Becoming a freelancer is one of the things that might cross your mind from time to time. We all imagine stereotypical images of lucky freelancers laying on the beach with a cocktail in one hand and a laptop in the other. There’s no need to come to the office every day, you can start working whenever you feel like it, for how long you like and still get paid a lot for it.
It sounds like a dream. Well, while this image might be right for some lucky individuals, it indeed remains a dream for the vast majority of freelance individuals.
I’m not trying to crush your dreams here, not at all. All I’m trying to say is that in reality, freelancing will certainly require more responsibility. It also might take up even more of your time if you are really trying to make it out there.
It’s not going to be a smooth ride at the beginning. You will most likely have to combine freelancing with a regular 9 to 5. But the prospects of earning more and being your own boss certainly does sound attractive.
In this article, we will cover how to make the first step towards becoming a freelancer, how to build up your portfolio and how to find your first paying client.
How to start freelancing?
There are a few things I want to point out before we dive into the action.
Don’t forget that being a freelancer is still a job that requires a greater responsibility than a typical office position. You are now responsible for finding the client, negotiating with them, delivering the final product, and working with client feedback. Your skill is now your own business.
Having said that, you can benefit from a certain amount of freedom that being a business owner provides. You can choose your work schedule, your workload, and you are now able to work from anywhere in the world if you want to. Just make sure to not make poor decisions about your workload and schedule, and make sure your choices make sense financially.
How to create a portfolio
Before you convince anybody to pay for your services, you need proof of your professional expertise in the field. There are a few ways in which you can build an impressive portfolio.
Working on it might require some time, but it is a crucial step in your freelancing career.
Find a full-time job.
It might look contradictory to the topic of our discussion. But, you can benefit from a full-time job in many ways.
First and foremost, you gain valuable skills from a full-time job and the projects you complete can be used as a reference and be added to your portfolio.
Secondly, never underestimate the contacts you make from working a full-time job. We will cover this point further down in this article.
Work on your friends’ projects.
It might be a good idea to let your friends know that you want to switch to freelancing. They might themselves be working on some projects that require the skills that you have. You might even propose working for free for some time to get your foot in the door.
Use this opportunity to get the results to put on your freelance portfolio.
Find existing projects you believe you can make better.
This might be especially relevant for designers of any type.
For example, say you have been using a service for some time but find the interface terribly inconvenient. Or you have a favorite coffee spot not far from your home that you really enjoy visiting but, their logo or menu design is atrocious.
What you can do here is come up with a better design than the existing one and make a before and after comparison that you can add to your portfolio.
How to find my first paying client?
This is the most crucial question. How do you actually set this whole thing in motion? You have completed the first step and are feeling confident about your portfolio.
These are the best places to search for:
There is always a chance you can secure a paid gig from your friends. But, mind all of the negative aspects of bringing money into your friendship.
Not that there are no examples of successful commercial cooperations between friends. But any work-related issues that might arise can cause awkwardness in your off work relationships.
So, consider other options from this list too.
Your former (or current) colleagues.
This is how I secured my first freelancing gig. Your colleagues are most likely pretty aware of your working capabilities. They know what skills you possess, so when an opportunity arises, you are likely to come up among the first names on the list of capable candidates for the job.
They know if you are fun to work with or not and whether you will deliver on the project. So, this is one of the best options to consider.
Your colleagues’ colleagues and friends of your friends.
It works pretty much the same way as the previous options. You need to make sure that you’ve put the word out there about your new career step and see if your connections can get you a client.
Don’t underestimate the power of your connections. This is going to be the most efficient way of searching for your first paying client. Some of my freelancing friends have never used any type of freelancing platform and still managed to go freelance full-time, which brings us to the next source of potential clients.
We are talking about the likes of UpWork, Fiverr and so on.
These platforms have both pros and cons when it comes to the search for the first paying client.
These platforms rely heavily on the recommendations you get from other platform users. This means that in the beginning, you are going to be stuck with low-budget gigs.
The other problem is that beginner freelancers with no reviews start undercutting each other price-wise. This form of price dumping is unhealthy for the market and leaves talented professionals underpaid, which is frustrating. So, this makes it hard to break out of the low budget order tier and get into the big league.
On the other hand, these platforms handle any issues that may arise between you and the person offering the job. They also make sure you get paid for the work you have done, which is important. Getting scammed at the beginning of your career might screw with your motivation and force you to reconsider the decision you have made.
A popular professional network might be a great source of potential clients.
Make sure to create an extraordinary profile to ensure inbound requests for your services. Pinpoint what you have achieved by doing work for your previous clients and develop your contact network.
What you could also do here is to create a premium account and start searching for decision makers within companies or whole industries you are interested in working with. Be careful though, you don’t want to come across as spammy. So, make sure your services fit the demands of the particular company you are trying to contact.
Create a portfolio website
This way will be a bit pricey but might land you more clients. Consider this option if you know you can afford a certain amount of investment in paid traffic. Check out one of our articles to figure out how to calculate your PPC advertising budget.
You can gather all of your previous feedback and case studies you have earned and create a website or a landing page to post them to.
Create a clear lead capturing form to collect user information and contact them later, or you could just leave your phone number so the prospects can reach out to you themselves.
Set up Google Ads (AdWords) and Facebook Ads accounts and learn how to target the audience that might be interested in your services.
Once again, consider this option only if you have a budget for this kind of promotion.
A few more thoughts on freelancing
Don’t forget that freelancing is all about positive relationships with your clients. So, it’s essential to know how to negotiate with them and how to work with your feedback.
If you want to learn more about these topics, you can check out this webinar recording. You will learn how to negotiate KPIs with your potential clients, how to develop healthy relationships with them, and how to work with their feedback and get the most out of it.
There is no universal recipe for a successful freelance career. Everyone has to adapt to their individual circumstances in life. But I hope that some of this advice can inspire you and cover some issues you are uncertain about.