How to Freelance: 4 Tips Direct from Freelancers

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By DeVry University

August 24, 2021
6 min read

It’s no secret that COVID-19 has changed the way we conduct business. From remote work to the way organizations operate, many professionals are now reconsidering their options for the future – and freelancing is top of mind.

A 2020 report reveals over 59 Million people freelance in the U.S. alone.1 That's over one-third of the American workforce. Current trends show that as more people opt for remote work, more will turn to freelance jobs2 for the schedule flexibility and ability to choose their own projects, making it a great time to discover how to freelance full- or part-time.

If you’re considering launching your freelancing career, we’ve compiled advice, tips and links to helpful resources in this beginner’s guide.

What is Freelancing?

Before we dive into how to freelance, let’s clarify exactly what freelancing is.

Freelancing is a form of entrepreneurship where one generates income by working for themselves, typically by offering services to clients. As a freelancer, you can offer services such as writing, design, marketing or technology consulting and bill clients for that service.

4 Tips Direct From Freelancers

While statistics show that more and more people join the freelance workforce every year, knowing exactly how to set yourself up for freelancing success can be a challenge.

That’s why we reached out to eight freelancers to ask them one powerful question: “If you were to start over again as a freelancer, what would you do differently?” Here’s what our freelancers had to say about starting your own small business:

1. Focus on Client Acquisition First

When you feel the adrenaline rush of starting your own freelancing business, it’s easy to get caught up in a flurry of ideas and tasks. But if you’re not focusing on client acquisition early, you might be doing yourself a disservice.

Preston Lee is a freelancing veteran who has been featured by brands like Entrepreneur and Inc, as well as universities and colleges.

“If I were starting all over again,” Lee says, “I would focus more on revenue and client acquisition. So many freelancers (my early self included) worry so much about their portfolio, their logo, their business cards, etc. In reality, this doesn’t matter nearly as much as you think. What matters is getting clients in the door quickly. Without it, you’re not in business.”

2. Raise Your Rates Early On

“If I could start over,” freelance writer Jorden Makelle told us, “I would charge more and raise my rates sooner. It can be scary to charge more as a beginner, but knowing your worth and charging accordingly is key.”

This first step can be intimidating for many people starting out as freelancers but doing so could mean the difference between working for yourself full-time and needing to find a second job to supplement your income.

You should also consider the expenses that come with running your own business, such as freelance taxes, overhead costs and non-billable hours. After freelancing for years, Ryan Robinson now teaches 500,000 monthly readers how to build their own successful business.

“I wouldn't be as afraid to raise my rates much more quickly,” Robinson explains. “So many freelancers get stuck in a trap of charging the same rates for their services, year after year. To combat this kind of stagnant fee scenario, I recommend increasing your rates—even if just by a few percentage points—with each new prospective client you pitch. If you're consistently hearing yes from every client you're working with, then that's a clear signal there's probably room to charge more for your work."

If you feel you need to, start with small projects to get your feet wet and begin building your portfolio, but don’t be afraid to raise your rates as you learn more about how to freelance, as this can benefit you down the road. It can also help you find clients or work that is a better fit for you and help you build a strong network of clients that are willing to pay you for your talents. You can learn more by taking online business degree programs and courses to improve your business knowledge and skills.

3. Sell Results, Not Skills

When you’re just getting started as a freelancer, it feels like the natural way to pitch your services is to talk about what you do, like “I’m a web designer” or “I’m a trainer.”

Podcaster Nick Loper suggests a different approach. “It's natural to sell your skills,” he explains, “but I wish I'd been better at selling the result for the client. That way, they're not necessarily married to YOU being the one to do the work, freeing you up to scale by bringing on qualified contractors.”

4. Lean on and Build Relationships With Others

Although you may be working independently as a freelancer, you are not an island. Without support from a network of friends, coaches, clients and others, it can be difficult to build the foundation that’s important to a long-term freelancing career.

“If I were to start all over again as a freelancer, I would just start sooner,” Freelancing School founder Jay Clouse says. "Freelancing is all about relationships – and the earlier you start building connections and letting them know that you're freelancing, the better!”

Chelsea Baldwin, who built her freelance copywriting into a full-fledged business adds: “I would start on LinkedIn and focus solely on that platform; I wouldn't worry about having my own website or profiles on a million different freelancing sites. I'd build my network, show up in my direct messages daily and use my LinkedIn profile as my website. That way, I'd be able to use the visible connections and recommendations there as third-party credibility for my business."

And it’s not just client networks that matter. Getting support from industry professionals in and out of your field can be helpful. If you’re serious about freelancing as a career, consider leveraging a business coach or working with a mentor.

Freelancer-turned-agency-builder, Clay Mosley supports the idea of finding a coach early on in your freelancing career. "If I were to do it all over again, I would hire a business coach right off the bat,” Clay admits. “I could've accelerated my growth exponentially if I had invested in a coach that could've guided me.”

Explore Freelancing Resources

Now that you have a basic understanding of what to expect when getting started as a freelancer, here are a few helpful resources that may provide more information and support:

  • Books for Beginning Freelancers: This list from Future Women is meant to inspire and educate you as you embark on your freelance journey.
  • Podcasts for Freelancers: Explore helpful freelance podcasts available for download right now. The best part? They’re all free.
  • Freelancing Blogs: This list of nearly 50 blogs provides insight, guidance and tips on breaking into the freelance world. Remember, the key is to learn what’s necessary and then get started.
  • Portfolio Creation Software: TechRadar outlines some great software you can leverage to get your portfolio online quickly.
  • Freelance Job Sites: Explore 80+ freelance job sites to create a profile, reach out to clients and start building a book of business.

Begin Your Path in Entrepreneurship

Whether you want to build a full-time business or just take on a few freelance jobs, we hope the principles outlined in this article can help you get started on the right foot.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out our Small Business Management and Entrepreneurship Bachelor's Degree Specialization where you'll learn what it takes to start, run and grow your own business.

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