1. Define Your Goals.
Without clearly defined, easily measurable goals, you’re going to have a very difficult time getting to where you want to go.
- Is freelancing a path to just earning extra income on the side of your day job?
- Do you eventually want to become a full-time freelancer because of the lifestyle benefits of being your own boss?
- Or, are you looking to use freelancing as a stepping stone to eventually achieving a different goal entirely?
Regardless of what your ultimate goal is, you need to make it abundantly clear. This is something that all of the world’s top entrepreneurs agree upon when it comes to successfully starting a business.
Take the time to understand why you’re considering starting a freelance business, and make sure it’s the right move in your progression toward achieving your bigger picture goal.
Only after you have the clarity around where you want freelancing to take you, can you start backing into your shorter-term goals and benchmarks that’ll help your freelance business become a success.
2. Find a Profitable Niche.
Let’s assume you’re a graphic designer by trade, or you’ve at least been building your skills with Adobe Illustrator & Photoshop in your free time.
Clearly, there are a lot of competitors in your industry that’ll be willing to charge much lower rates than you, no matter what you do. There are people from all around the world with lower costs of living that’ll always be willing to accept lesser-paid gigs than you. Get over the idea of trying to compete on price as a freelancer, right now.
3. Identify Your Target Clients.
Just as important as finding a profitable niche, is attracting the right types of clients for your freelance business.
As you’re just starting your freelance business, it’s fine to take a bit more of a shotgun approach to landing a few clients. Make some initial assumptions about who you want to work with, target them first, and after working with a few of them, you’ll develop a very clear sense of whether or not you want to continue pursuing similar clients.
4. Set Strategic Prices for Your Services.
There’s no such thing as prices that are too high. Your prices may be too high (or too low) for the types of clients you’re targeting, but if you do your homework in deciding who to pitch your services to, you’ll be selling exactly what your clients need – for a price they can justify.
In my freelance business, I write well-researched, in-depth blog content for my clients. Most of my content is in the range of 1,500 – 2,500 words per piece, and designed to rank well in organic search results, which is extremely valuable for most businesses. Because my work extends beyond just writing, and into strategic distribution and driving traffic after the content publishes, I add a lot more value for my clients than any other “writer” can bring to the table.
5. Build a High-Quality Portfolio Website.
As a starting point, let’s understand what the purpose of having a portfolio website is, in the first place. It’s often the first impression a potential client will have of you, your style, your work, and the past clients (or companies) you’ve worked with in your freelance business. You need to effectively communicate the services you offer, and who they’re for. Beyond that, you need to sell yourself on why you’re the best person for this type of work – for the clients you want to work with.
Your freelance portfolio needs to do the following, in order to be truly effective at selling your services:
- Communicate your specialty & display examples of your work.
- List your contact information & show off your personality.
- Highlight your relevant skills, education, and accomplishments.
- Display testimonials (even if they’re from coworkers or former bosses when you’re just getting started).
- Have regular updates that show your evolution, new clients, and updated sample work.
6. Create Examples of What You Can Deliver (on Your Portfolio Site).
With that in mind, one of the best ways to show you’re in the know within your space, is by regularly publishing new content, images, or videos (depending upon the content medium you work in) that your target clients will be impressed with. Once you have an understanding of what your clients need, go out and create examples of that exact type of content – as if you had been hired to produce it – for your own website.
There’s no better way to sell your services, than to already show your clients that you can create what they need. What’s more, is that it’ll make their projects that much easier when you have a library of related work to pull from for inspiration.
7. Thoughtfully Choose Your First Clients.
Because you have a very limited amount of time to source new clients (and actually do the work for them) as you start your freelance business, you need to get the most out of the clients you do bring on. Both from a financial and portfolio-building standpoint.
Your limited number of clients and correlating portfolio pieces, will represent how you’re perceived by other potential clients moving forward.
That makes everyone you choose to work with or highlight on your website, a crucial decision – especially in the beginning. Obviously you don’t want to overthink it and go into decision paralysis, but spend a minute or two thinking through whether or not each potential client you’re considering will help you get to where you want to go.
8. Mention Potential Clients in Your Content.
You’re going to have a hard time making a name for yourself within your niche, if nobody knows you exist.
That’s why within every piece of content I create on my blog, I regularly mention the brands, companies, and individuals I see myself potentially working with one day. Even if I’m not quite ready to take on new clients, or I’m not even qualified to go after such huge deals yet, it’s never too early to start building good will and getting your name in front of the right people at your target companies.
9. Learn How to Pitch Yourself.
No matter how skilled you are at your craft, if you want to turn your skills into starting a freelance business, you need to be able to communicate those strengths and convert your conversations into paying clients.
10. Don’t Mix Your Day Job Priorities with Freelance Business.
Above all else, it’s important to remember that your day job (and sole source of reliable income) is your number one priority.
Don’t do anything to jeopardize your full-time employment, as you still need it to sustain you while you grow your freelance business on the side.
There are a lot of no-no’s you’ll need to avoid, including:
- Breaching any contracts or agreements you’ve signed with your employer.
- Working on your freelance business during company time (seriously do NOT do this).
- Using company resources, computers, or online tools within your freelance work.
I strongly recommend that anyone considering starting a freelance business or transitioning into being a consultant, begin first with freelancing on the side while still working full-time.