With an ever-increasing rate at which millennials are moving away from the traditional 9 to 5 desk job, we’re seeing an unprecedented number of freelancing websites come up in the recent years. Nowadays, youngsters are increasingly opting for more flexible skill-based jobs that give them the liberty to have the lifestyle they desire. So if you’re one of them too, then this is the right place for you. In this post, I’m going to guide you on how you can go about starting a freelance business and hopefully someday turn it into a sustainable self-employed career, based on my own personal experience with my own freelancing journey.
But before we dive into this…..
Let’s understand why should you start a freelance business??
Nowadays, companies across the globe are becoming more open to hiring freelancers to get a lot of their work outsourced. Not only does it save them tons of money and resources needed to hire a full-time employee but also provides them with an unlimited talent pool to choose from! You’ll find some of the best talents listed on top freelancing websites making a lot of money using their extra skills in their spare time!
This opens up a whole new world of opportunities for all of you who’ve got some serious skills and want to start something of your own on the side apart from your day job.
Last minute deadlines, work overload, employee-related expenses, fewer taxes, shortage of office space, geographical limitations are just a handful of the many reasons why more and more companies are seeking freelancer writers, coders, designers, marketers, and developers to help grow their businesses.
Thus, I think choosing to start a freelance business is one of the most feasible, realistic, and attainable goals that’ll help you boost your monthly income while keeping your day job.
If you’re thinking that this might take you ages to reach a reasonable amount for a side income, then you might want to think again! Unlike blogging, that’s definitely not the case with freelancing. After the initial groundwork and profile building, freelancing is something that would give you immediate returns (as soon as you deliver for 1st order) for the hours you spend!
Well, who knows, starting a freelance business could even be a gateway for you to becoming an entrepreneur owning a full-fledged services business someday! Furthermore, we all have bills to pay and all those ‘Friday Nights’ that burn a hole in our pockets! If nothing, you could use this side income for that. Or better even, this could be a way for you to monetise a passion project!
I’d recommend reading this post all the way through from top to bottom, but if you prefer to jump around, here’s a table of contents that’ll take you straight to each step directly:
- Have a Clear Mindset and Set Your Goal
- Find a Profitable Niche
- Identify Your Target Clients
- Build a High-Quality Online and Offline Portfolio
- Price Your Product/Service Wisely
- Landing Your First Client
- Keep At It!
7 Steps to Starting a Freelance Business:
Before you start your freelance business, you need to be very clear on why you want to start freelancing in the first place. Once you have your bigger picture goals in mind, you can better utilise your time to attain your desired level of success with freelancing.
1. Have a Clear Mindset and Set Your Goal
You need to have a very clear mindset before deciding to start a freelancing business. Why I say this is because building your own business comes with a lot of responsibilities. You need to have a well-defined purpose behind this. Without knowing that, you’re not going to be able to set realistic, well-defined goals with a set timeline to it.
Ask yourself questions such as:
- Is freelancing just a way of earning an extra side income?
- Do I want to get into this business to have a flexible lifestyle and be my own boss?
- Or is this just a way to nurture a hobby or interest and make some money on the side doing it?
- Or is it a stepping stone to achieving a completely different goal later?
Without having these questions answered first, there’s no point even thinking about starting your own freelance business. Irrespective of what your final objective is, you’ve got to be very clear about it in your head. Not only me but also some of the world’s most successful businessmen would give you the same advice if you want to see yourself owning a successfully running business someday.
So take enough time but make sure you clearly understand your ultimate goal/objectives behind starting a freelance business. This will help you better synergise your choice of skill to offer with your long-term career/personal goals.
Ok, now you’re all set to get into the finer details of this!
2. Find a Profitable Niche
This is one of the MOST IMPORTANT steps before starting a freelancing business. Getting this right is an absolute necessity if you want to see yourself become a successful freelancer with a reasonable side/full-time income from it to support your desired lifestyle.
It’s the niche that you pick that’ll determine a lot of important factors such as the number of hours you’d have to devote, the money you’d end up making, the kind of lifestyle you’d have, etc.
Let’s say you have your day job and you’re a budding graphic designer by hobby; so clearly, this would be the first skill on your mind that you’d like to offer. However, this is one niche with cut-throat competition!! For instance, you’d find hundreds of freelancers who’re more than happy to deliver artworks for as less as $5 on various freelancing websites!!!! So yes, if starting a freelancing business is simply to nurture a hobby and make a little money on the side for you, then I’d very much advice you to go ahead immediately. But if you’re expecting to generate a reasonable side-income from this then it would take you a while. (Now you see why step 2 is so important!!)
The world has become such a small place with the advancement of the internet, that you can now find good quality skilled talent from across the globe who’d be willing to do the job for a little less!! So gone are those days, when you can compete on the price factor unless you have a very specialised skill to offer.
