How To Become A Freelancer: What You Need To Succeed & Make Your Own $$$
If you've known me over the last year or so, you know that a big way that I make income is through freelance writing. I wanted to create a guide for other aspiring freelancers so you can start living your dream and making $$$ in the process.
Freelancing is such a vast field, and there is room for people from a variety of different backgrounds to make money. I obviously have more experience with freelance writing so a lot of my thoughts about this will come from that perspective, but I wanted to make this guide as general as possible so you can get something out of this whether you want to become a freelance writer, photographer, virtual assistant, or anything your heart desires.
No matter what field you go in to, I hope you get something from this guide. Consider it a labor of love.
Are you interested in learning about how to become a #freelancer? Check out this guide from The Happy Arkansan that features everything you need to know about being your own freelance boss! Click To Tweet
Know Your Why
Before you begin looking into a freelance career, you need to get clear on your why because being your own boss is not for everyone. It takes a lot of discipline and going after your dreams day after day.
So, what's your why? Do you want to:
- Build a stable income online so you can stay home with your family?
- Chase after a dream you have always had to support yourself and follow your heart?
- Help businesses grow and reach all new successful heights by utilizing your freelance skills?
Whatever your why is, hold on to it tight because the journey to becoming a successful freelancer is going to be a wild ride.
Pick Your Services
The next thing you need to do is determine what you are going to sell as your freelance service(s). For me, freelance writing was a no-brainer. I'd always created content for myself and others, and I knew that I could help other businesses and entrepreneurs by offering my writing services to them.
The services you choose to sell should be based on what you are good at. Do you like to write? Draw? Create websites? There is a need for freelancers in all sorts of industries.
Looking for the freelance services you can offer? I love this post from Samantha of Samanthability titled, 10 Freelance Jobs For Recent Grads. She gives an excellent overview of different freelance services you could provide to clients.
Pick a service that you know you can do well, or research how to do well. You won't last long in the freelance industry if you are not constantly sharpening your skills and getting better at what you do.
It is important to know that certain services pay better than others. For example, copywriting would pay better than blog writing. This shouldn't necessarily be your justification for pursuing one industry over the other, because if you hate providing a service, it wouldn't matter if it paid more.
Find A Niche You Adore
Who do you want to help? Get super specific in any niche you choose to pursue. It's not enough to have your services picked; you also need to know who you want to work with. When you serve everyone, you serve no one in the end. So, what does your service niche look like?
For example, I am a writer for a few human resources clients. The other day I saw a human resources job opportunity on Upwork, but I decided not to apply. Do you want to know why? I know who my clients are in this industry. Ultimately, I want to work with companies who are tech-savvy and innovative, not a company who seems to still be in the stone ages. I knew that this company who targets HR clients wouldn't be my cup of tea, and I wouldn't be their cup of tea either.
When you get more specific on your niche, you can weed out potential clients and spend your time pitching and working with clients that make your heart sing. So, when you are picking your niche think of the following:
- What subject areas do you want to help?
- For example, even as a graphic designer, you may not want to design for every type of client. Maybe you only want to do graphic design for musicians or political figures.
- Who do you want to help?
- Entrepreneurs? Small Businesses? Large Companies?
- What word would you use to describe them?
- Scrappy? Intelligent? Positive?
You want to spend the right amount of time niching down and understanding your ideal audience. When you do this, you create an exceptional foundation for your business to thrive and grow. If you know the people you want to attract, you will do what it takes to attract those people.
Build Your Website
Based on your services and niche, you need to take some time to build a website. Now, you don't have to do this right away, but the sooner you create a site for potential clients to check out, the better.
I didn't create a website of my own for a year, but this year I finally decided to take the leap and create Amanda Cross Co.
I think creating your own website is incredibly helpful. You can lean into building out your website's SEO and let clients find you instead of the other way around.
Related Reading: A Simple Step-By-Step Guide To Build Your Beautiful Freelance Website In A Week via Amanda Cross Co.
Check out the above post for everything you need to know about building a freelance website. I try to break it down as much as I know how, and I even show you everything you need on your freelance site and where I host my own website (hint, it's the same host I use for this blog!)
