This is the freelancer’s guide for beginners. What makes it authentic? Well, I struggled for years, researched the business and is now making money as a freelancer.
The massive invasion of the internet in every corner of the globe has made freelancing very popular. Working as a freelancer has never been easier there are millions of freelance online jobs. Freelancing has become a popular and preferred way to work.
Interestingly, over the past few years, it has become one of the fastest-growing job markets globally. I became a part of that movement over two years ago and has been earning a steady income since.
Doing freelancer online jobs are becoming a fast and affordable way to start earning an income from home. Especially if you freelance a skill you already have, you can get started offering your services today.
The Freelancer’s Guide: Who is a Freelancer?
Freelancing is an age-old job and has been around for years. Working as a freelancer is a stepping stone to operating your own business and also a viable career. For the uninformed and uncommitted, there can be a lot of hurdles to overcome on the way to starting and owning a successful freelancing career.
A freelancer is a person who offers his/her services to employers on a contractual basis. They often charge by the hour, day or job and are essentially one-person businesses.
The business conditions for freelance differ globally the requirements for operating such a business varies in each jurisdiction. One of the main prerequisites to becoming a freelancer is a high level of skill in your field.
Once you are out on your own there is no longer the shelter of a steady income or an employee to correct your mistakes or cover your faults. Freelancers are typically very well rounded in their skills as they need to operate as a one-person team.
Freelancing is a dream job for some people while it is an escape from the monotonous 9-5 for others. Even better it is freedom for some who get to work off their own time and don’t have to report to anyone but themselves.
You’re now taking a big step from being on someone’s payroll to being responsible for your own salary. There is groundwork to be done.
- Doing your research
- Drawing up contracts
- Setting up work-space
- Marketing and advertising
- Looking for work;
and all this work is before you get your first job.
I know, freelancing is very liberating and allows you to live your dream, spend time with your family and be creative. However, it is difficult and often scary. It’s definitely NOT easy! But a good start can make the journey smooth. Here is a simple guide to start your freelance career in the right way and make it work for you.
1. Do Your Research
You have to take this job seriously. You might even to work twice as hard as you use to at your 9-5, just to break into the market. You are now an entrepreneur.
Do your research to know what you are getting into and all that is required of you. Find out how much it will cost to set up the business. You will need a website so you have to consider buying a domain name and web hosting. It is also advisable to seek legal advice just in case you might need it.
2. Draft Your Freelance Business Plan
If your goal is to succeed as a freelancer then you need to start by doing your business plan as with all business you have to prepare a business plan. It’s cliché I know, but it’s very true. It’s going to take a lot of time, so the sooner you can get started, the sooner you’ll get established and on the road to success.
Understand now that you’re going to struggle at first, that’s inevitable, but you have to start somewhere.
At this point, you’re going to have many fears and questions. That’s expected. Lucky for you there are many people willing to help. If you have any questions, leave a comment on this post. I’ll personally try my best to answer your questions, settle your fears, or at least point you in the right direction.
- Creating your freelance business plan
Start planning for success at the beginning, chart the path you would like to take to becoming a successful freelancer.
Some key points to consider:
- Decide what you will specialize in and what other jobs you will do.
- How will you market your business and find clients?
- How much will you charge per hour?
- How much will you need to earn each month?
- What type of business expenses will you have?
By investing the small amount of time to do this you’ll have a much better idea of what goals you should be shooting for.
- Calculate your freelance hourly rate
Figuring out your hourly rate is fundamental to building the foundation of your freelance business. Not every freelancer charges by the hour, but having one in mind will help tremendously when it comes to estimating client projects.
Do your research and see what is the “going rate” in the market. As a new person on the market, you might have to tailor your rate so that you can get a few jobs to gain the experience and build your portfolio. So clients also pay according to the region you work from and your specialized skills. Just test the waters and see what works best.
When I started freelancing I was charging $15-25 an hour. After my first few jobs and I had my favourable recommendations I was able to increase my rate because I was now in a better position to negotiate. Basically, your hourly rate will come down to your financial goals and what you feel comfortable being paid.
