So you want to become a freelancer. Great! You’ve come to the right place.
I’ll show you how to get rid of the 9 to 5 job monotony and start your journey to financial freedom while working from anywhere in the world.
So grab a coffee and read along to find out how to get started on your awesome freelance career.
Table of contents:
- The current state of the freelance economy
- Your first step towards financial freedom
- The services you are offering and how to price them
- Approaching clients and making money as a freelance professional
- Freelance business administration and expenses
- Staying focused while growing your freelance business
The Current State of The Freelance Economy
Good news: the freelance economy is booming!
That should be a great motivator for you to get started.
According to a new study of more than 6000 workers commissioned by the big freelance platform Upwork and the Freelancers Union, there are 56.7 million Americans undergoing freelance work these days, up by 3.7 million since 2014.
Here’s some of the key points from the early released Freelancing in America 2018 study:
- Due to technology, it’s easier for people to find work online: 64% did so, compared to 2014 when the percentage was at the 42 mark.
- American workers are spending more time doing freelance work: there’s been a huge increase in the number of average weekly hours spent freelancing, from 998 million in 2015 up to more than 1 billion in 2018.
- Freelancers are loving their lifestyle: 51% of freelancers said this is what matters the most and no amount of money would convince them to take a traditional 9 to 5 job.
- Skills training is more valuable for freelancers: with 93% of them with a 4-year college degree said training was more useful compared to only 79% who place more value on their education diploma. Among full-time freelancers, 70% took part in skills training in the past 6 months, while only 49% full-time non-freelancers did that.
- More workers are getting into freelancing by choice: In 2018 more people went the freelance way by their own choice and were not being forced into it, with a 61% mark compared to 53% in 2014.
- Freelancers tend to have a healthier life: 64% of full-time freelancers said that their health improved since they traded their full-time job for a freelance career. The lack of daily commutes, long desk hours and the overall stressful corporate life has a large impact in improving the freelancer’s health.
- There is though some anxiety regarding healthcare and work management: While they’re happier working from their home office, some freelancers are concerned about their healthcare benefits, with 22% saying that access to affordable healthcare is one of their primary worry. While they feel anxious about all the things they have to manage in their freelance lifestyle, there is also a better balance between their personal life and the work they perform, feeling they have more control over their destiny and schedule, resulting in low stress levels. New freelancers are also concerned about not getting steady work in the long term.
- Freelancers earn more money: Among the fastest growing freelancers out there are those earning up to $70,000 and more, with a 15% growth from 2014, now at 31% mark.
Your First Step Towards Financial Freedom
No matter what job you have right now, my advice is to not quit it right away. That’s not really a smart and safe move. Hold on to it for a bit.
What you want to do instead is research the freelance lifestyle and see if it’s something that fits your interests and personal views.
Your first goal should be getting your first freelance client while still keeping your full-time job. This is the safest route to follow.
Another good option, if you can afford it, is to have a backup budget set aside, something like 6 months worth of paychecks, to keep you covered with your day to day expenses, rent and food.
Research the freelance lifestyle and see if it’s something that fits your interests and personal views.
Personally, when I first started freelancing, I went for the first option. I was working a regular 9 to 5 job at a small design studio in my home town and doing freelance projects after office hours or over the weekends.
It worked great for me.
But make no mistake, keeping a full-time job while doing extra work for freelance clients can be really stressful, your office performance might suffer a bit but you have to remain focused on your primary goal which is to soon leave your office job and start a full-time freelance business.
It’s gonna totally be worth it in the end.
You Have to Define Your Goals
Without defining easily measurable goals it will be difficult to get to the place you want to go.
Here’s some questions that will help you in defining your own goals:
- Is freelancing something that you’d want to do full-time or is it just a temporary thing, to earn some extra money?
- Do you enjoy the rigorous 9 to 5 work schedule or would you like to set your own working hours?
- When are you more productive: in the morning or late evenings? I’m not a morning person, never been and found out that I’m more productive after 5 pm up until late in the night.
- Keep in mind that when you do freelance work you don’t have one boss but many. Every freelance client you work for is a boss to you. So is this something that you’d be okay with?
Building a High-Quality and Strong Portfolio Website
Your portfolio website is the backbone of your freelance career.
It helps in showcasing your skills, the work you’ve done, and it’s the interface between you and prospective clients.
