Many of us want to earn money on the side as a freelancer, but are unsure of how to begin. There are so many freelance websites and loads of advice for getting started, it can be confusing and overwhelming.
What type of services can you offer? How do you start building a portfolio from scratch? And where do you find client who will pay you?
Here’s how to get started with freelancing by figuring out what types of services you can get paid for and where to find work.
What is a freelancer?
A freelancer is someone who’s self-employed, offers a variety of services, and works as an independent contractor (often virtually) for many different clients in varying locations. This includes anyone whose services are web design, marketing, writing, editing, photography, bookkeeping, and the like.
Unlike a regular employee at a company, a freelancer usually works solo and must wear many different hats in order to keep their business going.
As a freelancer, you often have less time off, have to work odd hours of the day or on weekends, and don’t get paid vacation days. However, the risk is often worth the reward when you can be the master of your schedule and have unlimited income potential.
How to find freelance work online
Step 1: Determine what type of freelancer you are
Before you can start earning more money, you must first determine what kind of freelancer you’ll be and what type of services to offer.
You may already have an idea of the route you want to pursue, but if you’re unsure, try starting laterally – lean on your past experience and parlay that into new freelance services.
For example, my background is in small business accounting and finance. So when I was becoming a freelancer, I used my past knowledge to start out as a financial writer. I didn’t have much of a portfolio in the beginning, but I had the experience and vocabulary to back up finance and tax writing assignments.
What past experience do you have that you can use as a lateral transition into freelancing? Did you enjoy your high school art class or excel at a college Journalism elective? You can always pivot and change your mind later, but it’s easier to do that when you have a good foundation already built.
Step 2: Create a website or blog
To make it as any type of freelance contractor, you need an online home – a website. This can be in the form of a simple portfolio site or an all-in-one blog. Think of it as a living, breathing portfolio so everything you publish on it will be a reflection of you and your work (and often determine whether or not you land the gig).
The up-front cost of setting up a personal website/blog is fairly cheap at around $100-200. I recommend starting with something simple like WordPress.org or Squarespace, as they have multiple plugins and themes available for easy customization (many of which are free). You only have to pay for a domain name, usually $10, and one year of hosting the site, roughly $80.
You don’t have to fork over money to a web designer for a custom design, either. There are lots of excellent themes and templates available that you can change and customize yourself.
The biggest thing to remember is that you’re trying to display your skills and services so you can get hired. Don’t get distracted by the design aspects or tinkering around with your social media accounts. Those will help, but the actual content of your website needs the most attention.
Step 3: Interact in Facebook groups
One of the most time-intensive aspects of being a freelancer is constantly networking and creating strategic partnerships. A great way to do this is by joining and interacting within industry-specific Facebook groups (LinkedIn groups are a good alternative, too).
Seek out community groups of fellow freelancers, as well as client groups that could lead to potential gigs in the future. Many of your favorite bloggers and organizations have private Facebook groups that you can request to join. A few that I participate in are the Pretty + Profesh group, One Woman Shop, and several industry conference groups.
After joining a group, check in on a daily basis to answer questions and offer helpful feedback. The point is to keep your name and services top-of-mind, so when someone needs the service you’re offering, you’ll be the first person they think about!
Best sites for finding freelance work
Freelance work is abundant and there’s an endless number of resources you can leverage to find gigs. But these are some of the best and most effective places to secure freelance work:
Twitter: Target specific clients or businesses you want to work for and create a Twitter list (make sure it’s private!) so you can keep track of their updates.
Companies usually reach out to Twitter when they have freelance job openings. Searching through relevant hashtags or participating in industry tweetchats is another excellent way to connect with potential clients.
LinkedIn Jobs: Keep an eye out for contacts who have “Recently Viewed Your Profile” on LinkedIn and reach out to connect with them. Mention that you’d like to explore ways to collaborate and how you can work together.
Be sure to keep your profile up-to-date and check your messages regularly, too. I usually get one to two leads every week from LinkedIn.
Craigslist: Visit your local Craigslist site and search the “Jobs” or “Gigs” sections. You can view the jobs by available position or the gigs by job type. There are usually a variety of jobs available, if you have a bit of time to sift through them.
And don’t be afraid to expand your search to other cities. Craigslist often features both remote and virtual job listings.
Contently: If you’re a writer, you’ll want to consistently add new examples to Contently’s free online portfolio. Fill out the entire bio and send out your custom link to potential clients and editors.
The most important thing is to keep your portfolio up-to-date so Contently can match you with the best clients (and often the most well-paying ones).
ProBlogger Job Board: If you’re a blogger, copywriter or editor, the ProBlogger Job Board is a good site to check out from time to time. The gigs are very targeted and can often yield decent paying freelance work. ProBlogger has been around for a while and has a solid reputation for freelancers and clients alike.
The Write Life: The Write Life has partnered with SimplyHired and features freelance work on their job board that relates to copywriting, publishing, editing, and journalism. Jobs are categorized by type and by the fact that you can work remotely. They’ve also established some amazing relationships with well-known entrepreneurs which can help get your foot in the door.
MediaBistro: This site offers a wide variety of freelance jobs from media industries such as marketing, web publishing, social media, and magazines, to name a few. Search using a keyword and input your location to find the type of gig you want.
Avoid these freelance work job boards
When you’re just starting out as a freelancer, it can be tempting to sign up for traditional job boards like Guru, Upwork, and Fiverr. But theses are just content mills that don’t put a focus on the skills or value you have to offer.
You’ll be in a rush to bid on jobs that you wouldn’t normally seek out and have to compete for pennies. Don’t sell yourself short just because you’re a new freelancer – take your time and have patience. You will find the clients who are more than happy to compensate you well for your work.
Learning how to freelance takes a lot of time, determination, and hard work, but the sacrifice of working for yourself and being location-independent is usually worth it.
You can set your own rates and your own hours. You’re able to work with a variety of clients on various projects so the work is never boring. You can connect with many different people who both inspire and challenge you. Not to mention, there’s no cap on how much income you can earn, allowing you to aggressively reach for major financial goals in your life.
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