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How to get started as a freelancer

To get started as a freelancer, find a problem out in the world, and then start charging customers to solve that problem for them.

It sounds simple, right? As you’ve probably guessed, there’s a little more to it.

In this article, we’ll cover the key steps it’s critical to follow when you’d like to succeed as a freelancer.

Identify your marketable skills

Each of us has a unique set of skills and interests that we’ve picked up throughout a lifetime of experience. These skills come from formal training courses, and also from our hobbies and experience.

The very first thing to do is figure out where your skills lie. There’s a fairly standard pattern that we coaches use to guide people through discovering their passion and onto developing a business from it.

First, write out a list for each of these:

  • Every formal training course you’ve completed. Include online courses as well as courses from universities.

  • Every job you’ve held, both paid and unpaid.

  • Every certification you have.

  • Every skill you’ve picked up.

  • Your hobbies.

  • Your interests.

Next, for each item on that list, assign it a value from 1 to 10 for how much you enjoy it, and how good you are at it.

Be totally honest about your level of skill: It’s unlikely that you will be rated at more than 8 for any marketable skill you’ve spent less than 10000 hours actively doing. By the time we’re adults, most people will have at least one skill that is a 9 or a 10. Smaller skills require less time to gain expertise, but may have correspondingly less value: Your skill at tying shoelaces is probably a 10, but it’s not useful for most freelancing careers.

If you need help with this, I offer a free strategy call in which I’ll guide you through identifying your marketable skills.

Understand the relevant laws

Regardless of where you live in the world, it’s vitally important to have an appreciation of what you can and cannot do.

I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t really help you with that other than to say that it’s always prudent to seek professional legal advice. To be clear: Nothing in this article is legal advice.

At the very least, make sure you have an appreciation of what’s required to stay within the law in terms of advertising, consumer rights, record-keeping, taxation, intellectual property, and customer data privacy. If there are specific laws around your industry, build an understanding of what’s required to remain compliant.

Also, be sure to read and understand the terms and conditions for any business-critical services you use, or have a lawyer do it for you.

It may take some time, but these few simple steps can minimize the risk of things such as having your Facebook ads account banned.

Keep records

One of the things that commonly trip up new small business owners is record keeping. Nothing in this article is financial advice, and it’s always sensible to seek advice from a professional accountant should you have any doubts.

There are a few simple tips that may help you to stay on top of things:

  • Keep records of all your business income and expenses, including receipts and invoices.

  • Create a bank account for your business. Ensure that all business transactions use this account.

  • Create a separate bank account for taxes. Each time you are paid, transfer a percentage of the payment into your tax bank account so that the money’s there when it’s time to pay taxes.

Sign up on freelancer sites

Once you’ve got an idea of your skills and you know what you can and cannot do, it’s time to sign up on the various freelancer sites.

There are many of these, and each has its own unique properties.

I won’t list them all here as they are easy to find. Good places to start include Upwork, Guru, PeoplePerHour, and Fiverr.

Some of these require you to make a certain number of sales within a short time after signing up, so be sure to check any such requirements.

Define your niche

The key to being successful as a freelancer lies in finding an in-demand problem that you’re good at solving, and for which you can demonstrate value to your customers.

If you want to be able to do it long term, it’s also important that you enjoy doing it.

There’s a trade-off though: Sometimes we have a skill at which we’re exceptional and can charge a lot for, that we don’t really enjoy. When we’re starting out it can be prudent to first build a customer base using this skill, especially if we’re already doing it.

The reason for this is that it can take time to get a business going. If you’re already a corporate business analyst making $100+ an hour, it makes sense to keep on doing that for a few hours a week while you build your new freelancing business.

To define your niche, look through the list of your skills. You want to find the skills you already have that you’re good at and enjoy.

Next, look through the freelancer sites that you’ve joined and established what problems other freelancers are solving.

You want to look for problems where there is a high demand for service and low competition.

Write down a few ideas, then validate those ideas by searching online and talking to people who have the problem.

Choose your customer

When you want to sell something, it’s important to identify your customer’s pain and tell them that you’re going to fix it.

The only way you can do this is if you know who your customer is.

So it’s important to identify exactly to whom you are planning to sell your services.

Take a few moments to work out the kinds of people you really like working with, and to whom you can enjoy delivering value. Then make up a customer avatar. Give them a name, age, family status, job, hobbies, and so on.

If you can, find a photo to represent this person.

Take on your customer’s perspective

Once you’ve defined your customer, put yourself in their shoes and work out what the problem you solve looks like to them. What will it be like for them when their problem is solved?

If you can, find some actual live people and ask them about the problem that you solve. Take note of the exact words they use to describe it.

When you can figure out exactly how they describe the problem and use their own words in your marketing, it becomes much easier to attract the customers you’d like to work with.

Build a portfolio

As a rule, people won’t buy things unless they have some idea of what they’re buying.

When you’re selling services as a freelancer, the way you give them this certainty is through building a portfolio. This does not have to be a huge undertaking. It does have to be enough for your potential customers to decide to hire you.

For most freelancing careers, the easiest way to do this is to build a WordPress website. You can either build it yourself or hire another freelancer to set it up for you.

Once you’ve got your website, place some samples of your work onto it.

If you’re a writer, write some articles. If you draw cartoons, draw a few and put them onto your site. If you’re an SEO expert, write some articles and have them ranked. I’m sure you get the idea.

Whatever you’re planning to sell, the idea is to demonstrate to your potential customers that you can do the thing they’re going to pay you to do.

Put yourself out there!

Now that everything’s in place, it’s time to put yourself out there.

There are countless ways to do this.

For starters, place ads on each of the freelancer sites, you joined earlier. Use your ideal customer’s exact words when you do this.

The general pattern looks like this: Describe their pain in their own words, tell them that you’ll help make that pain go away, then tell them what to do to get started.

If you’re offering services to local businesses, locate the local business groups, and attend their meetings. Walk into their businesses and talk to the owners. Ask them about their problems, and when you can help, offer to do so.

Find someone to keep you accountable

One of the most common things that stand in the way of success is when we don’t follow through to get the results we’d like.

So find someone who can keep you accountable. Schedule regular times when you’ll talk with them, and set specific goals that you’ll achieve.

Now it can be difficult to find someone who can help with this. Friends and family tend to mean well, but often they will have the same perspective as you or one that’s unhelpful.

What can really help is having someone independent to talk to regularly who keeps you on track and gives you a gentle push in the right direction when you go astray.

Earlier in this article, I mentioned the importance of having a portfolio. One of the ways that I implement my portfolio is by offering a free strategy call to people who read my articles and would like a little extra help.

When you book your call with me, I’ll walk you through identifying your skills, figuring out your niche, and choosing your ideal customer.

And then, only if you’ve derived value from our talk, I’ll tell you about my coaching program where I keep you accountable and on track for success.


By the end of your call you’ll know your marketable skills, you’ll have an idea of your niche, and you’ll know what kinds of things you want in your customers.


If that sounds like something you’d like to have happen, book your call now by clicking the magic button and choosing a time that suits you.

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