How To Become A Freelancer: Everything You Need To Get Started

Derek Abram
CEO of Prio
8 min read

Globally, a lot of businesses seem to be shifting suddenly from hiring full-time employees to hiring freelancers, especially for jobs like content creation, digital marketing, and graphic design. 

So if you think you’ve had enough of your regular 9-5 job and have the skills to strike out on your own, this may be the best time to launch your freelancing career.

However, if you think becoming a freelancer means you get to put your feet up and watch the money roll in, you’ve got another thing coming. Even though you may not need to punch in time cards every day or have someone cracking a whip at your back all the time, you will still need to work as hard, if not harder, as you did when you were employed. 

Here’s a helpful guide to teach you how to become a freelancer, so you have an idea of what to expect when you start off on your freelancing journey.

What is freelancing?

Before we get into the details of how to start freelancing, let’s begin by understanding what the meaning of freelancing is.

Simply put, you are a freelancer when you offer your services to an organization as an individual contributor and not as a full-time employee. This means you get to decide how much work you want to take on, and you can even choose to work with multiple clients simultaneously.

However, this also means you will not be eligible for any of the benefits a W-2 employee would enjoy. You will need to be responsible for paying your own taxes and will not be eligible for health insurance coverage, holiday bonuses, or retirement benefits.

The way freelancing works is that you offer your services to your clients either at a fixed price per project, an hourly rate, or in some cases, a daily rate, based on the type of work. The amount of money you make at the end of the month is directly proportional to the amount of work you can complete.

Ideally, you, the freelancer, would need to reach out to potential clients for work, and once they show interest, haggle with them over what you will be paid. 

Then, you work on the agreed-upon project, get paid by your clients, and pay your taxes once every quarter.

Benefits of freelancing

Let’s look at some of the benefits of pursuing a freelance career.

You make your own rules

As a freelancer, you get to choose how many hours a day you want to work, how many projects you want to take on, and with whom you want to work. Simply put, you are your own boss.

You get to learn a lot

Working as a freelancer gives you the opportunity to work with multiple clients, often from varied business verticals. The kind of exposure to different markets and the potential to upskill yourself is unparalleled when compared to any other kind of employment. 

There are opportunities abound

Every day, there are thousands of freelance opportunities posted on freelancing tools like Fiverr and Upwork. This means that while there is stiff competition, there is also plenty of work to go around.

You are not obligated

Unlike with full-time jobs, you do not need to put up with unreasonable clients or toxic work environments. If you’re unhappy about the way you’re being treated, you can always leave and look for new clients. 

The unavoidable downsides

As with everything, there are some unavoidable drawbacks to working as a freelancer as well.

Landing that first job can take time

Chances are, you will not land your first freelance job as soon as you quit your job. You will need to connect with multiple people, make multiple pitches, and face rejection repeatedly before you have a dependable set of clients and some level of consistency in terms of work volumes. 

Expect it to take anywhere from three months to a year before your career as a freelancer stabilizes.

There will be lean periods

While there may be days when you find yourself turning down multiple projects because you already have too much on your plate, there may also be times when you have no work at all. 

This is why it is important for you to build a strong list of repeat customers, and to be prudent about the way you spend your money.

You will need to push yourself

Not having the rigid discipline and structure of a full-time job can often translate to lethargy and give way to distractions easily. If you go down that road, you are liable to find yourself out of work pretty quickly.

It is important for you as a freelancer to push yourself constantly to remain focused. This means working on your time management skills, setting a daily schedule for yourself, and sticking to it.

It also means pushing yourself to work longer than you anticipated when required. Remember, your freelance earnings are directly related to the amount of effort you put in. 

How to become a freelancer

Let’s now look at some essential tips on how to freelance successfully. 

1. Understand your area of expertise

Before you go about pitching for freelance jobs, you will first need to understand what it is that you can offer your clients. Choose how you will apply those skills to provide your clients with solutions.

Here are some things you ought to consider while understanding your area of expertise.

  • Which of your skills do you want to offer as a freelancer?
  • Which problems can you use those skills to solve?
  • Who are your potential clients who have those problems? What industries do they belong to?

Once you know the answer to these questions, it becomes easier for you to present your skills as a specialized service. 

2. Build a portfolio

The first thing anyone will want to see before they hire you is proof of the pudding. 

So before you actually put your services on the market, spend the time building a profile that talks briefly about your educational background, work experience, and the skills you bring to the table that make you the best at what you do.

However, keep in mind that just claiming to be able to do something is very different from actually delivering the goods. Your profile should be accompanied by a portfolio that showcases samples of your work. 

That way, your clients know what to expect when they hire you to do a job. 

If you’re a novice, it may help to do some work pro bono for people you know personally, so you gain both the experience and precious content to populate your portfolio with. 

3. Join freelance platforms

While word of mouth and referrals are a great way to get work, freelance platforms, such as Fiverr, Upwork, and Hiremotely, are the best way to connect with a larger number of clients and ensure consistent volumes of work.

Not only do these platforms help connect freelancers with potential clients, they also offer both parties a certain amount of protection by regulating the way transactions are carried out.

However, a little bit of research ought to be done before you sign up on these platforms. For one, you will want to find sites that cater to your skill sets and to the industries you want to work with. 

Then, you will need to make sure that the clients on these sites are actually going to pay you what your work is worth and not shortchange you. A lot of sites have resources that work for really low rates, and it shows in the quality of the output. 

Keep in mind that a lot of these sites charge anywhere between 5% to 20% of your earnings as a facilitation fee. While it may seem steep, you can at least rest easy knowing that your payment is guaranteed.

4. Build an online presence

Considering the fact that as many as 97% of all people look online when they need to find freelance resources, having an active online presence is important for you to be a successful freelancer.

A strong online presence gives you visibility and helps establish your reputation in professional circles. This translates into more work and more earnings for you. 

There are multiple things you will need to do to build that presence, though.

  • Create professional profiles for different social media platforms.

  • Join online communities and forums for freelancers offering similar services as yourself.

  • Be sure to showcase your work and keep the chatter alive on these online platforms.

  • Building a professional website for yourself and making blog posts about your industry is a great idea.

  • Tagging your clients on social media posts related to the work you’re doing for them is a great way for you to showcase your work, and give your clients some free publicity. Be sure to ask their permission before you do, though. 

  • LinkedIn is a great platform for you to talk about your work, connect with like-minded freelancers and find freelance opportunities as well. 

5. Networking is of utmost importance

Networking is essential for freelancers to stay connected with their peers and with potential employers. 

An easy way to start networking is to carry your visiting cards wherever you go and give them to people you’re meeting for the first time. Actively participating in and contributing to online forums for similarly skilled freelancers is another great way to network.

However, the use of professional networking sites like LinkedIn is definitely among the most effective ways for freelancers to network. 

By constantly updating your profile and posting about your current projects, you get noticed by peers and potential clients alike. 

Other platforms with reputations for helping freelancers network and land great assignments include Quora, Twitter, and Meetup. 

6. Tips to land that first job

Finding that first project to work on can be the biggest challenge for a freelancer, but have faith that once you cross that threshold, things will get easier. 

Here are some handy tips to help you get started.

  • Always start small. While taking up your first project, choose to take on as much as you can do comfortably while ensuring your work is of the highest standards. You do not want to take on more than you can chew and then not be able to deliver.

  • Be sure to add a cover letter that explains why your skills and experience make you the ideal person for the job.

  • Always remember that if the quality of your work is consistently good and if you build a good rapport with your clients, the chances of you getting repeat business and referrals are higher. 

7. Ask for referrals

One of the most effective ways for a freelancer to work consistently is to have a pipeline of hot or warm leads at all points in time. And asking for referrals is an effective way to achieve that.

When you agree to do work for a client, the process is going to involve you communicating with them. That is an opportunity for you to build a rapport with them. 

And once the project is done, if you’ve done everything they wanted and delivered everything to their satisfaction, they will be more than happy to refer your services to their peers. 

Prio can help make freelancing easier

Prio has two amazing tools aimed specifically at making life easier for freelancers.

One of the most repetitive and mundane tasks for a freelancer is to make invoices when they complete a project in order to get paid. Prio’s free invoice generator allows you to create invoices in three easy steps.

Prio’s time card calculator is another easy-to-use tool that takes into account your hourly rates, your break timings, and the number of hours you spend on a project to generate a detailed, downloadable timesheet in either PDF or .csv formats. 

That way, if you’re putting in more hours than the pay justifies, you can always renegotiate terms with your clients!

Are you ready to be a freelancer?

The thought of working by yourself as a freelancer can be invigorating, what with the promise of freedom and complete control over the course of your life. 

However, being a freelancer isn’t as easy as it may sound.

  • You will discipline to work even when no one forces you to.
  • You will need consistency to win over repeat customers and new clients.
  • You will need the patience to start landing projects.
  • You will need to learn to be independent, considering paying taxes, your health insurance, and controlling your income are all your responsibilities.

If you managed to tick off all of those boxes, then maybe it is time for you to set off on your freelancing career.

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