How to Start Freelancing (Creating a Sustainable Business Out of the Skills You Have)

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There are two groups of people who want to learn how to start freelancing:

  • People who need urgent cash
  • People who want to build a business 

Earning a couple of hundred dollars is easy while freelancing.

But if you want to build a business that pays for your dream vacation to any country in the world, you need to approach this differently. 

What you are about to read can be the difference between getting paid well and those getting peanuts.

This post is long, but in the end, you should have all you need to start this journey. I include a template at the end for those who want to start immediately. 

This guide is also for those who have a full-time job and want to switch to freelancing. You don’t need to quit your job to begin. Spend 2- 3 weeks applying the tips mentioned here, and then launch your business. 

Table of Contents

How to start freelancing with no experience

Start with some experience. 

Yes, I didn’t make a mistake typing that. You need the experience to begin if you want to make good money.  

The question is, how can you have some experience in little time.

You need three things: 

  • Research 
  • Time
  • Ability to connect the dots

The same process applies if you don’t know what skills to sell or where to begin. You need those 3 things and that’s why we are here.

Are you ready? Let’s begin!

What is freelancing?

Freelancing involves doing the same work you do as a full-time employee of a company. But you are the boss and determine how you want to work.

You go to work and report to a boss in a traditional job. In freelancing, you find your clients and get paid based on an agreement between you and the client. 

In other words, you are the boss, and you have more control over what you charge the clients and what you can do for them. This is because you have assumed the responsibilities your boss used to take: finding clients, talking about how much you charge, and growing your business.

Why you should consider freelancing 

It offers you much flexibility. Without a boss, you handle the client’s project on your own. You build the business name and take responsibility for everything. If you have the skills and provide excellent services, freelancing will have a ripple effect.

  • Clients will refer you to other people. 
  • You are treated as a business owner, not as an employee of another company 
  • You can practically increase how much you earn
  • It allows you to explore other interests easily

The last point above is the best part—the flexibility to do what you enjoy while you have a source of income. For example, I offer SEO services to businesses to get more sales. On some days, instead of writing or working with clients, I am learning how to design or telling stories. In a normal job, it could be enough reason to get fired.

Businesses, especially small businesses and new startups, want to work with freelancers.

Businesses Plan to Continue Engaging Remote Freelancers: 71% of hiring managers plan to sustain or increase their use of freelancers in the next 6 months.

Strong Demand for Skilled Tech Freelancers:The largest increase in freelancer usage has been in the Web, Mobile, and Software Development category, with 80% of hiring managers stating they have increased their use of freelancers in the category since the onset of COVID.

Upwork

As a freelancer, you help other business owners cut costs in terms of contract jobs rather than hiring full-time. 

Many small businesses or even larger businesses might need a service for some hours in a day or for a short period. Hiring a graphic designer for a campaign is an example. It is better to hire someone for some hours in a day rather than hiring full-time.

Another example I have seen in my line work is when a bigger business needs a freelance SEO consultant. They usually hire someone for the first few years. Then, when the company has received tremendous growth from developing their online presence, they will cut ties with the professional. Most businesses do this and continue their SEO strategy in-house. 

In other words, you help small business owners cut costs of hiring you full-time. While working for a business owner, you can also work for another, depending on how big your freelancing business is. You determine your availability and the amount of work you want to take at a time. 

So, next question.

Is it good to start with a traditional role before freelancing?

This question is common among fresh graduates who want to know how to start freelancing. Here’s your answer:

You have many advantages if you have experience working in a traditional role at a company and want to transition to freelancing later. 

Your former company can serve as your proof of work. You can ask for recommendations and enhance your resume. It won’t be hard to figure out the other skills you need if you have worked in a similar but traditional role in a company.

Now, the next and most important question.

Is freelancing right for you?

As a freelance SEO writer, sometimes, when I have zero offers coming in and the bill is growing, I re-commit to my religious vows. It’s crazy. Sometimes, I count days. Once I finish my savings, it is back to square one. 

Some people aren’t cut out for that anxiety. In freelancing, it is common to have weeks of no jobs. You might have heard about the feast and famine thing. The reference is from the Bible (7 years of surplus and 7 years of starvation). But in freelancing, it is used to describe when you have jobs pouring in and when you don’t.