It has to easily impress, communicate effectively what services you are offering and present your work in a very straightforward manner.
Your portfolio website is the backbone of your freelance career.
Follow these guidelines to make sure you nail your portfolio website right from the start:
- Write a brief bio about yourself. Keep it short but informative, while expressing your personality.
- Compose a list of your skills. Don’t go overboard, stick only to things you are best at. Also mention your education and professional accomplishments.
- Showcase your work. Only your BEST work, very important. 5-6 examples should be enough. Don’t have any projects to showcase yet? Do some pro-bono work for your family, friends or colleagues. This is what I did in the beginning.
- Display a couple of testimonials. No more than 2-3 texts.
As you start to develop your freelance career, you’ll have more projects to showcase so make sure to regularly update your portfolio with relevant work.
Once you grow your portfolio with high quality work, you’ll be able to charge more for your services and approach bigger clients.
The Freelance Services You Are Offering and How To Price Them
While doing some research on the most popular freelance websites, I’ve compiled a list of the best freelance categories you can offer your services in:
- Web design and development
- UI and UX design
- Backend development
- WordPress and other CMS software
- Mobile app design and development
- Graphic design
- Business cards design
- Fliers and leaflets
- Brochures and catalogues
- Books and magazines
- Logo design
- Brand manuals
- Blog and article writing
- Ghost writing
- Technical writing
- Social media marketing
- Facebook advertising and campaigns
- Social media strategy
- Twitter, Pinterest, Youtube strategies
- Google adwords campaigns
- Link building
- On-site and off-site SEO strategies
- Keyword research
- Article submission
- Virtual assistance
- Customer service
- Data entry
- Email support
- Word processing
- Project and business management
- Business support and development
- Data analysis
- Market research
- Photo and video editing, audio
- Photo retouching
- Video production and editing
- Audio editing
- Creative arts
- Fine art
- Traditional and digital painting
- Character design
- Game design
- Mascot design
- Concept art
As you can see there is an abundance of industries you can enter. All you need is a bit of motivation and a lot of passion and practice.
Let’s Define Your Services
Usually the things you are most good at are the ones you have the most passion for.
This is how it was in my case. I was always attracted to visuals, graphic design and colors. So I became a web designer. Worked great for me.
For now don’t worry about how you will get your first freelance client. But instead focus on what you have to offer.
So pick a base service and go from there.
For example, if you are good at writing start by composing a small piece of text about one of your interest or hobby.
Do you play video games a lot? Do a piece on your favorite game, review it. Once you finish with that, do another one. Make a habit of writing at least 500 words every day.
Do you have an interest in websites and apps? Start a course in HTML and CSS, learn Photoshop or Sketch. There are great tutorials on that all across the internet.
Here are some great places to get you started:
- Web design tutorials at Tutsplus
- Learn Sketch with these great tutorials
- Learn everything you can imagine at Lynda.com
- Go to LinkedIn Learning and search for a new course
I remember in my early days, I used to spent countless hours a day watching Photoshop tutorials and lessons.
Motivation and passion are what kept me going towards my own freelance success.
Bringing Value and Solving Your Clients’ Problems – One of The Most Important Thing in Your Freelance Career
Every single piece of work you put together must get your clients’ message across in a clear and straightforward manner.
No matter how good you are at your job, it won’t matter unless you bring value to your clients while solving their business’ problems.
If you’re a graphic or web designer, don’t do pretty stuff just for the sake of it. That’s just eye candy.
Every single piece of work you put together must get your clients’ message across in a clear and straightforward manner.
That’s what every business owner is after. If you can master that, you’ll have a great advantage over other freelancers.
Approach this by answering a couple of questions:
- How can you easily increase the ROI of your clients’ business?
- How long does it take to get more traffic to the new website you’ve just created?
- How easy it is for prospective buyers to find the best products on your clients’ website?
- Do you generate new leads through the content?
How Do You Define Your Freelance Services?
Before approaching your first freelance client, follow the steps below to pinpoint the details of your freelance services:
- Your core service: This is the thing you are best at and you should focus on it. For example: I build awesome websites.
- Your secondary services: Related or not to your main core service. Ex: banner design, logo design, HTML and CSS coding.
