The gig economy is a huge part of the modern work world. It’s an arena that is attracting new professionals every day. However, it doesn’t matter if you’re writing code, designing graphics, composing content, or anything else, breaking into the freelance lifestyle can feel like a daunting task.
Becoming a freelancer is a bit like starting a business. A small business (freelancers are called solopreneurs for a reason), but a business nevertheless. This creates a slew of different responsibilities and administrative tasks. Tack onto that challenge of landing your first handful of clients, and it’s enough to make anyone feel overwhelmed.
If you’re seriously thinking of freelancing, you must take the first few steps of your freelance career seriously. Here are a few tips and suggestions to help you do so with aplomb.
Set the Stage
Before you send a single application or reach out to any potential clients, it’s worth taking some time to set the stage first. Here are three critical areas that you’re going to want to have well-organized before you begin finding gigs.
1. Your Pitch
Freelancing doesn’t guarantee success. On the contrary, you’re going to be up against an army of other candidates, many of whom will be as talented and accomplished as yourself.
This makes your personal pitch a vital catalyst to help you initially stand out. Take some time to seriously consider your USP (unique selling point or proposition.)
What unique aspects of your service help you stand out against the competition? Work that into a solid pitch that you can recite with confidence at a moment’s notice.
2. Your Job-Hunting Toolkit
Many elements go into a good freelance job-hunting toolkit, including:
- Your resume: You want to have an updated, concise, and impressive resume ready at all times.
- Your cover letter template: Create a cover letter template that highlights your best attributes and can help you apply to jobs more quickly.
- Your portfolio: The kind of work that you do will dictate what your portfolio looks like, but regardless of the specifics, it’s important to have an area to showcase your past work.
- Your website: A personal website gives you a place to host your portfolio, create a contact form, and let potential clients get to know you a bit.
- Your references: Consider past coworkers, bosses, professors, and anyone else that you can use as personal and professional references.
- Your social media profiles: Use LinkedIn to post your resume and build your network, Instagram to promote your portfolio, Facebook to hobnob with potential clients, and so on depending on your field and industry.
You want to have all of these factors pulled together before you start interacting with potential clients.
3. The Logistics
Finally, consider the other logistics required to run your freelance business. For instance, do you have tools and applications to help you stay organized, like scheduling, note-taking, and workflow apps?
Also, consider how you’ll handle your finances. You’re going to want to have a business bank account that is separate from your personal finances. You’ll also want to have a way to track work that you’ve completed, invoice customers, and accept payments.
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There are plenty of options out there for each of these activities. The important thing is that you choose one and get it set up early on in the process.
Be Willing to Start Small
Once you’re set up, it’s time to start the client hunt. The first few clients are often the most difficult to find. However, there are quite a few different areas that you can tap to get that freelance client train rolling.
Try Family and Friends
You don’t want to depend on them for long, but asking family and friends to help you find your first few jobs is often a great option. Even if they don’t have work for you, they may know someone who does.
Work Your Network
Let past employers, coworkers, and other professionals in your network know that you’re freelancing. Don’t be too pushy about it, but make sure that they’re well aware that you’re open for business and looking for work.
Check Out Freelance Sites
If you find that those first few clients aren’t materializing as fast as you might have hoped, you can try using sites like Upwork and Fiverr to land a few starter jobs. There are often additional sites that cater to freelancers in your particular field. For instance, a portion of Problogger.com is designed to help freelance writers find work.
Remember, at this stage, you’re just trying to get some momentum. You won’t get paid right away and often the pay will be less than you might have hoped for. However, in exchange for the lower rates, you’ll be getting valuable experience, building your freelance network, and adding recent, real-world work to your portfolio.
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Build Your Base
Once you’ve gotten your first few clients, you want to consider how you can build on your initial success. Ideally, you should start to do this before you lose your first round of work. You can begin to build in a few different ways:
Your first option is to raise rates with your current clients. Once you’ve had a chance to prove your worth, consider if there is any room to boost your pay without having to find new clients. Make sure to do this in a respectful manner that considers your client’s costs as well.
Ask for Referrals
If you find that it’s time to get a higher-paying client, you can begin to ask for referrals from your current customers. This can be a direct recommendation for someone to use your services. It can also be in the form of testimonials that can help you attract clients and get work at higher rates in the future.
Perfect Your Personal Brand
You may not work for a corporate brand. However, you still want to consider your personal brand. This is a professional persona that showcases your strengths, accomplishments, unique qualities, ethics, and values. A strong personal brand can help you build awareness in your freelancing field or industry.
Play the Long Game
As you build on your initial success, you should begin to establish some larger, self-sustaining momentum. As you develop a sustainable freelancing rhythm, you can begin to consider the long-term aspects of your freelancing career.
Make Plans and Set Expectations
Once you’re comfortable with the logistical, administrative, and networking aspects of freelancing, you can begin to develop a larger plan. Set expectations and goals for your freelancing future and develop strategies to help you achieve them.
Cultivate Your Network
Your network can be a critical lifeline for your freelance workflow. As you grow your business, look for valuable members to add to your network, including:
- Past, present, and potential clients.
- Fellow freelancers and professionals in your field.
- Industry titans and thought leaders.
Building your network is an activity that should never go away. The stronger your network is, the more stable your long-term freelancing work will be.
Create a Client Retention Strategy
Finally, as you find clients with higher pay and more meaningful or consistent work, you want to come up with strategies to retain them. If you can retain multiple long-term clients, you’ll be able to create a unique sense of professional stability that you can’t even find in a full-time job.
Getting Your Freelance Career Started
Freelancing is exciting, full of potential, and utterly scary — at least at the beginning. However, if you take the time to set the stage and start small, you can begin to build a solid infrastructure for your freelance endeavors.
Once that’s done, you’ll be able to build on your early success and establish long-term goals and strategies to work toward, all in the name of a successful, freelance-driven professional future.