Starting out as a freelancer can be daunting. There's lots to think about and even more to do. However there are many resources and guides available on this website to help you make a smooth and successful transition into the world of freelancing.
The guide is split into 8 sections:
Step 1 - First decide if freelancing is for you
A lot of guides will start with which services to offer. However before you get to that stage, you need to think about your current situation. You've got an idea in your head that you want to be a freelancer. What type of freelance work is it?
- A side hustle where you pickup jobs alongside your full or part time employment.
- A full time venture, your freelance work accounts for all, or most of your income and pays the bills and puts food on the table.
There's pros and cons to both, let's dive deeper into each one.
The Side Hustle
- You can pick up jobs as-and-when you need.
- Tops up your income.
- You have your regular salary to fall back on.
- The work has to be done in your spare time. This might have unexpected consequences to your health, family and social life depending on your personal circumstances. Remember you need time to rest. Don't burn out!
- You might have to ask your current employer if they are happy with you having a side hustle.
- You might have to start paying additional taxes depending on where in the world you live.
Full Time Freelancing
- You are your own boss. You get to choose what hours you work and you don't answer to anyone but yourself.
- Creative freedom to do what you want.
- You can set your own rates.
- It can be very lucrative 💷 💵 💶.
- Motivation to do the work can sometimes be a challenge.
- Finding clients, especially when starting out can be difficult.
- Your income isn't guaranteed and can vary from month to month.
- Clients can be difficult to work with and sometimes won't pay on time.
If you think you're in the right mindset to become a freelancer (and many people are!) Then it's time to move onto step 2...
Step 2 - Do you need savings?
Having a side hustle greatly reduces the risks you take. You hopefully have a steady salary as your safety net, so having savings is less of a concern, but still very handy to have.
However if you plan on going full-time, you no longer have the safety net of your salary. So it makes perfect sense to have some money put by. How much depends on your situation.
We'd recommend at least 6 months worth whilst you get yourself established. If you are just starting out, it might be a while before you get your first few clients and even then, they might be low paying jobs. You can use your savings as a buffer until you get a regular income.
If you find that you're struggling to make money from freelancing, having savings allows you to pivot and start looking for a full time job. The bigger your savings pot, the longer you ride the freelance wave.
Step 3 - Identify your skills and expertise
This one is quite simple. Do something you are good at! This could be your current occupation or a hobby, you just need to have an active interest in it and be half decent.
Enjoy baking - Try making birthday cakes.
Software Developer - Try making websites or software.
Marketing - Try offering SEO, email and advertising (Google AdWords) services.
Enjoy writing - Try offering copywriting services.
There are many things you can do. If your skills are quite niche, you exploit this and charge more for your services.
If you're really interested in a topic or field of work, but haven't got much experience in it, perhaps consider it as a side hustle first before going full-time. You'll be able to get valuable experience and be learning on the job, plus you'll be able to see if it's truly the right choice for you.
Step 4 - Determine your target market
Knowing who your ideal customers are will help fast track you to success. Finding this out could take time however.
What does a bad client look like?
Without a doubt you'll come across the dreaded "nightmare client". Sadly, you normally get these types of people near the beginning of your freelancing career. But as a positive, working with nightmare clients gives you knowledge of how to spot one early on and swiftly avoid them!
A nightmare client is typically defined as one or many of the following:
- Needs the job doing for as little money as possible.
- Often demands everything, again for very little money.
- Are rude and difficult to work with.
- Gets in contact at unsociable hours, expects a reply all the time.
- Scope creep - Agrees on the work to be done, but constantly changes their mind or adds on things near completion of project.
It goes without saying, if you can avoid working for one, you'll have a much better time when freelancing!
What does a good client look like?
Good clients do exist, and when you find one, take good care and nurture them! They can often follow up with recurring jobs and also recommend you to other clients and businesses. They are your "Cash Cows'' and their lifetime value can be significant.
You should try and get a feeling for your clients when you speak to them. In person is normally the best bet for this as you can see what they are like, how they handle themselves and more importantly, how they respond and speak to you.
