How to Start Freelancing: Top Freelancer Tips from Successful Entrepreneurs
The world of freelancing can be daunting. After all, you’re stepping out into the unknown, with no job security, no conventional benefits, and perhaps worst of all, no paid holiday. However, more people than ever before are making the switch, with promises of greater autonomy, better pay, more control over your work/life balance, and of course, never having to answer to the boss!
But with so much to think about and plenty of competition, getting started on your new freelancing journey can sometimes seem like an uphill struggle. It’s an age-old paradox – you need the experience to get the best work, but few people are willing to give you that experience—a real catch 22.
However, the good news is that there are countless successful freelancers’ that have traced that same path. They’ve navigated the low-paid jobs, dealt with demanding clients, managed the inevitable bureaucracy associated with getting set up, and consistently found the motivation and focus to knuckle down to get the work done!
So, for all aspiring freelancers out there, we’ve reached out to trailblazers across the globe who’ve been there and done that—and they’ve got plenty of valuable advice and guidance on how to be the best freelancer you can be! Read on to get freelancer tips for beginners, advice on how to build up a client base, clever hacks on how to manage your workload, and constantly deliver high-quality work, and generally rock the freelance life.
David Page – Writer & CEO @ Green String – Portugal
Some of the most insightful freelance tips and tricks come from those who have spent years carving out a career but who have then moved on to create a company, sharing their knowledge, contacts and, of course, work with other freelancers. Here, David Page of Green String – a web content and SEO agency – shares his thoughts on finding work and building long lasting professional relationships.
Having been a freelance writer now for close to ten years on and off, I’ve seen a huge shift in demand for my work. Previously, your best bet to get into the world of copywriting or content creation was to register with one of the countless content mills. Looking back, I’d highly advise you avoid these, as generating a living wage on these platforms will essentially work you to death.
Thankfully, there are plenty of other ways to find work, and in most cases you’ll build healthy relationships with clients that will last, rather than work text-by-text on a piecemeal basis. In the end, you want to find clients that appreciate your talent and that you can develop a long-term relationship with while producing work you enjoy.
For example, if you’re making the switch from full time employment in a similar position, make sure you don’t burn your bridges, as you might be surprised when an old colleague gets in touch with a job opportunity. Additionally, I’d highly recommend finding a coworking space that fosters a close community despite the extra expense. It’s amazing how much work I’ve generated just from casual chats over a beer at the end of the day.
Nev Portas – Growing and Waste Stream Consultant @ Down to Earth Project – UK
Freelance work doesn’t necessarily have to be purely online, and there are countless tips for freelancers that come from those who aren’t tied to the computer on a daily basis. Nev Portas runs a sustainability consultancy firm that advises the agricultural industry on more sustainable and eco-friendly methods of growing and cultivating organic produce. Here are his freelance tips and tricks on how to branch out and find a career that you reality love.
The most important lesson I’ve learnt, and still learning, is to identify your desired outcomes and personal values before you start and as you progress. I worked for years as a freelance graphic designer and printer, but after a while I needed a change.
You need to really dig down and identify those overarching goals, performing a self-analysis that allows you to discover what you value in life and what you are working towards. This is what brought me to where I am today, something that I have a real affinity with and that allows me to give something back to my local community.
This is important because it’s easy to think you know what you value in life, without actually realizing what this will look like as you move forward. This simple, personal values clarification exercise taken again and again will help, giving you a running record of where you started and where you are heading.
Emma Philip – Graphic Designer/Illustrator – South Africa
There’s probably one overarching truth about freelance life—you need to be proactive. It’s no use sitting around hoping for work to land in your lap, and reaching out to people or companies that you’d like to work with can pay real dividends. Here, Emma Philip, a South African-based graphic designer and illustrator, shares her tips on how to be a freelance designer.
Make sure your online presence is strong and all your social media profiles link to each other and are up to date. This includes your website, Instagram, LinkedIn etc. and each should look like they came from the same person.
Make it clear what you do and don’t wait for work to come to you. Find the people who you would like to work with and connect with them. This can be an agency, a company, a cafe you like or even individuals. Email them your work, follow them on social media, make as many connections as possible. Try to find a freelance community, it can get tough working on your own. It could be something as simple as an online group chat, a local coworking space, or one you started with your friends.
Fabian Wulf – Software Engineer – Germany
When you first step out into the world of freelance work, it can be pretty demoralizing dealing with rejection after rejection. However, perseverance can go a long way, and before you know it the jobs will start rolling in. Here, Fabian Wulf shares his top tips for freelancers venturing into the competitive world of software engineering.
Don’t lose faith! It might take a while to get your first freelance gig, or even your fifth or your 20th, but it will come if you keep trying. Proactively approach companies even if they’re not looking for a freelancer but a full-time employee instead. It’s especially easy to do with startups—at least in the IT industry—because sometimes they’re searching for months for the right person to fill a full-time position and can’t find them, so they’re happy to get a freelancer to bridge the gap but won’t advertise it online.
Sarah Noorbakhsh – Translator – Germany
Particularly for freelancers working in niche sectors that require very specific skill sets, breaking into the industry can be a challenge. You know the old adage–it’s not what you know but who you know. However, where there’s a will there’s a way, and here Sarah Noorbakhsh shares her tips on how to use freelancer websites and agencies to break into the world of translation.
For people without much translation experience, I would say to give a translation platform a try (thinking of gengo.com, not sure if there are others) to get some experience. The rates are low but so is the barrier to entry, and it can be good practice for a new translator to get a feel how things work. For both new and experienced translators, joining an agency as a freelancer can be a huge help in ensuring you have a regular stream of projects.
