How to Become a Freelancer – The Complete Guide (2021)
Have you ever wondered how to Become a Freelancer?
Well according to a study by Finances Online, already 35% of the USA workforce are freelancers. This equates to 64.6 million people. The study further says that the number will hit 90.1 million by 2028.
Freelancing contributed $1 trillion to the USA economy in 2019, with freelancers earning over $1 billion on the Upwork marketplace alone.
I recommend that you read this article to the end. But if you want to jump to the most exciting parts, feel free to use the hyperlinked table of content to get there.
Why is Freelancing Such a Big Thing Now?
Since technology became an integral part of our lives, hundreds of companies delved into hiring gig workers for short term and long term contracts.
The state of the freelance revolution is on an upward trajectory. The industry is creating more room for people to work without showing up in an office.
In this era, careers consist of piecing together different pieces of work. You can be a part-time lawyer, amateur photography who writes on the side.
Plus, you can efficiently juggle between clients, learn to be your own marketer, and the beauty of it all – create an office in your bedroom, coffee shop, or on a beach in Bali.
With all the freedom freelancing brings, won’t freelancing be soon flooded?
Good thought there. And you’re right.
In the US, the growth rate is at 2-4% every year.
Source: Finance Online
However, freelancing is about skills, not academic credentials. You won’t run out of clients if you’re an expert in the service you’re offering.
Is Freelancing for you?
When a top IT consultancy company terminated Peter in 2015, he thought his life had come to an end.
He didn’t want to disappoint his parents, who spent all they had to educate him. “I used to leave my house with my bag every morning pretending to go to work for four months,” says Peter.
Four months into this lying life, he was hit with two truths;
But he had to do something. Out of sheer desperation, he searched for “remote jobs” and came across a freelance platform.
He quickly set up his profile and got his first job within a week. That was the beginning of a journey to becoming a top freelance IT expert in less than three years.
Now, freelancing isn’t only for those who’ve lost their jobs and need a fast source of cash to clear bills. That was Peter’s story; your’s might be different.
Still, if you meet the following qualifications, it’s time to make a move.
Ways to Work from Home as a Freelancer?
Marketing is vast. 63% of business owners say that marketing is the most essential expense to grow in a business.
And thanks to technology, you can now do marketing from home. The most popular marketing jobs you can do as a freelancer are;
Spencer Mecham, an affiliate marketer, makes hundreds of thousands of dollars per month promoting hundreds of products. He was the first affiliate marketer to make over $1 million as a Clickfunnels affiliate.
II. Content Writing/Editing
Most people start their freelancing career as content writers since it’s the most basic skill. You don’t need a lot of money to start a freelance writing career. You’re good to go with a laptop and internet access.
As a beginner freelance writer, you can make up to 100/hour in your first year of writing. However, you have to be really good and confident to command such rates.
III. Graphic and Web Design
Graphic design was a sleeping volcano a few years ago. Technology made it erupt. And you know what? The future is even brighter for this industry.
Start-ups and existing companies are looking for fresh talents who are willing to work. It creates an endless volume of graphic design jobs.
In 2020 alone, Graphic design jobs have grown by a whopping 13%. There’s also a possibility that the digital segment will increase by 62% in the next year.
On the other hand, web design is not as popular since it’s an intricate skill. This only shows that there’s much room to earn a lot of money if you invest the time to learn.
Who said you must work in an office set up with accounting files all around you to be called an accountant? Everything is going freelance and accounting hasn’t been left behind.
With accounting software, you can easily handle a company’s book from the comfort of your home office.
V. Virtual Assistance
A virtual assistant is like a secretary working from home. If you have a background in customer experience, shifting to becoming a virtual assistant is less of a hustle.
The typical jobs you’ll do include;
VI. Career Coach
Career coaching is a hot cake right now. There’s an increase in demand for professional advice as more people search for the balance between hard work and healthy lifestyle.
People need guidance on the right careers to pursue. They need advice on the career fields they should switch to, how to crush it in an interview, and how to craft resumes that stand out.
If your professional background has a lot of experience in HR and Managerial duties with a little bit of public speaking, you can become a good career coach.
