Many people possess an entrepreneurial itch that needs to be scratched. Thanks to the internet, you no longer need to invest thousands of dollars in capital to open an office, hire employees and go through a bureaucratic hassle. Instead, you achieve your dream of producing hilarious refrigerator magnets by setting up a freelance business from the comfort of your home.
This explains the increasing number of professionals, especially young ones, who are delving into the world of self-employment. Indeed, according to Statista, 46% of Millennials and 43% of Gen Zers undertook freelance work in 2022.
If you’re looking to join them, read on to find out how you can successfully start a freelance business and what working on your own is really like.
When a person runs their own freelance business, they’ll typically be taking on multiple projects at once from a range of clients. For example, a freelance content writer might produce newsletter copy for a lifestyle publication one day and articles for a finance blog the next. Although they’re responsible for completing the work, their client still has the final say in when the work must be delivered and whether it makes the cut or not.
As a freelancer, however, a person often has more to work on than just their given tasks. These additional duties include responding to emails and enquiries from clients, navigating miscommunication and disputes, managing their own finances and, in most cases, running a website and social profiles as well.
Most of us are familiar with the benefits of working full time and long term for one employer. But freelancing has its unique set of benefits, too! Let’s look at some of them:
1. You get to do something that interests you
The Small Business Blog reports that only 27.3% of university graduates work in a field that’s relevant to their degree. Although working in an industry that’s unrelated to your studies is very common, many might struggle to find it interesting or rewarding.
Freelancing alongside your day job or as a full-time job, however, can give you the opportunity to take on projects in your field of interest and gain experience doing something you’re passionate about.
2. You decide your own schedule
Did you know that being a night owl or an early bird most likely boils down to genetics? That’s right; if you tend to have trouble getting out of bed and carrying out even the most basic of tasks in the morning, your biological makeup could be to blame.
As a freelancer, you’ll have no boss wagging their finger at you for being late in the morning. Likewise, if you’re an early bird, you’ll be able to get up before sunrise and start working, if you please.
3. You work from any location you choose
In the vast majority of cases, freelance work won’t require your physical presence. That means you could take your laptop and work in your favorite café one morning and at a coworking space the next. Since a change of scenery can positively impact your mood and creativity, your productivity might also benefit from this type of flexibility that comes with freelance work.
4. You set your own rates
When you work at a company, getting a raise depends largely on your boss. If you’re lucky enough to work for a great leader who understands the importance of rewarding employees fairly, you’ll have an easier time negotiating your salary. But in many cases, managers are not so receptive.
Become your own boss, and this particular worry will go out the window!
5. You gain additional skills
Running a freelance business entails more than just writing copy, editing images or carrying out whatever other task you’re getting paid to do. To be successful on your own, you need to learn to manage your time, prioritize, communicate verbally and in writing, and promote yourself — really well.
All these additional skills can come in handy, should you one day give up your freelancing and return to the world of 9-to-5s.
Wondering which freelance roles are enjoying increased demand right now? Let’s look at some of the most popular freelance business ideas worth pursuing in 2023.
Whether you’ve worked for a few years or have just completed your degree, sharing your knowledge with a student can be a great way to make money. With online tutoring in demand, finding clients shouldn’t be too difficult. All you’ll need to start your tutoring side hustle is reliable internet access, a good quality microphone and camera, and a quiet-enough room to teach in.
2. Virtual assistant
As a virtual assistant, you’d be tasked with providing support to your employer, be that in the form of responding to emails, organizing digital files, preparing statements, typing out letters or coordinating schedules.
In terms of skills, virtual assistants need to be great communicators and have excellent organizational and time management skills.
3. Content writer
If you’ve taken creative writing classes in the past or are knowledgeable in a certain topic and love to write, then why not try landing a writing gig or two? As the old marketing wisdom goes: “content is king” — meaning you’ll find lots of businesses looking for skilled writers to type out engaging content for them.