Some people recommend joining a translators association, but unless your mother tongue comes from a country that is obsessed with associations and credentials, I wouldn’t really bother. What I would do is vet a potential agency very carefully. There are many translation agencies out there that are dodgy and will either rope you into doing a lot of work for very little, or not pay you at all. If the prices they’re offering their own customers on their website are very low, avoid them.
Darrell Williams – CEO @ Growth Hack Guides – USA
The nuts and bolts of freelance work are very often an afterthought when you take into account the sourcing of clients, managing your schedule, producing high-quality work, and, of course, ensuring you’re not working yourself to death. However, apart from the usual bureaucracy, there’s one thing that everyone needs to make freelancing work —cold hard cash. Here, Darrell Williams of Growth Hack Guides shares his freelancer tips on how to optimize your hourly rate.
One of the hardest challenges when you start your freelancing career is deciding your hourly rate.
Formula hack to calculate your hourly rate: First and foremost, decide what you would like your yearly salary to be. Take the annual sum and divide it by 52 (The working weeks in a year), then again by 40 (Hours in an average workweek).
*Example: *I want to make 100,000 a year 100,000/ 52 = $1,923 per week.
$1,923 per week / 40 (hours) = $48 per hour
Candace Helton – Operations Director @ Ringspo – USA
Dealing with the fear and doubt of ditching the 9-5 and stepping out alone is not an insignificant issue, and for the perfectionists out there this can be doubly true. Additionally, once you have made that leap of faith, it’s very easy to spread your skills and experience too thin, delivering substandard work in areas that aren’t your forte. Here, Candace Helton of Ringspo shares how to become a good freelancer by focussing on what you do best.
Don’t be afraid to experiment. The one thing many beginner freelancers face at the start is doubt. They don’t know where to start, how to do things, or even what they should do to find a freelance job.
My advice is to just take a step forward and cross the bridge when you get there. Freelancing is a lot of trial and error at the beginning, but you’ll learn along the way. Don’t worry about getting everything perfect from the start. You will get there.
Another mistake that many beginner freelancers make is that they want to do everything at the same time. For example, a person says that he is a writer, social media marketer, SEO specialist, photographer, video producer, etc. If you think you can get more clients by doing a little bit of everything, you should be aware that clients prefer an expert rather than a jack of all trades. Focus on the skill you’re good at or invest in online education so you can further elevate the skills you have now.
Bella Contino – Creative Director @E3M Creative – USA
Knowing your trade is one thing, knowing what the freelance market demands is quite another. In fact, with people from all around the world competing for the same jobs, and companies offering varying rates of pay and working conditions, doing your research is imperative. Here, Bella Contino of E3M Creative discusses freelancer tips and tricks that will help you avoid some of the more unscrupulous clients out there.
My advice for any freelancers who are just starting out would be to do as much research as possible. Before stepping into the freelance world, I quite literally knew nothing.
In my first few months of freelancing, I found myself in a terrible situation with a client who I had signed a contract with. I took the job for low payment with high hopes that the job would lead to more work, but instead I ended up committing to hours of unpaid work.
In the midst of my client relationship, I joined a Facebook group with other freelancers in the creative industry and was immediately introduced to a whole world of advice. I ended up terminating my contract with the client, raised my freelance rates and found work with multiple clients who wanted to pay me for my time. What a concept!
I learned fast how important it is to know your worth as a freelancer. Have a rate and stick with it. Make a contract and be sure to always stick to the terms of agreement with your client. Once you start giving out free work, you’ll continue to do it. Freelancing is hard, but in the end you’re your own boss and you have the power to choose what projects and which clients you want to work with. There is so much freedom, you just have to play the game right.
Roberta Morris – Founder & Creative Director @ Leave it to Berta – USA
Finding a healthy work/life balance as a freelancer can be a huge challenge—particularly when you’re starting out. After all, you want to take as much work as possible to ensure you’ve got some kind of job security and a healthy bank balance. However, it’s all too easy to overwork yourself and end up losing motivation and focus. Here, Roberta Morris of Leave it to Berta shares her freelancer tips on how to communicate efficiently and give yourself some well-earned free time.
Be responsive, but not TOO responsive. Make sure you answer emails maybe two-three times a day, but don’t feel like you have to be on every second or clients will expect you to be. Also, it’s important to take weekends off. Or try to. It’s important to recharge your batteries to better serve your clients and to avoid burnout.
Jerome Williams – Graphic Designer & Web Developer @ JWorks Studios – USA
Work is work, and whether you love it or hate it there’s almost always a level of personal tolerance that you must decide on. In the end, you need to be happy with what you are working on, and accepting projects or clients that you are uncomfortable with will only make your working life miserable and/or ethically unsustainable. Here, a few freelance tips from Jerome Williams details the balance you need to strive for in order to keep the work flowing without selling your soul to the devil.
Don’t chase money! You’re freelancing because you like doing what you do. Don’t take a project you don’t morally or ethically agree with just for money. If they voted for someone you don’t like, that’s not a reason to not work with them. If they want to take that stance and build a hatemonger site around it, then you have some reasons for objection.
The bottom line for freelancers is that, despite the inherent challenges associated with making the transition, with just a little help, guidance, and a few insightful freelancer tips and tricks, you too can make it work. For more freelancer hacks and tips and tricks, subscribe to the Spike blog or Tweet us @SpikeNowHQ.
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