Becoming A Pitching Queen
Next, let's chat about getting the jobs you want. It's so important to apply to jobs consistently and become a pitching queen so you can make a steady income. I am going to chat about all the popular ways to get a job including job boards, cold pitching, pursuing local clients, working with freelance agencies, connecting with other freelancers, and word of mouth.
Job Websites & Boards
First and foremost let's start with job websites and boards. These are places where companies go to list a variety of jobs. Some of these job websites like Fiverr are freelancer specific wherein you list your information and rates, and clients come to you.
Everyone has a different view of Upwork. I personally have a love/hate relationship with the platform. I have found some of the best clients on Upwork, but I know that the platform can feel like a race to the bottom. It doesn't have the best quality control since anyone can post on the platform, but I feel that I've learned a lot from freelancing on the platform.
Upwork does take 20% of your income, but you get a lot of protection with that income. Upwork is big enough to fight to make sure you get paid, which I like! Another great thing about Upwork? This fee goes down to as little as 5%! You are charged 20% for the first $500 you make with a client, 10% for any money made between $500.01-$10,000, and then 5% for any charge over $10,000.01. If you take a job that's $10,500 for example, you would pay:
- 20% on the first $500.
- 10% on the next $9,500.
- 5% on the last $500.
So, from that $10,500 you would walk away with $9,425, in other words, you would pay $1,075 in fees. That's a lot of fees, but you are also not paying extra to cover credit card charges or transfer money to your bank account (at least not if you live in the U.S.) which is good!
Plus, as I stated, Upwork will fight to make sure you get paid on time!
Another positive, this sliding scale is based on lifetime billings! If it takes you two days, three weeks, four months, or five years to rack up $10,000 with a client, it doesn't matter! Upwork will adjust on a lifetime scale, and you don't have to make any numbers to keep your current discounted rate. Upwork is more excited that you are continuing to keep a client on the site over an extended period, not how long it takes you to rack up a specific dollar amount.
Related Reading: 10 Important Lessons I Have Learned Freelancing On Upwork via Amanda Cross Co.
ProBlogger Job Board
This is a board that I recently started applying to jobs from based on a conversation I had with Samantha on her Offbeat Grad podcast. I haven't had the best luck with it, but I have gotten a bite or two since I started applying. I will be applying to at least 3-5 jobs there a week for the next month or so to see if it pans out for me. Samantha has had a ton of luck using the ProBlogger Job Board to get clients. These are mostly writing jobs so if you are looking at other services this one won't work for you.
Indeed is most known for being able to help you find local jobs, but you can actually find a ton of remote, freelance jobs on the site as well. I usually look up terms like “remote writer” or “freelance writer” to find the jobs that I want. Be careful, though, because not all jobs in this category will be remote. Sometimes people write that they don't want remote workers, and that's picked up under this category (which I never understand, because I probably would have never seen the job while looking for remote jobs if they didn't add remote to the description in some way.)
A lot of jobs on Indeed tend to be looking for people with a lot of experience, though, so this may not be the best place to look if you are starting out with your freelance service. If you've been doing your service for a while, though, you can always apply that experience to your freelance job search. For example, maybe you have been writing in-house for a company for a while, that experience can definitely follow you as you look for a freelance job!
This is another one that's just for writers, and I've yet to see any success from it, but I get sent opportunities to apply every blue moon from this board, and the articles seem to pay a decent amount. The downside to ClearVoice, though, is that they take 25% of your amount, every single time. Unlike Upwork that offers a sliding fee scale, your fees will always stay the same with ClearVoice.
Fiverr gets a bad reputation because their name is Fiverr, but you can charge well over $5 on the platform. I don't sell with Fiverr, but it could work for some people as a way to get your work out there. Keep in mind, though, this site can be a race to the bottom because some people still do feel comfortable charging a low amount of money for their work, so I feel like the low priced competition would be higher on Fiverr than it would be even on a site like Upwork. Fiverr also takes a 20% fee from you every time you sell through their platform.
Freelancer is a similar site to Upwork, but I feel like it's Upwork's worse cousin with a drinking problem, tbh. I don't like the layout of the Freelancer website, and I think that the listings are often missing important information for me to feel comfortable applying for jobs on the platform. It can work, but I wouldn't put all your eggs in the Freelancer basket.