Good clients are also great communicators. Even if your clients aren't experienced in your field, their ability to tell you in clear terms what they want is a good sign. This could be through a detailed description or even by showing you pictures of what they need.
But don't leave it all to your clients, it's also your responsibility to tease out the requirements. You want to get as much detail up front as you possibly can. Be on the lookout for things that might become problems later on. You want to have an actionable plan of work, which you both agree to before starting any work or contract.
Another trait of a good client is their ability to pay on time. Never underestimate the importance of being paid on time. Your mortgage or bills don't care if you are waiting on a client to pay you. A client that pays on time is one that you can trust.
Step 5 - Setting your rates
Knowing how much to charge is a process of trial and error, something you're always fine tuning to stay competitive.
How much you charge, very much depends on what you do and who you work with. A great way of gauging this is by looking at what your competition is charging. You need to do some market research. Don't just set prices blindly, you could be seriously underselling or overselling your services!
When it comes to setting your rates, you have a few options:
Undercut the competition
People love a bargain, but be careful with this as cheap prices can be associated with a poor quality product. If you are going to undercut, your work needs to be on par with the competition, otherwise you'll get a reputation for being cheap.
A contradiction to this could be introductory prices. You can purposely sell your services at a discount for a short period of time, but make sure it's obvious that it's a temporary thing. You can raise your prices later on as your client base grows.
Charge the same as the competition
If selling your services cheaper than the average doesn't sit well, you can charge the same or a similar price. Again you need to make sure your offering is on par or better than the competition. You need to give them a reason to choose you over someone else. You can do this with a better portfolio or better marketing.
Charge more than the competition
Premium services and products often come with a premium price tag. If you offer a premium service which you know is better than your competition, then you can charge more for it. You need to be in the right market / niche for this to work however.
With all of the above strategies you can also re-target your clients with upsells and recurring services if needed. ClientWide makes this really easy with Reminders. You can create reminders at set intervals, such as every 6 months and every year and customise the message which gets emailed to your clients.
Step 6 - Creating a portfolio
Next you should think about how you want to showcase your work. Whilst word of mouth is great, you likely need an online presence to maximise your reach. Fortunately there are lots of options and it's usually a good idea to have multiple. We’ve compiled a list of the best ones for you:
- Personal Website
- Facebook Business Page
- Instagram Page
- Twitter Profile
- LinkedIn Page
- Google Business Profile
You’ll need to decide which platform(s) are a good fit for your business. It’s worth noting that the social media platforms all have a free offering and can be a great way to market your business.
However you are at the mercy of their algorithms. If you don’t already have a large following on them, you’ll need to pay for what they call “reach”. Each post you make will only be seen by a small subset of your followers. You can optionally pay them to have it reach more people.
You also need to be mindful that they own your profile and anything you post to it. In extreme cases you can even have your profile suspended or banned. Meaning all your followers and hard work could be lost. Fortunately this rarely happens.
A personal website can be a great tool for advertising your business and it’s usually expected in today's world. Do expect to pay for a website to be built if you can’t already do this yourself. Or you can use one of the many website builders from the likes of Wix or Squarespace.
ClientWide also gives you the option to enable your own business profile. You can add the following:
- Your Business Logo
- Contact details, such as your email, phone and website URL
- A description of your business
- Portfolio items which allow you to add pictures of your work to galleries and descriptions of what you’ve worked on
- Premium plans allow users to fill out a contact form on the page which then comes into your dashboard as leads. You’ll also be notified by email whenever someone contacts you.
We've also created a guide on how to build your portfolio, which you should check out after finishing this guide.
Step 7 - Marketing and Networking
One of the good things of being a freelancer is being your own boss. However you also take on the role of manager, marketing and sales. You can have an amazing product or service, but if no one knows about it, who’s going to buy it right?
Now if you specialise in marketing, you’re already halfway there, but if not. You need this skill in your repertoire. You should aim to split your time between working on or improving your product and marketing. What percentage you do, depends on you and your business.