That being said, it doesn’t mean if you’re a freelance graphic designer you cannot make good money. If you’ve got them skills and a bit of that hustle there’s nothing you cannot do. For example, instead of making those typical marketing collateral artworks that most graphic designers are into you could rather offer your services to startups/tech companies to build product infographics for them or even design e-books for professional bloggers or even design book/magazine covers! I’d call this finding a niche within the niche. Basically, get into something unconventional or nascent. And strive to be the best at it.
If you’d ask me, I’d recommend you find a niche that’s a bit apart from the rest. This not only plays the demand-supply game in your favour but also lets you make a reasonable amount of money for the time you devote. Not to mention, this also makes finding clients much easier as there won’t be as many competitors in your niche. There are various such niches that you could consider keeping in mind the skills you possess. For instance, let’s say as a student you aced that French class in school then maybe now you could look at French-to-English translation gigs!! (Just fyi they pay handsomely well)
That being said, don’t just pick a niche just because it pays well. You should have the skill for it too! And if you don’t, then spend the time and resources to acquire it before starting a freelance business or else you’re going to be left behind your competitors. And more importantly, you should be able to enjoy doing this work! Or else, you’d end up resenting it sooner or later. Other than money, there are a lot of other more important things in life too – enjoying the work you do, contentment at the end of a hard-working day, self-love and the willingness to pursue something.
Don’t get demotivated if picking a niche takes you a while. In fact, be persistent in finding the perfect niche and DO NOT SETTLE until you’re convinced. Basically, by spending time doing this you’re actively looking for a potential market for your services and the kind of customers that’d value your time and the quality of your services.
3. Identify Your Target Clients
Ask any trader what one requires before starting a business the first thing he’d tell you is, ‘CUSTOMERS’!
If you have a product but no customers then there is no business!
If you don’t already have a good network of industry people within your niche, it’s ok to take the trial and error approach with this, I believe. In your first few gigs, you’ll develop a good understanding of what kind of clients you’re comfortable working with. You can start some initial groundwork by building yourself a lead list of potential customers and directly approaching them via a simple email/LinkedIn.
Here’s a great article I found on the web by Ryan Robinson, an expert blogger in this field, that’ll help you write a striking cold email:
But before that, have a good idea of the target customer’s profile in your mind. For instance, think about what kind of clients are more likely to prefer your services over a professional company’s, how does your pricing compare to that of others, what are your USPs and who’d see value in that. This will help you build a very narrowed down lead list increasing your conversion rates and better optimising your sales efforts.
Once you’ve delivered your first few gigs well, a lot of good projects will follow by word of mouth. And trust me, if your clients are happy with your work they will become your salesmen!! All good clients are more than happy to refer you to their peers if they like your work. These are also the very clients who’d go a long way with you. Thus, initially while you’re building your brand, give priority to the kind of clientele rather than how much you’ll make. This will pay you back a lot many times more in the long run.
To identify who’re the best-suited clients for you, ask yourself questions such as:
- Which industry needs your services the most?
- Who can afford to pay for your services?
- Do you have any mutual connections with the stakeholders of these businesses who can refer you to them?
- Do these target clients need your products/services in the near term?
4. Build a High-Quality Online and Offline Portfolio
A portfolio is nothing but a collection of all your best works. It could comprise of anything depending on what products/services you offer. For a corporate company, even the company profile enlisting their products/services serves as a portfolio.
You may or may not have it in the hard copy but having a soft version of your portfolio in a pdf or any other suitable format is a must these days!! With the power of the internet, your freelance business will have no geographical boundaries whatsoever, provided you create a strong online presence. I’d even recommend building a dedicated portfolio website where all your work is showcased.
But first, let’s try to understand why do we need a portfolio??
Before even knowing who you are and what your name is, any potential client would first try to look up your work. It’s your portfolio that’s gonna be their first impression of you. Think of it as a test drive for someone who’s out to buy a new car. Your portfolio is what’s gonna give the client a sneak-peek into your style of work, your taste, working standards, etc. If and only if your portfolio appeals to him is he going to get in touch with you. Until then, you’d never even know he/she was a potential client, to begin with. So make sure you spend a lot of time and resources in building a great quality portfolio that’d leave a strong impression on potential clients.
A strong, solid portfolio is a one that not only flaunts your work but also you as a brand. It needs to truly be able to communicate what’re you’re offering and what can the client expect. Now in order to ensure this, there are certain things you definitely need to include in your portfolio:
- Examples of some of your best work.
- Companies you’ve worked with/for in the past.
- Case studies about big projects undertaken by you in the past.