4. Graphic designer
In the digital age, the vast majority of businesses will want to have a logo, a website and a presence on social media. It’s safe to say, therefore, that freelance graphic designers will not stop enjoying increased demand any time soon. From creating eye-catching graphics for websites and platforms to putting together flyers, posters and other promotional materials, graphic designers offer valuable services to clients across all industries.
Forbes reports that, in recent years, accounting and finance roles have become some of the most popular freelance jobs out there.
Much like graphic designers, virtual assistants and content writers, freelance accountants can find work in any sector. That’s because all businesses, regardless of size or field, will always appreciate the help of a professional who’s skilled in finance, bookkeeping, tax filing and auditing.
Eager to establish yourself as a freelancer and choose the working hours, environment and setup that suits you? This is where and how to start your freelance business!
Step 1: Find a relevant niche
Are you good at something that somebody would pay money for? Is the written word your thing, or do you excel at graphic design? Whatever your hidden talent is, when you decide to start a freelance business, it’s important to home in on a relevant niche.
It may be common sense, but a lot of neophytes make the mistake of following their passion, even if they’re not very good at this passion. When this happens, their freelance endeavors crumble, and they immediately concede defeat instead of going back to the drawing board.
You may love the concept of fitness training, but if you’re out of breath after just 10 minutes of jogging, then perhaps this is not such a great business idea after all. However, if you’re great at academic tutoring, then maybe this is a freelance idea worth exploring.
Step 2: Outline measurable goals
To ensure you’re succeeding in this new venture, you need to outline a few quantifiable goals. As you start, you may measure your success by just seeing your bottom line at the end of the month. But there are a few more sophisticated measurements you must consider to find out if this enterprise has some legs to it or if it is only generating a few bucks per month.
Many experts recommend getting SMART with a freelance business:
- Specific: A realistic objective of your freelance concept.
- Measurable: How will you measure the success of your business?
- Attainable: The step-by-step process of how you will begin and then how you will attain clients.
- Relevant: What does achieving your goals do for you or your freelance business?
- Time-based: A couple of estimated dates of meeting your aims.
This acronym will help you determine if you’re meeting your milestones and accomplishing your goals — both long- and short-term. Moving forward, it’s necessary to keep track of your key performance indicators.
Step 3: Establish strategic prices
Let’s be honest: a lot of people who start are afraid of presenting competitive prices for their services. Because of the enormous competition in the global marketplace, many freelancers fear that they’re pricing themselves out of the market — this is one of the disadvantages of freelancing in today’s economy.
This may have been true a few years ago, but companies and professionals finally understand that they get what they pay for, so they’re willing to fork over a few more dollars.
For example, someone may want some written content for a blog. A long time ago, they may have paid pennies for 600-word articles filled with spelling and grammatical errors. This typically resulted in more editing and perhaps an entirely new article after review. Today, companies are willing to spend a little bit extra to ensure they’re buying high-quality work.
If you’re good at what you do, make sure you’re getting paid for your talent. At the same time, you can also work with clients and come to a reasonable price based on their budget.
Step 4: Highlight your expertise
As a freelancer, you need to entice clients with your experience. For example, before you entered the world of wedding photography, you applied your photography skills for 13 years at a national newspaper, two years in the military and three years at the college publication. You also have some incredible equipment at your disposal.
Put simply: you need to highlight your expertise to stand out from your industry rivals. This could consist of a wide variety of tactics:
- Putting together a portfolio of examples of your work
- Listing your qualifications (education, certification and work history)
- Creating testimonials from past employers or clients who were satisfied with your work
Step 5: Choose your first clients wisely
Sure, you want to attract as many clients as soon as possible when you’re starting. The problem with this strategy is time, particularly if you still maintain a full-time job during regular business hours.
As a freelance business owner, you possess a finite amount of time to serve your clients. Therefore, it’s crucial to select the types of projects you want to work on and the rates you would charge. Ultimately, you’re setting yourself up for failure by taking on uncouth customers or accepting assignments from clients who are paying you paltry rates. This then triggers a domino effect:
- You won’t submit your best work because of the dollar figure attached to the job.
- You’ll resent the work, so you may rush it and come up with an inferior product.
- Your referrals will not be impressive.
