How to Become a Freelancer and Start Freelancing Work
Becoming a freelancer and starting your freelance career requires defining your niche, target audience, and service offerings. If you want to know how to start freelancing work (even if you still have a full-time job), be sure to implement this number one key success factor.
In my previous article What is Freelancing and Freelance Work – I illustrated that freelancing provides you with incredible freedom over your time, customers, projects, location, expertise, software, tools, equipment, method, pricing, and finances.
Freelancing allows you to set your own schedule.
These perks are the driving force behind the growth of freelancing.
Over the next ten years, most of the workforce across the world will be freelancing.
With more freelancers entering the freelance work marketplace, this means more competition with other freelancers.
Many freelancers bring their A-Game to the freelancing world, and it can be challenging to compete.
Based on my long successful freelance career, my blog will help you with the best strategies, tools, software, courses, and books to run your own business, future-proof your skills, and work flexibly from anywhere.
To recap: Freelancers are self-employed, want to be their own boss, work independently, and sell (hire out) their expertise and services to others who need freelance work done. Freelancers are independent contractors, independent consultants, subject matter experts, professional talent or specialists, or digital nomads.
But where do you start, if you want to become a freelancer? Let’s explore this question.
Whether you want to be a freelancer full-time, part-time or just as a side-hustle, you still need to be competitive and professional to win freelance work and repeat clients.
To become a freelancer who is competitive, professional, and successful depends on addressing 10 Key Success Factors (KSF).
Be sure to use this guide to help you to learn how to start freelancing work or use it to review and evaluate your existing business.
Let’s get started.
KSF 1: Define Your Niche, Target Market and Service Offerings
On FreelanceAce I talk about a simple and insightful approach to freelancing success. Let me delve into the first point about this approach.
One of the best ways to boost your freelance income potential is to focus your freelance work on solving the problems of your target audience.
KSF 1 is the number one KSF for becoming a successful freelancer, especially if you want your freelance work to be your full-time job.
Focusing your niche and service offerings based on the needs of your target audience is a clever way to future-proof your own business. This is an important topic, therefore, I’m going to spend a little bit more time explaining this key success factor.
Define Your Niche
Defining your niche should come from a healthy blend of:
- What you can do (your experience, skills, expertise)
- Who will benefit most from what you can do (your target audience)
- What your target audience wants (what problems do they need solving now).
Here are three tasks to get you started:
- Task: Write six dot points to define your experience, skills and expertise.
- Task: Write six dot points to define your target audience.
- Task: Conduct some research to define the problems that your target audience experience and what services they want or need.
When defining your target audience, consider the following:
- Who are you interested in working with and assisting?
- What type of potential clients is the best fit for you?
- Small business? Large business? A particular industry? A particular country?
If you’re having difficulty completing the above tasks, a great place to start is to write a customer persona that describes your typical target customer.
Develop Customer Personas
Customer personas help to define your target audience and their problems.
A customer persona (or buyer persona) describes your target audience’s key traits based on the data you have collected from your research.
Here is an example customer persona that a marketing specialist might develop:
- Small business owner
- Turnover: $1 million per year
- Been in business for five years
- Sells products
- Physical shop in Australia is successful and meeting sales targets
- Online store is not successful and not meeting sales targets
- Spent more money developing online store for an international market
- Has a small team of five staff including two staff members who were hired to manage the logistics of the online store
- Fully involved in the day to day running of the business, especially the physical shop
- 35 years old
- Has a young family, wife and two kids
- Studies “Exporting” at night
- Lives in Australia
- Loves his weekends and is determined not to work on weekends
- Export products to USA and UK
- Use online store to sell products to international customers in USA and UK
Challenges and Pain Points:
- Does not know whether international customers in USA and UK are interested in his product
- Low organic traffic to the online store and website
- Time poor – no time to spend developing online store
- Online store logistics staff are not fully utilised
- Does not like writing blog posts and does not understand SEO
- Blog has 20 posts and only six posts published in the last 12 months
- Lacks strategies to promote online store
- Website doesn’t capture website visitors (e.g. no newsletter signup)
- Ad hoc social media management
- Low social media following and last social post was six months ago.
So that’s Jim. I bet you can identify many ways that you could help Jim.