3. Brand Yourself
One of the first things you will need to do as a freelancer is to decide on a brand for yourself. Decide whether you are going to use your name or get a company name. If you decide on a company name make it professional.
When you set up your website make sure you get a domain name that is:
1. Easy to remember.
2. Easy to spell.
3. Clear as to what you do
Your website should:
- Have a clear and concise introduction
- Your skills and services
- Examples of your previous work
- Contact details
Get started in setting up your website now.
4. Search for Work
The key to getting started as a freelancer is to have work. But where do you find your first jobs and indeed your later jobs too? And what do you put in your portfolio if everything you’ve ever done belongs to your old employers?
Getting your first job is usually one of the hardest tasks. Here are some websites you can register with to find jobs:
Another good starting point for work places that you have worked and companies of your friends and family. This will build your confidence and your portfolio.
You have to understand that it is very difficult for clients to hire you on your words alone. You just have to be patient and don’t lose hope. You might even have to offer to do some volunteer work to get a foot in the door.
5. Identifying Potential Clients
Before you start applying for jobs prepare a generalized freelance contract and invoice because you will need these to start and end every project.
Dealing with clients is one of those things that takes a lot of time and sometimes it does not work outright. So to avoid a lot of errors and misunderstanding write down everything you want to know from the client. Have this plus your business documents ready to go before reaching out to clients.
- Compile a list of potential clients
Aside from telling your family, friends, and other influential people in your life compile a list of about 15 potential clients you’d like to work with. It can be a local business that you think could benefit from your services, an organization that needs a new website, or even a design firm across the country that might have some run-off work they could pass onto you.
Focus on compiling this list of names and emails (and/or phone numbers). You’ll be using this list to reach out, introduce yourself, and to inquire about freelance work.
6. Find your First Client
Just want to reinforce, finding that first client will potentially be the biggest challenge of your early freelance career.
It is very difficult when you are new in the business because you don’t have any previous work to show to convince potential clients to hire you for their project.
If you are going to do cold canvassing you can start with 5–10 potential clients from your list. Contact them by email or phone, be sure you contact someone within the management of the company. Make sure you design unique emails/message especially for the company you are contacting.
Start by introducing yourself. then, hard sell what you have to offer; look at their online presence, look at their brand, and find where they are lacking. Then inform them of your services, what you can do specifically for them, and how it’ll help them make more money.
If you are going through the online freelance websites carefully read through the job requirements and identify about 10 possible clients and submit your bid.
- Promote your availability on social media
Use your social media accounts to promote your freelance business and availability. Shoot out a tweet and post on Facebook.
- Create content for your website
Blogging is one of the best and most proven methods of generating traffic for your website. Start writing relevant and informative articles and post on your website and share them also on social media.
Even if you’re not a writer, consider giving this a try. At the very least write/blog about your work process and past jobs and interests. Give it a try – you have nothing to lose.
If work remains slow, continue to reach out to potential clients every week and promote your availability/work on social media.
Again consistency is key. If you stick with it and continue to put out some sort of content you’ll start to see results. Then it’s those results that you can use to fuel your content creating and marketing strategy.
Experiment with different methods of marketing, track your results along the way and stick to what works best for you.
7. Giving Quotes/Estimates
Once you have a job or a prospective job, you will need to provide an estimate or quote for the job. Quotes on each job will differ some clients will give you a fixed amount they can afford to pay while others ask you to price the job.
Most clients prefer quotes as estimates have a tendency of becoming more expensive by the end and hardly ever the other way around. Still, estimates can work if you have a good reputation either generally or with that client specifically.
From time to time a project will blow out its schedule. This happens for one of two reasons;
1. You underestimated how much work was involved
Unfortunately, freelancing is not easy, so nine times out of ten you just have to swallow and bear the cost for your mistake. If you have made it clear to your client for one reason or another at the beginning that you are unsure, then they may accept to pay further fees however generally speaking if you aren’t competent enough yet to price your services, you are the one that deserves to carry the cost.
