Considering making the leap into freelancing can fill you with all sorts of emotions — like terror, for example. Reading up on freelancing tips, it’s pretty overwhelming even thinking about it — should you quit your job? How do you get clients? Could you actually do it for a living?
If you’ve been around for a while, you know I recommend keeping your job at first (and I have a thorough list of steps to check out here).
But there’s more to it than that, so I decided to collect some of the best advice I could find from other freelancers who have “made it”. They’ve been there, done that, and made all the mistakes so that you don’t have to.
They’re all successful freelancers now, and they have plenty of freelancing tips for you to learn from, so listen up:
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1. “Find a niche.” – Keith Devon
Keith is a successful WordPress developer, but he didn’t start that way. He started as a “web developer,” but soon found that that was way too vague for people to really understand what he could do. He was competing with a huge labor pool that all had this generic and unclear skill, so when he was applying for jobs, he was getting lost in the mix.
So what changed?
As soon as he clarified his skillset to pertain specifically to WordPress, he was getting contacted for jobs before he even reached out. When he was applying, it was for jobs that asked for WordPress knowledge, which he had. The lesson here is to be clear and specific with what you can do. It not only makes it easier for your clients to find you as their perfect match, but it gives you a better place to focus your efforts.
2. “To get clients, start building relationships.” – Melyssa Griffin
Melyssa has started from scratch (and succeeded) in starting and growing TWO different businesses — the first, graphic design, and the second, teaching other entrepreneurs how to market themselves successfully online. So what freelancing tips does she have for you?
One of the ways she advocates for establishing relationships is starting a blog! Hey, we know a thing or two about that. It increases your rank in the search engines, and therefore increases the chances that your future potential clients will find you. You can add all sorts of relevant content, with tons of benefits — aside from increasing traffic, you’ll learn new things, and may form relationships with people you never would have otherwise.
If you dream of being a freelance writer, a blog has the added benefits of giving you writing practice and new portfolio pieces.
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3. “Learn how to introduce yourself.” – Maya Elious
Maya works with brands and bloggers to help them monetize their online content and grow their online following. One of her freelancing tips is to create an elevator speech to introduce yourself and what you do. An elevator speech starts with a simple premise: you’re stuck in an elevator with (insert here: a client, an investor, etc.) and you only have that elevator ride, say, 10 seconds, to convince them that your idea is worthwhile.
Heart rate rising yet?
It’s an excellent exercise to simplify and clarify what you have to offer to people. If your idea is so complicated that you have trouble explaining it to people, it’s not a good idea. Harsh, but true.
On the flip side, if you just tell them your job title and expect them to know what you’re offering, you’re going to lose out on a potential client.
Maya recommends thinking about how you bring value to your clients. What can you offer them? Use this formula: results and benefits. Introduce yourself, and explain what you do through the results and benefits your clients get from you.
Example: I’m Ryan Robinson, and I show entrepreneurs how they can grow their side hustle into a profitable business so they can quit their day job. Result: grow their side-business to a full-time business. Benefit: quit their day job.
4. “The more you pitch, the more you work. So pitch pitch pitch!” – Caroline Tell
Caroline is a writer for lots of big publications, including the New York Times and Travel + Leisure. In an interview she did for Hey Mama, she gave some freelancing tips on becoming a writer: namely, pitch your heart out.
Pitching is mostly a numbers game, plain and simple. Even when you’re successful, you will still have to pitch clients, so you might as well start now! She recommends pitching to everyone you can think of, but making sure that your pitches are relevant and valuable to them. She does her research and gets creative about reaching out, including using Twitter and LinkedIn.
5. “Spend time researching – longer than you think.” – Jonathan Yeong
Jonathan is a developer, and now that he’s had some success, he has some advice for his past self (and the present you!).
His freelancing tips are super practical: spend time doing some research on how long a project will take. Make a list of all the steps, what each step entails, and any additional information you need. Congrats, now you have a roadmap and a checklist.
When you’re estimating the time and budget for a client, it’s infinitely valuable to have a very clear idea of exactly what steps are involved in the project. It will give you a more accurate idea of how long it will take, and it can uncover potential obstacles or questions for the client. Win-win.
6. “Ask yourself: Can I go without earning money?” – Claire Beveridge
Claire came up with a great list of questions to ask yourself before becoming a freelancer, one of them being the very realistic question of being okay with earning jack squat for a while.
Are you okay with that? Also, are you prepared for that? Do you have savings, a business plan, do you know how you’re going to survive while you’re not making money?
That doesn’t mean you can’t freelance, it just means you need to plan well. We recommend keeping your day job and building your side-hustle on your own time.
7. “Start with setting a goal.” – Brent Galloway
That sounds deceptively simple, right? Let’s break down his advice.
Start with one BIG goal. Like…I want to grow my (insert side hustle here) into a sustainable, successful, full-time business.