Unlike in the traditional role where your employer is obligated to pay you, freelancing is all about how you can consistently sell your service and how much you charge. If you can’t find a client for a long period, things can get difficult financially. You will find a list of ideas on dealing with this problem later in the article.

Every job or business is hard. But no matter how difficult it is, there is a business owner out there who is killing it. Learn from them.

What determines your success isn’t “What do you want to enjoy?” The question is, “What pain do you want to sustain?” The quality of your life is not determined by the quality of your positive experiences, but the quality of your negative experiences. And to get good at dealing with negative experiences is to get good at dealing with life.

Mark Manson

Common Struggles of Freelancing

These are the common struggles of freelancing. If you want the freedom and flexibility that comes with being one, you have to be ready for these things: 

  • Feast and famine
  • Lack of organization. You won’t have to work 9-5, but it also means your day doesn’t have a structure.
  • You don’t have anyone to complain to.  When something is not going on right, you don’t have a boss you can complain to, except your family or friends. 
  • You need to be disciplined. I would have put this in bold letters, but it won’t even do justice to how strong your level of discipline should be.
  • Getting paid well.
  • You need to stand out. 

Good, we have cleared the way with the common challenges you might face. And if you continue reading, it means you still want to consider it. Later, we will talk about managing all the challenges of freelancing. For now, let’s set things up:

How to start freelancing

As more professionals see the value of remote work and flexibility, 10 million Americans are considering becoming freelancers.

Upwork Chief Economist, Dr. Adam Ozimek

It’s obvious. You fall into this group, and you want to follow this path. The good thing is that you don’t need office space. You don’t even have to figure out everything. Once you set the process as best as you can, you can learn other things, such as growing your business and building trust with customers along the way. 

These are the steps you should take:

Understand why you want to do this kind of work

Some of us start freelancing as a side job, and then it becomes a full-time thing.

What is your “why?”

I do this work because I enjoy working alone most time. I love working with people that can influence me the way I want, and my environment matters a lot.

What about you?

This part might seem irrelevant to how to start freelancing, but it can renew your motivation when things get tough.

Package your skills

It is important to define what you do so clearly that if you tell a toddler, she will say I get it. 

I like the copywriting approach Ann Hadley described in her book, Everybody Writes. She wrote that you need to nail the process down until it is specific and philosophical.

Let’s use an example she used in the book.

So what do you do? 

I offer SEO services for businesses, website owners and startups. 

So what (is the value)? 

I help businesses with a form of marketing by creating engaging content on their website. 

So what? 

I help business owners increase the number of people who find their products or services by creating content around the things they care about, so your website shows up when they search for certain terms on the internet.

So what? 

I help businesses find the right buyers in this world. 

Now, it sounds like a spiritual journey or something that would interest a philosopher.

The answer before the last has more potential to capture a client’s interest. Therefore, it’s the one I will refine and work with.

Ann’s book is a great read for marketers and content writers. You can just pick this idea and apply it to any situation when talking to your buyers. They don’t care about your services until you convince them it is what they need.

Many people need this exercise because when they discuss what they do, they don’t sound convincing. In other words, they haven’t taken the time to learn how to start freelancing.

You need to know what your client will need and prepare for that. To do this effectively, you need to take another important step:  

Understand what you have to sell

  • What skills do you have? 
  • What skills do you need? 
  • What service will you outsource? 

Let’s use my SEO writing service as an example again. 

What do you do?

I help businesses increase sales by connecting them with people who need their products or services. 

What skills (Certifications or experience) do I have? 

  • Hubspot certification for SEO
  • Freelance writing experience on Upwork and Fiverr
  • Freelance writing experience with an SEO expert 
  • Starting my websites
  • A good understanding of both white hat and black hat SEO techniques

Your turn, what skills do you have? 

Write that down.

Do people need it? You can know if there is a market for your skills by:

  • Searching for the skills online
  • Checking job boards like Indeed or LinkedIn to see if there are vacancies
  • Checking job marketplace like Upwork, Fiverr, Freelancer. Are there people selling the same services? 

