Freelance work was once considered something you did on the side to make some extra cash, explore a new field, or develop a new skill. Today, it’s an opportunity to turn your passions into a long-term, lucrative career. With 53 million people working as independent workers and growing strong, this segment will make up 40% of the workforce by 2020.
These folks aren’t working on their own because they have to. In response to a survey conducted by Contently, more than two-thirds said they plan to keep it up for at least the next 10 years.
Doing this full-time offers you the chance to build a business doing the work you love most, from wherever you want. I should know: I founded CloudPeeps, a talent marketplace matching businesses with the world’s best freelance content, community, and marketing professionals.
Now, before you call your boss and put in your two weeks notice, know that this is a long process. In fact, there are four things you need to do outside of your day job before you can start calling that couch your office.
Step 1: Figure Out What Would Make You Worth Hiring
Your goal is to make a living doing whatever makes you happiest: writing, designing, developing, taking photos, whatever it may be. Now, you need to identify what makes you the best choice among your competition—and, no, it doesn’t have to be your experience level.
Consider these areas when defining why clients should hire you instead of someone else:
- Reputation and personality: Most people would rather work with someone who’s likable, rather than someone who has more experience but is a pain to work with.
- Pricing: Whether you offer the most value at your experience level or you’re pricing yourself for top-tier clients, sell it as a benefit.
- Exclusivity: Consider focusing on a specific niche. Or, if you can, only work with a limited amount of clients a time. Don’t try to do everything!
- Partnerships: If you’re a writer who works with the most talented graphic designers and developers out there, make it known.
- Quality and experience level: If you’re the best at what you do, prove it. Collect case studies, awards, testimonials, and results.
Step 2: Build Up Your Online Presence
No matter what you’re offering, your voice, tone, and overall image needs to reflect your personality and work style. This will make even strangers feel like they know you (trust is everything!) and help you stand out. Consider how you want to be perceived professionally as you build the following assets: your website and online portfolio, the social channels relevant to your audience’s interest, and your professional photo (here are some handy tips!).
These are the must-haves for an online presence. Others items that’ll help build brand awareness and credibility are a logo, blog, and branded templates for proposals, invoices, and strategy docs.
When building out these assets, make sure everything contributes to a cohesive story that represents your unique personal brand. Be consistent: Your URL and social handles should be the same whenever possible. And be authentic—if you try to be someone else, potential clients will see right through it and will be less likely to trust you. Remember, people respect confidence.
Make your offering and personal brand clear from the start—keep your bio short, to the point, and charming. Finally, don’t underestimate a tagline. It’s your unique selling proposition in 10 words (or less!). Make sure it conveys the value you add.
Step 3: Find Your First Clients
Thanks to the internet, even a novice freelancer can win over clients. Start by spreading the word to your friends and networks. Let them know you’re accepting work, what you’re looking for, and what you’re offering.
Next, build your brand on social media by sharing interesting stories, anecdotes, and quotes relevant to your field. To get attention on social and cut through the clutter, share posts that are educational, entertaining, visual, or funny. (Bonus points if what you post is all four.) Be punchy and add value to your (prospective) client’s day with your content. Oh, and don’t be afraid to share your work!
Looking to find more structured opportunities? There are a ton of sites dedicated to helping freelancers find jobs. Among them are, of course, CloudPeeps and The Muse, as modern takes. But there’s also Upwork, FlexJobs, Freelancer, Guru, the Envato network, and other older players. Facebook Groups can also be a great source of opportunities! Check out The Freedom to Freelance Project, Dreamers // Doers Jobs, Albert’s Jobs, and the CloudPeeps group for a taste. Use them to your advantage, sign up for the email updates, and pitch, pitch, pitch. These sites will help you build your portfolio as well as a great foundation to learn the ropes of running your own business.
As you continue to build your client base and produce quality work, clients will start referring you to others. Before you know it, you’ll be ready to transition to being a full-time freelancer!
Step 4: Prepare to Be Broke
OK, step four is actually out of place. Because honestly, you’re going to have to keep this in the back of your mind as you’re going through steps one through three. However, before you quit, you do need to ensure that you have money in the bank—no matter how many Twitter followers you’ve gotten or how many clients promise to refer friends.
The minimum amount to save for yourself before leaving your full-time job is four to six months of $0 income living. If you’re not there yet, you’re going to have to cut back on extraneous expenses. We’re talking about making coffee at home, giving up shopping splurges, and forgoing hair cuts. That’s right—I didn’t get my hair cut or styled for over a year when I first quit my job. All in all, put what you make from your side work directly into savings to build the cushion you need to go full-time freelance.
When you’ve saved enough to quit your full-time job, don’t simply cut your old company out of your life. If you like working there, inquire about working together in a freelance capacity. Be ready to explain why you’re a crucial asset and how freelancing will allow you to focus on what’s most important for the organization. Present it as a win-win situation.
Ready to get started? There are a lot of products and services that allow you to run a lean freelance business. For insurance, consider Oscar or Freelancers Union. For all things finance, check out Wave Accounting, Xero, and Mint. For legal, you can find a lawyer on your budget with UpCounsel and any legal documents with Shake, and use HelloSign for obtaining signatures. My favorite time-management apps are Timely and Harvest. For project management, I prefer Asana and Trello.
If you have questions about launching your freelance career, reach out to me any time at @KateKendall.