- A brief write-up about who you are and what’s your personality like? (this helps establish a personal connection with the client)
- This write-up should also mention the relevant skills and experience you have in your niche.
- What can the client expect for his money?
- List of products/services you offer.
- Testimonials from previous clients.
- A timeline of some of your biggest milestones (optional, but if included it does add some brownie points to your portfolio)
- Your life goals and your vision for the future of your business.
- Contact information.
If you’re having trouble figuring out where to start, you could even try to look up some top freelancers in your space and take some inspiration from their portfolios. For example, if you want to become a freelance fashion stylist you could look up some of the top celebrity stylists and go through their portfolios. This will also get you a great insight into how already successful freelancers in your niche position themselves in the market and the benchmarks you need to follow.
Display reference works on your portfolio:
I’ve put this under a separate sub-heading because this is an extremely essential step towards building a portfolio that’ll give you multiple times higher conversion rates! So what you need to do is, create sample works of what you can deliver just for your portfolio. For instance, if you’re a website developer put a link to a dummy website you’ve built just to put on display on your portfolio. Along with it, you could even mention an estimated price range for a similar kind of project.
This greatly increases your conversion rates as potential clients can straight away get a visual idea of what they’re expecting. They’re even able to directly relate it with what’s in their minds. For example, let’s say you’re a graphic designer who specifically/largely caters to the artist/music industry then I’d suggest you have some sample artist/concert artworks up on your portfolio. This would highly increase your chances of appearing on search results when artist managers are looking for graphic designers online. And then anybody who ends up on your portfolio is more likely to get in touch with you over others.
5. Price Your Product/Service Wisely
Remember one thing, if the customer doesn’t get the desired quality of work from you, he’s got 10 other options! At the same time, if you do deliver what the client wants, you could even charge a premium for your services and he’d be willing to pay!
If you want to thrive in today’s competing world then it’s time you start valuing ‘value’ over price!
I think one should take a very holistic approach towards setting the price of their product/service. You should consider ‘all’ possible factors that could influence the success of your business before arriving at your final price. At the same time, you shouldn’t end up over/under pricing your service simply in order to achieve shorter-term objectives. I mean yes, you could definitely offer your services at a ‘special price’ until you’re still to get your name out there but make sure to not make it a practice just to get more work moving forward. The pricing needs to be just right! And you can achieve that only if your pricing is based on the true value that you generate for your clients. Basically, the quality of your work should rightfully justify your pricing structure keeping current market trends in mind.
Before setting up your pricing ask yourself important questions such as:
- What are your competitors selling the same kind of services for?
- What can your target customers afford and would be willing to pay?
- What is your current standing in the market?
- What major past-projects have you got under your belt to justify the price you’re asking?
For instance, let’s consider my own example here. I’ve built a few websites for some clients as a freelance project for some extra income during my early days. These were just simple static websites I’d built for some companies who simply wanted to have an online presence. They liked the references I’d sent to them and were willing to give me a shot and asked me to quote them. Mind you, this was one of my first website gigs. I did some research and figured that even for the most basic website they’d have to at least shell out 15-20k if they hire any web designing agency. So I offered to do the job for 10,000 rupees only and they happily agreed. At this point, had I tried to ask for more they’d have looked for alternatives owing to my inexperience. But by quoting a lesser price I gave them an incentive to choose my services over others. And they were quite happy with the job too!
Here’s a link to that client’s website if you wish to check it out:
As long as the quality of your output justifies the price you’re asking, don’t worry about your price being too high. As I said before, the price needs to be just right! Not more, not less. And if you’ve got clear answers to the questions mentioned above then rest assured you’d do good 🙂
6. Landing Your First Client
Landing your first client isn’t all that tough as it sounds if you’re using the right channels of communication. The very first thing you need to do is make it known to the world that you’ve started something new and you’re looking for work. You could do this via an announcement in all the communities you may be a part of or have access to. Here are some examples of such communities that I used, to get my first gig:
- All of your online social media profiles such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. You could do this by adding a portfolio link to your profiles and a simple status message update; (Check example given below).
- Your colleagues at work. This worked really well for a former colleague of mine who was a part-time baker. When she started baking, she’d sent out an emailer to the entire office staff (roughly 1200 employees) with a special introductory offer. This not only got her the first order but many more in the future as her cakes were delicious too!
- Social media groups related to your niche.
- Send a broadcast message to all WhatsApp groups you’re a part of.
- Ask your friends and family to refer you to anyone they might know who needs your services. (This was how I landed my first freelance project! It was a friend’s father who needed a company website made for a limited budget, and I was more than happy to take it up!)
Now you must be wondering what exactly to write in this ‘broadcast message’….? Well, don’t stress! It’s easy.
Just ‘keep it short and simple’. I call it the ‘KISS’ rule.
