How to Start Freelancing: Expert Advice for Wannabe Freelancers

(Last Updated On: March 6, 2017)

When I was ready to start freelancing a few years ago I knew WHY I wanted to freelance. I was excited to build my own business, work for myself, and build a portable career. What I didn’t understand was HOW to start freelancing.

I was too embarrassed to ask for help, so I created a profile on Elance (now Upwork) and started bidding on jobs. Needless to say, it took me more than a month to land my first gig, and I averaged less than $8 an hour in my first few months of work. In hindsight, my decision to go it alone held me back tremendously.

I don’t blame Upwork for my slow business growth. I simply had no clue what I was doing and that’s what held me back.

Want to start freelancing, but not sure how to begin? Here are answers to your top questions, plus the first three things you should do.This post includes affiliate links, which means if you choose to buy something using my link, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. You can read more on my disclosure page.

If you want to start freelancing, don’t make the same mistakes I did. Finding a mentor or following a proven path will help you find success faster. To help you on your journey, I’d like to introduce you to Lizzie Davey, the freelancing guru behind the Wanderful World blog and the Creative Freelancing Freedom course.

I’ve taken Lizzie’s course, and here’s what I loved about it:

  • Lizzie shows you exactly what you need to do to start freelancing successfully.

You won’t waste time bumbling around, trying random tactics to start your freelancing career. Lizzie immediately jumps into the nitty, gritty details of setting business goals, creating business systems, and getting your business legally situated. Then she shows you how to find your niche, get clients, and get paid. You never have to wonder what your next step should be.

  • She shows you how to set up your business website.

Have you ever searched for a business’s website and found…nothing. How frustrating is that!? Every business needs a web presence, and Lizzie tells you exactly how to set up your website, what elements to include (and what you can skip), and even coaches you on the language you should use to attract your ideal client. Confession: I never set up a website for my freelance business because I could never find a good resource to walk me through the process. This section of the course is worth the price alone!

  • Her swipe files are so useful.

When you’re new to freelancing, writing a pitch, a contract, or your bio can feel pretty daunting. Lizzie gives you worksheets, examples, and templates to help you get the hang of everything. These resources will help you land work and make you look more professional.

Lizzie has been freelancing for years and built a sustainable business within her first few months of freelancing. I interviewed her to get her advice for new freelancers and hear her thoughts on the future of freelancing. Here’s what she had to say:

How to Start Freelancing

1. More and more people want the flexibility of freelancing, but they don’t know where to begin. What are the first three steps someone should take to start freelancing?

So, if you want to start freelancing the very first thing you have to do is get yourself sorted out legally and get yourself organized. If you’re working full-time, you want to set aside a certain amount of hours each week to focus on your freelance work, and you want to get set up as self-employed so you’re legal in your country.

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Secondly, you want to solidify your skill set. This means settling on ONE skill or service that you are going to sell, whether it’s writing, designing, or marketing etc. In the early days, I would suggest not getting too deep into that. For example, a lot of freelancers will tell you that you need to decide whether you’re going to write blog posts or copy or social media updates if you’re a writer, but it’s easier to spread the net a little bit wider at the start to figure out what work you enjoy doing the most and which area is the most fruitful. I’d suggest picking 2-3 services from your skillset to start with, like logo and business card design if you’re a designer or blog writing and email writing if you’re a writer, for example.

Thirdly, you want to create a landing page or a small website (2-3 pages is fine) that “sells” those services. On that page, you want to concisely state what it is you do, who you do it for, and how you do it. Once you have this set up, you’re ready to start landing clients – the best bit!

2. You’ve been freelancing full-time for years, and you make more than $5,000 a month working part-time. But you’ve probably learned a lot along the way. If you had to start over, what would you do differently? 

Oh so much! I’d probably get more organized right from the start. I was kind of all over the place in the beginning, which made me feel less professional and made me value what I did less. I’d also make sure I had monthly goals mapped out and was constantly analyzing my progress. It’s difficult to see how fast you’re moving forwards when you’re not really paying attention to it!

3. Between your blog readers, the students in your course and the people in your Facebook group, you work with a lot of people who want to start freelancing. What’s the number one mistake you see new freelancers make?

Not seeing the value that they can offer! It’s a common thing amongst all creatives, I think. We absolutely love what we do, so we find it really difficult to take payment for it. When you can overcome that and see that you’re providing a service (just like a plumber, mechanic, hairdresser, etc) it gets easier.

How to Earn More as a Freelancer

4. A lot of new freelancers get stuck working for peanuts and never build a sustainable income. What advice can you share? Where can new freelancers find better paying jobs and clients? 

This is so unbelievably true! The key to a sustainable income is having a plan and being consistent with that plan. A lot of freelancers never see the value in their work, so they can’t then share that value with clients and get a higher wage.

The thing to remember is that not everyone can write, design, or market, which is why people are willing to pay for these services. When you start treating freelancing like a business, then you’re able to step away from it being about “you” and turn it into the value you can offer. THAT’S when you start landing better-quality clients and earning a decent income.

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As for the best place to find better-paying clients? There are three ways I recommend, each of which take an increasing amount of time. First of all, job boards are a down and dirty quick way to scroll through and find higher-paying gigs (I’m talking about places like Contena and the ProBlogger job board here, NOT Upwork!). Secondly, send direct pitches to brands in your niche. Thirdly, share value on your site with a blog and newsletter that brings in your ideal client over time.

I go into all of these in more detail in the Creative Freelancing Freedom program. 🙂

5. Do you think it’s important for freelancers to find a niche? If so, how can new freelancers find their niche fast?

Yes and no (helpful, I know!). I don’t think freelancers should limit themselves to one niche like a lot of “gurus” out there say, especially when they’re starting out. What if six months down the line you realize you HATE writing about make-up or it doesn’t pay well?!

I recommend having 2-3 niches. The first niche should be something you’re passionate about, the second one should be something that pays well, and the third should be one where there’s a ton of work. Having more than one niche means that if one area dries up, you have something to fall back on.

If you want to find your niche fast, just take a look at your past job experiences, the skills you’ve picked up throughout your life, and your interests. These are the springboards for discovering niches that are a good fit for you.

The Future of Freelancing

6. What predictions do you have about the future of freelancing?

I think it’s going to be HUGE. More and more people are seeing the value in working for themselves, especially in this economic climate where you might be out of a job next month. When you’re a freelancer, YOU are the only person in control of your income, so it makes sense that it’s a safer option for a lot of people.

I think in the coming years, brands and companies will be looking more and more to hire teams of freelancers with specific skills rather than a full-time workforce. This “mix and match” method of hiring who you need for specific projects is becoming the new norm, especially in fast-growing, innovative industries like tech.

You can learn more about the Creative Freelancing Freedom course here.

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    • Definitely check out Lizzie’s blog, too! She has tons of great blog posts and some awesome free resources to help you start freelancing. She also has a great facebook group for freelancers that is really supportive and helpful.