Then, write down 20 things you can do that will get you to that goal. As Brent says, it’s easy to come up with the first 5 or 10, and gets harder after that. Come up with them anyway – don’t stop until you get to 20.
Then, pick one task and do it. Do that for as long as it takes until you reach that goal.
8. “Show up every day for two years.” – Sean McCabe
As Sean says, this one is easy to say but not easy to do — and that’s exactly why you need to do it.
It’s all about commitment. Are you ready to commit to showing up every day for two years to make this happen? Imagine what you could accomplish if you really did that. You’ll not only make money, but you’ll build a client base, get you established in the industry, and prove that you did it even when it was hard. Even when it really, really sucked, you kept going and kept showing up every single day.
9. “Contact literally everyone you have ever known.” – Emil Lamprecht
The heart of Emil’s advice is to take advantage of all the relationships you already have — you never know who could become a part of your professional network, or facilitate new working relationships. Maybe your friend’s mom has always secretly wanted to start a website dedicated to her world-class gardening tips but never knew how, or your friend needs a logo. You never know until you reach out.
Emil says he considers three things: experience, contacts, and references. As long as he was getting at least one of those things out of the exchange, it was worth it to him, especially when he was starting out. Experience helps build your portfolio, contacts introduce you to new people, and references bring legitimacy to your work. All are invaluable to a freelancer.
10. “Get into the heads of your potential clients.” – Paul Jarvis
Don’t just wait around, biding your time until a future client magically stumbles upon you. Take initiative and figure out what it takes to be hired by the type of client you want to work for.
Get in their head by doing it the old-fashioned way: reach out to people you want to get hired by and ask them what goes into their hiring decisions. An easy way to do that is to find a freelancer doing the work you aspire to do, and check out their list of employers. A lot of recruiters might not reply, but all you need is a few that do.
Consider questions like why they hired that freelancer, how they found out about them, and what problems led them to hire a freelancer in the first place. You never know what you’ll find out that might help you with your search.
11. “Work smart. Learn to set goals, focus, and prioritize.” – James Dolman
James is a long-term freelancer, and he has a lot of advice that’s hard (but necessary) to hear. One of the freelancing tips he has is about the downside of being your own boss — all that work your boss does with setting deadlines for you, helping you prioritize, and just being nearby as a motivation to focus is gone. And that’s all on you now.
Getting to decide when you wake up, where you work, and at what hours sounds pretty great at first, but it can be a nightmare if you don’t make a commitment to being self-motivating first. You have to set your own goals, learn to focus without your boss standing over your shoulder, and prioritize your own to-do lists. It can be rewarding and awesome, but not always easy.
12. “Devise a branding system for yourself and your portfolio.” – Rick Byrne
Rick is a self-described serial freelancer, so his multiple trips around the freelancing block mean you get the benefit of all his accumulated freelancing tips. One of his tips for new freelancers is to develop a branding system right out of the gate. Depending on your affinity for creative stuff, this can be exciting or very stressful, but always worth it.
Marketing yourself is essential, and your portfolio is a key way to do that. As he says, make sure your portfolio displays only the type of work that you want to be hired for, and that type of work goes into your personal brand identity. The sooner you narrow in your niche, the sooner you can market yourself more effectively.
13. “Negotiations establish your value.” – Nicole Dieker
If the thought of asking for more money makes you want to break out in hives, you better start building up your immunity. This is one of those things where if you don’t ask for it, you’ll never get it, but if you learn how to ask the right way, you’ll at least show your client that you know you’re valuable.
What does Nicole have for freelancing tips? Well, aside from some general research on phrasing tips, she says a good strategy is to research fair market rates, consider how much you write for the site (regular contributors are more valuable), and track your stats. If your work is popular and is bringing in consistent traffic, that translates to a lot of value for your client, and a good reason to compensate you fairly.
Other than that, just practice! And maybe some antihistamines.
14. “Show some personality.” – Kat Boogaard
Kat’s freelancing tips have to do with pitching clients. It can be tempting to write a pitch that’s formal, extremely organized, and follows a specific formula, and then send it out to every client you can think of.
Please, please don’t do that.
As Kat says, a lot of outlets you’re pitching get hundreds — if not thousands — of applications every day. The last thing you want to do is blend in and sound like everyone else! Set yourself apart by showing who you are in your pitch. Include some humor or personal touches that are uniquely you, and will make your pitch a pleasure to read (and not a yawning bore).
15. “Put a mint on the pillow.” – John Kovacevich
In other words, those extra touches you put on a project will be noticed and appreciated, and you never know what could come of them. Possibly nothing, but possibly extra work, because you’re going to get a reputation as someone who delivers above and beyond and is a conceptual thinker.