- Your process: How do you do it? Taking our Building awesome websites example, explain how do you go from a rough wireframe to a polished and functional website.
- Your time frame: How long does it take you to do it? This is kinda tricky because websites are so different nowadays, but you should have a rough estimate in mind.
- Helpful materials: What would you need from your client in order to get the job done easily and within the approved timeframe? Think of text, images, color schemes, fonts etc.
How and What to Charge Your Freelance Clients
In the beginning it can be a little tough to find out what you are worth as a freelance professional and pricing your services can be a bit confusing.
Here’s a good hint: You should always remember to price your services based on the value you deliver and not based on what your competitors are charging.
There is no such thing as too high prices (or too low), the most important thing is who you are targeting.
John may be pricing at $65/hr but he’s been in the industry for more than 10 years with a great portfolio and a long track of big clients. If you’re just starting you can’t compare yourself to him.
Start slow and build yourself up and then your prices will rise.
The secret is to find a middle-ground when pricing your freelance services.
There is no such thing as too high prices (or too low), the most important thing is who you are targeting.
Clients with long established businesses may pay you more, thus placing more value on your freelance services. You’ll start to learn these things as you go along.
Here’s some proven things that will get your rate up in the long run:
- Building your portfolio with high quality work
- Having a great track of clients
- Gathering good testimonials from past clients
- Getting solid references for people you work with
Charging an Hourly Rate
This is the most common pricing model used by seasoned freelancers. To find out what your hourly rate is, start by coming up with your desired monthly revenue.
For this you have to consider all your personal monthly living expenses, such as: rent or mortgage, utilities, car payments, food, and the fun stuff like entertainment, pets and vacations.
Once you’re done with that, add the business expenses, like: office space, internet, software subscriptions, domains and hosting fees and other things that will ensure you an optimal and successful business environment.
Hint: when calculating your business expenses, don’t go overboard. Remember you are just starting out on your own and your main focus should be getting your first freelance client.
So for example, let’s say you want to earn $5000 a month while working 8 hours a day:
$5000 – desired monthly salary
160 hours per month (40 hours / week)
$5000 / 160 hrs = aprox. $31 / hour
Don’t forget to add a couple more $ to your hourly rate in order to cover the self-employment expenses like accounting, bookkeeping, office space etc.
Charging per Project
This is a more preferred pricing scheme in the beginning. It is based on the hourly pricing model but it gives you more flexibility when estimating a new project. This is the method I currently use.
A new client wants you do design a website for his restaurant business. It could take you around 2 hours to research the industry, 1 to put together the wireframes and another 8 hours to create the design in Photoshop or Sketch.
So that’s a total of 11 hours of actual work you put it. But that’s not it. You should always have a margin because things usually take longer than what you initially estimate.
Consider the feedback from your client, that should add 2 or 3 hours to your work and other unexpected things (2 hours).
In the end, for this project your price quote should be $400 (16 hours with an hourly rate of $25).
Approaching Clients and Making Money as a Freelance Professional
Getting freelance clients is tough, especially in the beginning. Mostly because many freelancers take a wrong approach on client searching.
They set up their website, define their services and prices, do a little social media marketing for self-promotion and then wait for the first client to get in touch with them.
They think that being good at what they do is enough to get prospective clients’ attention.
Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but that’s not enough.
Strategies to Use in Your Search for Freelance Clients
There are some proven and tested ways in which you can get you first freelance client. Some take more time and work than others but will win you high-paying clients and quality projects.
Freelance Job Websites and Other Job Boards
Start off your freelance career by creating a profile on the most popular freelance job websites. In the beginning you should bid on any project that fit your expertise. Even on low budget projects.
Your main goal is to win your first freelance gig.
Among the industry leaders here’s what I think are the top 3 websites:
- Upwork.com (formerly Elance-oDesk), which is where I started my freelance career. With over 12 million freelancers onboard and 5+ million registered clients, has all the freelance categories you can think of, from Accounting & Consulting to Web Development, Writing and Creative arts. Around 3 million jobs are posted around the year, which are worth a total of $1 billion (!). It’s based in Mountain View and San Francisco, California.
- PeoplePerHour.com – Founded in 2007 by Xenios Thrasyvoulou and Simos Kitiris, this company has offices in London and Athens. Over 700,000 businesses have created an account on their website and currently there are 1.5 registered freelancers.
