Have you just started freelancing? Do you hope to start freelancing soon but you’re a little lost? Do you have dreams of eventually thinking of starting to freelance but you don’t because you haven’t got a single clue about what you should do?
Don’t worry, it’s normal!
Freelancing is an ever changing beast that isn’t always understood because it can mean so many different things.
You can be a freelance writer, freelance editor, freelance web designer, freelance strawberry picker, whatever.
And every niche requires different skills, a slightly different game plan and loads of tenacity and patience.
I started freelancing two years ago as a graduate student. I had some extra time on my hands and a desire to make more money to make up for how expensive it can be to live in London.
I had never freelanced before, didn’t know much about it besides the general concept of working for myself and I didn’t have anyone to teach me the tips and tricks. Everyone I knew was in a 9 to 5 job and didn’t have much advice on getting started.
Now, after having made thousands in freelancing, I can share the 3 essential tips I learned as a beginning freelancer. Hopefully this gives you some direction or sparks some thoughts on how you’re going to grow your business.
Have a Portfolio
No matter what it is you do, you need to show future clients that you are great at it. They need to want to hire YOU, not just a random freelance writer/coder/designer.
The easiest way to show off your skills is to create an online portfolio, preferably using your own domain name.
Keep your website simple and professional. So ideally use your first and last name or your business name, rather than something ridiculous like “freelancer4life2hotforu.com”. The domain of your portfolio is your first impression, so make it a good one!
After you have this ready to go, you need to fill it with content. So if you’re a writer, compile some of your best articles or product descriptions and make them easy to access on the home page. If you run other websites or have blogs like I do, place easy-to-read links to these external pages, making it clear how you are involved with these sites (do you write for them, do you write and edit, do you run the whole shebang with no one else’s help?)
Don’t forget about the use of pictures or screenshots to help grab future client’s attention as well, especially if you’re in a field where pictures speak louder than words. This includes freelance artists, freelance designers (both traditional and web) and freelance hair or make-up artists.
What Not to Include in Your Freelancing Portfolio
Just because you’ve written a piece or completed a project isn’t the past doesn’t mean it gets an automatic spot in your portfolio.
If it’s not one of your BEST pieces, leave it off. Your portfolio is the place to show off, not to share mediocre work just because. You want to ‘Wow’ a future client, not make them think that they could easily find work of your caliber elsewhere.
This is difficult in the beginning when you’re just starting to produce pieces, but it looks so much better to have 3 awesome examples than 3 awesome examples and 7 average ones.
You also shouldn’t include anything particularly controversial if you can help it, especially personal pieces that you’ve written on hot topic subjects. You want to show a client that you can conform to their branding, which isn’t always easy when you’re showing off tons of articles on how you think aliens are real and the XYZ political party is the worst to have ever existed.
How to Get Portfolio Pieces
The ultimate problem every beginning freelancer faces is how to prove your skills when you haven’t been hired to do the work before.
In this case, you’re going to need to get creative. If you’re a freelance writer, this is fairly easy as you can basically commission yourself to write some example pieces based on the type of work you’re looking to do. Even if they’re not published, they can still be polished and professional work that show off the best of your skills.
For testimonials from other people and the opportunity to prove yourself in the ‘real world,’ consider approaching friends with small businesses or charities with your skills. Ask if they would like some help in your area in exchange for letting you use the work in your portfolio.
Yes, it’s ‘working for free,’ but you have to have something to show to get those first few clients, so if you can find a cause you’re genuinely passionate about or a friend you really owe a favor to, take the opportunity!
Make Use of Word-of-Mouth Marketing
Following on from the advice to do a bit of sample work for friends, one of the first things you should do is tell everyone you know that you’re starting to freelance.
Don’t be obnoxious about it or include it in every Christmas card, but make sure it’s out there. Post it on your social media networks, tell your friends in person, bring it up at the family reunion.
Studies show that word of mouth is one of the best marketing techniques, and people are far more likely to trust people they’ve hired on the recommendation of other humans, not just computer search results.
Apply for (Almost) Every Opportunity
Now, hold up! I am not saying to apply for jobs that pay you pennies, jobs that require you having a Master’s in Electrical Engineering when you majored in Women’s Studies, or freelancing jobs that you sound wholly unsuitable for.
I’m just saying that if you don’t put yourself out there, you don’t know what can happen.
My personal anecdote for this advice is how I got my first major (regular) freelancing gig. I was constantly applying for freelancing job on Indeed, and I came across one to do with travel writing.
While I met the requirements, they wanted someone with a bit more experience than me. I decided to apply anyway and put forth the best possible application I could put together, both to give myself practice in pitching my skills and to see what could happen.
I was rejected from that freelancing job and quickly moved on, forgetting all about it.
A few weeks later, I had an e-mail from the agency asking me to come on as a freelancer in a different position, doing less permanent work. Since then, I get jobs as-and-when they have them, but the work has been relatively steady. If I hadn’t put myself in the position to be rejected, I would have never been in the position to eventually be hired.
Of course, there’s a lot more to the freelancing world than this, but if you start with these 3 things, you’ll be well on your way to setting yourself up for success.
Beginning freelancers, what questions do you have that you’d love the answers to? Experienced freelancers, what tips would you give to a beginning freelancer?
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