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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.