People love to talk about freelancing for beginners and offer advice like “write a blog” and “you MUST get on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter”.
They mean well and it is not meant as an attack but we can only do so many new things at once before we eventually crash and burn.
Most of the advice about freelancing for beginners is solid but the challenge is that there is too much of it.
Everyone (including me) has an opinion on what to do and for someone new to freelancing it’s a lot to take in at once. It gets overwhelming and leads to getting nothing done which is worse.
The challenge comes down to when to do what among all the options out there, and that’s what I’ll walk you through in this article. A coach once told me what NOT to focus on and it was perhaps the best business advice I’ve ever gotten.
To hear from someone who’s already been there what we can ignore and come back to later, guilt-free, is liberating.
With this article, you and I will discuss freelancing for beginners and I’ll do the same for you — show you what you don’t need to focus on at first, so you can get down to what really matters: Earning the dough.
Freelancing for beginners: your questions answered
Some of the most common questions I get from new freelancers are:
- How to find and land clients (and what if you’ve sent many proposals and never heard back)
- I don’t have a freelance idea
- I don’t know how to set my rates
- How do I know that I am good enough to do the work?
- Should you use freelance websites to find work?
Let’s dive into each one in a rapid-fire manner before looking at the ingredients we need to begin freelance.
How to find and land clients
I know this can be hard to hear if you’ve been spending a lot of time on business cards, a nice looking website, and social media profiles.
To land clients, we simply contact businesses via our existing, personal, email or use freelance platforms. We don’t have to be spammy and we don’t need a professional email.
If businesses aren’t interested, it is either because they don’t care about the problem we are working to help them solve, the way we reach out to them isn’t attractive or it simply isn’t the right time.
Anything else, including a website or social media profiles doesn’t matter because it will make you feel demotivated when you spend a lot of time working on it and get no results.
I don’t have a freelance idea
You likely have a couple of ideas you’ve thought about already. Maybe there is even one that you are excited about. Why not start there? Is something holding you back?
If it’s related to digital marketing, check the other articles like this one. If not, I’m sure you can find other blogs that help you with your field.
If you don’t have an idea, see how to find one here.
If you already have an idea but haven’t started yet, why not? Do you need to “get your ducks in a row”? You might feel afraid of starting for some reason, like not knowing what to tell clients, how to find them or what to charge.
That is fine, you don’t need to know everything upfront. Rather work to understand what’s blocking you and find a solution for each thing one by one. Most of those answers can be found in this guide.
I don’t know how to set my rates
As a starting point, using an hourly rate is a good choice. You’ll get a better feeling for how long things take the more projects you complete and you can adjust your rates as you go.
There is no scientific answer to this, simply pick a number you are comfortable with but at the same time you don’t resent. For me that was $25/h for my first few projects. Adjust as you go. I’ll show you how when it becomes relevant.
How do I know that I am good enough to do the work?
For me the balance is if I know the scope well but might not have the latest updates on the topic.
It is really important to understand your client. For many, they prefer to work with someone they already trust even if that person isn’t the best in the world at a new topic. The trust-thing is a bigger deal to many that the lack of skills as long as you are resourceful.
It also depends on your client’s goal. Is this an area where they absolutely need to get results and are 100% focused on it or is it something that they just need to get done? Pick what you are more comfortable with.
If you have the feeling that you can complete the project and make them happy even if you have to spend some free time on top of the paid hours, I’ve found that to be good enough to start.
If you know that you can look up how to do the task and from that, do it well for the business, go for it! The important part here is more about that we help them solve their problem and how we feel about it.
You’ll be surprised how many businesses value that you communicate with them frequently, are proactive and organized, as much as the core task is needed. Resourcefulness and being able to look things up will also help you a lot.
You can always offer them the money back if you go into panic mode.
Should you use freelance websites to find work?
Only if you already have an approved profile. Otherwise you’ll benefit more from reaching out to businesses directly via email since you can learn more about them and find just the right ones for you to work with.
On freelancing platforms, you often don’t know who or what type of business you are working with and that can make your experience unnecessarily challenging.