Related Reading: Check out these other sites to find freelance jobs via Entrepreneur
Another excellent way to find freelance clients is through cold pitching your services to entrepreneurs and companies. Cold pitching is an art that you have to try many times before you get it just right, but you should always try. The worst someone can say is no!
Here are some cold pitching tips:
Use Social Media To Sleuth Potential Clients
Look for clients in your ideal niche. For example, if you want to help small businesses create websites, look for small businesses on social media. Look for small businesses who don't currently have a website or have an outdated website. Pitch your service to them. Another example, if you want to write content for boutiques, look for boutiques who have: tried to start a blog and failed at consistency OR who don't have a blog but should start one.
Find these clients by looking up hashtags like #SmallBusiness or #BoutiqueShopping. Dig deep into the hashtags and find companies that resonate with you and feel like the people you want to help.
Make a list of these companies and their websites, and then move on to the next step.
Figure Out A Good Contact Email
The next step is essential, figure out a good contact email. Sending your email to a general email inbox is difficult because they may never see your email. It's better than nothing, though, so it's okay if you have to send your email there. Try to find a direct contact first, though!
Depending on what your freelance services are, you may want to reach out to different people. For example, a freelance writer will probably want to reach out to the Director Of Marketing at a company, if they have one, or the owner if the company isn't large enough to have a Marketing department.
The first place you want to look for a direct contact is an About Us page if the company has one. Often mid-to-large size companies have About Us pages, and they may even link directly to everyone's email addresses.
If you are not that lucky, try heading to LinkedIn to find people who say that they work for the company. You may be able to find a good name from the list on LinkedIn, and then sleuth a contact by looking for that person on other social media platforms.
You may want to check out sites like Hunter or Clearbit Connect to sleuth contacts. These sites offer around 100 email searches a month each, which is excellent if you are looking for contacts. You can enter in company domains to see what emails pop up. Clearbit Connect and Hunter can't always find email addresses, but when you can find a good email address with them, it's always helpful in helping you get in touch with the right person.
Lastly, don't be afraid to send an email to someone at the company to see if they can forward your email to the right person or give you a better email contact. Often this is a good way to get a connection when other sources fail you as long as you have one reliable contact at the company.
Keep It Simple
You don't want to overwhelm the reader of your email with a wall of text. Keep your pitch simple, and well under 500 words.
A trick to getting a response is to bold the most important parts of your email. You want reading the email to be a breeze for your potential client. If they can skim the email to get to the point, that will make them the happiest.
You may also want to use bullet points to get across specific points like your qualifications so that they can skim them.
You don't have a ton of time to catch someone's attention, so you want to focus on creating a simple email that shares who you are/what your skills are, why you love their company, and how you can help them.
Stick The Landing
To send a good pitch email, you want to stick the landing.
The worst thing you can do is leave it up to the goodwill of that person to respond to you hopefully.
Instead, you want to lead them to answer with phrases such as:
- I look forward to chatting more about this project this week!
- Are you free for a call (date) at (time) to discuss this further?
- Would you be interested in learning more about my services over a brief call next week?
These are essentially CTAs or Call-To-Actions. You want your potential client to act upon the email that you just sent them; you don't want it to pile up in their inbox and take up space. Make it clear that you want to continue the conversation and open up the floor to do just that.
You've done all the work. You have prepared a great email, you have sleuthed out an email contact, you worked your email closing like a pro. You were on fire! But, you were left on read, or your email was never even touched.
Now, is the time to bring out the big guns–the follow-up!
Follow-ups are imperative in today's internet age. It's so easy for emails to find their way to the bottom of a crowded inbox or to simply get lost in the 1s and 0s of the internet. Don't let that happen to you.
Write a simple follow-up email a week or so after you sent the first one. If you can, try to include the initial email in your follow-up, so they see both your eloquent cold pitch email and your follow-up email.
Don't leave money on the table! There are so many reasons you may not have received a response to your first email, and it's not just because they hate you.
Follow up, pitching queens!
