How to become a freelancer in 10 essential steps
What are you doing to become successful in 2017?
If you’re ready to put in the work, becoming a freelancer could be the most lucrative New Year’s resolution you make — whether you’re trying to score more cash in Q1 or set the foundation of a new business venture. That’s why Lightpost, a new part of the USA TODAY Network is here. Below you’ll find an 10-step checklist that will break down the process into simple, expert-vetted steps. Want more info on each? Click in to find worksheets, coaching advice and more.
Are you ready to hustle? According to career coach Michelle Ward, you better be!
“This is the most important shift you need to make to launch and be a successful freelancer. If you don’t believe that you can do it, then you won’t. Plain and simple. Harsh yet true.” – Michelle Ward, “When I Grow Up” Coach
Some of the steps we’ll quickly walk you through include goal-setting, deciding if part-time or full-time freelancing makes sense for you, and engaging the support of family and friends in this new venture. It’s good to know if you get stuck along the way, specialized career coaches can help.
Go ahead – size up freelancing to see if the fit is right for you.
You don’t have to be a freelancer in the exact same field you work now. Start taking stock of your hard skills (like expertise in certain software programs) and your soft skills (like your ability to work well with others) to determine where you can excel.
Need help? Consider taking a career assessment test to help identify awesome traits that could be turned into a freelance gig.
Then get creative as you think about your next move. If you pay great attention to detail, you may want to explore freelance work as a corporate event or wedding planner, or a personal assistant. Skilled with numbers? Maybe a tax preparer or a math tutor.
A suggestion: “Start keeping a Win and Compliments book to keep all the positive feedback you get in regards to your work, and the milestones you hit. This will not only allow you to ‘own’ your awesomeness, but it will help with branding yourself so you can do the work you want to do with the clients you want to do it with.” – Michelle Ward
Ready to nail down the best freelance field for you? We’re ready to help.
How do your skills translate to services you’ll provide? That’s the central question you want to answer with your resume.
“Nowadays, people don’t have the time or attention span to consume content that isn’t relevant to them. (Resumes are, in fact, content.). Relevance is the intersection of what people want to hear and what you want to say. It’s imperative to find this balance in your resume for each job to which you’re applying, if you want someone to actually look at and consider it.” – Josh Hoffman, founder of Epic Freelancing
Really nailing your resume may require the help of a professional. You can start your search for a good resume writer with the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches.
“You know it’s time to consult a resume expert when your resume looks like every other resume out there.” – Josh Hoffman
Start retooling that resume now with more “best resume ever” tips.
Need to become visible online right now? Hit your social media accounts. LinkedIn, check. Facebook, check. Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest … you get the gist.
But what about Upwork? How about private networking communities on Facebook? When it comes to social media as a freelancer, there’s more than meets the eye. (But you’ve gotta make sure what meets the eye looks professional first.)
It’s also a must to support your social media presence with an awesome website. “Having your own website lends legitimacy and credibility to your business, and it provides you with a professional platform to outline your services and expertise.” –Sagan Morrow, small business coach and blogger
Let us walk you through a checklist of what you should look like online as a freelancer.
Networking! Could there be a bigger buzzword?
But guess what – activating your social and professional networks pays off, and it’s a gift that will keep on giving. Set the groundwork for future success by learning the right way to tell friends, family and colleagues about your new venture.
Be ready at every turn to share what you are up to with a succinct “elevator pitch.”
“An elevator pitch empowers you to have clarity around your message and the services you offer. Make sure you phrase it naturally so it doesn’t come off as stilted or awkward in conversation.” – Sagan Morrow
And be ready to work right now – or sooner! You never know when a conversation might lead to the line you are waiting for: “I have this job ….”
Let us help you gain star status in the networking world.
Decide from the get-go what you want to be paid for your work, and price yourself fairly.
“So much of pricing and negotiating is tied up with our own beliefs about what we are worth. In the long run, and even though you’ll lose some business, you don’t want to be the Dollar Store and you don’t want clients who wish you were. The best clients (and projects) are the people who appreciate the value you provide and who are willing to pay for it. Try not to sell yourself short.” – Michael Katz, marketing expert
Some things to consider when setting your rates include your location, market, demand and visibility. Talk to other freelancers in your network about how they price themselves; freelancers are known for their willingness to share.
You may need to adjust pricing as you go, but always approach this critical part of your business with confidence. Never forget that you only get to keep doing this is if you are making money!
“Don’t ask, tell. Freelancers are not second class employees. We are business owners, on equal footing with our clients. It’s up to you, therefore, after talking to a prospective client, to scope the job and attach a fee.” – Michael Katz
We have more tips on how to nail the money side of your freelance business.
Freelance jobs don’t just fall into your lap (unless you are very lucky – in which case skip to the next item on this checklist). When an opportunity arises, you need to be able to pitch yourself as the best person for the job. While fellow freelancers may be friendly, they also will compete with you for the best work.
“All freelancers have their own secret sauce. Look at a client profile, assess the client, and then bid appropriately based on your skills and what you’re willing to work for.” – Rich Pearson, senior vice president of marketing at Upwork
The best way to understand how to approach a pitch? Talk to the client. Be genuine in your interest in their needs.
Be curious and explore what challenges they’re having in their business, then figure out how you can help them. No one likes being pitched, but everyone wants a better life so when you focus on the latter and how you can help them, you build relationships.” – Sagan Morrow
A good proposal leads to a good job. Learn more about writing a great proposal.
8. Setting yourself up for success with basic freelance rules, guidelines and infrastructure (oh my!)
Clients have questions about how you work. Do you have answers?
Get organized – now. Be clear on how you handle deadlines, revisions, invoicing, etc. Get all the details laid out up front, aligning your expectations with those of your client.
“During the idea generation phase, you need to establish the top three priorities for the project, and know the difference between what must happen to make the project great, versus what would be nice but isn’t one of the top priorities.” – life coach Kate Swoboda, Your Courageous Life
A big part of mastering the freelance universe is managing your time to get work done without killing your private life. Discipline = less stress and more time for yourself.
“Freelancing ebbs and flows, so there are moments when the schedule can get a little wonky – purposefully scheduling downtime helps to balance things out.” – John Waire, freelance photographer
Organization and time management – you can always be tweaking these two pillars of freelance success.
When you’re a freelancer, you won’t be getting that steady paycheck every two weeks. Get ready for some ups and downs in cash flow, and plan accordingly.
Understand what it means to be self-employed, and the legal and financial obligations that come with that reality. (Read between the lines: TAXES.) Turbo Tax is one of the DIY tools available to help small businesses manage finances.
“There are three key things that freelancers can do to be proactive and avoid trouble at tax time: 1) Keep meticulous financial records; 2) Pay estimated taxes as mentioned above; and 3) Seek help from a tax professional if they have questions about their individual situation.” – Jonathan Medows, CPA for Freelancers
Keeping your books is as important as the freelance work you do. It may not be as much fun, but it is every bit as important.
We can’t guarantee financial genius status, but we make this area of the freelance world a little less intimidating.
When do you up the ante? Here are some things to do to figure out when and how you can bring your freelancing to the next level, whether that means taking on new clients, charging higher rates, or pivoting your focus.
“I prescribe the 80/20 rule for entrepreneurship — 20% of the work you do should amount to 80% of the money you make. And 80% of the work you do should be fulfilling enough to push along the money-making work. Are you enjoying what you’re doing? Making the money you should? If not, it’s time to pivot.” – Dan Fost, freelance writer