If you provide a few extra ideas or options that go beyond the assigned work, your client will see that you’re invested in the success of the project, and may even like one of those ideas enough to pursue it after the initial job. Basically, do what you can to make yourself an invaluable resource.
16. “Write every piece three times.” – Ann Friedman
This is excellent advice for writers of every kind, so we had to include it. She doesn’t mean to write every draft three times, but to flesh out every idea in three different ways. Pick one idea and brainstorm three different, but similar, angles, and then pick three different publications to pitch to.
This is a great way to maximize the benefit of the time you spend coming up with pitches, practice your pitching, and increase your chances of getting published. I think that’s called a win-win-win. It does come with a warning though: don’t cut and paste! Make sure each pitch is tailored and unique.
17. “Some losses need to be cut.” – Debbie Swanson
When you’re first starting out, declining work can seem like the idea of a crazy person — but hear us out.
In the very beginning, sure, it may be in your best interest to take everything that comes your way to build your portfolio. But Debbie makes a great point, and that is that some projects are simply not worth your time.
Different clients all have different strategies, but one common one is to ask their freelancers to start at a lower rate and promise higher rates once they’ve proved themselves. If you attempt to negotiate and they decline, put some serious thought into whether that project is going to be worth it.
Would your time be better spent doing something else? How much will it really pay per hour, based on a realistic estimate of how long it’s going to take you? Sometimes the answer is to let it go.
18. “Carefully check the client’s feedback.” – Brett Dev
If you’re using a platform to scout out clients and apply for projects, use it to its full potential — and that means checking the all-important feedback section. Working with bad clients can be a time suck, an emotional drain, and can even damage your reputation if they decide to leave you a negative review (even if the quality of your work is good).
One of the best freelancing tips to avoid situations like that as much as you can: check their reviews. Do they have mid-range feedback with no written comments? Do they have no reviews at all? Do they have freelancers complaining about unclear requirements, moving goalposts, or late payments?
All of those are red flags, and your time would almost certainly be spent better elsewhere.
19. “To reach potential clients, you need to constantly market yourself.” – Nicole Foster
The old sit-back-and-wait-for-them-to-come-to-you strategy really, really doesn’t work. It’s a classic mistake that a lot of newbies make. You have to hustle and get yourself noticed just like everyone else, and you need to do it consistently.
Nicole recommends these freelancing tips, among other things: using social media to your advantage, having a great business card, and doing research to figure out who your target audience is and where they are (so you can bring yourself to them).
20. “Don’t make your bedroom your office.” – Samar Owais
Man, how great does that sound on paper? Lay in your bed, in your pajamas, and crank out high-level projects and rake in the money. Ideally, you can use that money to cover your bed with and make snow angels in it. Right?
Not exactly. You know what you’re used to doing in bed? Sleeping. And probably scrolling through endless garbage on your phone. Neither of those things has trained you to focus and create good content while you’re laying down and cozy under the covers.
As Samar recommends, get a desk or a table or something that will make you sit up straight and put your concentration cap on — ideally, it won’t even be in your bedroom. Also, try not to stay in your pajamas. Do everything you can to make your environment “work-like” — it’ll help your brain switch gears, and you’ll do better in the long run.
21. “Write it, hold it, re-write it.” – Scott Kuttner
Writing from the heart sounds nice — pure, heartfelt content sounds like what you’re shooting for. Unfortunately, that’s usually the worst type of writing.
From Scott’s top freelancing tips, go ahead and get it all out on paper first, which is the first “from the heart” draft. Let it sit, then go back to it with a critical and objective eye. Cut out the sap, streamline it, and you’ll be left with a clear and concise voice that will be much better and easier to read than the first draft.
22. “Successful freelancers have a positive attitude.” – Julie Stoian
Julie is the CEO of a company that consults freelancers on how to be successful in tech, marketing, and all things business-y. As someone who has been-there-done-that, she’s got some advice on what successful freelancers do differently, and one of those is to have a good attitude.
Regardless of setbacks, mistakes, or things just not going as planned, strive to have a positive attitude about things. Letting every failure derail you, or fear of failure keep you from trying, is not going to get you to your goals. Keep a good outlook about the big picture, and learn from your stumbles.
23. “Keep on hustling.” – Elna Caine
Sounds like a girl after our own heart, no? Elna is a professional freelance writer, and she earns a living doing freelance work. Not only that, she teaches other freelance writers how to do what she did.
What does she attribute her success to?
One of her big tips is to keep hustling; basically, don’t get comfortable. There will be a point when clients start approaching you, there will be return clients and regular clients, but the worst thing you can do is get complacent. You should always keep an eye out for new projects, better pay, and never stop reaching for that next big goal.
Keep grinding and good luck!
Of all these freelancing tips, there will usually be those that stand out the most. Take note, apply them in your day-to-day tasks, and always look to improve/tweak as it applies to you.
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