Related Reading: How to Write a Cold Email that Actually Works: Six-Step Tutorial via Woodpecker
Next, you may want to reach out to your local market. Depending on where you stay, you may cut down on competition a ton. An outstanding place to start when thinking locally is checking out your cities Chamber of Commerce. Sometimes they even have a membership directory posted on their website which will make it very easy to reach out to people in your town who may need your services.
The best thing you can do to work locally is to make connections in your city. Try to go to as many local events as you can, get to know the people making your city tick, and offer your services as organically as possible. You should always be building other client work while you focus on local clients.
Freelance agencies can provide consistent work. The best part? You likely won't be the one pitching unless you are a part of a small agency. If you can create a good connection with an agency, they can provide consistent work for you without you having to hit the pavement and work to find clients. Agencies can take a lot of your time, though, so if you wanted to do this freelance career on your own, it might be hard to find that working with an agency. Stability is terrific, though, so working with an agency may be just what the doctor ordered.
Connecting With Freelancers
One neat way to get freelance clients that many people don't think about is connecting with other freelancers in different industries. For example, freelance web designers may have a list of trusted writers to recommend to new website owners or freelance wedding planners who may have many trusted florists they are excited to recommend.
If you can create working relationships with freelancers, they may be willing to recommend you when their clients need additional services that they can't offer.
Alternatively, your freelance friend may even be in the same industry and still recommend you. Maybe they are a freelance writer for tech companies, and a boutique sent them an email. They may not want to take the client, but recommend a friend they know writes for boutiques. If you are a freelance writer who writes for boutiques, you want to be that friend that gets recommended.
Client Word Of Mouth
Last, but not least, client word of mouth may be the best way to get clients because people you have worked with love you enough to recommend you to their friends. If you have built a stellar relationship with your clients, they may be the ticket to your next freelance client. What's better than that?! This is not something you have much control over, you can't make your client recommend you, but it's a bonus if you get additional work because of a past satisfied client.
Pricing Your Time As A Freelancer
Next, let's chat about pricing. This is the elephant in the room for most freelancers. How do you price the time you spend as a freelancer? There are a couple of things you may want to consider as you are pricing. It's all about what you feel comfortable with at the end of the day. Your price is also subject to change, as long as you have evidence to back up your price increase, most freelance clients will be willing to pay a higher premium for excellent work.
Time-Based Pricing Vs. Valued-Based Pricing
Let's take a scenario: you are an email writer who has built multiple $1,000,000+ sales funnels for clients across the country. Someone comes up to you and asks you to write a sales funnel for them. This project will take just 20 hours of your life, and you have decided that an hour of your time is only worth $1,000. I mean, that's a lot, it will make the project cost them $20,000. At the end of the day, though, they have the potential to earn $1,000,000+ from the sales funnel that you will build them. That's a lot of money, and they are only giving you $20,000 for it.
You could choose a time-based pricing formula where you only get paid based on the time it takes for you to complete a project along with how much you think an hour of your time is worth.
You could choose a value-based pricing formula and go by how much value you bring to the table. You've built a few $1,000,000+ sales funnels. Obviously, you can do the same for them.
It can be hard to use a value-based pricing model when you first start freelancing, but this is something you want to start doing as you build momentum and begin getting stories and anecdotes about the effectiveness of your work.
If you see people charging a ton of money for their freelance services, this is how they are doing it.
Types of Pricing
Now, I am going to break down a few different pricing strategies for you. We can't all be value-based from the start of our freelance career, and I want to give you all your options.
Per Word Pricing
If you are dealing with words in any capacity, one option you have for pricing is per word pricing. This will be a great option if you are a writer or editor. You can get paid as little as a penny a word and well over a dollar per word depending on your skill level. At the same time, though, you need to consider the time it takes you to write the content you write. You don't want to work for pennies and then have no money to pay the bills you have acquired.
Per Hour Pricing
Another option is per hour pricing. Most people are familiar with per hour pricing because that's how a lot of people get paid in traditional jobs. We have sorta been trained from a young age to trade hours for a paycheck. There are other options as a freelancer, though, so you don't have to be sold on this one.
