Start your freelancing career - A step-by-step guide!
Written on November 8th, 2017
Technology is responsible for a lot of changes in our lives and the most important change of all is how we make money for sustaining ourselves and our families. With the increase in internet penetration and cheaper hardware costs, access to freelancing opportunities has become easier and we have seen a rise in people opting to work from home and providing products/services for a wider audience.
I run a community for women who are connected to the tech industry and quite often we find our members asking questions about starting a freelancing career. We have already done a couple of webinars on this topic, but I thought it would be a good idea to create a blog post that can help people in setting things up for starting their journey as a freelancer and a solopreneur.
Before moving to the step-by-step guide, I want to give you some context to this blog post, I started my freelancing career in February 2007 and left it in December 2009 after I graduated from University and was expected to get a stable job. I spent 5 years in the tech industry in different positions and then in July 2014, I again left my job to become a solopreneur. It has been a little over three years now and this blog post contains the route I have taken to create a sustainable business and do a lot of passion projects. Usually, the basics stay the same but the details can differ from person to person and as there are no silver bullets for having a fulfilling career, working tirelessly is the only way to achieve your goals.
Let's start setting up the shop!
Step 1: Find areas of interest/expertise
This is the first and the foremost step, you need to find your areas of expertise/interest. The kind of work that excites you and you have some experience with it would be the best choice. Run a search online and see what kind of skills are in demand and if you possess those skills, in some cases, you will have to learn a new skill and/or tool or take a class to improve yourself, don’t shy away from learning, because that’s the only way a freelancer can stay relevant.
Step 2: Make Lists (a lot of them!)
This step is about taking an inventory of all the things that can help you become successful in your career. List down your skills, the kind of projects you are into, industries/business areas of your interest, things that you need to learn to improve yourself (e.g., productivity, networking, etc.), strengths and weakness, and key people in your Rolodex who can be significant in your growth.
Step 3: Get on a freelancing platform (optional)
There are plenty of freelancing platforms out there and we have seen massive success stories coming out of these platforms. I have personally worked on Upwork and I am a big fan but there is a very cutthroat competition for projects and it may take you a couple of weeks in creating a kickass profile and some good proposals. Upwork publishes content to help newbies get on the platform and their customer services staff is helpful too. You can also try Fiverr, Freelancer, and People Per Hour for scoring projects. There are separate platforms available for specific kinds of skills, like Toptal and Freelance Writing Gigs. I would recommend you to explore at least two of these platforms and see what suits you and your business goals.
Step 4: Polish your Social Media Presence
This step is crucial for you to be known as a professional and someone who can be a great addition to any project/team. Most of us use social media for news/entertainment, staying in touch with friends and family, and/or for ranting/venting (especially Twitter), but now you need to shift the focus from all of the above and make it an aid for your business. A few rules that I follow for my social media profiles are:
Make sure that the bio/about sections of your profiles are up-to-date.
Use your full name and keep your profiles public (if possible), it will make you searchable.
No religious/political discussions.
No personal pictures/check-ins/details.
Create, curate, and share relevant content with your audience.
Use Twitter for connecting with people, taking part in Twitter chats, and forming connections.
Evaluate your own profiles and see what can be improved. I would also recommend you to Google yourself and see what shows up. Close/deactivate accounts that you no longer use and make sure that you create a search alert for your name so that you can be notified of any relevant activity.
Step 5: Create a Portfolio
It truly depends on the kind of work you do, but having a portfolio can increase your odds of scoring better clients. If you are a coder, have a GitHub repo, if you are a designer/illustrator, Behance can work for you, if you are a writer, have your own blog/Facebook page and keep your publications up-to-date.
In case, your work is like mine (Product Strategy, Research, Writing, Testing, etc.) and with NDAs, do spend some time in creating some work samples, documents, visual aid, etc., that you can showcase while bidding for a project.