I recommend that you read this article to the end. But if you want to jump to the most exciting parts, feel free to use the hyperlinked table of content to get there.
1. Define your Skills and Goals
"The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score." –Bill Copeland.
Having a clearly defined focus is essential for any entrepreneur. You don’t walk blindly into a venture and expect to make something good in return.
Before you think of becoming a freelancer, you need to ask yourself a few questions.
I regularly interview freelance experts in different niches. Check out the interviews here.
There’s a trait that cuts across all of them. They all have a goal they want to achieve at the end of the day.
It can either be offering the best customer service to their clients, giving their families the best life they can afford, or meeting new people from all over the world.
The right mindset also dictates your success rate as a freelancer.
If you don’t believe in yourself and what you’re doing, you’ll soon throw in the towel. Get this from me, succeeding as a freelancer is not an overnight thing.
If what you have in mind is:
Then you must first sit down, work on your disbelief before you sabotage yourself. Once that’s done, create a goal.
And remember, your goal must be;
Maybe you can point down the number of clients you want to work with within the next three months, how you’ll pitch them, and how much you want to make.
Don’t worry, we’re getting there but before we dive in, you first need to make a critical decision on the skills/services you’ll be selling.
2. Find Your Compatible/Profitable Niche and Platform
You can’t be a jack of all trades or you’ll be a master of none in freelancing.
By now, you must have chosen a skill. Let’s assume that you’ve settled on becoming a marketer, specifically an affiliate marketer.
In the USA alone, there are over 11,400 affiliate programs. The Amazon associate program is the most popular, with almost a million websites on the internet using the program.
This gives you the picture of how big the affiliate marketing niche actually is!
I’ve come across some pro-affiliate marketers saying that you have to market multiple products when starting an affiliate marketing business.
But I disagree with them.
Here are my reasons:
This same principle of niching down applies to all freelance jobs, whether you’re a writer, virtual assistant or graphic designer.
Niching down allows you to be seen as an expert. It results in getting more clients and sales.
How to Choose The Right Freelancing Platform
I’ve come across guys who’ll kill you if you mention freelancing sites like Upwork and Fiverr. On the other hand, a different pool will declare their undying love for these sites.
The anti-freelancing platform group hates the fact that they’ll be charged a fee for the work they’ve done.
They also argue that freelancing platforms are a race to the bottom. The person with the lowest price takes the job.
The pro-freelancing platform team argues that the platforms have endless jobs which is an excellent way for beginners to start their career.
Either way, this is what I prefer.
Use a freelancing platform to build a strong portfolio
Check out this video of Alex Fasulo who’s making up to $37,000 per month writing on fiverr as a freelance writer!
You have one power – the liberty to determine your price, which can cover the fees.
And what sets you above the competition is the quality of service you deliver.
Choosing the right freelancing platform should depend on a couple of factors.
- The platform shouldn’t have a “race to the bottom mentality.” A few freelancing platforms like Hireremotely base their business models by accepting freelancers who have rhyming requirements with existing clients.
- Platforms with a huge client base. In 2019, Fiverr had 5.5 million buyers. This is an equal client contribution to the 830,000 freelancers. Don’t choose a platform with more freelancers than clients.
- Platforms with low commissions. Needless to say, you need to be rewarded handsomely for your project. Don’t use platforms that’ll treat you like a slave.
If you’re 100% anti-freelance platforms, you can use large professional networks like LinkedIn to connect with potential clients.
3. Build a Strong Portfolio Website and Build a Personal Brand
Before you even think of getting a client yet, you’d want to have a solid portfolio for your services. It’s the first step in becoming a brand in your niche.
With a portfolio, you’ll show your potential clients your past work and experience in your niche.
However, most freelancers dread the process of creating a solid portfolio. A whirlwind of questions goes on in our minds.
“I don’t have enough experience yet.”
“Who will even look at my portfolio.”
"I can't do it."
Here are a few secrets that’ll help you stand out when creating your portfolio.
I. Stand out as a Professional
The biggest mistake you can make as a freelancer is telling potential clients that you’re a newbie. Or you’re willing to work for free to “build your portfolio.”