- Your reputation could take a hit without enough testimonials or portfolio examples.
Therefore, take time to find professional clients who are willing to pay for good work and extend a review of your stuff.
Step 6: Create and maintain an online presence
If you’re not on social media or accumulating some type of online presence, you need to. In today’s business world, it’s critical to present yourself to the internet and maintain a presence in the digital arena.
This could include a myriad of methods, such as being active on social media, developing a digital marketing plan and staying in touch with past clients and future prospects through email and social networking.
Unless you’re embracing the hyper-local business plan, you’ll need the internet to survive and thrive.
Step 7: Produce a marketing plan
How are you going to market your services? This is a crucial question for every new entrepreneur. Typically, a freelancer enters this world because they had success with one client. But the key is to multiply that number gradually. This can be achieved through online marketing.
A freelance business needs to employ all the various white-hat digital marketing measures to attract eyeballs to your website and brand. Unsure where to begin? Here are some ways to come up with a stellar marketing initiative:
- Use search engine optimization (SEO) to climb to the top of the search engine results page (SERP).
- Invest in pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, in which you pay a fee each time your ad is clicked on.
- Become an authority with blog post writing on your website on subjects relevant to your niche.
- Utilize social media to your advantage by being actively present.
- Initiate an email marketing campaign that can turn newsletters into sales.
- Attend industry conferences and participate in community events.
Sure, you’re an interior design consultant or virtual assistant, so what do you know about marketing? Well, two things: you can always hire a professional marketer or start a campaign.
Step 8: Emphasize customer service
Since you’re a one-man/woman-band, you’re dealing directly with all your clients. This means that customer service is of paramount importance, and this is a crucial and untapped marketing technique. A common complaint that businesses have is that many freelancers are unreliable; prove that you’re not like the others by staying in touch through every step of the project.
Moreover, you can always incorporate the little things into your business model. If you’re a writer, you could always charge full price and then offer one free edit. These gestures could aid a client’s decision to hire you over somebody else.
Step 9: Use the best tools
A lot of freelancers who are just getting started might be shocked at how many freelance tools are available to help advance their business. Indeed, there’s anything you could imagine, ranging from budget management to proposal writing.
Unsure where to start? We have some must-have apps to download right away:
- Google Calendar: Keep track of your projects by using a digital calendar with Google.
- Dropbox: Share and edit your documents instantly with your clients by using free cloud storage software.
- LegalZoom: Protect yourself with contracts and legal paperwork.
- Proposify: Do you want new clients? Reach out to prospects and submit excellent proposals with Proposify.
- FreshBooks: Manage your dollars and cents, create professional invoices, and accept credit card payments.
As time goes by, you’ll eventually come across even more tools that you’ll find are relevant and helpful.
Step 10: Prepare to scale
Do you want to grow your freelance business only to a certain level? Hey, as the kids say: you do you. You should not be pressured into thinking that you need to clock in 72 hours a week to sustain your current Rolodex of clients and meet all your deadlines. Whether you want to work 25 hours a week or around the clock, preparing to scale is of the utmost importance.
Here are some tips:
- Increase your rates for your services
- Outsource some of your work to others
- Use software to automate more aspects of your business
- Narrow your niche and concentrate on the most relevant clients to your freelance business
- Run an agency and offer a whole host of services related to what you do
Bonus: Keep your day job and freelance business separate
Let’s face it: starting a freelance business is intoxicating. It’s an incredible feeling to start working for yourself, even if it’s just one client at a time.
But you should avoid mixing your day job with your freelance business. You don’t want to get caught responding to emails from possible clients when you’re supposed to be finishing an assignment at the office.
You have two lives: your full-time position and your new freelance business.
Getting started as a total beginner to freelancing can be confusing. With the following strategies, however, you can stand out from the competition and attract your first clients more easily.
1. Invest in personal branding
Personal branding will influence how your prospective clients perceive you. A professional headshot, professional social channels and an online portfolio or website are all great to have when you’re trying to set yourself apart from your competitors. Getting some business cards printed and carrying them in your wallet can also work wonders for you; you simply never know when or where you’ll meet someone interested in working with you.
