Ashlee of Work from Home Happiness is sharing her tips for first timer freelancers who are just getting started. To connect with Ashlee, you can find her on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Take it away Ashlee!
Have you considered freelancing before but lack of experience kept you from taking the first step? That’s okay. Getting started is the hardest part but once you do, you’ll often find that freelancing can lead you down the path to work happiness!
First things first, what exactly is freelancing? Good question. About 1 in 3 people in the U.S. now earn at least part of their annual income as a freelancer. That means they sell services — writing, design, web development, etc. — directly to clients on a per project basis.
And with the ability to take full control of your career, it’s no wonder so many are jumping onto the solo-working bandwagon. If you’ve been wanting to join the freelance ranks but had no clue where to start, fear not. With this first-time freelancer’s guide, you can effortlessly go from thinking of freelancing to full-time freelancer, even if you have absolutely no idea where to start.
Select Your Services
Services are the bread and butter of freelancing. So, before you set up shop as a freelancer, you need to figure out what services you’ll sell. Freelance services can vary quite a bit and include everything from the in-demand to obscure offerings and everything in between.
A good place to start is by selecting something you’re good at and enjoy doing. If you love to tell stories, consider freelance writing. Enjoy art? Perhaps graphic design will be your best bet. Great at getting things done? Being a freelance virtual assistant may work for you. Lightning quick typist? Consider transcription work.
Really, you can freelance just about anything. If you’re at a loss of what to sell or need a little inspiration, check out the different categories on popular freelance marketplace sites like Fiverr or Upwork.
Narrow Your Niche
Now that you’ve selected your freelance service, it’s time to narrow it down. This process is called picking a niche. A niche is a well defined yet profitable category you’ll specifically focus on as a freelancer.
Let’s say you want to become a freelance writer. Great! But saying you’ll write anything for anyone is just too broad. Instead, you’ll want to choose a very specific subject matter you’ll specialize in.
Again, this could include anything — playing to your strengths and interests is always a good idea. If you come from a legal background, consider writing blogs posts for personal injury attorneys, web content for probate lawyers, or newsletters for foreclosure practices.
If you’re going to offer graphic design services, you could focus specifically on logo creation for ecommerce stores within the fashion industry.
To avoid freelance burnout, consider a niche you know you’ll enjoy so you never actually feel like you’re working. And, remember, just because you choose one niche in the beginning, doesn’t mean you’re locked into it forever. In fact, it’s perfectly normal to change niches or switch gears as you grow and evolve as a freelancer. But, in the beginning, you’ll need to get your freelance career off the ground, and picking a niche will help you do just that.
The Power and Importance of Picking a Niche
Now, I know it’s counterintuitive to focus on a really small and specific set of clients. You may think this limited market may also limit your ability to earn. But, the truth is, when you focus on a very targeted niche, you can often achieve success much easier as a new freelancer.
Find Your Tribe
Half the battle of being a freelancer is finding clients and pitching your services to them. This is often referred to as your ‘tribe.’ When you have a specific tribe, you can more easily tailor your pitch to appeal to them. An effective pitch will go a long way in landing your first clients as a new freelancer. Plus, when you know who your clients are, you know where to look for them.
For example, if you’re a freelance legal writer, you know to market your services to legal departments, law firms, and solo attorneys. If you’re a graphic designer, you can easily pitch your logo design services to small ecommerce shops and startups. You’ll spend less time finding clients and more time pitching your services which will lead to more work, quicker.
Achieve Expert Status
And picking a niche also gives you a lot of power as a freelancer. Why? It helps establish you as an expert in your field — quickly.
Pretend you’re a client looking for someone to write the content for your small online jewelry shop. Would you hire Freelancer A who has a variety of projects to their name, including a small sampling of ecommerce gigs or would you hire Freelancer B whose entire portfolio is filled exclusively with ecommerce-related samples?
As a business owner, you’d probably go with Freelancer B because they appear to be an expert in all things ecommerce. And once you establish yourself as the go-to expert in your niche, you’ll find clients come to you which leads to less time pitching and more time earning — cha-ching!
Make Your Presence Known
Until you reach expert status (and even once you do), you’re going to have to let the world know that you’re a freelancer for hire. This part can often seem intimidating to new freelancers. But, really, it’s completely manageable and definitely a step you’ll need to take to get started. Fortunately, there are a number of tools and tricks of the freelance trade that can help you advertise yourself as a freelancer without ever feeling salesy.
You probably have at least one social media account that you use to stay up to date with family and friends. And these same social accounts can do wonders to help grow your freelance presence. In fact, I’ve connected with a number of clients on Twitter who would eventually go on to hire me for various project. Had I not had an active Twitter account that also made mention of my #freelance status, I would have missed out on working with some of my favorite clients.
The key with social media as a freelancer is to remember to use it professionally. If you’re using social media to promote your services, then clients will judge you by how you present yourself here.
Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t share a funny meme with your followers or make a light-hearted joke — on the contrary. It’s good to show your personality and have a little fun. But, you should take care when posting and remember that potential clients may check out what you’re sharing. Attempt to always strike a balance on social media by being yourself while also sharing things that are relevant to your industry.
When done right, social media can be an effective way to network with prospective clients and land work without ever having to hard sell someone on your services.
You’ll have to get used to emailing prospective clients and pitching your services to them. This process can make the palms sweaty of even the most seasoned freelancers. But don’t worry — there’s a right way to go about it so you don’t waste your time or that of your potential clients.
One of the best ways to get responses from cold pitching via email is to not cold pitch at all. Instead, I like to say I ‘warm’ pitch to prospective clients. That is, I make sure I have some sort of connection with them before I contact them — even if the client doesn’t know the connection exists.
For example, if you follow someone you’d like to work with on social media or religiously read the blog of a website you’d love to collaborate with, that is a connection. And you can use that to your advantage when sending an email to someone.
In your email, let them know you’ve been following their happenings on social media or are inspired by what they share on their blog. When you genuinely compliment a prospective client, it naturally establishes a connection. And this connection can evolve into a working relationship over time — and you’ll never feel like a salesperson in the process.
Set Up a Freelance Service Site
Social media marketing and warm emailing can help you quickly gain your first of many clients. But, you’re limited in what you can say and do while using these platforms. The perfect solution is to create your own freelance service site — and it’s much easier (and affordable) than you may think.
Having your own corner of the Internet gives you a chance to showcase your skills and promote your services. Plus, it’s a one-stop shop where clients can check out your portfolio, learn about your services, and contact you for more information. If you maintain a blog on your freelance service site, even better. This can be a great way to establish yourself as an expert in your field and bring in organic traffic through Google. A freelance service site is really an easy-peasy, super affordable and excellent way to appear as the perfectly polished freelancer that you, no doubt, are.
Rinse & Repeat
Freelancing is more of a marathon than a sprint. It may take weeks or months before your first client comes your way. This may be especially true if you opt not to sign up for freelance marketplaces. And that’s okay! The important thing is to be persistent and consistent. Make it a point to do at least one thing for your freelance business every day — especially if you’re holding down a 9-to-5 while starting a freelance side hustle.
In the world of freelancing, the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it. So, keep on keepin’ on – perfect your pitch, get your name out there, network like crazy. Before you know it, you’ll be a full on freelance pro and proudly join the ranks of millions of independent workers around the world.