I’ve never come across a client who wants to try out newbies unless they want to take advantage of your naiveness and pay you a rock-bottom price.
Clients look for professionals who know what they’re doing. Show samples even if you’ve never done a project for someone.
Here’s how it works.
If you’re a web designer, code your site from scratch. If you’re a graphic designer, brand your website in your signature style.
II. Don’t Just Show, Tell it.
A strong portfolio tells what you do in detail. You can’t throw all your past projects on a portfolio-building site like Clearvoice and expect clients to trickle down your inbox. A portfolio should make it clear that you aim to make the client’s life easier.
Don’t just inform potential clients that you’re an email copywriter by showing them your email copies.
Tell them that you can double or triple their conversations. Show them numerical values for past clients.
III. Focus On What You Want And Who You Prefer Working With
Your portfolio shouldn’t be too broad. A specific portfolio will shade off the clients you don’t want to work with.
Do I mean you will get less clients? Not necessarily.
You’ll get clients with similar goals who’ll dedicate enough time to make the project successful.
In a nutshell, you’re trying to avoid landing in the hands of the wrong clients who’ll waste your time and won’t pay you what you deserve.
How to Build a Personal Brand
“A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn a reputation by trying to do hard things well. “ - Jeff Bezos
Building a personal brand is more of a long term goal. But you have to start building it from the get-go.
What do I mean by “building a brand”?
A brand is simply your reputation. How will potential clients view you? Will they see just another writer pleading to get work to pay some bills?
The worst way of marketing is to show clients your problems. They have their issues and need a professional to solve them. They don’t want to give crybabies their projects.
The first step to create a brand is going on your social media profiles.
This is how you create a brand and slowly become an authority in your niche. It may take time, but you’ll soon start getting clients without looking for them.
4. Tools to Help in your Freelance Business
Starting a freelance business isn’t like setting up a GoFundMe page and expecting Bill Gates to donate all his fortune to you.
You must also invest.
And I mean investing in the right tools that’ll help you run your business smoothly and acquire more clients.
Below are five of the must-have tools for any freelancer. We’ll check out their pros, cons, and the best alternatives.
I’ve talked about creating a portfolio but failed to mention that the best platform to build a portfolio website is WordPress.
It comes with a lot of themes and plugins. This allows you to design your website to your preference.
The first thing that comes into mind when you speak of digital marketing is email marketing. It’s the most cost-effective and time-saving tool for freelancers.
Your business lies on your list. It’s your life and blood. If you have more people on your list, you’ll never run out of clients. Besides, it’s an opportunity to earn more by promoting products as an affiliate.
With a software like ConvertKit, growing your business as a freelancer will be a walk in the park.
It comes with all the tools for growing and engaging your list. These include the custom landing pages and automated email sequences.
Regardless of the service you’re offering, you need Grammarly. Why? Every interaction is an opportunity to show that you’re a professional in your grammar.
You’ll be sending emails to potential or current clients. You don’t want a small grammar mistake to present you as unprofessional.
It’ll also help in your social media marketing. No one wants to read Facebook posts with a tsunami of spelling errors. No need to buy the premium Grammarly. The free version can do the job.
IV. Project Management Tools
This is a work-communication tool to share files and tools with clients. You can integrate slack with Google Drive. With this, clients can monitor the progress of your work and chip in for changes before you make a final draft.
The basic plan goes for $6.67/ month for each person you bring on board. I’m assuming you don’t have many clients at this time.
When the business picks up, you’ll have to upgrade to the pro plan going for a monthly fee of $12.50/per person.
You get extra features like data exports for all messages and user provisioning and deprovisioning.
Like Slack, Asana is also a project management tool that enables you to collaborate, organize and execute tasks. It’s a wonderful tool that’ll help you work seamlessly and beat deadlines.
The pricing for Asana is $10.99/month on the basic plan. With this plan, you get advanced reporting features, unlimited free guests, and an admin console.
The business plan goes for $24.99/month. Apart from having all the features of the basic plan, you’ll get advanced integrations with salesforce, Adobe, and Creative Cloud.