Some skills pay more than others. Upwork said tech-related skills are more in demand than others, and they listed 30 skills that are in demand in 2019 – 2022. So you want to take your time and do your research before diving in. You can sell any skills once there is a demand, but the pay differs. 

What skills do you need?

I was checking the internet the other day, and one of the people I follow complained about how she lost her job. Then I realized one skill I need as an SEO specialist.

Business owners don’t care or know what you do. So you have to be specific to the point that what you do is so clear that a toddler will understand. 

I will increase your website traffic by 80%

So what?

If we increase the traffic of your website by 80%, your business can increase the number of people who are interested in your product from, say, 1000 people to 8000. 

So what?

It means you have the potential of increasing your sales by 80%. You can sell more products when you sleep. This increase in the number of people can happen online while you are not there. It is like setting up a machine that lets you earn more while cruising on a ship. 

So back to my question, what skills do I need? 

  • Copywriting skills: ability to sell a product through words
  • Proof that I can do it (because business owners aren’t dumb. They will ask you for evidence). 
  • Web design skills 
  • Design skills (In SEO, you have to create many types of content: videos, infographics, images.)

So, your turn, what skills do you need? After you have nailed down the skills you have, you need to know the other skills required to sell as a freelancer.

To know how to start freelancing, you need to prepare like a business owner. I would suggest you start with a business plan. But if you can’t, these questions should prepare you. You don’t want to leave a gap when clients ask you questions. 

Know the skills you need to outsource

This step is not for everyone. Some of your clients know what they are hiring for, and they are ready to hire someone else to do the other side of the job. For instance, If a company employs me for SEO, I develop the content strategy. Then, a web designer creates the website design so that our topic cluster will be effective. 

If you are a freelance writer, you might be hired to write a product description for a specific audience and design the image. Do you know the audience well enough to write in a way that convinces them? Do you know how to create images? 

The point is, when you start getting requests, you might want to learn additional skills.

Are you a web developer? You can create your website yourself. Can you create landing pages for your clients? Can you sell yourself like a copywriter? 

Sometimes, you don’t know what other skills you need. You learn as you move forward. I suggest you join a community as soon as you can. You will find people in your field who know more. Through the experience they share, you will find what you need to learn.

You can find your community on all or any social media channels. Check Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Instagram, Quora.

For starters, you don’t need to know all the skills to get started. Some clients will hire based on what you can do. But as you grow, you should add more value to your resume. 

There are tons of simple things you can start with if you are not sure of what skills or services to sell. This community on telegram provides freelance business ideas and how to execute them. Check it out.

Launch your business like a pro

Understand your terrain, the people you want to attract, your competitors, the things you need, the things you have.

Then launch. 

All the steps you have been taking are preparing you for this stage. They are important to how to start freelancing because you want to be well-prepared.

Every business has its own dynamics, and freelancing isn’t different. But things can get a lot easier when you understand what you have in your arsenal, your goal, and the things you have to conquer. It is why you need to start freelancing the right way. It saves you time. 

Now, you will launch your business, but we need to cover a few more things.

How to understand your competitors

Do keyword research?

  • Search for terms on the search engines
  • Select the first ten websites that show up when searching for terms related to your job. 
  • Collect each of them in a word doc.
  • Go through each of these websites one at a time.
  • What do they talk about? What do they do? 
  • These are websites and people talking about what you do. They are either your competitor or tools you should use. 

When I search for “SEO,” this is what I find

The first link is from a website that curates and publishes SEO news:

The next link is from Moz, an SEO tool:

The next is Neil Patel, one of the big guys in Search Engine Optimization, blogging, and marketing generally:

If I go around his website, I will find topics, videos, and guides that explain how to present my services in the niche of SEO. 

You turn

Type in your job terms, and see who shows up. Learn from your competitor.

What you want to learn here is to know what your competitors are doing and how to replicate the same while still maintaining some level of creativity. Check the websites of your competitor. Look how they describe what they do, what they include, and their experience. You might find tips, tricks, and interviews that might help, too.

Note: focus on short-tail keywords or just a word if possible.

It is unwise to do things independently, especially when you are a beginner. Learning how to start freelancing for beginners is an indirect way to say learn what works.