Who is the target audience in this scenario? Small business owners who struggle to make their online store achieve sales targets.
What types of services from a successful freelancer do you think this target audience needs to address their problems and achieve their goals?
If you had the expertise to help Jim, do you think you could win about 6-12 months freelance work from Jim (or longer)?
Here’s the good news. There’s about one million Jim’s across the world who need help.
So what do you know about your target audience?
If you know your target customers this well, you should be able to write a customer persona.
Task: Now write a brief customer persona that describes a typical customer in your target audience.
Let’s now delve more into the problems being experienced by your target customers.
Define Customer Problems
Defining customer problems well leads to developing service offerings that sell.
It is important that you apply a customer-centric focus so that you can put yourself in the shoes of your target customer to appreciate and find out:
- What are the problems they are experiencing? (e.g. they may have no idea what to write about in their business blog)
- What is causing these problems? (e.g. they may not be experienced in writing blog posts and they may not know what their customers want to learn about)
- Do these problems occur regularly? (e.g. if they don’t connect with their customers regularly, they may lose business)
The problems that your potential clients experience regularly, opens up a world of opportunities to offer these types of services to the same customers on an ongoing basis.
Let’s explore the above examples a bit further.
For example, your service offering could be to write one blog post per week for your freelance client. You may think this is very basic, but you have completely changed their world by taking this ‘big task’ off their shoulders. It may seem minor to you, but to them, it’s a big problem that you’re helping them to solve.
Also – by delving into what is causing their problems – you open up more service avenues you could be offering.
For example, “they don’t know what their customers want to learn about” – you could offer to survey their customers – find out – then base the next series of their blog posts on all of those areas that their customers are interested in learning. By doing this, you’ve just found the next six months of freelance work you could be offering your prospective client.
Another problem they may have is not knowing how to monetize their blog posts. You could also have a service where you review their current blog posts and see whether they have included any “calls to action” to their products or services to make their customers want to act and use their products or services after reading the blog.
We’re now ready to develop your service offerings.
Develop Service Offerings
Describe the problem and the huge benefit of your service offerings.
Once you have settled on your niche that aligns with what your target audience wants, consider how you will describe and package your services. Basically you’re setting yourself up so that freelancing will be your full-time job.
Offering just a few services clarifies your service offerings and doesn’t overwhelm your potential clients with too much choice.
By doing your research, you can now develop your service offering. Here’s an example:
- “Blog content writing – Struggling for time to attract visitors to your online store? I will produce one blog post per week that will increase traffic to your blog and will promote your online store, which will allow you to stay in touch with your customers and increase online sales.”
- “Customer interest surveys – I will find out what your customers want to learn about that’s relevant to your brand so that they will open and read your blog posts and will be motivated to buy from your online store.”
- “Blog post reviews – I will review and ensure your existing blog posts attract quality online traffic that either buys from your online store or subscribes to your newsletter.”
You have now written a service offering based on the client’s problems. When they read this, they will think: “Excellent – this freelancer knows what I am experiencing, and I believe they can help me regularly”.
There are many new clients with the same problems. This straightforward service offering could be all you need to make a full-time income freelancing.
As you establish your relationship with your new clients, you will discover more problems they have. If appropriate for you, you could build a service offering to solve those problems (e.g. I don’t know what hashtags to put on my social media posts and need assistance with social media management).
Let’s wrap this up. Your service offerings will need to be clear about:
- how your services will help the prospective client
- the problems you can solve for the prospective client
- how the freelance client will benefit
- how long the service will take to complete freelance jobs
- the level of your expertise in this area (some clients seek highly skilled freelancers)
- pricing and ensuring your services provide value-for-money
- how you will ensure transparency during the project to keep the client informed about progress and involved during the service (e.g. sharing drafts, getting their feedback, ensuring you have asked enough questions).
Task: Briefly describe your service offerings touching on a few of the above dot points.
KSF 2: Define, Develop and Diversify Your Freelancing Skills and Capability
I strongly encourage finding out about the different skill sets that potential clients are buying.
New clients from many industries seek freelancers across an extensive range of skill sets to help them solve many types of problems.
Having the skills is one part of the equation – the other part is having access to the tools, software, or equipment to implement your skills to deliver the service.