Evernote is a cloud-based software service that’s designed to create, organize, and store media files. You can access all your data from your phone anywhere.
Evernote can be compared to Google Drive or Dropbox. However, it offers more services like ability to create random notes.
The basic plan is free with very limited features. The premium plan goes for $7.99/month with everything on the basic plan.
Additionally, you get a maximum storage of up to 200MB, sync unlimited devices, and the ability to access your notes offline.
The business plan is $14.99/month with everything in the premium plan. Plus, you’ll have 20GB monthly upload limit, a centralized account administration, and business data ownership.
Your professionalism isn’t only seen in your social media profiles and emails. It’s also seen in how you send invoices.
How do you draft them? Do you create tables on a word document and send it to your client?
Although there’s plenty of basic and free invoice software all over the internet, you need a tool that goes above if you’re gonna do this for a living.|
This will be Freshbooks, a powerful accounting tool. It can help you manage up to 500 billable clients. For starters, the lowest plan goes for $4.50/month, and let’s you manage five clients at the same time which is enough.
The tool also has an inbuilt time-tracking software to bill the hours you’ve worked. You also get reports on your sales and taxes. You can access this information anywhere on your android phones.
5. Determine Pricing
Let me tell you the story of two designers. Both of them are making a little over $5000 per month, they have striking portfolios, equal capabilities, and the same quality of work.
However, the first one works for 50 hours a week with many clients while the other one works for 20-30 hours a week with just a few clients.
Yet the two designers have similar capabilities. How does this happen?
It’s easy; one designer is charging a higher fee than the other one.
Do you remember the reasons why you became a freelancer? Some of the reasons were that you wanted more freedom, to spend more time with your family and travel more.
But this isn’t possible if you work 50-60 hours a week.
Pricing is not only about getting the highest revenue at the end of the month. It’s also about getting more time to do the fun things you couldn’t do with your 9-5 job.
The secret of any happy freelancing career is to charge more and work less.
How to Charge as a New Freelancer
Freelancers charge per project, per hour or per word depending on the type of service you’re offering.
But when starting out, it’s recommended to start with an hourly rate. You’re compensated for the number of hours you’ve worked.
However, as you become an expert, you need to start charging per project. Jake Jorgovan, a freelance web designer gives an example of how he felt cheated working on an hourly rate as an expert.
He created a high-quality website for a client in three hours when his hourly rate was $60/hour.
The painful thing is that he knew guys that could have charged thousands of dollars for a similar task without batting an eye.
Why did he feel cheated,
How to Set Your Freelance Rates when Starting out
Since you’re just starting out, we’ll work with hourly payment. Use these tips to determine your pricing.
I. Ask other Freelancers in Your Niche what they Charged as Beginners.
You already know a few guys in your niche who are ahead of you (If you don’t, Linkedin is your best friend to find some).
If they’re honest with you, they won’t mind telling you how much they use to charge as newbies.
This doesn’t mean you should charge precisely what they did. It could be higher. Times change and so does the economy.
II. Charge What Will Help you Meet Your needs
You don’t want to start calling your uncles to help clear your bills a few months into your freelance business. Why not prove them wrong?
What you charge should allow you to live comfortably by meeting all of your expenses and still having extra to save.
Check and consider the city you reside in. How expensive is the cost of living?
III. Value-Based Pricing
When we talk of value-based pricing, it means charging your client for your expertise and not your time.
You charge the client according to the value you’ll bring to the table. Let’s say that you’re an email marketing copywriter. If you get a project, you’ll charge according to the results your copy will bring.
If you’re good at writing email copy, and you expect the client to make $50,000 from your email campaigns, charge $5000 even if the task only takes you one week.
6. Start Hunting for Clients
You deserve a pat on the back if you’ve reached this far. But we’re not there yet.
Getting your first client is exciting and scary. You’re thrilled that all your hard work finally paid off, but you don’t know if the client will love your work.
Therefore, you’ll have to do something before you go hunting for clients:
Defining your Ideal Client
It’s not like you’ll take any other person that comes your way because he has money to pay you.
