You might have decided that 2023 is the year you want to transition away from your 9-5 job — but how? The world of freelancing awaits you. If this space is totally new to you, you might be wondering how to become a freelancer, especially when the economy is… less than stellar. In this blog, I’ll take you through a few simple but important steps that’ll help you work efficiently and see results.
How to Become a Freelancer, Even with No Experience
Is it hard to get into freelancing, especially if you’re starting from zero? Well, “hard” is in the eye of the beholder. It might take you a few tries to really get your foot in the door. But once that happens, I typically see freelancers start to pick up momentum. I’ve especially found it interesting with my students inside Revenue Spark. Once they land that first client following my process, everything kind of clicks. From there, it’s wash, rinse, and repeat.
I’m a big fan of keeping things simple because that’s always what’s gotten me the best results. So, I’m not going to tell you to create elaborate email funnels or run expensive Facebook ads to collect freelancing leads. Instead, focus on following these steps to start building your freelancing business.
1. Pick the Top 3 Services You Want to Sell
If you already know what services you’re selling, you can skip this step. Otherwise, keep reading! One easy way to find a service you might be interested in monetizing is to see what other people are doing. For this, head to Fiverr — not to create a profile but just to check out all of the categories.
And if you hover over each of those categories, you’ll see tons of sub-categories within them. This should give you plenty of ideas to work with!
You might be thinking, “I’m going to do all the things!” Please don’t. If you try to offer too many freelancing services, a few bad things will happen.
- You’ll be unhappy.
- You’ll only be able to be mediocre at these things, at best.
- You won’t be able to charge as much.
Pick maybe three services to sell, maximum.
2. Pick a Niche
A lot of freelancers hear this and say, “Oh, no thanks. I don’t want to limit myself.” My friend, not having a niche is what’s going to limit you.
When you pick a niche, you do a few things:
- Eliminate a lot of your competition.
- Position yourself as an expert.
- You can charge a lot more.
Plus, it allows you to focus on working with brands and industries that you actually care about.
You can keep this broad! Some people will tell you that the more you niche down, the better. I can definitely see this working in some cases, but I don’t believe it’s a must-have. My niche is health and wellness, which is very broad. And it’s worked great for me. It gives me plenty of room to try new things, and I never get bored. I also never run out of leads to source. Ever.
Don’t stress about this; nothing is written in stone. If you try a niche and it doesn’t work out, you can always revise it — what one of my students likes calling “the ol’ niche switch.”
3. Create a Portfolio
Wondering how to become a freelancer when you have little to no experience? Well, you need a portfolio! Think of this as a small collection of your best work — maybe three to five samples.
“But I’ve never had a paying client!” you’re saying. That’s totally okay because you can make these samples up. Create them for a fictitious brand or even a real one. Just be sure to mark them as “spec” pieces so that you’re not misleading potential clients. (In other words, don’t make it look liked you’ve worked for a brand that you’ve never really worked for.)
As you gain more experience as a freelancer and improve your skills, you’ll update your portfolio to show off only your best work.
Important note: You do not need a website in order to have a portfolio. So, don’t let that stop you! You can also use Behance for a portfolio, the Featured section of LinkedIn, or even Google Drive. You just need your samples online somewhere. That way, when a potential client asks to see your work, you can send them a link.
4. Set Your Base Rates
Money is confusing. Talking about money is even more confusing. But don’t get caught with your pants around your ankles. You need to at least know the minimum you charge for your work. If you have that number, then you’re off to a great start!
This is so that, if you’re on a call with a potential client and they ask what your rates are, you can say something like, “My rates start at $XYZ and vary based on a few factors.”
If they want a more specific number, tell them you can get back to them within one business day with a full proposal.
Note that you might have different types of rates. For instance, if you’re a freelance writer, you might have a rate per blog and a rate per month (for a set number of blogs). If you’re a freelance graphic designer, you might have a rate for a single logo and a rate for a batch of 10 social media graphics.
3 Things to Avoid as a New Freelancer
Now that you know a little more about how to become a freelancer and some of the steps you’ll want to take, let’s talk about what to avoid. I’m basing these on the most common mistakes I see freelancers making before they join my program, as well as mistakes I’ve made myself.
1. Don’t Offer Free Samples or Free Audits
Or free anything.
Listen, your time is valuable. Your energy is valuable. Yes, even as a beginner freelancer. You do not need to work for free in order to land that first client.
In fact, free samples can really backfire. The reason for this is simple. The types of clients who ask you to work for free aren’t the types of clients who are going to pay premium rates once the freebies end. You don’t want to work with clients who are looking to find a freelancer for as cheap as possible. (Are you cheap? Are your services cheap? Your time and energy cheap — are they cheap? No.)
Don’t let anyone pressure you into working for free for “exposure” or anything else other than money. Last I checked, exposure doesn’t pay the bills.
Now, all this being said, if you want to offer a slight discount as a beginner freelancer, that’s okay. Be sure you gently point this out to the client so that they’re aware that you’re cutting them a deal!
Also, something that’s worked really well for me is offering a paid test assignment. Whenever I have a potential client who’s hesitant to commit to a bigger price, I’ll say something like, “I’m happy to start with a paid test blog so we can get a better feel for what it’s like working together.”
2. Don’t Do Whatever Clients Ask
This is where boundaries come into play!
When a client asks you to do something outside the scope of your contract (you do have a contract, right?) and you agree, it usually stems from fear — fear that if you say no, they’ll drop you.
This has never once happened to me.
Doing whatever your clients ask doesn’t make you a better freelancer. It makes you a doormat, and you deserve better, my friend! I truly believe most clients don’t mean to take advantage of freelancers. If they’re asking you to do more, it’s because they like your work. And that’s great!
But just remember what I said earlier about not spreading yourself too thin. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.
If you’re not sure how to respond when a client asks you to do something that’s not part of the services you offer, you can say something like:
- “This is outside the scope of my work, so I’m unable to help.”
- “This isn’t my area of expertise and I’m not the best person to manage this.”
- “Thank you for the opportunity! But that sounds like a better fit for a [job title — graphic designer, social media manager, etc].
3. Don’t Beg for Work on Job Boards and Bidding Sites
While I love the idea of these platforms, they’re bad news for freelancers. I talk about this more in this video:
I know you might be tempted to give these platforms a shot. And ultimately, it’s your call. But before you dive in, keep these things in mind:
- You might be competing against hundreds of other freelancers for a single gig.
- Freelancers compete by undercutting each other.
- Clients purposely go to these platforms to find cheap labor.
If you’re okay with this, well, that makes me sad. If you think you deserve better (which you do), head to LinkedIn for clients. I have a ton of YouTube videos on how I used LinkedIn to land clients, and I teach my exact process inside my program, Revenue Spark.
I know that starting a freelancing business can feel incredibly overwhelming — like you’re trying to roll a boulder up a hill. Keep it simple, take it one step at a time, and you will see progress!