Step 6: Create SOPs for your business
I have created some Standard Operating Procedures for my business which include protocols for onboarding a client, managing communication, cost/time estimation, setting up deadlines, and billing. I have also created a set of templates that I use for my work, for example, proposals, project charters, etc. For communication, I prefer to keep it all documented which means it’s either email or a collaboration tool (like Asana). Use an e-invoicing solution to automate your invoices and if not, create an invoice template along with an invoicing record sheet. It is highly advisable to spend some time sorting out these details as they will save you from a lot of headaches and potential loss of client/money.
Step 7: Sort out the payment method
You need to have at least two payment methods to make sure that your clients can pay you without hassle. PayPal doesn’t work in Pakistan and if you are using a freelancing platform, they have their own embedded payment methods. For your other clients, Electronic Funds Transfer can work and if not, you can easily get a Skrill and/or Payoneer account. I would also recommend you Escrow your payments to make sure that you get paid for the work you have done.
Step 8: Create a rate card for hourly work or estimation techniques for fixed-price projects
Costing is tricky and you will see a lot of people struggling with it. Rather than quoting on the fly, create a rate card/bundles for the projects that are redundant and simple to execute. For complex projects, set an hourly rate for different services that you provide. You can run a search online to see the hourly rate range for different services and even check with your local freelancing community. Once you have set your rate, don’t deviate from it too much because that will going to affect your reputation and clients will negotiate on cheaper rates rather than better quality/scope/value-added services.
Step 9: Create your sales funnel
You have done most of the setting up work, now is the time to get cracking. If you are working on a freelancing platform, they have a bidding mechanism but if you want to generate business outside the freelancing platforms, you need a sales funnel. You will have to establish yourself as an expert in the field so that people know who to talk to when they are in trouble with a specific kind of task/project.
There can be multiple ways that you can have the better acquisition of your prospects:
The best and most effective of all is to write blogposts, experience reports, white papers, answers on Quora, etc.
Start podcasting, which doesn’t require a lot of equipment and can help you in reaching your potential customers.
Creating an online course is also a very effective way of reaching out to the right kind of audience.
Email marketing via your website.
Hosting a webinar, even a targeted Facebook Live session can help.
Participate in online discussions (Targeted Facebook groups are a gold mine of connections)
And last but not the least, network with the right kind of people and be helpful.
Step 10: Optimize your work procedures and be productive
I can’t stress enough on being productive when it comes to running a solo show. Set a work timetable, have a proper workstation (table and chair), a stable internet connection (have a backup if you are in Pakistan), a note-taking tool (Evernote, Google Keep, Notion, etc.), a collaboration tool (Asana, Trello, Slack, etc.), cloud storage (Google Drive, iCloud, Dropbox, etc.) and noise-canceling earbuds. You will need all of the above to be able to focus on your work and without focus, there isn’t much chance of getting success.
Step 11: Be reliable
Reliability is a great and winning characteristic for any solopreneur, establish yourself as a reliable resource and earn the trust of both your colleagues and clients. This trait will help you in developing long-term relationships with your clients and will turn into repeated business contracts. Make sure that you communicate early and often when you are working on a project. Also, your words and deeds should always be aligned.
Step 12: Be a lifelong learner
For a freelancer, learning is not only important but necessary to keep the business afloat. Every now and then, you will have to take up work which will be fairly new to you and you will be required to learn a new skill to deliver it successfully. Learning will add up to your skillset and will help you win better and more work. Take an online class, listen to a podcast, attend a lecture or a conference, and add up to your skillset. Learning will help you grow both personally and professionally and you will be able to make better and more informed decisions.
I know that it’s a long list and it will require both patience and perseverance in getting your first gig and completing it successfully. It is a tough but rewarding route nonetheless and I assure you that once you get a hang of working remotely and on your own, you wouldn’t want to go back to a 9-5 job.
Do you have a question or a project to discuss? Let’s talk!