Many freelancers think that if they widen their services to every Tom, Dick, and Harry, they won’t run out of clients. This, unfortunately, is far from the truth.
The rule of the game is to choose clients that’ll help you go where you want to go. These are people that will not only pay you but also help you become better as a beginner freelancer.
Ask yourself these three questions to get the right client;
I know that it’s tempting to pick as many clients as possible when starting. Bills won’t stop pilling up because you’re a newbie. I get you.
However, you’ll mess up your routines by trying to complete too many projects at once. Start with two clients, at most. Allocate the maximum amount of time to them and deliver high-quality tasks.
How to Get The Ideal Client in Three Steps
I. Start with Family
Your family has your support, even if your skills suck. They can go the extra mile to market your business. They’ll always be there when your business is going through turbulence.
Do I mean you should call all your aunties and demand them to hire you? Not really.
Simply use word of mouth marketing. Families and friends are very good at this.
Let’s assume your dad has his favorite barbershop he goes to. He can talk to the barber who might have a friend with an online business.
If you’re a social media marketer, your dad can talk to the barber, who’ll then speak to his friend. Though it’s a long chain of people, you’ll have bagged your first social media marketing gig.
II. Sending Cold Pitches to Companies
Cold pitching is still the king when it comes to getting gigs as a freelancer. And it’s a numbers game. The more you send out emails, the higher the chance you’ll have of landing a client.
For example, Woodpecker sent over 20 million emails in two years to get over 1000 + clients. (If my math is correct), they had to send 20,000 emails to get one client.
Hey, I’m not saying that you have to send this high amount of emails to get a client. I’ve had guys sending as little as 200 emails and bagging in 3 – 5 clients.
- The service you’re offering: If your use is in high demand, you’ll quickly get clients from your cold pitching campaigns.
- Level of personalization: This research found that personalised emails increase open rates by 50%, which brings you nearer to closing a client. For example, your headline should not be “hello” but “hello Tom.”
- Speaking to the Right Person: A cold email should be tailored to the right person who is a company’s decision-maker. (Use Hunter.io to find the emails of the person you want to contact 😉
These are the CEOs, marketing manager, Human Resource Managers, e.t.c. Don’t email the Finance Manager if you’re a freelance bookkeeper. (You’ll give him a reason to delete your message because you’re a threat to his job security.)
The success rate of cold emailing depends on a few factors.”
III. Utilize Freelancing Platforms
In Upwork, clients post thousands of jobs in different niches everyday. You only have to send proposals and wait for feedback.
Fiverr works differently. You create gigs for your services, and clients will pick you if they think you’re the best person for their project.
The biggest downside of freelance job platforms is that competition is at its peak. A job can be posted in Upwork and get over 50 proposals in less than thirty minutes.
I only advocate for these platforms when starting out to rapidly become better. Once you’ve gained enough experience and skills, get out of there and do what the top-dogs do:
Cold pitching, cold calling, social media marketing, referrals from past clients, and mixing with other professionals in your niche for opportunities.
For more on getting clients as a freelancer, check out Paul Jarvis’s post on Lifehacker.
7. Maintain Strong Client Relationship
You now have one, two, three clients. How do you ensure you work with them long term?
Even more important, if you’re good at maintaining good working relationships, you might get good referrals in the future. Studies have it that 65% of your business comes from existing or previous clients.
So how do you maintain a long-term client relationship?
Deliver High-Quality work on time
Clients want professionals who’ll deliver high-quality work and help them in growing their business.
They also want you to work on their time frame, not yours. Still, you can always agree on what’s right for both of you.
There’re many freelancers out there. If a client sees you as the best person for the project, make sure you deliver above their expectation. Next time when they have another project, they’ll know who to contact.
Get Involved in Your Client’s Personal life (In a Professional Way)
Your client isn’t just a source of income. Consider him/her as a business partner and a friend with a common business goal.
If they’re launching a new project, be the first to send a congratulatory message.
These are vital tips to connect with a client emotionally and professionally, which cements a longer working relationship.
Reward your Clients
Companies reward their customers by giving discounts, offers or gift bundles. You can do the same as a freelancer.