The thing about hourly pricing as a freelancer is that it can feel like you are back in your old 9-5 days, but worse. Often you need to track every hour you spend on a project, and sometimes those tracking programs can take screenshots of your computer for evidence. I stopped doing hourly work on Upwork because their hourly tracker was distracting, counted my keystrokes, and just generally made me upset.
The positive to per hour pricing, though, is that you know you will get paid the right amount based on the hours you spend on a project. When you are first starting as a freelancer, it can be hard to estimate how much time you will spend on any given project. Hourly pricing helps protect you from mishaps like underestimating the time it takes to work on a project and shorting yourself money in the process.
Project pricing is my favorite way to work on a project. I can work at my own pace, and I don't have to have anyone peering over my shoulder to see how I am choosing to spend my time working on a project. As I just stated, project pricing takes practice to get just right. You may not be the best at estimating projects right away, so stick with hourly until you get a grip on how long projects will take you.
With project pricing, you also need to watch out for scope creep. This is when clients may tack on additional asks throughout your project, and they may or may not pay you for that additional time. You need to be willing to say that certain things are not in the project description, which means you need to clearly lay out what the project entails before you take on any project.
Scope creep can happen at any level of pricing, though, so don't think this it is just a project pricing issue.
Related Reading: Scope Creep: A Deadly Problem for your Freelance Business via Harpoon
Last, but not least, let's chat about package pricing. Package pricing is another way to sell your services. You guarantee to work with a client for a longer period, or they buy more of your services at once, and you give them a deal on your services by getting a slightly smaller amount of money.
For example, if you are a freelance graphic designer, you may offer a slight decrease in your services because you are on retainer with a company for six months.
This is a great way to create a more stable freelance income while helping out a client in the process. A bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush after all.
Things You Need To Succeed As A Freelance
Next, let's chat about the general things you need to succeed as a freelancer. There are many things you may need to fulfill your service requirements, but I think these following items are things all freelancers need.
It's impossible to be a freelancer in today's age without access to your own laptop or desktop. Your computer doesn't have to be state of the art, either. For some industries, you could probably get away with using a Google Chromebook, especially if you are a writer! I used a Chromebook for a few months when my MacBook was on the fritz because it was insanely cheap (only a few hundred dollars) and it got the job done quickly.
If you have the money to invest, though, I encourage you to go for a computer that will last a while. Besides my laptop being on the fritz for a while last summer, I haven't had any problems with my MacBook Pro. I am also thinking of getting an iMac sometime soon. I want to have one by the end of the year!
Stable Internet Connection
This is another thing you need to have, especially if you look for freelance jobs online instead of working with local clients. Having a stable internet connection is a must for most freelancers, trust me! When I didn't have a stable internet connection for about a month, it was almost impossible for me to get any work done, especially living in the town I live in where there aren't a lot of places with free Wi-Fi.
If you live in a bigger city, you may be able to go to the local library, a coffee shop, or a coworking space to work on your business if you don't have a stable internet connection at home.
Google Drive Or Dropbox
Chances are, you'll need a way to get content back and forth with your clients. Sending stuff as an attachment in an email probably won't be the most organized way to get content to your client. Instead, you should use a service like Google Drive or Dropbox to get work to your client in a safe and timely manner. Google Drive is the most commonly used way to get work to your client, over Dropbox. You can add all sorts of stuff to Google Drive and Dropbox, not just Word documents so no matter the file you need to add, I am sure Google Drive or Dropbox can handle it.
Asana is a great organization tool and did I mention they have a FREE version of this tool? It doesn't cost you a thing to use Asana unless you need to upgrade for some more of their advanced features. Most of their features are available in the free plan, though. I love using Asana for managing client work though! You can even add up to 14 other users to your team in the free version of Asana so you can assign tasks to clients or let them in on what you're up to as a freelancer.
If you are venturing on your own as a freelancer, you need a tool to help you send and collect invoices. Freshbooks is the perfect tool for you! Freshbooks starts at $15 a month for five clients, and you get so much for that $15. You can send unlimited invoices and estimates, track your time and expenses, accept credit card payments with ease, and so much more.