2. The client has intercommunicated what the project entailed
Clients do this for many reasons – they might not understand what’s involved, might not know what you need to know, might be too busy or might just have gotten overexcited and started adding to the job midway. Whatever the reason, it is your job to pull them up.
It is here that an itemized quote will help you out. You can point to exactly what was quoted for. If there is something you are doing which is not in there, it is your right to ask to charge for that additional service.
When sending your initial quote it can be a good idea to send your terms of service along with it. “Terms of Service” or “Terms and Conditions” are simply a set of terms that you set for the agreement. Generally speaking, they work to protect you and your client from transactions that go wrong. They might include things like
1. How long the client has to pay your final invoice – also called your Payment Terms
2. How you deal with rebilling extra costs
3. Deposits you take
4. Copyright for the work you do
5. Ownership before and after payment
6. Your rights and responsibilities and their rights and responsibilities
Taking the time to make sure you have a set of terms that protect you and your client is important. When both you and your client have agreed on them it means you have a firm footing to work from. As a freelancer, you will sometimes be asked to sign a contract or terms from your client as well, make sure you read them carefully as they often will have clauses to specify that they supersede your own terms.
8. How much is Your Cost?
This is a sensitive and always a tricky part of the business trying to decide on what to charge. You don’t want to be too high nor too low. You have to find a middle ground and stick to it.
Most freelancers work with an hourly rate. They will then either lease themselves out at that rate, or they will use that hourly rate to determine the price of a job by estimating how many hours it involves.
Finding your hourly rate involves the following considerations:
1. What is the average charge? find out what most freelancers are charging and find an average charge for yourself.
2. What is the cost of your monthly expenses to maintain the business? One way of determining your hourly rate is to work out how much it will cost to run the business and take care of your expenses.
Another important consideration to take into account is that the hours you charge for making up a part of the hours you work you also need to consider the time you are sick, the time you have taken for holidays and everyone’s favourite time when you just plain don’t have any work to do. For these reasons, your hourly rate should generally be higher than you would first guess when you are starting out.
On the other hand, there are benefits to undercharging, particularly at the beginning of your career. Namely, a low rate gets you to work, repeat work and most importantly referral work. Since jobs are the lifeblood of your freelancing business, this value cannot be underestimated. If you are doing good work at a low cost, word will get around.
Of course, in the beginning, you will have to work very hard to make ends meet, but what you can do is raise your prices just a little with each successive wave of clients. Eventually, you should find yourself in a position with lots of work and a reasonable rate.
In my own experience from the time that I first began freelancing until I stopped, my hourly rate multiplied by a factor of 6 – going from very cheap to now fairly expensive.
9. Getting Paid
Unfortunately, during your freelance career, you are going to meet a client who either refuses to pay, tries to reduce their payment or delays payment for as long as humanly possible. These clients can cause significant problems for a small freelance business, particularly if their job makes up a large portion of your billable work during a specific period.
- When a client takes longer to pay
If a client delays their payment outside your terms, it is your responsibility to begin reminding them and reminding them constantly. Remember the only people who should be embarrassed by this are the people who haven’t paid, so if you feel a sense of shame about constantly calling or writing about money, swallow it and forget about it.
- If the client tries to reduce payment
Whenever the client tries to dispute the quality of the job or the delivery you know there is a problem. He/she is seeking a way to pay less than the invoiced amount. That is why it is so important to have a clear and itemized quote. If the client had made a deposit payment it is usually an indication that the client had agreed to the quote.
Try your best to work the issue out sometimes it means you might have to stand the loss.
- Clients who refuse to pay outright or avoids you
When your situation goes from very late payment or a dispute over payment into a refusal to pay, it is time to seek legal counsel. Every situation is a little different and laws in different countries vary on how this plays out.
Generally speaking, you should always have a lawyer that you have some contact with so that in a situation you can call on their services.
10. Recognizing Trouble Clients
Not all clients are the same, and with experience, you will find you become adept at recognizing clients who may be troublesome later on down the track. Here are a few potential tell-tale signs – remember these are not hard and fast rules, however:
- Clients who say they just had a very bad experience with the last writer/developer/designer.
