From the Mailbag: What Is the Best Way to Start Freelancing?

Today I’m answering one of the most common questions I’m asked: what is the best way to start freelancing?

I cover how to start and run a work from home business (including freelancing) in my book Kill Something and Drag It Home: A Woman’s Guide to Smashing (and Surviving) the Work From Home Lifestyle. Don’t worry, my dudes, you can read it, too. I addressed it to women because, well, I am one (surprise!) and there are few comprehensive books that look at it from a woman’s point of view. With that being said, there’s also no man bashing. If you’re agender, trans, third-gender, or anything else…doesn’t matter. The content of the book is for you. With that being said, let me answer the question as someone who started freelancing without any sort of guidance or help.

I have three basic rules when it comes to successful freelancing (and they also work for getting started):

  1. Plan your work.
  2. Work your plan.
  3. No excuses.

I know that’s not sexy. At all. And I also know that some of you reading this are all:

ThAt’S EaSY fOr YoU to SAY YoU dON’T kNoW WhaT I’ve BeEn ThROUgh.

I am a survivor of childhood physical and sexual abuse (and the mental horrors that come with that). I survived an abusive marriage that lasted more than a decade. I’ve been stalked. I have C-PTSD. So, while I may not know your EXACT story, you should know that everyone has a story…and you can either use it as a springboard or an excuse. It’s not an easy decision. It’s not easy work. It is, though, totally within your control as an adult.

Figuring Out What You Want to Do

It doesn’t do you any good to start freelancing if you don’t know what you want to do and won’t be honest with yourself (or anyone else) about what you do NOT want to do. The nice thing about freelancing is that if you have no degree, it often doesn’t matter. If you have experience and a natural ability to do something, that’s just as valid (that doesn’t mean you’ll have an easy time landing your first client or two, though…it’s hard regardless).

Make a list of what you enjoy doing, what you’ll do although it isn’t your favorite thing in the world, and what you fucking hate. Know what’s at the top of my fucking “hate to do” list? Being a receptionist…answering the phone…being on the phone. I prefer email and text. I do my best to limit how often I am on the phone…but being on the phone for my own business needs is far better than being on the receiving end of phone calls on behalf of another person. I got enough of that as an administrative assistant and a paralegal. Hard pass.

I go into more detail about this very topic in my book, but the above is the gist of it.

Figure Out Your Target Market

You must know who is a candidate for what you offer and who isn’t. And, no, the entire world is not your target market. Start with one or two segments that you know you can reach. Work in those areas and then expand if you’d like. You need to know where to find your target market and how to contact them, too. This takes research. Don’t be that one asshole on Twitter who contacts random people who aren’t even well qualified for the offer.

Know What to Charge

This is part research about the industry in which you’re looking to work in and part knowing what you need to make to stay afloat. As far as the research about your industry, you’ll have to visit websites, freelance sites, etc., to determine the average going rate. Keep your living expenses in mind.

Set Up an Online Portfolio of Some Kind

You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on a website. You also don’t have to spend a lot of time or wait until it’s perfect to launch it. You can use WordPress or Wix or Weebly or whatever you want. I have a couple of different Wix websites as well as this blog. I still get contacted on a fairly regular basis through my Wix accounts. I have a 20 minute walk-through video on setting up a portfolio available here.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job Just Yet

If you’re currently working a day job (or a night job), don’t quit it just yet. You need to have enough ongoing work and clients to support you. I taught college and worked in a law firm while I built my business up.

Yes, I know: BuT I’M tIReD.

No one else can or will do it for you. The client fairy doesn’t just drop out of the sky and give you clients. I’ve actually done that for new freelancers a few times only to get fucked over in the end because they didn’t actually want to put in the work or put the clients first. And that’s the key – your clients (who are your business) must come first. I talk about why this is important in the book.

Come Up with a Plan

Like any other business, you’ll need a plan (plan your work, work your plan). You need to think about the best most cost-effective ways to get yourself out there. This doesn’t have to involve anything more than your time. And it can and does take time. I set up my first freelance profile during the summer of 2013. I didn’t get my first client until probably December of that same year…and then one in February. And then another. And another. But I had to put myself out there. I had to invest my time.

Getting started as a freelancer is often a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. You must take the steps and go through the motions to establish yourself. No one else can do it for you. The road is often long and sometimes bumpy, but you may also find out that it is worth it in the end.

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