Have you been thinking of going freelance, but you don’t know how to start? How can you set yourself up for success?
Maybe you are currently in a full-time job. Or maybe you even lost your job because of the coronavirus lockdowns. Now you're thinking about going freelance.
Whatever your reason is, freelancing holds a lot of potential. Thanks to the Internet, it’s easier than ever before. You just need an account or a website, a good portfolio, and you are set. Then all you need to do is find some gigs.
Yet, going freelance also bears some pitfalls of which you should be mindful. It might take some time until you get your first gig. Your income won’t be as consistent. Generally, you'll carry a lot more responsibility for your life.
If you are aware of the common downfalls early on, you can make a plan to prevent them to better ensure your success as a freelancer.
Find our top tips for going freelance below.
Freelancing has many advantages a regular job does not. For example, the freedom to work on your own terms and the possibility to determine your income, as long as you are good.
If you are working a job - even if it’s a well paid one - your income is capped. There is a maximum salary. After that, there is no way for you to earn more.
As a freelancer, on the other hand, you are responsible for your income. As long as you are skilled and do quality work, your income has no limit.
Another advantage of freelancing is the freedom that comes with it. You set your own hours and your own work schedule. If you love to work in the mornings, you can work in the mornings. If you are a night owl, you can stay up late and work at night.
You take on projects you enjoy and dedicate your time as you see fit, whereas in a job, even if you are in a high position, you still ultimately get told what to do by your boss.
When you are going freelance, you gain back a lot of power and freedom over your life. Being responsible for yourself, though extremely rewarding, also comes with its challenges.
With all the possibilities and advantages, freelancing also has some downsides.
Compared to a job, freelancing doesn’t guarantee a consistent income. Some months you might earn more than others. Some months you might have a huge amount of clients and gigs, the next month it might be less.
If you can’t handle inconsistent income, going freelance might not be for you.
Another possible downside could be the freedom that comes with being your own boss. It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time.
The thing about being your own boss is, it’s very easy to have a disrupted rhythm or no rhythm at all. Sticking to your own schedule vs. a set schedule is difficult for many people.
Even if you have great self-discipline, there will always be days when you just don’t feel like it. Those days make a dent in your productivity and lower your results.
So, if you are going freelance, take precautions early on. Ask others to keep you accountable and set up your environment so you don't fall off the grid.
If you want to become a freelancer, it’s best to do so with a plan. If you have a plan, you’ll know what to do.
Going freelance without an action plan is like splashing in the water. Splashing doesn’t mean you are swimming.
If possible, you’ll also want to have some backup savings. Even if you don’t need them, having some money will give you security.
The thing about money is, if you need it urgently it’s harder to get it. Others realize that you are needy and want to help you less. As Dan Lok likes to say, “needy is creepy.”
So, it’s better if you can look for gigs while being unattached. This way, you know that even if it isn’t working out, you still can cover your bills.
Besides some savings, it’s also a good idea to prepare a strategy in advance, so you can go after success from day one.
In some cases, you might want to stay in your current job for one or two more months. Use the time to build up savings and start networking. Build relationships in your new niche early on.
Here’s what else you can do to set yourself up for success…
Know that you aren’t alone. There are people in your niche who were going freelance before you. Find the pros in your niche and talk to them.
Most of them will be happy to help you out with some advice. Don’t expect them to answer, though. So many people go out there believing that others owe them advice. Don’t be like that.
When you message them, you're better off finding a way to offer them something in advance. It could be a testimonial or something similar. Show that you value them and their opinion.
Now, what do you ask them? Ask specific questions about things you are unsure of. Stay away from questions that are too general likeHow can I find clients?
Instead, be specific - What strategy worked for you to get clients consistently?
Ask open-ended questions, that means questions that can’t be answered with yes or no. If you ask open-ended questions, they’ll likely share more.
Before you message them, check if you can find a FAQ (frequently asked questions) section on their website or profile. If many people reach out to them, they likely already answered your questions.
Save them some time and look it up yourself before you ask them.
You also want to be honest and clear about your current situation and tell them why you decided to contact them. If you are genuine, they’ll feel more comfortable with being genuine, too.
There are many ways to find clients when you are going freelance, especially in the beginning. Don’t underestimate your already existing network.
If you tell people what you do, they’ll remember and possibly refer you. But they will only do so if they understand what you are doing.
When it’s too complicated to explain, they likely won’t bother.
Imagine it like this. Let’s assume you have a friend with a big friend group. You tell them about your plans for going freelance and they want to support you.
The next time they meet someone, they might tell that person about what you are doing. If you are a graphic designer and they meet somebody who needs some graphics done, they’ll refer you.
But they can only do so if they understand what you are doing. Make sure you are clear, so people can understand it.
If you are a copywriter, you might go out and tell people “I write scalable copy.” But how many people really know what scalable means?
Instead, you could say “I write engaging texts that get people to buy. That way I help businesses to make more money.”
Keep it easy for others to understand and refer you.
The beauty of going freelance is you can take your business completely online. Especially now, when during the time of this writing, much of the world is in shut down, being able to work online is invaluable.