The only ingredient beginners need to freelance successfully
Freelancers starting out often get into doing too many things at once. In this chapter, we’ll look at the only ingredients you really need to get moving and earn your first money freelancing.
There is one thing that is more important than anything else:
Picking a business and solving a particular problem for them. That’s it!
It sounds overly simple, right?
Well, the challenge most new freelancers have is focusing on a problem they think businesses have when in reality it isn’t a priority for them.
The key is to focus on a problem not that you and I feel the business have but one that they know they have. Reach out to other similar businesses and ask. They will help if you are friendly and tell them you are simply looking to learn.
Fire up your email and get moving. The rest comes later. If this makes you feel uncomfortable, great! It means you are on the right track.
What can wait
Here’s a quick list of things you can ignore until you are making several thousands per month freelancing:
- Create a website
- Be on social media
- Get business cards
- Networking events
- Facebook groups or forums
Solving a good problem for your clients will make you the most money by far. It’s that one thing. I’m repeating it because it is THAT important.
Now that we know the only few things we need to focus on and what to ignore, let’s look at how we can make sure we do a good job at what’s important.
The first thing to do to master freelancing for beginners
I deliberately kept the above section short because you don’t need to worry about anything else.
It is more important that we get to work on understanding the problem we solve for clients really well and in order to do that, we need to get working on it. So next the challenge becomes making sure we do a little bit towards that, often.
I like to set aside time to do that as early in the day as possible, to make sure that I get it done.
There are always going to be those days when we don’t feel like doing it and so making a habit out of important tasks is important. Habits making things automatic, like brushing our teeth or taking a shower. We don’t think about it, we just do it.
We can build a habit around certain tasks that we know will help us freelance, too.
Let’s say we dream of traveling and freelancing full time.
If we have a job and are not spending any time on our freelance business at all, the first step is to set aside a little bit of time each day that we can prioritize without problems. Let’s say 30 minutes a day — we should all be able to find that.
I’ve found that time is often an excuse for something else because if the president wanted to give me an award, I’d probably be able to find the time to accept it.
Half an hour per day comes out to 3.5 hours weekly. It doesn’t seem like a lot on the surface but if you keep your focus on the one thing that matters with freelancing for beginners — reaching out to businesses — you’ll begin to see results soon enough.
The challenge comes when we spend all the time working on things that don’t make a difference like setting up an Instagram account, a website or even getting business cards.
The key here is to take the long-term approach. Most people get excited, go all in for a few weeks and then they lose motivation and things slowly die out.
Instead, you and I are taking another approach. Our goal is to make sure that we also get to work on our freelance business again tomorrow. That’s it.
I know this is an unusual approach but it works. When we first begin freelancing, things only get done if we do them, so that’s what matters and showing up a little bit every day will make sure that we build a habit around it.
After a few weeks or months, that begins to feel like something you just do. You might even be ready for more, so you increase it to one hour per day. With double the hours, we start to see a difference — suddenly we have the time to contact twice as many businesses.
Follow the same pattern, focusing on slow and steady and you will win. It is normal to be excited in the beginning and you can leverage it to do more.
The best way I’ve found is to divide it up so you set aside the non-negotiable 30 minutes per day, at the same time every day, while making the rest of the time you want to work on your freelance business some other time during the day.
That way, you can pause those hours if life gets in the way but you’ll still have the 30 minutes every day to keep you on track.
Remember, freelancing is just a tool for us to earn more money. You don’t have to become a career-freelancer unless you want to. It is one of the best tools you can learn because it will stick with you for life, and so spending extra time to get it right is worth it rather than rushing through.
Notice how few things we talked about in this article. It’s about doing fewer things and doing them more rather than the sheer number of things we start.
In my experience, Upwork has been the best freelancing site for beginners because they have the most client projects available.
The best place to begin with no experience is to help with smaller projects that you can do a great job at. That might be online research or data entry. Focus on doing an extraordinary job and clients will take notice.
Freelancing is not easy in the beginning but over time we get better and so it feels easier.
Freelancers often get paid based on an hourly rate, on a project-basis, or with a monthly retainer (a fixed monthly fee) depending on their agreement with the business they help. There is no one size fits all, some type of payments fits some type of projects better than others.