Are you dreaming of cutting the chain from your 9-5? If you’re amongst the 86% of Americans that the US Census Bureau says drive to work every day, then the hours per week and days or even weeks per year that you could be saving on commuting is enough of a reason alone to break free.
The dream is no longer simply to become financially free and have the right colored fence protecting your house and kids. With the rise of technology people are increasingly in the position to demand that their lifestyle be up to the times. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 53 million American’s are participating in the freelancer economy in some capacity. That’s 1 in 3 workers!
Maybe you’re already apart of the freelancer economy as a side-hustle and you want to step it up to a full time income. Or maybe you watch helplessly from your desk as some of your friends are living the life of their dreams as a digital nomad in Medellin and you’re ready to get in on the action.
Do you want to know how to become a freelance writer? Or maybe how to become a freelancer web developer? Whether you want to be a writer, web developer, editor, graphic designer, marketer, programmer or any other kind of freelancer, the process of transitioning your income stream from payroll to invoice is similar.
We’ve put together a panel of experts to help you transition to the freelancer economy, no matter where you’re currently at. These seasoned freelancers collectively have decades of experience freelancing and they want to help you. If you have any tips to add submit a request.
Here are the top tips on how to become a freelancer from those who made it:
Stephanie Caudle, Owner of Black Girl Group, a freelancing site for African American women.
My one piece of advice for freelancers is to focus less on project based jobs and more on retainer opportunities this because project work will always run out and will put you in a feast or famine world.
When you are venturing out on your own, it’s important to set some goals before you get started. Most people make one of two mistakes when setting goals: They either don’t know how to get to their goals, or they obsess over it at the expense of other endeavors. Both of these strategies will set you up for failure.
Instead of expecting your goal to magically happen, plan ahead. Decide what actions you need to take to accomplish the goal. Then, mix those behaviors into your daily routine. You’ll have a roadmap to reach your goal while staying on track for your other objectives.
If you’re not sure what to do, reach out to people who have achieved what you want to and learn what they did to make it happen. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. They will be flattered you aim to achieve what they did and you see them as a mentor to make it happen.
My best advice is to stick to the contacts that you might already have from a career not freelancing and then just go proactive. Send your portfolio out to agencies and potential employers to say hello and present your work to them. If they don’t know you, they probably should. Because your work is great, right? So if they would know your work they would probably give you freelance work.
Another advice would be to just call them: say hello and tell them who you are. Its’s never too direct.
I have been working as a brand strategist and designer for over 11 years and built a 6-figure business by helping hundreds of entrepreneurs others build their own.
The most important thing in being able to build a successful freelance business, in my opinion, is to be able to effectively differentiate yourself from everyone else. Giving your audience an understanding about the unique things that you bring to the table that no one else can bring. Usually, designers feel like the work that they are doing is something that maybe anyone can do, and because of this, they end up undervaluing their work and even undercharging for their services. However, if they understand the true essence and value of their work, while bringing that extra value that no one else can offer, it builds for an important foundation that will radically change they do business.
For example, for years I used to communicate that what I did was work as a designer that did logos and websites. There was nothing special or unique about that message. It wasn’t until I realized that I wasn’t communicating my unique value, that I made the change. Now I say that I help entrepreneurs transform their years of experience into a profitable online business and a Brand that Attracts premium clients. With this, I am clearly positioning myself as an expert that is specifically geared towards people that are looking to turn their expertise into a business. I am also communicating that what I do is build premium brands.
In your case, I would recommend getting crystal clear on what it is that you do differently and how to make that message effectively come across to your audience. It will absolutely make the difference in having success in your business as a freelancer.
Dipping your toes with a side hustle vs. diving in head first as a full-time freelancer
My tip for anyone wanting to pursue the life as a freelancer would be to get started while you are working elsewhere. Progress as a freelancer can be slow, so it’s worth having a main source of income and then working in the evenings and weekends to get small bits of freelance work.
At the moment, I have enough additional income from freelance work, but there is no way I could survive on just that alone. So the plan is to get as much freelance work as possible and to get a steady flow of leads to build my confidence for the future supply of work. Once that is in place, I can then make the move of leaving my main job.