If you’re not able to design your own logo, website or social media banners, hire someone to do it for you. And don’t worry about the cost involved; the investment will be worth it!
2. Stay on top of marketing trends
When you’re trying to promote your products or services, the internet is your friend. It’s no wonder that over 70% of small businesses now have a website; you simply can’t afford not to have an online presence in the digital era.
To reach a wider audience, read up on online marketing best practices, see what types of content tend to be successful, and tailor your approach based on that.
3. Ask your clients for feedback
Succeeding as a freelancer requires you to have a growth mindset.
While you’ll be solely responsible for all your successes, you’ll also need to navigate your failures alone, too. So, learning to view obstacles as opportunities to become better is vital, and the same goes for embracing both positive and negative feedback. The more constructive feedback you receive, the more you’ll know your strengths and what directions you could grow some more in.
4. Up your networking game
Besides having a strong online presence, networking can play a key role in your success as a freelancer. Whether you do it in person or online, being both confident and friendly can inspire people to place their trust in you.
5. Keep on learning
Company employees often have a development plan made for them by their employers. This sets long-term goals for staff and lays out a path before them so they can take steps to broaden their knowledge, sharpen their skills and progress to higher positions over time.
When you work alone, you’ll be responsible for your own progress. Setting realistic goals for yourself and working towards them, acquiring new skills and knowledge along the way, will enable you to take on even bigger and more exciting projects down the line.
There’s a lot to consider before giving up your job to become a freelancer. Let’s look at some of the most common questions people have around the subject.
Do freelancers make a lot of money?
They can! Freelancers have no employee benefits such as paid time off and sick leave, so their rates must be high enough to be able to afford to cover any time they take off work. According to Upwork, 75% of workers who quit their job to pursue freelancing report earning as much as they did in their previous positions or more.
What are the pros and cons of becoming a freelancer?
Freelancing isn’t for everyone, just as working 9 to 5 isn’t! Some of the pros include a flexible schedule, being in charge of your work, the ability to choose your clients, working from anywhere and setting your own rates.
On the flipside, freelancing can get lonely, there is less job security, you have no employee benefits, and you’re left to your own devices where taxes and other icky stuff is concerned.
What is the most profitable business type for a freelancer?
One of the best types of freelance businesses to consider when working alone is the sole proprietorship. To get started, you’ll need to file for a business license with your locality, which requires you to have a business name, website and location, as well as a business checking account.
What is the difference between freelancing versus starting a business?
Most freelancers operate under their own name. If you’re also comfortable doing this, then there’s no need to legally register a business. You can simply start taking on tasks with the sole requirement being paying taxes once your freelance income reaches $400.
If you do want to register your freelance business, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the requirements of your state or local government.
How do I keep growing my freelance business?
The more experience you have, the better and faster you’ll become at carrying out your responsibilities. In time, you’ll be able to build yourself a reputation; happy clients won’t hesitate to leave positive reviews and recommend you to their own connections.
That’s why developing your people skills, time management and organization is a must as a freelancer. Lifelong learning is also vital as it will allow you to keep growing professionally and taking on more complex or varied projects.
Upwork’s Freelance Forward survey has shown that freelancers are overall more satisfied with their work lives compared to non-freelancers. Some of the factors that seem to nudge freelancers’ job satisfaction up a notch are better work–life balance, freedom to do work that suits them, and control of working conditions.
If you want to join the global self-employed community, which currently consists of roughly 1.6 billion people, remember the following:
- Freelancers are self-employed individuals who work on their own, serving a varied clientele and often juggling several projects at once.
- There are many pros and cons to being your own boss. Carefully consider your needs and priorities to see if it’s right for you.
- Personal branding, lifelong learning and networking are of vital importance when you’re running your own freelance business.
- In the US, you’re not required to formally register a business to work as a freelancer.
Do you have any tips to add to our guide for starting a freelance business? Share them with us in the comments section below.
Originally published on June 27, 2020. Contains contributions by Andrew Moran.