Freelancing Skills in Demand
Some of the freelancing skills and capabilities in demand by new clients include (but are not limited to):
- Digital marketing
- Graphic design
- Mathematical modeling
- Web development
- Mobile development
- Game design and development
- Software development.
Offering Two to Three Skills
Most freelancers rely on at least two to three skill sets and capabilities to build, maintain and grow a strong opportunity flow of freelance work.
Rarely do experienced freelancers rely on one skill set.
You may want to consider diversifying your skills to enable you to offer several types of services, to be able to apply for a range of freelance jobs, and solve a range of problems.
Be mindful of what this may cost you in terms of what else you need to offer these services.
Will you need ongoing subscriptions to software services to offer those skills and services?
Alternatively, you could offer a service where you use the client’s software and turn this into a positive point to help your freelance client maximize the utilization of their existing software and subscriptions.
Task: Identify two to three skill sets and capabilities that you will use in your business.
Developing Complementary Skills
If you are diversifying your skills, consider making your skill sets complementary.
For example, a writer could also learn about SEO (search engine optimization) and social media marketing.
All three skill sets combined make an impressive service offering.
You can easily upsell and bundle-sell complementary skill sets.
Again, be mindful of the cost of the software you’ll need if you diversify your skills into areas that rely on having specific software.
Task: Identify how you can make your skill sets and capabilities complementary so that you can create related service offerings to gain more business from customers.
Freelancers should always work to improve their skills, expand their knowledge and adapt to any changes their target audience needs.
Make Money Online By Selling Your Knowledge
Have you ever considered monetizing your knowledge by teaching others what you know? It’s easier than you think.
There’s been massive growth and dependence on learning online, teaching online, and making more money online.
Why not sell your knowledge via online courses and make more money in your sleep!
Click here to read about the best online course platforms.
Monitoring Changing Trends
It’s crucial to stay in touch with your past and new clients to monitor any changing trends in what they need.
Alternatively, do some research on market trends relevant to your target audience and make some suggestions to your potential clients about how they can continue to improve.
For example, your past and new clients may want better software with more features to achieve specific business objectives.
In this instance, evaluating software could be another skill you could develop and the service you could provide, in addition to earning affiliate marketing revenue by promoting the software.
Make sure you only spend money on developing skills and capabilities (including tools, software, and equipment) that you can earn a return on your investment.
Alternatively, consider testing the market with your services while using software trials. If you can sell enough of these services, this may justify buying a software subscription that would allow you to continue offering and providing these services.
Task: Name one changing trend that your new clients are considering now and whether you can develop a skill, capability, and service offering based on this trend.
Let’s now discuss what it takes to dedicate yourself to your business.
KSF 3: Commit Yourself To Your Business
Putting in the effort required:
Being a freelancer is not only about doing the work. It’s also about committing yourself entirely to your craft so that it can become your full-time job.
While perfecting your craft, building your business, and serving your customers, you may need to make some sacrifices.
For example, waking up early, working nights and weekends or during your holidays, and giving up some time with family and friends.
But as you grow and possibly scale your business – you may be able to free up more time for yourself to do the things that you love.
To start freelancing work, you may (or may not) need to put out more effort than you’re getting paid for to allow potential clients to experience your work – which can lead to great client reviews, more business, and higher-paying freelance jobs.
Having the right mindset:
Becoming a successful freelancer is about having the right mindset and belief. It’s about overcoming self-doubt, which could impact your freelance career before it even begins.
If you have faith in yourself and believe in yourself, then don’t let anyone tell you it’s not possible.
Becoming a freelancer is about keeping an open mind and adapting to change.
Planning for the unexpected:
You may need to embrace unexpected obstacles which may come in the form of rejection, criticism, miscommunication, or lack of money – therefore, get prepared now so that you are ready to deal with these issues if and when they arise.
Think about why you want to become a freelancer and where you want it to take you. There’s no one perfect way to become a freelancer.
When you start freelancing, everyone’s journey will be different. The key is to find a path that suits what you want to do, what you want to get out of it, and what you want to achieve for your life.
Task: Define what will need to change in your life to commit yourself more to your business.
But don’t go in blind with running a business. A business that fails to plan is a business that is planning to fail.
KSF 4: Create A Simple Freelance Business Plan
A simple freelance business plan can quickly help you brainstorm your ideas, get your thoughts down on paper and broadly plan your future and next steps.
