1. Start With a Vision
The majority of freelancers draw from their existing skillsets by marketing talents they already hold. But if you want to do something dramatically different than your current day job, make a list of other skills or hobbies interesting to you. Chances are, you can create a rewarding and enjoyable business based on your interests.
Establish a unique-to-you business name reflecting your personality and intended services. Think about why you’re starting this business and why your clients should come to you over your competitors. Write down your goals and craft a vision statement reflecting your intent.
Sometimes our minds are our worst enemies, especially when starting on any new venture. Impostor syndrome — the idea that you’re not good enough or that no one’s interested in your talents — is best overcome by diving in and getting to work. Once you get started, you’ll find you know more than you thought.
2. Structure Your Business
A great way to start thinking like a business owner involves writing a business plan. Avoid over-complicating it, but include:
- your vision or mission statement
- a description of the services you’ll offer
- an analysis of your target market
- a marketing plan to help you reach your market
- a fee structure
Depending on what you want to accomplish will affect how you structure your freelance business. A sole proprietorship is the simplest form of business. Or you might consider starting a limited liability company — this simple and affordable process allows you to register as an LLC which offers some legal protections a sole proprietor doesn’t provide. Another option — though much more complex — is to start a corporation.
Talk to an accountant or lawyer if you’re not sure which option fits your business.
3. Create Your Marketing Materials and Prepare Your Portfolio
Use marketing tactics to create some buzz before you launch your business. Create a website that describes your business and provides information about your fees. Start social media accounts and create business pages linking to your site. Also, offer a contact form on your website or provide your phone and email on social accounts for easy communication. Go a step further and draft email templates to use when contacting or receiving inquiries from potential opportunities.
Carry business cards to hand out at a moment’s notice. Some businesses and restaurants will let you leave your business cards in designated areas, but ask before you start dropping them all over town.
Create a portfolio that showcases your work and outlines your experiences and qualifications. If you don’t have much work to display or experience to draw on, consider offering your work for free to your first few clients to build your portfolio and establish your reputation.
4. Outline Your Financial Processes
To start your freelance business, you need to meticulously track your financial records. Having a system in place will make your life easier once customers start setting up contracts.
Set your prices and create a template for invoicing to bill your clients — and receive payment — promptly. Keep good records of all your billings and money received.
Keep in mind that filing taxes as a freelancer is different than the typical process. You need to calculate how much of your earnings to set aside for state and federal taxes since you have to pay these yourself.
Consult a tax professional or contact the IRS for full details on how to file taxes as a freelancer.
5. Find Some Customers
If you’re a part of the nearly 150 million Americans working in the gig economy, — or as an independent contractor — finding customers remains intimidating. However, many websites cater to freelancers. If you’re a writer, for example, many blogging sites look for new writers to create content.
Many sites make it easy with specific guidelines for submitting content to them. While some pay and others don’t, consider working for unpaid sites to help pad your portfolio from the start.
Use your network and connections to find clients when you first start. Impress them with your attention to detail and communication skills, so they use your services again and recommend you within their professional networks.
6. Believe in Your Abilities!
If you don’t believe in what you do, no one else will! When you’re first starting out and before you have a ton of glowing customer reviews, you have to advocate for yourself. Be ready to work hard and hustle — the payoff will be worth it!
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Also published on Medium.