So, you want to start a freelance web career?
It’s the dream of many, and it has become an increasingly popular and viable option. There are many reasons why someone might choose to attempt to carve out a freelancing career.
Of course, the freedom is a huge draw. Lots of people envision themselves sitting idly by on a beach, wistfully typing away while the money pours into the account. This couldn’t be farther from the truth but it sure sounds great. It’s important to get these notions out of your head though. Freelance work is hard. Like building any business, building a freelance business requires constant attention, not to mention the hustle to get your name in front of those that matter.
However, if you are looking to get ahead and grow your freelance efforts into a business, then you should press forward.
Reasons to Consider a Freelance Career
- The freedom. While freelancing can be extremely hard and cost you a lot of hours in the beginning, that freedom can become a reality eventually. As your business grows, you are able to outsource larger portions of your business and devote less of your own time to the day to day tasks, the freedom can actually be a huge bonus. You can set aside time to pursue your passions, spend more time with your family, and grow as an individual.
- Develop your career as you see fit. You won’t have to hope that your bosses see you for the career-driven, motivated individual that you are, or recognize that your talents will lend well to the position that you are hoping for. You get to determine your own path. Do you want a promotion? You work for one, then give it to yourself. Want to get paid to learn a new skill? Set aside some funds from your LLC and pay yourself to learn it. The flexibility that is provided by freelance work can’t be undervalued.
- Unlimited growth. Your growth is unlimited. As long as you can set yourself to be able to effectively scale, your earning potential is unlimited. This is almost never true in the corporate world.
- You’re an entrepreneur. A freelancing career isn’t a startup. You aren’t trying to secure funding from an angel investor or creating an app. But – you are still an entrepreneur. A freelance service-based business can grow into a large company all the same, putting you at the head. Being a freelancer for the sake of being one won’t get you far, you have to have further aspirations and drive in order to see large amounts of success.
Once you decide that freelancing is right for you, there are a number of things that need to be taken into consideration before starting.
Have a Suitable Workplace and Routine
Although it might initially seem like you can just set up shop on your kitchen table and start work the very next day, there is a lot more that needs to be taken into account when you are setting up your workplace.
Some choose to rent a commercial office space. This certainly has its benefits, but the reasons why a commercial space are ideal for some can often be recreated in the home. A few of the traits of a suitable freelance workspace that you should be looking to create when working within the home include;
Setting Up a Workplace
- Quiet. You need to make sure that your work environment is quiet. You’ll need to be able to concentrate, and a quiet work environment is required. You can set up in a spare bedroom, home office, of anywhere with a door lock where you won’t be bothered.
- Outside of your own living space. You need to make sure that you set up your operation outside of your bedroom. While it might seem ideal to crawl out of your bed, in your underwear, to your computer chair – you need to make sure that you have an environment that is separate from where you sleep and live. It will help you to get into the right mindset and get motivated for work each day.
- A room with a window. It can get pretty dreary to without having something to look at. It’s best to choose a room with a window so you can look outside and rest your eyes every now and then.
Routine and Lifestyle
- Shower and dress everyday. Sometimes it can be enticing to forego showering and dressing everyday. Working in your underwear can, at times, seem appealing. However, you need to make sure that you are continuing to live healthily day in and day out.
- Have a set schedule. Wake up at the same time everyday. Take lunch at the same time everyday. Begin and end work at the same time everyday. Having a set schedule might seem like its outside of what you were hoping freelancing would be, but it certainly helps you to remain productive.
- Go to the gym often. What is the point in working like a freelancer if you are not willing to better other aspects of your life as a result? Go to the gym as often as you can. A solid body makes for a solid mind.
While it might seem ideal to jump right into things and start looking for freelance work – it is important that you go into things with a plan and some groundwork laid. There are a few things that need to be considered before sending your first pitches and quotes – including;
Put Together an Excellent Portfolio
Start by putting together an excellent portfolio. If you are going to be moving into the freelance world, you should have a good amount of experience in the industry that you are trying to break into. Make sure that you have a full portfolio put together before you begin in order to show your experience within an industry. Jumping in head first won’t help you to land much work without a portfolio to back it up.
In the beginning, you may need to take on some jobs for free in order to boost your portfolio. A good place to start is with nonprofits. You can offer your services to them for free, and then use those services to boost your portfolio.
There are a number of websites that you can use to create a great looking portfolio that you can then share with potential clients. Some of the more popular sources include;
- Behance (and ProSite the commercial version)
Figure Out What to Charge
Before you can send your first pitches, you have to figure out what you are going to be charging. This can be difficult, especially for a brand new freelance business. If you try to charge too much, you’ll never get any clients that are willing to pay your rate. Charge too little and you’ll find that you might get a lot of clients – but they might not be the type of client that you would ideally like to work with, and prevent you from making enough to take your business to the next level.