- Freelancer.com, a massive freelance job website where you can find various projects in many categories. This freelance website was founded in 2009, with its headquarters located in Sydney, Australia. Most of its Freelancer.com’s users come from India, the United States, Philippines, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom.
For more places where you can find freelance work please read our post from last year:
There’s also another category of job websites, which is where small and big design agencies go and post jobs for creative professionals.
They’re not just looking for a one-time deal where you complete a task and move on, but instead they are hiring people on a more long-term basis, be it project-based, part-time or full-time, and some of them are OK with you working remote.
Among the interesting ones out there, I wanna mention the following:
The Cold Emailing Method for Winning Freelance Jobs
Cold simply means the fact that the person you are contacting doesn’t know anything about you. Not many freelancers are willing to do it, and the new ones are only approaching clients who are already hiring.
If you practice and get good at the cold approach game you’ll have a big advantage over other freelancers out there.
It requires quite an effort over other easier methods but it’s a best way to generate new leads and ultimately grow your overall earnings.
I usually target 2 types of clients:
1. Business owners who have an outdated website
In this case I write a brief email where I inquire the possibility of redesigning an old website, which is not within today’s standards regarding design and UX.
Here’s how that email would look like:
2. Design studios who might be looking for remote services from freelancers
My main target here is to setup a long-term remote collaboration with design studios, which have worked really well for me in the past.
Here’s an example of how you can approach this:
As you can see from the above examples, I try to accomplish 3 things with the cold emailing technique:
- Establish contact: by introducing myself and giving info about my background.
- Provide value: by talking about my skills and how my services can help their business grow.
- Ask for a follow-up: whether a phone call, skype or email reply, I give them a choice to get back to me to discuss further details.
LinkedIn and Facebook Groups
LinkedIn, the social media platform for professionals, is a great place to look for new jobs as companies are constantly looking for freelancers. You can also connect with other professionals from your field and ask if you can lend a hand with their own projects.
I’ve also had some luck with Facebook groups. The key is to target the groups with 1000+ users, that should give you a better chance to land a new freelance job.
Your Current Network of People: Online and Offline
Think high-school and university classmates, friends and relatives, people you meet at social gatherings or when you go out with your friends for a drink.
Introduce yourself to every new person you meet, tell them about how you just started your freelance career and offer to help.
Collect business cards or phone numbers and initiate contact the next day by phone or email.
Tell them what you do exactly, where they can view your past work (portfolio website) and how your skills can help grow their business.
Approach and Offer to Work With Other Freelancers
You probably think: Why would I talk to my competition? Instead, think community.
These are the people that share your ideals and life choices and you should work towards expanding your network of similar freelancers. Offer to help handling some of their workload.
You can easily find them on social media websites like Facebook or Twitter.
Trade service with them. If you’re into Web development, a content writer who doesn’t know anything about building websites could be a great client for you.
Are you a designer? Partner up with a developer and do the design for their clients’ websites.
When building a new website for a client I’ve always partnered up with Web developers to do the back-end for me. And in exchange, when they needed website design services, they came to me for help.
I keep a list of various professionals from my field or otherwise, like content writers, coders, social media marketers, SEO guys, which I hire myself when needed or refer to my clients
Ask for advice from the most experienced freelancers in your industry. Drop them an email asking how they grown their freelance business, how they used to win their clients when starting out. You’d be surprised how many of them will reply back.
Do Pro-bono Work
This is a great approach when you’re just starting out as a freelancer and looking to display your first piece of work in your portfolio. Working for free works best when you’re still at your old job and looking to take on new opportunities.
Approach a friend or a relative who is starting a new business on a low budget.
Set up a blog for them to promote that business (if you wanna become a content writer), or build an eCommerce website where they can sell their products (for web development people)
Never promise to do things you are not comfortable with or not experienced in.
There are some important things to keep in mind when offering your freelance services for free:
- The client must understand that you’re being hired because your experience and expertise is what brings value to his/her business and you’re not doing it just because you have nothing else better to do, or out of boredom.
- While making sure they’ll be happy with your work at the end of the project (you must always strive for that), ask them to give you a few referrals afterwards, and a good testimonial to put up on your website.