Do you want to know the best part? Freshbooks has a 30-day free trial, and you don't even need to add your credit card to get access to it! This trial gives you 30 days to take a look around and see if Freshbooks is the right tool for your business. After the trial is up you can pay your monthly fee to continue to use the platform, or you can decide to part ways with Freshbooks.
As you can see, Freshbooks pricing is extremely fair, especially if you will be using it for multiple clients. Even if you only have one client on Freshbooks, though, I could see it being worth the money you spend as long as the client was paying you more than $15 (which they should be!)
Exchanging passwords with a company over email can be dangerous, and they can easily get lost in the shuffle. I love using LastPass to keep up with all my passwords, and I think that it's a great way to get passwords from your clients. You can share passwords with people using LastPass, and it's great because you can take passwords on the go using LastPass' mobile app or access passwords with a few clicks by installing the LastPass Chrome extension. Plus, they can take away access to their passwords after you stop working with them using LastPass. Never lose a client password to your inbox again with LastPass!
The last tool I think is helpful for freelancers is MailTrack. MailTrack is a Gmail add-on that will change your life! MailTrack allows you to track when messages are opened and clicked on. This tool uses a web beacon in the form of a small (invisible to your recipient) image pixel. They add this to each email you send and with the help of that pixel, you can get real-time updates on the opens and clicks you get on emails.
There is a free version of MailTrack, but when you send emails that way, there is a “Sent With MailTrack” signature at the bottom of your emails, which can make it hard to be sneaky about tracking. For just $9.99 a month, $20 a quarter, or $59 a year you can upgrade to MailTrack Pro which gets rid of this feature for you. I got a discount last year on a yearly version of MailTrack Pro, and it's been one of the best investments for my blog and freelance career!
How To Make An Impression On The Clients You Get
Last, but not least, let's chat about how to make a great impression on the clients you get as a freelancer. Your clients make or break your business, so if you don't have a good working relationship with them, it will be difficult to survive as a freelancer. Here are a few tips for making the best impression possible!
Don't Be Afraid To Hop On The Phone
I know, I know, getting on the phone sounds scary AF, but trust me, you won't regret it. Every time I've jumped on the phone, it's always lead to something more. I am a very introverted person, but I've always managed to make exceptions for certain things that will advance my career or education.
In college and graduate school, I labeled myself an academic extrovert because I would find a way to speak up in class even though I was usually introverted. I do the same thing now that I am done with school. When a client asks me to chat over the phone or via a video session, I suck it up and do it.
Calls are usually only about 20-30 minutes; everyone has stuff they need to get to at the end of the day. There are many things you can do to make this process smoother though. I love these articles I am linking below by Creative Boom and Day Job Optional because they walk you through a ton of those things you can do to prepare for client meetings and calls.
Related Reading: 10 Surefire Ways To Completely Rock Your First Client Meeting via Creative Boom; 6 Tips To Feel More Confident On The Phone With Clients via Day Job Optional
Get To Know Them & Their Audience
While you are chatting on the phone or over email, get to know them and their audience. If they are too general about who they are, what they want from you, or who their audience consists of, you may need to move on to another client to avoid a future client breakup.
Listen to your clients, have some go-to questions ready, and be prepared to follow-up on what they say in the moment (if you are on the phone.) You will be able to make a better impression if you take the time to get to know their audience.
Under Promise, Over Deliver
Last, but not least, one of the oldest tricks in the book is the under promise, over deliver.
An example of this: say that it will take you a week to get a project done, then deliver it a few days early. The under promise, over deliver trick is also helpful in case you have an emergency. Yes, it would be easy to share the exact time it will take you to get something done, but if an emergency in the family happens and you can't get to their project right away, then you'll be late getting them the project.
So, never give the entirely correct timeline on a project if you can help it.
Extra Resources For Potential Freelancers
Join the Freelance Writing Cafe if you are a freelance writer! This supportive group of writers is amazing, and it's one of my fave groups to visit daily.
I have also created a Facebook group, podcast, and website called The Ambitious Freelancer.
If you need help organizing your freelance business, check out my planner: The 90-Day Ambitious Freelancer Planner.
Here are some amaze freelancers I love to follow:
If you ever have any questions about building your freelance business, I am always down to chat! You can send me an email at any time about freelancing at email@example.com!