Don’t stress about it too much. In the beginning, everyone struggles to figure out how much they would like to charge. Keep in mind that you can always adjust your rate at a later date if securing clients ends up being a bit more complicated than you originally anticipated.
As a general rule of thumb – you can expect to pay 30% in taxes on every dollar that you make. With an accountant and proper write offs, that amount will shrink, but not by a whole lot.
Keep in mind that a certain percentage of your business will need to be in the form of profit, which is saved away within your business.
Let’s say you want to put away 10% of your income for future business ventures. If your monthly expenses for business and personal expenses were $3,600 per month – you need to make sure that you are earning at least $6,000 per month in order to cover taxes and put some away.
This means that you need to make sure that you are factoring taxes and savings into account when pricing your hourly amount or your per-project price. It is best to establish your per-project price based on the hourly amount that you need to make in order to meet your most basic needs.
Figure Out a Minimum
Figure out the minimum amount that you need to make in order to survive and pay your bills. Live minimally in the beginning. Try to cut costs in any way you can to make this minimum achievable. You can always raise your prices at a later date – but you need to survive in the meantime. In the beginning, you may have to take some clients on that are not truly willing to pay the amount that you are worth. Once you have a minimum baseline per hour of your time or per project, then you can work on growing your client list to include clients that are willing to pay you a larger amount.
Make sure that you have an idea of what other individuals within your industry charge. Look at freelancers with a similar background and pick their brain or website apart. These people will be your direct competition. This will help you to determine an appropriate amount to charge.
By connecting with other freelancers in your industry you can gain some insight into how they got started and help you to grow your network. you can also turn to the freelance marketplaces (which will always undervalue talent by their nature) and get an idea of what your services might be worth.
Pitching and Finding Clients
Now comes the hard part – actually pitching and finding clients. It’s not an easy process, and the process might be different for every freelancer. Some clients need to be pitched different than others in order to facilitate a rewarding outcome.
Pitching clients is one of the most difficult aspects of being a freelancer for many. I would recommend starting with our email pitching guide, as much of your pitching will likely be done through email in the beginning.
When pitching clients there are a few things that you should be looking to do.
- Explain your services in depth. Let them know what your ideas for their business are. Let them know how you could potentially help them.
- Make sure you tailor your pitch to what they want. Often times you will spend the opening correspondence figuring out exactly what your potential clients watch, and then segwaying into a pre-determined pitch once you know exactly what you will be pitching to them.
Branding vs. By Name
A serious consideration for many freelancers is whether or not they should create their own brand, instead of just doing business under their name. You can even do both – applying the specific brand where it applies for you.
In general, branding yourself is a good idea. It gives you an identity to run with when you start to become more successful and are looking to grow your business. Also – it allows you to introduce a recognizable name that clients and potential clients will remember after dealing with you.
Finding Your First Clients
Finding your first clients is a very difficult prospect, but with a lot of perparation and a proper portfolio it can be a lot easier. There are a tons of resources that can help you to find excellent clients that are willing to pay the rates that you deserve – but you definitely need to expect it to take a good amount of time to reach a point where you feel like you are getting ahead and don’t have to grind on a day to day basis.
Some of the sources that you can turn to in attempting to find your first clients include;
Freelance websites can be a great place to kickstart your business in the beginning. These jobboards usually underpay for the skill level, but do allow you to secure your first clients with relatively little effort and get your feet wet. I would recommend our guide on bidding and winning jobs on freelance websites before beginning.
Some of the more popular freelance websites include;
- eLance – I’ve found the largest portion of solid jobs with competitive pay on eLance.
Some of these websites are better than others, and it is up to you to test them for your specific niche and understand which will be the most useful to you in the long term.
Social networks can actually be a great place to network and find high quality services at a relatively cheap price. I would recommend starting with LinkedIn, as it is comprised of businesses and individuals that are career minded, while avoiding Facebook and Twitter until you have a firm grasp on LinkedIn and other channels.
The easiest way to find your first clients is by networking with businesses in real life. By seeking out professional groups (like your local chamber of commerce) or using resources like Meetup.com, you can connect with a lot of businesses in your local area.
Networking in person allows you to establish a more personal connection with business owners that might be interested in your services, or know someone who may be and pass that on through word of mouth.
The biggest mistake made by many freelancers is being unwilling to network or attempt to find clients in person. The actuality is that is could be their biggest source of income and new clients.
The sad truth is that many people get into freelancing because they want the solitude. They might be introverts, and find the solace of dealing with clients solely through email to be a positive reprieve from what might be expected of them at a more corporate setting.
Although it is a bit of a cesspool in terms of the number of people looking for potential gigs on the platform, with some persistance Craigslist can be an excellent source of new clients to budding freelancers. Be consistent with your posting and responding to ads and eventually one of them will work out for you.