It needs to be concise and to the point. Try to personalise the message by mentioning what motivated you to start with this new venture, highlight your relevant skills and past accomplishments and mention what kind of work are you exactly looking for (this needs to be very explicit).
I recently came across a friend’s post on Facebook who’s recently moved back to India after finishing her studies. She’s currently looking for a job or a collaboration of some kind in her field of study. I’ve shared it below for you to get an idea:
Hello! Mumbai fam,
After two years in Magical Melbourne, I am back in Mumbai with a Master of International Development Practice from Monash University and a heart full of learnings and memories.
If you or anyone from your network who is working in the social impact space is looking to hire someone/ collaborate on a specific project/works in an organization where they may be openings, please let me know.
I am excited to transfer my academic knowledge and past experience in understanding and solving on-ground challenges and take a step closer in achieving the SDGs or at the least towards a better and more equitable world.
Areas of interest (open to others): Mental health, psychosocial well-being, urban resiliency, public health, and education.
Thank you for reading 🙂
# Quick Tip: You could include a link to your portfolio too if you have one.
Along with this, you could also share your portfolio online on freelancing websites. However, bear in mind that you’ve got stiff competition from across the globe on such platforms. There are freelancers who come from places with much lower living costs and who’d be willing to do the job for less. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of freelancing websites as I’m someone who’d prefer to have a more personal connection with the client and communicate directly with him rather than over video conferencing or mail. But if you set up your profile well with the apt pricing then this is a good source of getting consistent work.
If you’d ask me about landing your first client the one piece of advice that I’d have to give you is to not be very picky and choosey. You’ve just stepped out there in the market and you don’t have many well-known clients to cite. Now place yourself in a prospective client’s shoes and think; if you’re willing to pay good money and have a fair idea of what you’re looking for then would you go for a first-timer? Most likely the answer would be ‘No’ unless your portfolio is made exceptionally well and blows his mind away. Thus, in the beginning, your only priority should be to find decent regular work.
However, this approach should change as soon as you’ve established yourself in the market. Remember, this ‘whatever comes my way’ approach is only good for the first few projects.
Once you’re an established freelancer, you can have the luxury of choosing which projects to take up; depending on how much value would they bring to your profile. It’s also the profile of your clients that’s a huge deciding factor in what kind of projects you’d land in the future. Choosing one over the other could be more conducive in achieving the next milestone you’ve set for your freelancing career. Some big names (that you’ve worked for in the past) and related pieces of work when included in your portfolio can also significantly influence how other potential clients perceive your work in the future. When prospective clients look at well-known names in your client list they immediately start placing you among the better options that are there out there. Think of it this way: let’s say a newly founded marketing company managed to score a gig from none other than Coca-Cola!! You don’t need to be a genius to guess how many more such prestigious projects would follow. It’s the same logic!
7. Keep At It!
Throughout your freelancing journey, you will have your high’s and low’s like any growing business would. But it’s extremely essential you persistently keep at it. Nothing in this world can get you the desired results half-heartedly. Same goes here. Don’t get disheartened if conversions are taking longer than you expect. A little bit of patience, persistence and consistency in work will take your freelancing career to the heights you always dreamt of. It took me also almost 2 months to get my second freelance project after I’d delivered the first. There were times when I felt like giving up but then I used to think what’s there to lose. All I had to do was keep looking! And eventually, I did land my next gig and then there were more that followed. Sometimes, it takes time but keep going at it and your efforts will never go empty. This holds true for everything in life and not just starting a new venture.
Once you’ve delivered your first few gigs, make sure you don’t lose momentum. If you’ve promised to deliver on a certain date, see to it that you do. In any service-based industry, the quality of your service speaks for you.
In the freelancing world, ‘Actions speak much louder than words’!
It’d take you ages to build a good reputation but just a matter of minutes to destroy it. A string of sub-standard jobs delivered by you and the whole world will know in no time.
Especially, in this ‘social media era’, it doesn’t take a dissatisfied customer too long to post their plight on social media for the world to read which is obviously not at all healthy for any business. Thus I’d suggest you only take up as much work on your plate as much you can timely deliver and deliver well. Quality work is what will get you to places, here.
Once you’ve made a name for yourself within your niche, a lot of big-ticket projects will come your way. Which in turn, may open up so many more avenues for you to expand your freelance business into something bigger! But all of this is possible only if you’re patient and persistent. There are no shortcuts to success. It all comes together after a lot of small steps, one at a time. Just be true to yourself and your work, strive to be the best at what you do, and deliver what you promise. And nothing will stop you.
Do not chase success, chase ‘excellence’ and success will follow!
With that, I’d wrap up this post. Let our readers know in the comments how your freelancing journey is panning out. We’d be happy to help in any way we can 🙂