Sometimes they really have had a bad contractor, however, sometimes they were the problem themselves.
Listen well and read between the lines and always follow your gut instinct. If it does not feel right don’t go with it. In business trouble, clients will often have problems with other suppliers and contractors, and in many cases will even tell you this.
Paying attention to these and other warning signs may help you to protect yourself against trouble in the future. Though always remember every client is different and there are no hard and fast rules, so always give your client the benefit of the doubt if you are not completely sure.
2. Clients who don’t trust anyone.
Sometimes you will get clients who ask you to sign lots of legal documents, such as non-disclosure agreements; terms of supply agreements; contracts and so on. Generally speaking, these are not a bad idea with a lot of careful reading that is; however over time it has been my experience that clients who are worried about being ripped off tend to start thinking they are being ripped off.
It is almost as if they create a situation for themselves or find evidence. This is not to say that any client who asks you to sign something is a bad client, but rather to be wary of a client who seems very worried that you might take advantage of them.
3. Clients who ask a lot of questions about whether they will need to pay for things if they don’t like them.
This happens a lot in the design business, a client will say something like “What happens if I don’t like the logo designs you do, do I still need to pay for them?” This shows the client does not value your time, does not trust your service, and almost always means they will be hard to deal with.
11. You Have to Network
If you want to be a successful freelancer you have to learn to network. You make new connections at face to face events like social gatherings, business meetings, conferences and seminars. Then there are social media where you reach out to new friends.
12. Find Other Freelancers you can Trust
There will be times when with all good intentions you can’t take on a freelance project. You may be too busy, have an emergency or just too much work. However, you still want to keep your client and remain loyal.
In this case, it is always good to find another freelancer who does similar work who you can trust. In this way, you will ensure that your client’s job will be done effectively and the relationship will continue.
Another benefit to having one, two or more freelancers you know and trust, is that they too can pass projects they can’t work on your way too, spreading the benefit of your network to you all.
13. Grow Your Business
At this point, your freelance business should be up and running. These are the things that should be in place:
- You should understand your freelance business
- You should brand your business
- Your website should be up with your best work displayed
- You should be marketing your business
- You should be bidding for jobs
- And finally, you should be putting out high-quality jobs.
Growing from here is up to you – how much time, patience, and dedication you’re ready to pour into your business as a freelancer is up to you.
When I started freelancing I know very little about the industry but I did my research and stuck to the task. After a year of pure struggle, I started over. I came up with the steps in this article based on reading articles from other freelancers in the business. Now one year later and I am reaping the benefits. It is nothing luxurious, but I can pay my bills doing what I love, also with the help and support of my family.
If I can do it, Then I Know You can too.
As I said before it is going to take a lot of time and energy to build a successful business. So if you want to make your dreams a reality through freelancing then you have to start right now and follow these steps with your own twist– using them as a trail to create your own path.
Challenging yourself as a freelancer is one of the smartest moves you can make. Problem-solving skills are key to going into the freelance industry. If you are offered a job you should have the skill-set needed to accept a job a little more challenging than you think you’re capable of doing.
There’s a balance to be struck here, of course — if you feel you’re far under-qualified for a position, it’s probably best not to apply to it — but you’ll soon get a feel for when the naysaying voice in your head is correct and when it’s being too critical.
As a freelancer, you’re solely responsible for your own progression, and you never know how good you can truly be until you challenge yourself.
14. Last but not Least Invest in Good Equipment
As the old saying goes “a good workman never blames his tools” you don’t want to be crossing your fingers every time you save a document or waiting ten minutes for a file to download. To do a good job as a freelancer you need to have the right equipment, and you have to ensure they are in good working condition.
So service your equipment regularly and invest in new technology. Think about both hardware (a good computer, mobile and printer are basics for most freelance businesses) and any software needs (what online tools or apps will help make running your business easier?). The good news is that as a freelancer, you can offset the expenses against tax!