How to start freelancing with no experience, network or portfolio

How to start freelancing with no experience, network or portfolio

Over at Entrepreneur On Fire, John ends his interviews by asking the guest what they would do if they got sent to another planet.

On this planet, everything is the same, they have all the same knowledge, food and shelter is taken care of but they only have $500 and a basic laptop. What would they do?

John has yet to ask me that question but I’ve been having wet dreams about fun (read: annoying) ways to answer it. 

Instead of messing that up by writing them here, let’s take a similar approach and discuss how to start freelancing with no experience, since that’s what you are really looking for.

I started out freelancing without experience, so it wouldn’t be right of me to say you shouldn’t do it but I will say that it is easier if you do have some experience. A lot easier.

Freelancing is not a great career choice long-term since, if we do well, we’ve just created another job for ourselves where we trade our time for money. And if not… it’s a part-time job at best.

But it has one important thing going for it: it helps us realize that we can earn a living without a traditional job and that is powerful as hell!

I wish we could just meditate and pray for that confidence because that would have saved me years of practicing the craft. But it doesn’t really work that way. We have to walk through the fire.

With that in mind, let’s jump in!

How to start freelancing with no experience: the four steps

First, let’s look at an overview of the four steps before diving into the specifics.

The four steps to freelancing without experience

  1. Pick a freelance idea 
  2. Find clients where they are (don’t let them come to you)
  3. Pitch like there is no tomorrow
  4. Land work and overdeliver

1. Picking the right freelance idea

First we need an idea. Shocking, I know.

If you don’t feel as if you have strong work experience, I recommend picking an idea that doesn’t require years to get good at, like programming. 

Instead, something that is easy to learn is lead generation research. We can become good within the first few projects and we’ll be able to evolve the idea into something even more profitable down the line. 

With focus on reliability, clients will trust us over time if we do a good job. That opens up for them letting us try other projects and perhaps even pay us to learn. 

For example, if we build and sell Facebook ads audiences, the advertisers we help might want us to learn how to run ads.

The most important thing with our idea is that it solves a real problem that a business has and that the client feels is a problem. Don’t try to convince someone that they have a problem if they don’t think they have one, instead find businesses that understand it is a problem already.

Upwork is a great way to get ideas as you can simply browse the available projects even without having an approved account. 

If we use the same example of lead generation research, clients know they need more leads to sell more. But since it is time consuming for them to find the leads, we are indirectly selling them their time back or the opportunity to make more sales in less time.

2. Find clients where they are (don’t let them come to you)

Where you find your clients depends on your specific freelance idea since we need to go where they are and we won’t find one place where they all are. We’ll go over this in the next section, so I’ll keep this short.

Don’t waste your time trying to get clients to come to you by building up a presence somewhere like in a Facebook group or on a blog.

It will take forever and there is a fair chance we might give up before we get results. Instead, go after the clients — they won’t mind being contacted directly as long as we are friendly and not salesy.

3. Pitch like there is no tomorrow

Pitching clients directly instead of waiting around for them is the one thing that just works in freelancing

The majority of us will eventually feel discouraged if we pitch a lot of clients without hearing anything back. That’s normal. 

Motivation is fluctuating so we can win by turning it into a habit.. but that takes time. We’ll get better the more we practice so it is natural that the more we pitch, the more we’ll earn. The best approach I’ve found is to create a habit around it by scheduling time in the calendar to pitch one client per day. Just one. 

It’s easy to get done on bad days. While you are motivated, I suggest doing a sprint where you pitch a lot more in the beginning — it will take clients time to get back to you, so if you end up feeling demotivated, that might be the time when the clients get back to you. It tends to be random but great timing, I’ve noticed.

That can remotivate us and we can use this “cycle” to continue motivating ourselves until it becomes an automatic habit (like taking a shower every day). 

When you feel remotivated by the reply, you can use that motivation to send out a new pitch which might come back and help you again in the future. Our brains are ridiculous like that but it takes a while to tweak motivation into a habit. It’s just the human side of us.

4. Land work and overdeliver

When you do agree with a client on a project, it is time to overdeliver. 

Not only will you get a good testimonial, which will give you confidence and that you can reuse in future proposals, but it is easier to get new work from existing clients or referrals than from new clients… provided you do an excellent job.

There are a few common ways to overdeliver like by giving them more quantity or more quality (or both). 

If you do lead research projects and they pay you to research 100 leads, give them 125 or if they ask you for the email of each lead, see if you can find something unique about each one that your client can use when reaching out to the lead for better results.

Should you use a freelance website like Upwork with no experience?

There are generally two paths that are good for beginning freelancers with no experience. One is to go directly for the advanced approach and reach out to potential clients directly via email.

The other is to put on training wheels and use a freelance website like Upwork to help find projects before eventually switching to the advanced approach above. There is no right or wrong, just preference.

how to start freelancing with no experience - the two paths to winning clients

Next let’s look at the pros and cons of both paths when you have no experience.