Common time splits are: 50/50, 60/40 and 70/30. No matter which split you choose, make sure you spend it marketing. It’s an absolute must if you want to bring in more paying customers.
How can I market my product?
Marketing can be difficult, especially if you're starting from nothing. Which is why it’s important to start with the easier steps first. You want to go for the low-hanging fruit so to speak. Lots of small wins that enable you to go after the bigger, more rewarding fruits at the top of the tree.
Friends and Family
Easy and free! Start here first. For example you could create a business page on a social media site or even a website and ask your friends and family to like and share the page or post you made.
Ask them to give you a short testimonial or a shout out when they share. This will help get likes and followers to your page, which allows you to build your audience.
Word of mouth and reviews
After delivering your services, ask the customer if they’d leave a review on your Google business page, TrustPilot, social media etc. Sweeten the deal by offering them a discount on their next purchase if they leave a review.
You could also ask that they recommend you to their friends or family. Word of mouth recommendations are often a very powerful tool as people tend to trust the word of people they themselves trust.
Attend conferences or meetups in your niche
This one obviously depends on the sector you work in. There’s not always a conference for the thing you do.
However if there is, book yourself on one. Conferences are usually free and even throw in food to boot! Conferences are an excellent place to network, meet new people and share what you do. You might even learn something from the speakers at the event!
A good point to remember about conferences and meetups is that their sole purpose (usually) is to try and sell you something, so don’t be afraid to try and sell yourself. It’s what everyone will be doing!
Simply go up to people, introduce yourself, tell them what you do and then ask them what they do. You can spark up some really interesting conversations in this way, which might lead to something. If you feel like the conversation is going nowhere, excuse yourself and move onto the next person.
Marketing that costs money
We’ve covered the free and low-hanging fruits of marketing, now if your budget allows for it, you can choose to spend some money.
You have a few options here. Most people will usually opt to spend money promoting their social media pages and posts. You can set this up yourself or you can pay a company to handle this for you. Whether this type of advertising is useful or not depends on how much you sell your product for.
E.g If you are a photographer, spending £200 - £400 a month on advertising, which results in 2 paying clients who want you to photograph their wedding at £1000+ then the £400 is money well spent. Big ticket items will usually benefit the most from these forms of advertising.
On the flip side, if your product relies on lots of sales at a lower price point, you’ll need your advertising to convert at a much higher rate. You’ll need to experiment with what works and what doesn’t. Be wary that advertising can be a money pit. If you’re not experienced or comfortable tinkering with your adverts and copy. It might be worthwhile hiring a company to do this for you.
Paid Influencer Outreach
Influencers…Influence and some of them have massive followings. If you sell something that you think an influencer could help you promote, it might be worthwhile contacting them and asking what they charge for a sponsored post or video for your product.
What an influencer charges ultimately depends on how many followers they have. The more followers, the more they can command. Expect to spend lots of money when working with popular influencers.
However if your budget doesn’t quite stretch to the more popular influencers, consider looking for one with a smaller following, after all they want the money and you want them to advertise your product or services. It’s a mutually beneficial transaction. Small ticket items I.e. items that don’t cost much, can see good success here as people will be more willing to purchase something cheaper.
Step 8 - Time Management
Part of becoming a successful freelancer is great time management. Knowing how long a job will take is key to staying organised and planning upcoming jobs. As with most things, experience helps with this. Underestimate how long a job will take and you could find yourself having to delay other jobs, which will result in unhappy clients.
Knowing how long a job might take also helps you effectively set your pricing. In some instances a short job might warrant charging by the hour, whereas longer jobs might warrant a set price instead.
Keeping track of your working hours also helps you see where you can revise your pricing. If you find yourself taking longer than expected to do jobs, it could mean you’re leaving money on the table and that you need to charge more.
ClientWide has a simple yet effective tool which lets you track time worked against a client and a job. It also shows your total hours worked grouped by date.