Freelancing: How to Start
Like a lot of people, I never anticipated having a full-time freelance career. When I started freelancing during college, I figured it was a good way to make extra cash on the side, and supplement the fact that I was already putting in a full 40 hour week with classes and homework.
It seemed like an easy “extra money” thing, not a “full time lifestyle” situation. But, now, I freelance from all over the world. It took me a while to get used to what freelancing is all about, how to get started, and how to become successful as a freelancer.
So, I wanted to write down some of my tips and tricks for people who are between jobs, looking to supplement their income, or determined to make freelancing a way of life.
Why Is Freelancing So Hard?
There are a lot of reasons that freelancing is difficult. One is that you spend a lot of time looking for work, especially in the early days of doing it.
Another thing that’s difficult is dealing with clients; if you’re used to having one boss, now you might feel like you have 10 or 15 bosses, which means juggling your time to meet their deadlines – and keeping a good sense of humor and optimism about things.
I personally believe one of the reasons freelancing is so hard is mental.
A lot of us were raised with the idea that we would go to school and then get a job. Not 12 jobs or 22 jobs or 200 jobs. One single job. That just doesn’t fit today’s reality.
A lot of our parents worked one job for a really long time, so the idea of suddenly having hundreds of jobs by the time you’re 30 probably seems mind boggling. Even if they’re in the same industry, I consider every new client a “new job,” as I have to spend the time to learn their needs and make sure to accommodate what they’re looking for.
Another hard thing about freelancing is hours. Though you’re technically setting your own hours, sometimes you may have overlapping client deadlines, and there isn’t a 9-5 “check out of the office at 5 PM” schedule in place.
Another difficulty, if you’re in the US, can be benefits. You’re no longer just trying to hit a certain amount of money before taxes – you also need to take into consideration your health care or retirement needs, and plan for that.
And it’s not easy. I would never presume to say it is!
But for those of you looking to get started, here’s what I’ve learned over the years.
How to Start Freelancing
Figure Out What You Do
What are you good at? Are you going to freelance in one area, or more than one? If you’re taking on more than one area of freelancing, are your two skills compatible?
In my early days of freelancing, when I was doing transcription for TV studios, I had to work in their offices. Even though I wasn’t nearly working full-time, and I could decide when to come in, if another job came in, I had to either leave the office or not take the second job. So, making sure there’s compatibility in what you do can help.
I read scripts and books and do analysis for studios and filmmakers. I also blog (compatible), write content (compatible), and am taking online classes. All of these are compatible with each other. When I have client deadlines, I work on those. When I have free time, I can blog or do something else.
If you’re in a space with freelancing where you’re still not sure how to start, finding what you can do is helpful. It might not be something you’ve monetized before. A lot of people sell things on etsy or other craft stores, do art commissions, build websites or use the hobbies they’ve never gotten paid for as their first freelance gigs.
My first freelance gigs in my current job were free. I didn’t realize I was doing paid work for free for a while, because I had the time and interest in helping people. But when I figured that out, I turned my side gig (reading scripts) into my main gig.
How Urgent Are Your Monetary Needs?
Would you be better off jumping into a freelance driving or transcription gig, where you could get hired right away, or are you looking more to supplement your current income?
Figuring that out may also help you figure out what job will be best for you.
How to Begin
Like any other job, freelance gigs often require some kind of proof of experience or resume.
For me, that usually means sending in a sample of screenplay analysis I’ve done in the past. For you, maybe it’s something you recently designed, or a portfolio of your work. If you’re doing rideshare driving, it seems like they mostly look for “people with driver’s licenses,” but I’m not sure what the other qualifications are.
Figure out what qualifications you think clients might be looking for, and build those, if you don’t have them already. My first clients as a reader were all word of mouth, because everyone knew I read scripts and gave good notes.
Once you have your portfolio together, reach out to your inner circle. Those are: friends, family, close social media followers. People you know who might either need your services or refer you to someone who does. Tell them about your new job (tell them you’re already doing it), and that you would love any connections if they know anyone who needs your services.
Let’s say no one you know has any connections for you.
The next step is to look online on job boards and gig boards. Don’t be afraid to cold-email a company you want to work for. Don’t spam anyone! Just send one email to a publicly available contact, letting them know what you do and that you’re available. I’ve had some success and gained clients this way.
Set Your Rates
You want to know what the standard rates are for what you do. Ask other people in your field, or search online and see if you can find rates from similar workers.
Don’t undersell yourself. You deserve to make a fair wage.
Get a Contract
Always put something in writing, letting people know what you’re doing and for how much. Charge them fairly, invoice on time, and make sure to follow up. I believe some invoicing systems do automated follow-ups for you, but I’m not sure – I always do my own, which is probably outdated of me.
Set Up a Bank Account
If you’re going to be your own business, make sure you have a bank account set up before you start working, if at all possible. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it can be online – whatever works for you.
Don’t give up if you don’t have 50 clients by the end of one month (I wouldn’t want that many in a month, anyway!). Work on your skills. Advertise your skills. Apply to gigs. Rinse, repeat.
Freelancing isn’t easy. It’s not a ticket to millions right off the bat. And it can take a toll on relationships. I can’t remember the last time I had a Friday night off, because I always work weekends, which also makes it hard for me to see friends who have regular weekday job schedules.
So, my last tip…
Make Time for Yourself
You will burn out fast if you overdo it. While the first year might require more hustle to just get off the ground, don’t destroy your passion for the work or your health in the process.
Even if you only have 10 minutes free each day, give yourself that freedom to walk, meditate, dance, sing, eat something good, nap – whatever makes you personally feel happiest. Remember that work isn’t everything. Many of us love to work (myself included), but a work and life balance is where you’ll likely find the most happiness. Don’t sacrifice that for your job. You deserve to be happy, too.
I’m guessing you probably didn’t anticipate a “Freelancing: How to Start” article to end on a reminder to be happy, but it’s really important. I don’t think I would have gotten as far as a freelancer if I didn’t have a good support system and didn’t like what I’m doing.
You can get there, too.
Keep your head up. Keep going. Do your best. I believe in you.
What are your tips and tricks for freelancers? Comment below!