Use a simple freelance business plan to get started. Your plan could include:
- Business Details (e.g. business name, business registration number, nature of business and target audience, etc.)
- Broad Goals for the next few years (e.g. revenue streams, growth goals, etc.)
- Operational Goals for the next six months (e.g. Month 1 Goals, Month 2 Goals, etc.)
Task: Create a simple freelance business plan within two hours, then start implementing your operational goals!
Be an action-oriented freelancer and hold yourself accountable for implementing your plan.
Closely watch your calendar and complete the required tasks to achieve your goals each month.
No one will care more about your freelance business than you! So be good to yourself and implement your plan every day.
Task: Print out your business plan and pin it to the wall.
Remind yourself about KSF 3: Commit Yourself To Your Freelance Business.
Over time, measure how well you have been able to achieve your business goals. Identify what needs to improve, then update your plan.
Remember, your simple business plan is not comprehensive. You can continue to develop your business plan over time to ensure that it covers everything you need to consider when running a profitable freelance business.
KSF 5: Develop Your Pricing Strategy
Once you have defined your freelancing niche, target audience, service offerings, and skills, committed yourself to your freelance business and developed a simple business plan, it’s time to develop your pricing structure.
A competitive and value-based pricing structure may be essential for you to compete and provide value-for-money services relevant to the return on investment (ROI) the customer will receive from your services.
For example, should a small company pay the same price for your services as a large company? What if the large company will receive a far greater ROI from your service than the small company? If you’re unsure what ROI different potential clients may receive from your services, just focus on providing value-for-money services.
What is the market is willing to pay?
Suppose your goal is to gain more business from actual clients who need work done regularly. In that case, your pricing structure needs to prevent you from losing future freelance work opportunities while also maximizing your revenue per job.
To prevent pricing yourself out of the market, conduct a competitor analysis against other freelancers to see what quality competitors are charging for similar quality services.
Determining what the market is willing to pay becomes easier when the client is willing to let you know their budget. If they don’t offer it, politely ask what their budget is for the project.
There are several pricing options you may wish to consider for different purposes:
- Introductory pricing to attract potential clients (a good short-term strategy to compete with the market so that actual clients get to experience your services)
- Special offers pricing to encourage repeat business from existing or past customers through time-sensitive offers
- Bundle/Package pricing when offering a combination of several related services to increase attraction to your services
- Hourly pricing for freelance jobs that may be unpredictable or difficult to set a project price (be careful if this option is less appealing to prospective clients)
- Project pricing for freelance jobs that are more predictable (fixed project fee)
- Retainer pricing for ongoing jobs that require specific tasks to be completed regularly (fixed monthly fee)
- Value-based pricing
For my seven-figure freelance business, I used value-based pricing. I developed a pricing scale on a spreadsheet that considers client size, project duration, task complexity, and the client’s return on investment, which allowed me to charge value-for-money prices for each project.
My pricing scale spreadsheet allowed me to quote more projects quickly and prevented me from overcharging and undercharging my customers.
Task: Develop your pricing structure before your start freelancing.
But it doesn’t end here. Now it’s time to work out how much income you’d like to earn each year from your freelance business.
KSF 6: Develop Your Income Strategy
KSF 6 neatly ties in with KSF 4: Create A Simple Freelance Business Plan.
Broad financial goals
When creating your simple freelance business plan and establishing your Broad Goals for the next few years, you’ll need to identify:
- Revenue streams for your freelance business (e.g. each service could represent a revenue stream)
- Income goals per revenue stream (e.g. how much you would like to earn per service)
- Quantity of services you need to sell per revenue stream to achieve your income goals
- Total income you want to earn from freelancing each year.
Here’s a way to do the maths for your Income Strategy:
- Income Goals for Year 1:
- Revenue Stream 1: $xxx (i.e. Service Price x Quantity)
- Revenue Stream 2: $xxx (i.e. Service Price x Quantity)
- Revenue Stream 3: $xxx (i.e. Service Price x Quantity)
- Total Income Goal for Year 1: $xxx (i.e. 1 + 2 + 3)
Then develop your Income Strategy for Year 2. Consider increasing your prices and or increasing the number of services provided.