- Discuss all the details of their project beforehand and make sure you are keeping up with the tasks you promise to deliver. Never promise to do things you are not comfortable with or not experienced in. This is a MUST not only regarding free projects but also when you get paid for your services.
Create a Product Around Your Main Freelance Service
A great way to get noticed by the people who you want to be hired by is to build a valuable product around your main freelance service.
Not only that, but this will ensure you brand recognition among the freelance community.
Write a tutorial on how to design a one-page website, or create some CSS snippets.
Start a blog and write useful posts that will help your prospective clients write better content.
Teach beginners how to get started in their freelance career as successful content writers.
If you’re up to the task you can also create a free app that will help your clients solve a problem quickly.
Freelance Business Administration and Expenses
When starting out as a freelancer your main focus should be winning your first client. Getting that first payment is a very nice feeling.
You might be tempted to spend money on things that are not mandatory when starting out with a small budget (or no budget at all).
The Legal Side of Your Freelance Business
You might be thinking: Do I have to register a business in order to legally make money as a freelance professional? Well, not necessarily.
Becoming an LLC takes a bit of money. In the beginning, my advice is to work as an individual, as it’s totally fine to accept payments this way as long as you declare your earnings and pay your taxes with your local government.
In the long run, incorporating your business is ideal and I did it too. You should speak with an accountant regarding this in order to decide what type of corporation best suits your needs.
While you might feel safe having a contract when working freelance, they usually don’t mean a thing if you are not ready to legally enforce them. I’m talking about a situation where you stumble across a bad client who refused to pay an invoice.
Imagine having a client who refuses to pay an invoice of $150. Would you pay a lawyer $80 per hour to help you get that money from the bad client? I didn’t think so. This probably won’t happen to you, but you should always consider the risks when going freelance.
Though it’s not really required, my advice is to always have a freelance contract ready, it shows that you are serious about the way you conduct your business.
Where to find such a contract? There are plenty of places online where you can download a template and then customize it to fit your freelance business details.
Give these a try:
- And.co – Cool new service which will help you not only create freelance contracts but also invoices, proposals and other additional features.
- Easy freelance contract template
- The freelance contract I use, on Google Docs
Marketing Your Freelance Business
Start by building your freelancer profile on the most popular freelance websites. Once you are awarded your first project you can put some money aside which you’re gonna spend promoting your freelance business.
Your Portfolio Website Costs
A one-page website should be enough in the beginning. Don’t spend too much time on it and make sure you are highlighting your skills and the most valuable work you did. That should do the job and it should cost you between $250 and $400.
There are 2 additional costs involving your portfolio website: your domain name and hosting.
A .com domain is no more than $10 per year and the first payment should be less than that with the help of a coupon which you’re gonna easily find online.
For hosting expect to spend as little as $3 / month for a basic plan, which is enough when starting out.
Staying Focused and Productive While Growing Your Freelance Business
While the freelance lifestyle gives up lots of advantages like setting your own working schedule, choosing who you work for and where you conduct that work, there are some drawbacks to consider.
Unlike the people who are still stuck at their 9 to 5 job, but always get their paycheck at the end of each month, as a freelancer you have to possess greater focus and discipline in order to make ends meet.
Freelancers are more likely to get distracted by various things when working from home, like: the people around your home (if you share your apartment or house), loud TVs, household chores, kids and other distractions which can easily break your momentum when doing freelance work.
So in order to tackle these inconveniences, you need an effective plan.
Here are 7 tips on how to remain focused and productive as a freelance professional:
1. Set Up a Work Routine That Fits YOUR Lifestyle
Setting a routine keeps your working life separated from your personal one. It makes you more productive and focused.
Decide when you feel the most productive and motivated and assign the biggests tasks for that time. Maybe early in the morning, around 6 AM, or late at night when everything around is quiet.
There were times when I worked better in the period between 6 PM and 12 AM. That’s when I felt inspired and I got the job done easier.
A regular day in my freelance lifestyle usually looks like this:
- 9:30 am: Wake up (I know, I’m not an early riser)
- 10:00 – 10:30 am: Quick breakfast, Emails, Slack, Skype, catching up with news sites and blogs I’m following
- 10:30 – 12:00 pm: Gym
- 12:00 – 1:00 pm: Lunch
- 1:00 – 6:00 pm: Work
- 6:00 – 7:00 pm: Taking my dog out for a walk
- 7:00 – 8:00 pm: Cooking and having dinner
- 8:00 pm – 1:00 am: This is when I switch between doing some late work, spending time with my girlfriend, going out or watching a movie.