Check Social Media

  • If you do the previous exercise, you should now have a list of names. Those are people you should check out. Search or follow them.
  • Check Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. What profiles stick out? How do they present themselves?

 Use tools to understand your competitor

  • Do you have the names of competitors? Use tools to check what competitors are doing right. 

You can find a list of blogging tools in this article. 

Understand your buyers

People come to the internet to solve a problem. There is no other way around it. 

But, Hadeh, people come to the internet to have fun and play. 

No, they don’t. You won’t make money on the internet if you keep thinking that way. 

People come to the internet to solve a problem. If they are here to play, their problem is boredom. A person who watches porn is having a difficult time getting laid. If they are on the internet to talk and bants, it’s a passion for them, and they need an outlet. 

You have to create that outlet (the best in content and user experience) so that they can come to you. Then you learn to monetize their attention.

Sounds cool?

But first, you need to know whom you are attracting. Who is your target? This is an important step in how to start freelancing and we will answer it in the next section.

Answer these 7 questions to understand them

  • Who is your target? 
  • What age is he or she? 
  • What are the three commonest problems they face?
  • Where do they hang out on the internet? 
  • How does your product or service solve their problems differently? 
  • If they ask you, how are you different, what will you say? 
  • Describe a day in their life when they are facing that problem. 

Spend days/months studying them

  • Join an active community on Reddit. Look at the questions on quora and the answer that gets more Upvotes. 
  • Follow 10 profiles of your ideal clients. They will share posts about things they are using, people that help them, and their ideas. Those are things that will help you understand them. 
  • Follow 10 of your competitors. They will share how they are getting clients, their mistakes, the people they learn from, the tools they use, and their ideas. Those are things that will make you a better freelancer. 

Find profiles or websites to follow:

Check product reviews on the internet. Let’s say you are a creator. You want to create the next dating app. 

Search reviews or case studies about that product: dating apps. Who wrote them? Find their website or profile. They are examples of your potential buyers. What does their review say?

Create a doc file: 

  • Collect the data you find. You can use the Pocket App to save articles. Use Evernote to collect snippets or anecdotes. Bookmark topics or threads on Reddit or Twitter.
  • Collect it every day. Go through it and connect the dots. 

Study and utilize:

In some months, you will understand your buyers more than they understand themselves. Use the information you find to present your product or service better. 

Often, getting paid isn’t about what skills you have; it is how you present those skills. It is how you sell it and it starts with knowing your customer a little too deep. 

That’s why you are reading how to start freelancing so that you don’t jump on the wrong foot. 

Launch 

It’s time to launch your business, and you should be prepared for what to expect. You should take the time to create an appealing profile. When your potential reads about you, let them know you understand their problems and have the capacity to solve them. Let them feel it will be so wrong not to work with you. How do you do that? 

Write a cover letter for your ideal client:

Don’t forget these important questions: 

  • What are the three common problems they face?
  • How does your product or service solve their problems differently? If they ask you, how are you different, what will you say? 
  • Describe a day in their life when they are facing that problem

You will need this every time you have an interview or reach out to buyers. It doesn’t mean you are sending this same letter to all of them. It makes it easy when you are ready to pitch your business to buyers. 

You will need to rewrite it from time to time, so it doesn’t look boring.

Here is an example of a cover letter you should check:

Look at the second paragraph. What do you notice? Look at how this person sells himself as a project manager without saying too much. 

Tip: Think like your clients. If you are in their shoes, will they hire you? 

Package your resume 

We have talked about the skills you have and the ones you need. First, write a resume that shows those strengths. Then, highlight the essential thing that solves your buyer’s problem. 

Show proof of work.

When buyers ask for proof of work, what will you show them? 

  • Recommendations from other buyers
  • Something you have built in the past
  • Case studies of how your service helps
  • Your website 

Okay, Hades, I don’t have all of this. I am new. Do I need a website? 

You will eventually need a website if you treat this as it should be. But you can start with your social media accounts and free publications like Medium.com

Create a profile on freelancing platforms 

I suggest doing your research on what to expect on each freelancing platform. Check Reddit and Quora. People share their experiences on those platforms. Use it. 