Task: Develop your Income Strategy for Years 1, 2 and 3, and include it in your simple freelance business plan.
Now that you’ve developed your pricing and income strategies, let’s get on with promoting your services!
KSF 7: Promote Your Skills, Services, and Portfolio
To find clients when you start freelancing (or whilst also working within your full-time job) you need to sell your services and convince your target audience that you are the right person for the job.
Promoting your freelancing skills, services and portfolio are critical for:
- Building awareness about your existence
- Showcasing your expertise and quality of freelance work
- Illustrating how you can help your potential clients
- Demonstrating a range of your capabilities and your best work
- Establishing your footprint in the freelancing world.
Scale your influential marketing activities
As previously mentioned, on FreelanceAce, I talk about a simple and insightful approach to freelancing success.
One of the best ways to scale your influential marketing activities is to leverage promotional opportunities and tools to create multiple customer touchpoints.
Having a talent profile on one or more freelance marketplaces can prevent the need to build your own website for your freelance business.
Freelance marketplaces can provide freelancers with a wide variety of promotional opportunities and tools to create multiple customer touchpoints. For example, you can:
- Attract potential clients by creating a detailed talent profile
- Publish services for hire, products for sale and special offers
- Showcase portfolio items, videos and audio files to demonstrate your work and expertise
- Publish articles to illustrate your writing skills and knowledge across topics
Before publishing past work on your talent profile or in your portfolio, be sure to receive your clients’ permission, which will also help establish a trusting relationship.
Build a strong presence in freelance marketplaces by explaining past projects and the benefits achieved. Check new job postings, showcase mock-ups, examples of work, write articles or case studies, and provide data-driven results where possible.
Task: Establish or update your talent profile on one or more freelance marketplaces to promote your niche and service offerings to your target audience.
Let’s go a little deeper about using promotions to attract your potential clients.
KSF 8: Use Freelance Marketplaces to Attract Target Clients
You may recall that KSF 1 provided the following tasks for you to complete before your start freelancing:
- Identify who will benefit most from what you can do (your target audience)
- Identify what your target audience wants (what problems do they need solving now)
- Define your target audience.
KSF 1 tasks enabled you to identify:
- Who you are interested in working with
- The type of prospective clients that are the best fit for you
- The type of business your clients operate (small, large business, industry) and where (country)
Well-defined target audience
Have you heard of the saying “a problem well defined is a problem half solved”?
A well-defined target audience provides a lot of information regarding the type of clients you would like to work with and where they may be located.
Clients typically seek assistance from freelancers to address a current problem because they do not have the expertise, resources or time to get the job done themselves or by their existing team.
Some clients look for freelancers from a particular industry or location with specific experience who are available for the duration of their project and who can deliver the project’s requirements.
Continue to research, evaluate, compare, and experience different freelance marketplaces to find which marketplaces attract the most clients for your freelance business, at the least cost to you and your clients. Consider freelance marketplaces that allow you to keep 100% of your earnings, to save thousands in fees. Evaluate the benefit, cost, risk and security of each freelance marketplace.
Attract your target market
Everything you promote on freelance marketplaces (including words, images, work examples, etc.) should focus on meeting the needs of your target market so that your prospective clients and current clients can see that you understand their business needs and business problems. On your talent profile, you can describe your target market, which will help clients match their needs to your expertise and services.
Task: Regularly update your talent profile, services, articles, etc. on freelance marketplaces and ensure that they …
- Focus on the needs of your target audience
- Describe your target audience
- Identify how your services solve their problems
- Identify the benefits of using your services.
Now that you have a great promotional strategy to attract clients and start freelancing, let’s make sure you write winning proposals!
KSF 9: Write Winning Proposals
Stand out from the competition by writing proposals tailored to your client’s problems, business needs and budget, and that match your expertise and service offerings.
Exactly what do clients look for?
Clients typically evaluate and compare proposals based on:
- Timing and Availability
- Previous experience doing similar jobs
- Previous experience working for similar clients
- Customer reviews and testimonials
Clients typically seek to understand the following when evaluating proposals:
- Will the method/service address their problem?
- Is it the most efficient solution?
- Can the job be done on time?
- Can the job be done within budget?
- Does the proposal offer a value-for-money solution?