You should always be working under a contract when working with a client. This is especially true for larger jobs. It is recommended that you get into contact with a good contract lawyer so that they can walk you through the process and draw one up for you.
Every contract should include;
- The start and end date of the project. You don’t want to get tied up working on a project for months longer than you had budgeted for – and believe me that will happen with some clients.
- The exact specifications of the project. Spell out exactly what you will be doing for the client and make it clear what you will be providing, written into the ironclad contract.
- The payment terms. Spell out when you will be getting paid, and the amount you will be getting paid.
Remember, contracts are put into place to not only protect you – but to protect your client as well. You should remind those that are weary of a contract that protections will be built into the contract for them as well, and make it clear that their lawyers will have access to the contract to make revisions as well.
Communication and Time Management
Any solid freelancing operation has to place a lot of importance on proper communication and time management. Remember – you are billing for your hours here. You shouldn’t be giving those hours away to clients outside of your original promises, and it is up to you to set the expectations with each individual client.
In the beginning you likely won’t have any employees and any outsourcing or contracted work that you do will be done on a per-project basis. That means that time management should be relatively simple for you, and could potentially be done with a basic program or application.
Communication has to be one of your most important efforts in your freelancing operation. Proper communication can help you to nip a lot of potential problems in the bud. Some of the most important consideration when you are communicating with clients, former clients, and potential clients include;
- Be direct. Don’t beat around the bush. Be honest about your expectations and how you feel but remember to do so in a professional manner.
- Smile, don’t be overly stern. People like dealing with people that make them feel good. Answer their questions with a smile, even when you are aggravated inside.
- Be available. Every client should have access to a certain amount of consultations without being billed. The amount is up to you, but an hour-long phone consultation per month seems to be the standard. Let them know that they will be paying for your time when they will be – but still make yourself as available as possible. You can also use scheduling software, allowing them to book your time
It can be easy to become sidetracked as a freelancer. Here are a few tools that you can use to better manage your time as you attempt to build your business;
Rescuetime runs in the background of your computer, tracking the time that you spend on applications and websites, giving you an accurate picture of how you actually spend your time each and every day. It allows you to set alerts when you have reached your daily threshold for certain activities. It also allows you to log highlights throughout the day to let you know what you have done right, as well.
Remember The Milk is a simple to-do list app that makes it easy to manage your tasks on a day to day basis. It syncs with a number of different services including GMail, Google Calendar, Outlook, Twitter, and EverNote.
For actually tracking projects, Toggl is an excellent option. It allows you accurately track the amount of time that you have spent doing certain things, and bill your clients accurately. It can also be used for your own purposes, such as seeing how much
Growing and Hiring a Team
Once the clients start rolling in and the feedback from those clients is positive, you need to decide how you would like to grow. At a certain point, you naturally have to consider hiring a team.
Keep in mind that hiring a team requires that you let clients know what you are doing, and some of them may want to move away from you. Some clients will prefer to work with individuals, or at least teams that present themselves as individuals. When you let them know that you are growing, they might be worried that your great customer service might be leaving as well.
It is important to quell these fears, but you won’t be able to save all of your clients. This is natural for a growing business and should be expected.
Some of the considerations that need to be taken into account when growing and hiring a team include;
It is fairly trendy today to hire individuals to work form a remote location. everyone wants to live the “dot com lifestyle” and have the ability to freely travel. The other benefit is that remote teams are actually a great way for you to grow your business rather cheaply.
There are many tools available, including Skype and project management systems that can make it easier for you to manage a remote team.
But – in the end it is up to you. There are pros and cons of hiring a remote team and some will always prefer to rent an office space and opt for a more conventional environment with their team. Remember that working remotely often keeps individuals form building a personal connection with their team, which might be key to your strategy of growth.
Team Building Tools
When you start to bring other individuals on board, the management aspects of your business will grow exponentially. Here are a few tools that you can use to help ensure that you are able to manage this expansion and grow as a company;
Project Management – Basecamp and Asana
Both of these tools are excellent for managing large projects with multiple team members. Asana is a little more basic (more like a basic running to-do list) and Basecamp is much more comprehensive for larger projects.
Accounting – Freshbooks and Mint
FreshBooks is the ideal cloud accounting app that can be easily accessed form anywhere. It is an excellent solution for anyone that is looking to grow without having to expand enough to warrant an accounting division of their operation. FreshBooks is ideal for freelance operations.
Pitching and Following Up Emails – Followup
Followup is excellent and incredibly easy to use. It makes it much easier to track your communication with clients and ensure that you are able to followup with them whenever necessary.
This concludes our beginners guide to freelancing. We covered all of the major aspects of starting out and growing as a freelancer. The only way to become a freelancer is to take the plunge!
Thank you for taking the time to read this guide. Hopefully it helps you to take the plunge and grow your freelance business to the best of your ability! Freelancing is difficult, but with proper knowledge and preparation it can be a whole lot easier!