My number one tip for those who are looking to pursue a career as a freelancer is to start whilst you’re still in full-time employment. Making the leap from full-time employment to freelancing is daunting and for many, unsuccessful. By making it more of a phased process where you slowly phase in freelance work and phase out of full time employment you set yourself up for a more successful career.
So, sign-up to a few sites like UpWork, People Per Hour and Fiverr and start pitching. Once you start to build a good reputation on freelancing sites, you’ll find more and more work coming your way. Once it becomes financially viable, quit your full-time job and go all-in on freelancing.
As a former freelance graphic designer, my biggest piece of advice is simple (though difficult to achieve): Stay on top of your game. Whether that involves giving yourself a strict schedule or physically re-locating to a dedicated workspace, staying productive is paramount to success.
The temptation of idleness and leisure time is very real when you have no direct superior, and you’re not going to make a comfortable living if you’re only putting in 20 hours of real work each week
Most important to consider for remote workers and a freelance economy:
1. Cultivate genuine connections with people you meet professionally and socially.
Someone in our networks is always asking for reference
on a designer, your connections & friends will recommend you.
2. IF you’re void working with creative temp agencies when you can some of them require businesses to pay a
“finders fee” if that business wants to hire you or work with you past your initial assignment. Once you have a body of work
that you can present to the client, you can do the work of the agency and sell your-self (and keep the markup).
3. Know when to offer gratis or discounted work. Often bartering or discounting your service fee it worth it. If it’s a business or organization that is growing, and you develop a working relationship with them as their trusted creative, when they are generating greater revenue, they more likely than not call on you and you’ll be able to at a point adjust your fee to the market rate.
4. When negotiating a fee, always start by asking what the budget for the project is. Straight away, you’ll know how much value is placed on design as a service. You can counter with “I don’t think I’ll be able to provide what you’re looking for at that rate” and see if they offer a rate more commensurate with your services and experience, and if the budget is just impossible, you can offer what could be achieved within that range.
5. For unknown contacts that don’t come with a recommendation, charge an consultation fee – which can be deducted from the total project fee (if they indeed choose to move forward with you as the creative on the project). You would be surprised at how little is understood about design, the time it takes to research and provide creative direction, and the time attributed to requested revisions. Often you spend a good amount of your time communicating about the project needs to build the brief so you can educate the client on the prices, agree on the rate or negotiate the fees – that’s time you don’t get paid for if you don’t charge.
6. In an offsite freelance economy, your online presence matters. Be Present! Unless you have an agent, you are your best advocate. You need to cultivate an online presence that gives an at-a-click introduction to who you are, what you do and what work you’ve done. Gone are the days of leafing through various portfolio sites to figure out what a creative has to offer, you should own your personal URL or that of your business name. Your work should be easy to access and not emailed to a client in a jumble of PDF attachments.
I have always managed my private design business while working in corporate. It’s kept my finger in the creative pie, and allowed me to maintain my creative identity separate from that of any brands that I was managing professionally. Working both sides (hiring freelancers and acting as a freelancer) has enabled me to better manage both professional and personal freelance efforts.
Always charge upfront. Require clients to pay you in full before they can book time on your calendar. It’s not fun to do thousands of dollars worth of work and not get paid for it. You’ll save yourself a lot of stress and worry by billing at the beginning of a project.
Referrals & Ambition
Jessica Thiefels, Freelancer at JessicaThiefels.com
My top tip would be to not be afraid to go after big projects. So often, we think: oh, I can’t handle that or my work isn’t good enough—but in most cases, you’ll be able to figure it out.
Bonus: you’re getting an amazing potential referral in the process, while learning something new you can offer future clients. Big projects often pay more as well – win, win, win!
Ready to get started as a freelancer?
So now that you’ve been able to get tips directly from all these seasoned freelancers, what are you waiting for? If you’re like many of the other people allowing their skills to go undervalued with one employer, chances are you’re a bit skeptical that your skills are marketable as a freelancer. Will you really be able to get clients? The answer is overwhelmingly YES!
If you’d like me to write up a full guide on how to market your unique skills as a freelancer to stop being underpaid, leave a comment below requesting what topics you’d like covered.
Are you an experienced freelancer with something to add to this list? Contact us with inquiries.
I like to write about the future of different technologies and business models. With Future of Everything I approach this by interviewing founders, CEO's, and other game changers to share their vision for the future of their industry. Apply today to be a contributor (link on the menu at top)