Proposal style and length
The style, depth, and length of your proposals will be dependent on exactly what your target audience typically seeks for this type of work and job/project value.
- Two figure and three figure jobs (i.e. jobs under $1000) may only need a half-page or one page proposal plus links to relevant portfolio work.
- A four figure job may require a one page or 1.5 page proposal plus links to relevant portfolio work.
- Projects with greater complexity and higher value may require greater detail.
Quick and easy to read
Clients typically like proposals that:
- Are quick and easy to read
- Briefly address the above dot points (What do clients look for?)
- Allow them to evaluate and compare proposals quickly.
To save time, develop a proposal template per service offering using professional language so that you have an efficient method for responding to job requests.
Be sure to tailor proposals based on the specific needs of each client.
Budget is a sensitive matter
If the client provides a budget, stick to the budget and explain exactly what can be achieved within this budget. If you cannot complete the job for the budget advised by the client, do not apply for the job or explain what is required to address their problem since they may not be aware.
Also, if the project has a long duration, consider a milestone payment arrangement.
When you win jobs, be sure to clarify job expectations in a written contract.
Task: Develop a proposal template per service offering that briefly addresses the above dot points (Exactly what do clients look for?).
When you start freelancing, attracting and winning clients is one part of the equation. The other part is doing an excellent job, keeping clients, and continuously getting repeat business by building great relationships.
KSF 10: Build Great Long Term Client Relationships
The client relationship starts from the first time they find out you exist.
If your relationships with clients commence from them visiting your talent profile, services, and articles, make sure you’re putting your best foot forward.
Think long term, not short term
Developing positive work relationships with clients is critical to winning jobs and establishing long-term relationships.
Start relationships by thinking about the future instead of just thinking about the current job request.
Your commitment objectives may include:
- Win the current job
- Do excellent quality work, on time, within budget
- Get an excellent client review/testimonial
- Use client reviews/testimonials to win jobs from more clients
- Win future jobs and repeat business with every client you wish to continue doing business.
Here are 10 ways to build positive work relationships with clients:
- Treat the client with the highest respect
- Be on time or early to meetings with the client (do not make last-minute changes)
- Communicate sufficiently before, during (regular updates) and after the project
- Respect deadlines
- Be honest and professional
- Ensure that the client is satisfied before expecting payment
- Provide consistency within each of the services you provide so that the client experiences excellent service regardless of what support you provide
- Build trust by showing the client that you are genuinely interested in helping them to achieve what they want to achieve
- Understand what the client would like to achieve long-term (what are their long-term goals?)
- Identify other opportunities to help the client achieve their long-term goals.
Happy clients come back
To keep your clients happy and make them come back, it’s best always to be honest with them. For example, if something goes wrong during new projects, tell the client as soon as possible and offer a solution.
At all times, be respectful of the client and the agreed project deadline and budget.
The freelance marketplaces enable you to:
- Communicate directly with the client
- Negotiate and agree with the client where you will work (remotely, onsite or at a flexible workspace)
- Negotiate and agree with the client how and when you will get paid
- Build successful long-term relationships with customers.
Ask for a testimonial
Be sure to ask the client for a customer review or testimonial immediately upon completing a job to get the best testimonial while your excellent service is still fresh in their mind.
Task: Write down your objectives and strategies regarding how you will build great long-term relationships with customers that lead to more business.
Becoming a freelancer and starting freelancing work (even if you still have a full-time job) can be daunting when you’re starting your freelance career and wanting to be your own boss.
To simplify setting up your freelance business or to review and evaluate your existing freelance business – be sure to:
- KSF 1: Define Your Niche, Target Market, and Service Offerings (the number one KSF for becoming a successful freelancer)
- KSF 2: Define, Develop and Diversify Your Freelancing Skills and Capability
- KSF 3: Commit Yourself To Your Freelance Business
- KSF 4: Create A Simple Freelance Business Plan
- KSF 5: Develop Your Pricing Strategy
- KSF 6: Develop Your Income Strategy
- KSF 7: Promote Your Skills, Services and Portfolio
- KSF 8: Use Freelance Marketplaces to Attract Target Clients
- KSF 9: Write Winning Proposals
- KSF 10: Build Great Long Term Client Relationships
You now know the 10 Key Success Factors required to become a successful freelancer to start freelancing work and find clients.