Freelancing can be a lucrative career choice, whether you’re trying to escape the mind-numbing tedium of water cooler chit-chats or just looking to earn extra cash to go out on the weekends. But starting out can be overwhelming: it’s not all sunshine and easy sailing; it rains, often. Because as a freelancer you are on your own. It’s up to you to clock in and out, and find the motivation to start moving—if looming bills aren’t enough. But that extra responsibility pays off because eventually you get to be your own boss.
Here, we’re going to briefly discuss the general Tao Te Ching of freelancing: the bare bone basics so you know how to tie your white belt with confidence.
How To Start
The first step is easy. You have to answer the question, “What kind of gig am I looking to pursue?” You probably already know the answer (otherwise what are you doing here?). Still, it’s important to recognize the wide breadth of opportunities, from creating written content for a host of websites to walking a posse of canines through your local town, and then babysitting the mutts in a nicer house than the one you’re in now. If you’re handy with photoshop then you can create logos or combine it with knowledge of CSS and do web design for companies and individuals.
The point is, there is an incredible number of ways to build a career as a freelancer, and many people will combine multiple skills to make themselves an extra special snowflake.
It’s also important to seriously ask yourself what you hope to get out of freelancing. Is this just a way to earn some money for booze, or are you planning to make a long-term career out of it? Go ahead and write it all out—right now. Having a gameplan shapes your goals, and helps illuminate the steps necessary to achieve them.
When you start freelancing remember to start slow. When you learn to drive you don’t slam the accelerator; otherwise, you end up charging into a brick wall (or maybe you did that and that’s why Uber isn’t one of your options). It typically takes substantial time and effort to develop a foothold in your industry.
Which is why, if you already have a job, it’s healthy to approach freelancing as a supplemental income. Otherwise, if you’re going to jump into the deep end, then it’s advisable to have a nest egg: some savings so you’re not firing off emails in rapid succession looking for money from clients—many businesses will pay once a month or every two weeks without concern for your bills.
Many people have given up because they underestimated how quickly they could avoid wearing anything but sweatpants ever again. So be prepared, and don’t beat yourself up if your Paypal account isn’t bustling at the seams after a month or two. Of course, not everyone’s story is the same, but it’s best to approach cautiously.
The trick to building a sustainable freelancing career is to establish a network of clients who appreciate your work, want to work with you again, and will recommend you to others. Regular contacts become the foundation for your work, and from them, you’ll lay down the brick and mortar of additional clientele.
Sounds daunting, right? “How the hell am I going to do that?” Well, you already have a network of people you can turn to: your friends and family. Cast that fishing line and let those in your immediate circles know what exactly you’re pursuing. Maybe they don’t have work for you but they might know somebody who does or meet somebody who will. Plant your goals in the heads of those closest to you and you may be surprised to see opportunities sprout.
It’s also helpful to outlay exactly what you’re doing and put a post out on social media or send an email to your contact list (people you know). It doesn’t have to be too professional. Make it casual, like you’re telling your buddy what your plans are over a beer; be sure to include your contact information.
Social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc. can be a great source for finding work, if you network. And not just with clients, but other freelancers as well. Find a community of people who are doing the same thing as you—such as through Reddit or particular Slack groups—and learn from them, interact. It’s much harder to succeed from within a bubble.
Hundreds of websites exist that link freelancers and clients. Set up profiles on content websites, put yourself out there, and browse for jobs. If you see anything you like, go for it. It will also help you form an impression of other freelancers: your competition. And it’s a means to study and learn from people who have been successful in those marketplaces. Don’t stress if you don’t find jobs right away, and don’t sell your work for nothing.
Keep in mind, most of those websites are highly competitive marketplaces, and can sometimes be a race to the lowest bid so that freelancers are paid pennies for their work. Don’t worry. The epiphany—that there are many other people willing to work for far less pay—can be crushing, but know that quality does persevere in the long-term, and quality work will ultimately attract quality employers. If you’re the best damn dog watcher in town, people will want to pay you rather than somebody who’s been known to slack or doesn’t communicate well.
The First Job
So now what? Aim for your very first job and don’t worry about anything else. Make it count. Put in the effort so you can begin to establish a portfolio you’re proud of, i.e. make it something exceptional that exemplifies your abilities to attract other clients. And when working with your first client, be diligent, respectful, timely, and responsive. Remember, you’re not the only freelancer out there. There’s a whole bunch of other people saying, “Pick me!” and you want to make sure your voice stands out. You do that by doing excellent work.
About the author
Sean Sullivan is a freelance writer who has managed to survive in the internet arena for nearly a decade. You can learn more about his work by visiting seanmsullivan.org