- 1:00 am: Bedtime.
2. Eat Well and Work Out Often
A healthy and balanced diet makes a huge difference in maintaining your focus in the long run. And if working from home, why not learn to cook your own meals? This is what I do 90% of the time. It’s more healthier and I get to choose my own ingredients.
The work routine you set earlier should also include some type of physical activity. Studies showed that sitting for prolonged periods of time could be detrimental to your overall health.
Even a 10 minutes walk around your house will help your brain declutter. You can also do yoga, stretches and maybe a light run. I always feel more motivated after a good hour in the gym, doing cardio exercises and lifting weights.
3. Manage Your Distractions
Among the many challenges of keeping a productive freelance lifestyle, managing your distractions should be your top priority. While working from home a lot of things may pose as distractions.
The easiest way to get rid of the distractions around you is to create a quiet space for your desk, ideally in a room where you will sit alone. If your house or apartment doesn’t have enough room for that, than renting an office space will be your safest bet.
Besides physical distractions, you can easily get tied up in unproductive internet habits, like browsing Facebook a hundred times a day or checking your phone whenever you get a notification.
There are some helpful apps that will keep your distractions away in order to remain focused and productive:
- Evernote – keep organized notes
- Mind Meister – mind map your ideas
- Freedom – best focus app for blocking anything you want, anywhere you want
- Mindful Browsing – keeps you away from time-wasting sites
- Stay Focusd – Chrome extension that keeps you focused
The easiest way to keep your phone from distracting you while working is to disconnect it from the internet. Yeah, it’s that easy. So tap that wi-fi and 4G icon and get to work!
4. Set Realistic Goals
Have a plan and a well defined vision. What do you want to accomplish in a week’s time? How about in 1 month? Then 3 and 6 months and ultimately in a year.
Write down your goals for each of these time periods and then ask yourself: ‘How can I reach these goals?’. Come up with an action plan and work towards that.
Start with the easiest tasks that can be done within days or a week and go from there.
5. Keep Track of Your Clients and Projects
There are various software and apps out there that can help you with keeping track of your freelance work.
Here are some of the best ones:
If you don’t want to use an app for that, create your own filing system to keep track of various documents like invoices, contracts, NDAs, tax forms etc. You can use Google Sheets as an online tool for that or Numbers (MacOs users) and Excel (Windows users) if you want to store your documents locally.
Make a list of your current projects and calculate how much money they bring in each month.
6. Relax and Reward Yourself
All that hard work you put in will eventually put a stress on you. Make sure you don’t forget to relax. After accomplishing a hard task, take a 10 minutes break or more to unwind for a bit.
After a long day of work pour yourself a glass of wine or your favourite beverage, while reflecting on your day’s achieved goals.
7. Go on Vacations to Find New Inspiration
Nothing says refreshment better than a getaway to a place you’ve never been before. Whether a city break or a month long vacation, plan it weeks or months ahead.
Make sure you inform all your collaborators and clients before boarding that flight or starting up your car.
If you want to work while travelling (I did that) tell them that you’re not gonna be as responsive as when working from your home office and maybe ask for longer deadlines.
In summary, here’s what you need to do to get started on your freelance career:
- Don’t quit your current job straight away, but do some freelance gigs in your free time and see how that goes. If you feel it’s something you want to pursue in the future, go freelance full-time.
- Define your goals. Think about what you want to accomplish in your freelance career and how soon you want to get to a certain point.
- Build a high-quality and strong portfolio. Write a short bio, make a list of your skills and showcase your best work.
- Define your freelance services. Decide what you are best at and go from there. Make sure your work bring value to your clients.
- Come up with a pricing strategy for your services. How do you wanna charge: hourly or per project?
- Focus on winning your first client. Learn how to effectively approach new clients. Build a profile on the most popular freelance websites. Grow your network of professionals: online and offline.
- Don’t spend too much on your business set up, in the beginning. You don’t need a fancy office space, working from the comfort of your home can save you a lot of money.
- Stay focused and productive by limiting your distractions and creating your ideal freelance lifestyle. Grow, grow, grow.