How to Become a Freelancer at
Any Stage of Your Career
By Ashley Lipman
The digital nomad lifestyle is no longer an unattainable dream. Due to advancements in technology and a societal shift toward prioritizing that elusive work-life balance, more people are launching a freelancing career so they can achieve their goals from anywhere in the world.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that these efforts are only for the Millennial generation who are just starting. People of all ages and all stages of their career are launching freelance businesses and re-defining success. Here’s how to become a freelancer at any stage of your career.
Define Your “Why”
The most important step in becoming a freelancer is defining why you want to go this route. To do so, you’ll have to set aside some quiet time to reflect upon this goal and dig deep into your values and aspirations. Ask yourself why you want to do this. When you have an answer, ask yourself why that matters to you. Keep following this chain until you have a distinct definition of your motivations.
For example, someone might decide they want to become a freelancer to have more free time. Upon asking themselves why that matters, they determine that they want to see the world now. Why? It doesn’t make sense to them to wait until retirement age. Why? They want to live without regret.
Through this exercise, the person has changed their reasoning from a lighthearted answer of having more free time to a profound purpose: living the life they want. Once you define your why, you can learn how to start a business, from clarifying your business structure to registering everything with the proper governing bodies. This will also help you identify the niche in which you want to work and outline which skills you will offer clients.
Now that you know the deeper reason behind what’s driving you to become a freelancer, it’s time to set goals and an action plan to motivate you and direct your business. Try not to focus only on financial goals; set smaller action goals as well.
Follow the SMART method when crafting goals, making them Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. For example, setting the goal of making a million dollars as a freelancer is a great motivator to work toward and accomplish someday, but it’s not going to help you right now. On the other hand, striving to make $1000 during your first month of business fits all of the SMART categories.
Focus on the broader path that will lead you to your financial goals. For example, Human Resources freelancers may focus on completing a timeclock software trial to better help make recommendations to their clients in this field. Other freelancers may set the goal of attaining three new clients over the next month through pitching efforts.
Research and Pricing
Pricing is a point of contention for a lot of freelancers. As freelancers aren’t bound by the same labor laws that protect many traditional workers, there’s often undue pressure to low-ball. On the other side of the equation, there’s a lot of misinformation about getting rich quick as a freelancer and people often price themselves out of the market. To be successful, you must find a balance between the two.
Before you set a price for your services, take time to research your target market and your competitors by conducting a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. The strengths and weaknesses portion will ask you to assess what you’re offering and any financial obligations you will be forced to adhere to. Opportunities and threats ask you to look at your potential customers and your competition. What are your customers paying now for similar services? What’s included in those services? What are your competitors charging and how are they adding value? Set your pricing based on your findings.
Learn more about SWOT and other methods for situational analysis.
Create a Portfolio
To attract clients, you’ll need to showcase what you’re capable of in your specific niche and beyond. A photographer will often highlight their best images to garner an emotional response from potential clients. Freelance writers will often choose their best pieces or those published on sites of notoriety.
Your portfolio will evolve as you do. As you grow and improve, taking on larger projects and yielding better results, you can alter your portfolio to reflect your best work. If you don’t have work samples to start, include a resume and some mock-ups. You may also want to reach out to do some work at no charge in exchange for a testimonial to get started.
In many cases, your portfolio will be collected in the form of a website. As a freelancer, it’s important to have a web presence. This can help add a face to your business and engage potential clients.
You’ve set up your business, wrote your goals, and turned on the proverbial open sign. Now, how do you get customers? Look to potential clients within your niche that you’d like to work with and consider the pros and cons of choosing to reach out to them. In many cases, the only con you will find is that they have the potential to say no.
Set a goal to pitch five potential clients every day when you start. Peruse job boards or do primary research to identify who might be able to use your services. Write a pitch that focuses on the client rather than yourself. Identify how you could help their organization and summarize your skills. Include a strong call to action at the end, inviting them to discuss your services further.
Remember to set aside time each week to follow up on potential leads. In freelancing, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, especially when responding to job postings. Clients are often inundated with emails-- following up conveys your enthusiasm and continued interest.
Depending on the nature of your work and your overall lifestyle, you may only be able to take on one client at a time while still working at your day job. Once you’re established, make a transition plan to shift to full-time (if that’s your goal) and make it happen.
Younger workers may have an edge on technology and remote work, but those further in their career have a lot of value and experience to offer as a freelancer. It’s all about finding the right fit.