How to Build Your Freelance Career
If being your own boss sounds appealing, a freelance career might be the right move for you. Before diving in, though, it’s essential to understand that when you’re building a freelance career, you’re building a business!
It takes planning, determination, and a lot of grit. But if you stick with it, freelancing can be a rewarding career that puts you in the driver’s seat.
How to Build Your Freelance Career
- Start With Research
Before you quit your job and update your LinkedIn profile, conduct some research to see if you have a viable idea and to learn more about the nitty-gritty of being a freelancer.
Do some market research to see if you have a viable service that people are willing to pay for. Talk to freelancers who do what you want to do to determine if there are enough people out there to pay for your services.
Then, talk to freelancers inside and outside of your area to better understand what it takes to be a full-time freelancer. How do they keep track of income and expenses, so they’re ready to go come tax time? And how do they calculate and pay their taxes? How do they find and keep clients? Consider also talking to an accountant or lawyer to ensure you don’t make any costly or legal mistakes.
- Take It for a Test-Drive
Before plunging headfirst into full-time freelancing, consider starting part-time. If nothing else, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to replace your full-time income right off the bat. Keeping a steady job while you launch your freelance career can help you maintain a stable income and save up while building a client base.
The other advantage to starting part-time is that you may discover you don’t like full-time freelancing! Being the boss and setting your hours sounds glamorous. But filing quarterly taxes and figuring out depreciation? Not so much, and you may decide that the freelancer life is not for you after all.
- Get a Freelance Mentor
As you test the freelance waters, consider getting a freelance mentor. This is is a successful freelancer who can help guide you on your journey. They know what it takes to make freelance life work and can provide you with guidance and advice when you get stuck along the way. And a freelance mentor can give you the encouragement and pep talk you might need when you’re ready to throw in the towel.
- Get Organized
If you’ve never been particularly organized, now is the perfect time to change that. Whatever system or systems you use to manage things, find what works and stick with it. Spreadsheets, binders, file folders, whatever it is, make sure you have a way to keep track of everything from invoices to upcoming networking events to leads you need to follow up with.
This helps you stay on top of what’s outstanding and what you need to follow up on, as well as help you track your progress and be ready come tax time.
- Create Your Personal Brand
While you’re building your client base, you’ll need to provide proof that you’ve got the skills to get the job done. Even after you have a steady client stream, you’ll likely still need examples of your abilities. One of the best ways to do this is by building your personal brand and creating a portfolio of your accomplishments.
Depending on your field, you may need to set up a personal website. This is a great place to include links or samples of your work and have former clients share testimonials about you.
But a personal website may not be the best choice for everyone. In that case, consider using LinkedIn as your base of operations. You can also feature client recommendations and endorsements while adding links to outside media to give examples of your abilities. And because LinkedIn is a social networking platform, you can also write posts that help demonstrate that you’re an expert in your field.
No matter what you do or the field you do it in, freelancer life includes a lot of networking. To make your transition to freelancing a little easier, start building a network of contacts before you make the leap.
Make a list of all the people who might have work for you or know someone who needs your services. Set a goal of meeting with at least one or two people each week for coffee or other informal meetings. Even if you don’t discuss business, you’ll keep yourself top-of-mind when projects come up, and these meetings may result in introductions that can help you find work.
- Prepare Your Finances
A big part of freelancing is setting your rate. You don’t want to go so high that you price yourself out of the market, but you also don’t want to undersell yourself.
Talk to other freelancers in your field and ask what their rates are and how they came to that decision. Was it based on experience? The market? Likewise, talk to people who’ve hired freelancers and ask what they felt a fair pay rate was. From there, you can start setting a rate that takes your experience into account while also letting you earn a profit.
In addition to setting your rate, though, you need to protect yourself. Set up some boilerplate contracts so you’re ready to go when you start landing clients. Make sure the contract outlines the specifics, like when milestone payments are due and what happens if the client doesn’t pay (or you are unable to deliver).
- Be Patient
Patience is perhaps the most important virtue a freelancer can possess, especially in the first year. If you can, it’s a good idea to build up your emergency savings in the year or two leading up to the launch of your business. This way, you’ll have some cash to fall back on in your first couple of months or even years, in case things aren’t as profitable as you’d hoped.
- Set Goals to Measure Progress
Without goals, you can’t gauge how your freelance business is growing. Having one great month or year is fantastic, but the goal of any good business should be to grow year after year.
While setting a profit goal is one way to measure growth, it’s not the only way. Consider other metrics to measure how you’re doing in addition to revenue, like how many clients you want to add or how many new projects you want to take on every month or even year.
Tracking other metrics in addition to profit can help motivate you and give you insight into what parts of your business are working and what might need to change.
Take the Plunge
To learn more about freelancer life, check out our Guide to Freelancing. And when you’re ready to start your freelance career, StartWorkNow has your back! Our database of job openings also includes an extensive selection of freelance jobs!
Take the tour and learn how StartWorkNow can level up your freelance career!