There are countless ways to find clients and gigs online. The most obvious one is having your own website to attract business. However, many freelancers find their clients in other ways.
A website is often more like a business card. It’s where people go to look up info about you after they've learned you exist. To get actual gigs, it’s often easier to make connections on LinkedIn or even on Facebook.
You can hang out in Facebook groups and have conversations with people there. On LinkedIn, it’s even easier because it already has a business context and people can see what kind of work you are doing.
In the beginning, you could also find clients on typical freelancing sites. These sites are great for earning a few bucks when you need them. In the long term, they are usually too saturated with other freelancers, and by extension, too competitive. As a result, you'll be forced to compete on price as you are seen as one of many.
Maybe you are thinking about writing cold emails to all kinds of businesses and asking for work? That may not be the best strategy.
Most other freelancers are doing exactly the same thing. That means businesses get pitchy emails all the time. As such, they are already used to it and probably won’t respond.
What is a better way to cut through the noise? Only contact businesses you actually like and resonate with.
Don’t send cold emails. They don’t know you and there is no clear benefit in working with you.
Instead, you want to find a way to offer them value upfront. If you are a graphic designer, for example, send them some graphics to use for free. It will show them the quality of your work and that you care about their results. You’ll immediately stand out from the crowd.
Instead of focusing on how great you are, focus on them and their outcome.
What’s more, focusing on real relationships gives you an edge. Most people value warmth over competence. That means, even if your skill isn’t the best in the world, people will still want to work with you if you have a genuine relationship.
If you are the best at what you do, but you have trouble connecting with people, then you might have a harder time finding clients. The more understood people feel, the more likely they will buy.
To make it as a successful freelancer, it’s best to specialize. Pick a certain niche and become the to-go expert for that niche.
If you specialize, you’ll attract clients faster, and usually, you can charge more. Why can you charge more? Because you have specialized knowledge and you are the only one who can do it.
Think about a family doctor and a brain surgeon for example. Who earns more? Usually, the brain surgeon, as they have specialized knowledge.
Find a certain area or niche of your field that you truly enjoy. You could specialize by industry or by projects. As a copywriter, for example, you could write only for health and fitness. Or, you could write for several industries but only specialize in emails.
As a graphic designer, you could focus on print media. Or, you can focus on a niche and only do graphics for lawyers for example.
The more specialized you are, the more prolific you are, the more you can charge.
When you are going freelance you might feel pressured to do some gigs for free; to get your foot into the door so to speak.
Working completely for free isn’t a good idea because you undervalue your own service. If you want to do a project without charging money, you could still ask for something in return. Maybe they can help you with their service? Or maybe they would give you a testimonial to use for your portfolio?
Ask for something in return so the other person knows your work is worth something.
What you should give for free, however, is helpful content. Having a blog, a YouTube channel or another way to give advice for free is a great idea. It helps you to build your personal brand, create a relationship with your audience, and position yourself as an expert.
Some people are afraid to share free content as they think clients will take advantage of them. But the opposite is true. Free advice gets you more clients.
Think about Dan Lok and his YouTube channel. Does he lose clients because he has free information on his YouTube channel? No. Instead, people find him on YouTube and then buy from him.
You don’t need a huge social media following to make this work. 500 loyal fans are sometimes better than 10,000 who aren’t fully interested in what you do. Focus on building a small tribe.
Before you go freelance, have some clarity on your financial status. How much money do you have saved? How much money do you need to pay your monthly bills?
What will change if you transition from your job to live as a freelancer? What lifestyle changes will you have to make?
Think about these things early, so you are prepared. Going freelance might be a complete lifestyle change for you. If you make this change unprepared, it might prove an unpleasant shock to you.
Talk to your loved ones about it, especially the people who live in the same house as you. Make sure they respect your time and don’t interrupt you when you work from home.
As a freelancer, the lines between work and play are very blurry. You might find yourself working after 5pm or taking a break at 10am. It’s all in your control. Just make sure to make conscious choices about it.
Plan in your off-time and free time. Otherwise, you might find yourself constantly working with no rest.
When going freelance, so many people think they have to wait until they are ready. But here’s the truth: You’ll never feel 100% ready.
If you are looking for it, you’ll always find reasons why "the time isn’t right". The economy isn’t doing well, you could get a pay raise at your job, your partner doesn’t want you to quit…
There are countless reasons not to do it. But if it’s truly what you want to do, don’t wait until you are ready, or you might be waiting until it’s too late.
Make precautions, yes. Be prepared in case your plan doesn’t work. Have a backup plan to make sure you can cover your basic needs, even if something goes wrong. But after you have that, time won’t get more right.
Sometimes you just have to take the plunge.
Also, be aware that your current job isn’t necessarily more secure than going freelance. Before COVID-19, most people would have said their job was very secure, but nobody expected a global pandemic that would wipe out millions of jobs.
Job security is a myth, so don’t let that stop you.
When you are going freelance the right advice from the right people is crucial. Even in your friends group or social circle, everybody will have an opinion about what you should do and shouldn’t do.
Even if their advice is meant well, they probably never freelanced a single day in their lives. Look to people who have actually done it and get advice from them.