 List of places you should create a profile:

  • Upwork
  • Fiverr
  • Toptal 
  • LinkedIn
  • Indeed.com

Create social media profiles:

  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter 
  • Instagram 

You will be too busy to use all of them at some point. My suggestion is to use at least three for a start. Once you start getting clients and are engaged, evaluate which profiles work for you and use that one. 

I wrote an article about online marketing, where I said you should understand each channel before using them. So you should read articles about a platform works and learn how to position yourself effectively.

Other ways to find clients: 

  • Find potential clients on social media and send them a cold email that appeals to their interest. 
  • Tell your families and friends about your new business
  • Network. Go to meetings and introduce yourself when you attend important functions. 
  • Ask for referrals.
  • Offer to work for free (if you can do it), then use the project to attract more clients. 

Manage your time and be disciplined

At first, you won’t make much money. Use this period to focus on:

  • Marketing 
  • Developing your skills
  • Building a brand 

I will elaborate but give me some seconds.

Remember Mark Manson’s quote: 

If you want the benefits of something in life, you have to also want the costs. If you want the beach body, you have to want the sweat, the soreness, the early mornings, and the hunger pangs. If you want the yacht, you have to also want the late nights, the risky business moves, and the possibility of pissing off one person or ten thousand. 

So instead of worrying about when you will get the next clients, get to work. 

  • Share your ideas or create content on blogs, and social media. 
  • Check what your competitors are doing to have some ideas. 
  • Send cold pitches. 
  • Improve your skills.

Getting overwhelmed with workloads?

At a point, between 6 – 12 months of consistent sharing, pitching, and proofing that you are a professional at what you do, you will get loads of work that you can handle. At this stage, you might need to

  • Delegate 
  • Hire people 
  • Learn how to manage your time. 

I previously wrote about how to stay productive

Build a brand 

One of the things people consider when they talk about how to start freelancing is that they don’t think about their selling point. 

What do you bring to the table that others don’t? 

For instance, as an SEO writer, the goal is to help clients become the website or business that gets the most traffic. But how can we be different? I want clients’ product names or websites to come to the minds of people when they search for specific queries.

Background in storytelling and architecture, I like planning and mapping out things.

Planning, storytelling, writing, and playing around with rules/data are my specialty. But if I look closely again, I will find more traits and experiences that differentiate my services. 

Notable readings: 

How to pick a career (that actually fits you) — Tim Urban

How to think for yourself – Paul Graham

Your turn, what makes you different? 

You can explore this in terms of:

  • Your interest 
  • Your experience and skills
  • Something that keeps you going — your “why?”

You don’t have to do it once. It might take time to understand. So don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t find an answer on day 1.

Your other responsibility is to use the information to talk about your products and services. You can start a website. You can use social media, medium.com, substack, LinkedIn, etc. 

It is about showing your uniqueness, skills, creativity, and how you can help your audience. Creating a personal brand makes you look different and lets your buyers connect with you better.

Build your wealth 

When you become an authority, you get more work than you can handle at this stage. It is the right time to reconsider how much you charge for your services. And it is a tricky decision because once the price increases, some buyers automatically stop reaching out to you. It is one of the lessons I learned as a freelance writer.

So be prepared. These are the things you can do: 

  • Learn how money works
  • Diversify your source of income 
  • Start a passive income source
  • Improve your skills
  • Charge more for extra services. Instead of saying you have increased your services, create another service plan and charge more for it. 

How to deal with feast and famine: 

Always be marketing 

Whether you have offers or you don’t have offers, always market your services. 

Source

And that’s it…

Note: I didn’t talk about how much you should charge or handle tax. You should research this according to your industry and country.

Build a business that people care about by showing them that you care

The biggest turn-off for clients is when you show up like you don’t care about them. The best way to learn how to start freelancing is to spend the time and effort so that buyers take you seriously. And with a good foundation, growth is imminent and scalable. 

You have the guide now. Show your buyers you care. 

You can now download the template.

Good luck

Hey, will you give your best friend $1 if you know it will help them? 

A dollar is a little token, but will you do it for your friends?

There is something even lesser than that which you can do for them.

If you find this article helpful, use one of the buttons below to share the article with those who need it. That’s a way cheaper way to help others build a side business. 

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