Upwork’s pros and cons


  • You can easily go after targeted projects like those that are urgent and get a leg up
  • And you can find projects like lead generation research that clients are looking for help with right now and are easy to land with the approach in this guide


  • Can you get your freelance profile approved? You might need to create a professional email and blog in order to get your account approved which require extra energy
  • You might feel overwhelmed looking at other freelancers that are so far ahead and feel like you can’t compete (not true)
  • You’ll have to switch away from Upwork in the future if you are serious about freelancing since there is a ceiling to how much you can earn
  • You might feel as if you aren’t truly independent because Upwork is finding the projects for you and so you depend on them
  • There are many distractions on Upwork like the job success score or the top rated-badges that are easy to get caught up in
  • You have to work harder to understand what you are getting yourself into with each project since clients tend to be less experienced and Upwork likes to keep as many project and client details hidden until you are hired (it seems backwards, I know!)

Direct email outreach’s pros and cons


  • Generally, you’ll find better clients, less competition and thus earn more + more freedom to find the right clients
  • You’ll feel truly independent because you own the entire process and is not dependent on other services to find you work


  • You might feel like you are annoying potential clients when you are reaching out out of the blue (it is not true unless you are salesly, which you don’t have to be)
  • It requires more work upfront since you have to find the leads and find the RIGHT leads (but you’ll also see better results)

If you are seriously considering freelancing, you might want to read the freelance digital marketing guide, where I dive deep into my experience landing clients with Upwork vs. direct email outreach. 

There is a case study with exactly what I did, earnings, the work I did to land clients, etc. and it is not only for marketers. 

4 tips to win freelance clients if you have no experience

Let’s conclude with a few tips I haven’t seen shared anywhere else before.

1. With no experience, we need to compensate for that by offering something else. The client needs another reason to pick us, so we gotta give them a great one. 

The best way I know of is through working hard and over-delivering. We can even leverage that by pointing it out if the situation fits.

2. By using a website like Upwork, we can choose to go specifically after urgent projects. We might not be the best fit overall but with a hard pressing deadline, we might be the best fit for the client at the time and that allows us to help them out in a sticky situation and win them over.

Another option is to leverage that people from your own country might be uncomfortable working with other cultures or languages, so we can target clients speaking the same language as us or we can help older people and with tech since many are uncomfortable with that and don’t want to learn it.

3. Offering a service that doesn’t require a high-level skill at first is a great way to get a foot in the door because it will be easier to land the project by leveraging your advantage of working hard. My favorite examples are:

  • Lead generation
  • Facebook ads audience building

4. If you use Upwork; accept that they offer you a service by bringing you leads and projects and in exchange you pay a fee for each completed project. 

DON’T waste your time trying to take the projects off of Upwork to save a little bit on the fees. You are wasting time that you could be spending getting more projects and ultimately earn more. You can only save so much but your earnings can be limitless.


  1. Sheila

    I found your blog from a Upwork sub-Reddit thread and have now just spent the last hour reading one blog after another.
    I am fairly new to the Upwork site as created a profile a year ago but just now decided to actually give it a try and I suppose with luck I landed my first job/project with my first batch of proposals.
    I can’t thank you enough for sharing your experiences and so many tips for using the Upwork platform. I am amazed you have found such a wide range of topics and even when repeating some tips, with each blog I learned something new.
    My question after reading this particular article is: When “cold calling” freelance work outside of Upwork how do you guarantee pay? I have a fear of landing a project, completing it and then having trouble collecting my pay. I would assume that as a freelancer you would have a contract of sorts to be signed detailing the project and expected pay between you and the person/company you are proposing to work with. Could you please share your experience with that part of freelancing?

    Thank you in advance!

    • Chris

      Hey Sheila, thanks for the kind words.

      You bring up a good point and I feel it would require its own article to cover your question throughoutly but I wanted to send you a quick response. The idea behind repeating certain tips is that we often need less info than we think but the points might not be obvious or clear at first.. at least that’s how I’ve felt learning myself.

      We can’t guarantee pay either via cold calling or on Upwork (or anywhere else for that matter). Contracts don’t really help us that much because it cost a lot to attempt to enforce them with lawyers, etc. and it can be tricky if we are in one country and the client in another. I know what you are thinking, and you are right — this is certainly a scary thought.

      In the last many years, I’ve only had a handful of clients that were subpar and only one or two that didn’t pay as I remember. It sucked but I stopped working on the project as soon as I realized it and after indulging in ice cream for a while, I moved on. Upwork is a false sense of security as they might side with us or the client – there are tonnes of examples of both cases online.

      There are some techniques that can help such as asking for a deposit upfront, continuing to remind them and CC’ing their finance department or other people in the company but the single best way to mitigate it, that I know of, is to use your gut feeling when onboarding the client. If you feel that you don’t have good chemistry when speaking or might not be a good fit to work together, tell them you don’t think you are the best fit for the project and move on. You might even discover the power of the conversation change, which is a fun experience on its own.

      Don’t let this concern stop you from moving forward — it WILL happen sooner or later. Plan for it. It’s impossible to avoid unless you don’t take any clients at all, which defeats the purpose of freelancing 😉

      Out of curiosity, do you remember where you found it on Reddit?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *