Wondering how you jump from W2 work into 1099 work that is steady enough to support yourself? I’ve been there, and it’s why I’ve put together this quick guide to freelancing for beginners.
I started my freelancing career as a side hustle. I built my business in my off hours to make sure that I had an adequate income to take care of myself before quitting my traditional job and taking the leap to full-time freelancer. Here’s how you can pursue a similar path as a newbie.
5 Keys to Freelancing for Beginners
In order to build your business, you’ll have to understand pricing, pitching, and niches. Here’s what you need to know about freelancing for beginners.
1. Don’t Niche Down, But Do Get Picky
If you’re reading up on freelancing for beginners, you’ve inevitably come across the cardinal piece of advice: Niche down.
This piece of advice is so common for a reason. Niching down allows you to establish yourself as an expert in one area, making you a better ‘match’ for specific clients. If you are considered a niche topic expert, you may be able to demand a higher price for those clients seeking your services.
However, it’s always good to have a little diversification in the equation, whether we’re talking about income streams, investments, or freelancing clientele. For example, I work as a writer, designer, and web designer. I work primarily in the personal finance world — that is my niche.
But I also work in the adventure/lifestyle niche. By keeping my options open, I have been able to keep my business running even through what would have otherwise been rocky times.
2. Define Your Services and Rates
When you start freelancing, it can be tempting to accept every work invitation that shows up in your inbox. But doing so can actually diminish your product.
You need to know which services you provide and which you don’t. Identify those things you do best, as they’re the things you’ll be able to charge the most for. When you excel at the services you offer, your clients are more likely to return and recommend you to others.
You also need to know what you charge. When many freelancers start out, they’ll accept any pay whatsoever. But charging less than what you’re worth hurts you and everyone else in your field. You’re missing out on profit and devaluing the work provided by your colleagues, making it harder for everyone to charge a fair rate.
You’re not going to get top dollar before establishing your name. But you can establish a base, the respectable rate you won’t dip below. Sometimes, it’s even helpful to provide some rate flexibility for sustained contract work or positions that will help you build your reputation — at least early on.
3. Build a Portfolio
When you first start freelancing, you will need to build a portfolio. Some of this you can do on your own. You could build a basic website and a LinkedIn account, for example. But these profiles won’t give you credibility in and of themselves; you’ll also need connections, references, and work examples.
Some freelancers may offer their services for free or at a reduced price for their first couple of jobs as they build their portfolio. This gives them references and work examples to show potential future clients. Without those initial work examples, it may be more difficult to secure new clients.
Don’t make working for free or a reduced price a regular habit — beyond devaluing the work, working at slashed rates long-term makes it difficult to run a profitable business.
But you need to start somewhere. If you’re pitching clients in order to build your portfolio, the exposure may actually help your brand when you’re just starting out. Know that long-term, ‘exposure’ won’t pay your bills. Beyond building your portfolio from scratch, you should rarely if ever accept exposure as payment.
4. Pitch and Pitch and Pitch
When you’re a freelancer, you’re a one-person show. You’re the marketing team, salesforce, and service provider all in one. A decent part of your job is going to be securing new clients. And you do that through pitching.
The more pitches you send, the more ‘no’s’ you will hear. But each ‘no’ gets you closer to the next ‘yes.’ While it’s true that a well-crafted pitch is often the difference between securing an assignment or not, it’s also partially a numbers game.
When you’re pitching a lot of project ideas or proposals, it’s important to stay organized. You can create a pitch template that will allow you to craft a higher number of pitches over a shorter period of time. You can also set up a spreadsheet with:
- Your pitch ideas.
- Where each pitch has already been submitted.
- Where you’d like to submit each pitch in the future.
By staying organized, you can reach more potential clients and ensure your best ideas are getting as many eyeballs on them as possible.
5. Communication is Key to Retention
Getting a new client is great. But keeping a good client is better.
You can set yourself up for good client relationships by communicating clear expectations upfront. Then, consistently outperform those expectations.
Of course, there will be times we all fall short of set expectations. It’s part of being human. When those situations arise where you cannot hit the deadline or deliver everything initially promised, be sure to communicate those hurdles clearly and honestly as soon as possible.
Bonus Insider Tip for Freelancing for Beginners
One of the hardest freelance pills to swallow is that freelancing sites for beginners like Fivver and Upwork will rarely let you scale your business. Major job boards like these have potential clients dangle carrots on a stick and watch freelancers fight for it.
Not my cup of tea.
While they may be a good starting place for some to build a portfolio, they are not a long-term solution.
Leverage Your Network
Instead, I suggest you leverage your current network. This has led to far more consistent gigs that pay well for me. Leveraging your network could look like:
- Asking for recommendation quotes for your portfolio.
- Offering to guest post on sites.
- Inquiring about possible job leads.
- Requesting to post on Facebook groups offering your services.
- Setting up an Instagram Live with a relevant creator in your niche.
Building a Freelance Business as a Beginner
It is possible to build a freelancing business that can replace your 9-5. It’s wise to build the business while you’re still working your day job, as the early days of any business can be financially tumultuous. But if you’re self-motivated, dedicated to good communication, work well with others and know how to price your services, it’s a goal that’s within reach.