It’s not always the client who should double your pay rates or refer you to someone. You can give discounts after finishing a couple of projects.
Referral discounts are another way to reward loyalty. Give 10%-15% discounts if a client refers you to someone. It’s an excellent way to appreciate them while growing your business.
“Market” your Client’s Business for Free
You can’t upsell every service to a client. Other services, like marketing, you do for free. But I don’t mean coming up with a robust marketing strategy, creating a Facebook page.
Simply sharing a task you did to your social media followers goes further than you might think. If you’ve designed a website for a client, tell your social media followers.
“Hey, go check my final design. [Client’s name] was an incredible client to work with and [its product/service] is amazing!”
If you’re a writer, share your latest articles on your Linkedin profile or hyperlink it to an article you’re doing for another client with high domain authority.
Benefits and Challenges of Freelancing
“Our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
Just like any other business, freelancing has its fine share of challenges. The good thing is that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
Benefits of Freelancing
I. Working you own Schedule
This is the beauty of freelancing. Picture yourself working in your pajamas on your bed with a hot cup of coffee in your hand while it’s raining outside. Nothing can beat that feeling.
The “free” in freelancing allows you to work on your schedule from the comfort of your laptop.
No one will be on your neck if you book a trip to Dubai during the week. You’re good to choose when and where to work as long as you deliver quality.
II. Choosing your own Clients
Let’s tell the truth. Some clients are a pain in the flesh. They’ll drag you down the mud if anything goes wrong with their project.
But you can choose to work with them or not. If you want to know a client will make your life hell, check for these signs.
III. Meeting awesome people all over the World
Freelancing is an opportunity to meet different people since you’ll be selling your service to businesses globally.
This doesn’t only strengthen your professional portfolio. You’ll also learn about new cultures, different business demographics, and even new languages.
IV. Control of Workload
Unlike in a 9-5 job where your manager controls how much you do, freelancing gives you the freedom to pick the number of projects you can handle.
It makes it easy to do freelancing part-time while doing other things on the side. If you freelance 100%, you can take on more projects and work full time, which means you’ll earn more money.
Disadvantages of Freelancing
- Taxes: Uncle Sam will always want a fair share of your money, even if you’re working in a remote area in Tuvalu.
- Sporadic work: As a beginner, you’ll have a hard time getting consistent work. Unfortunately, even well-established freelancers have experienced this challenge. You must have a solid client retention and acquisition strategy that’ll keep you busy every month. Read this article to get an idea.
- Ultimate Responsibility: You’re accountable to no one as a freelancer. If time management and responsibility is a problem to you, you’ll have it rough freelancing. This is the advice I give. If you don’t finish your work on time, you won’t put food on the table. So make a choice.
Who will hire me as a Freelancer?
Freelancers are hired by individuals or companies who want to dedicate a task to a remote worker. These can be Fortune-500 companies, medium enterprises, small businesses, charity organizations, or Governments.
Can Freelancing become a lifelong career?
Yes. You can start freelancing on the side while still working at your day job. Once you get more experience and start earning more, take the leap of faith, and never look back.
How Do I Get Paid as a Freelancer?
The most common methods freelancers get paid are through online financial services like Paypal, Payoneer and skrill. Other customers prefer doing direct bank deposits if you’re in the same country. You can also get paid via bitcoin, which is slowly picking up.
How much Can I make as a Beginner Freelancer?
You can easily hit $1000 in your first month of freelancing. But it depends on a lot of factors. For instance, the clients you work with, your experience in a niche, and the skill’s demand. But once you get your feet wet, hitting $5000 a month after three or four month is possible
We’re living in exciting times. There’s a massive technological shift that affects everything we do. And freelancing is at the forefront.
Freelancing will give you the freedom you want: The freedom to walk away from abusive clients, the freedom to work when you’re most productive even if it’s in the early hours of the morning, and the freedom to charge clients what you’re worth.
The steps I’ve shared might seem like a lot. But just take your time to follow them one by one. A year from now, you’ll appreciate that you came across this article.
Tell us in the comments what your thoughts are on freelancing!