For anyone starting a new business a great piece of advice is “fake it ’till you make it”. This is particularly good advice for freelancers. Most freelancers developed their skills working for someone else, or by teaching themselves. It takes time for them to see themselves as a real business owner, and as a freelancer you freelance work is your business.
So you want to be a freelancer?
You want to be your own boss and making money from your own hard work. Setting your own schedule and working from anywhere in the world appeals to you. There are a ton of different reason to want to be a freelancer. Your reason for starting and your motivation are key to your success, but the most motivated person in the world will fail without a real business plan.
If you want to start freelancing, the first thing you need is a skill you can monetize. What skill do you have that businesses will pay you for? Only you will be able to answer this question, but I have included a list of popular freelance hustles. The purpose of this list is to help you think about skills you can monetize, the list is not comprehensive, you can search the web for more ideas.
- Graphic Design
- Web Development
- IT Services
- SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
- Content writing
- Social Media Management
Why you should look like a professional
This is a huge mistake people make when they get started freelancing. They think that just because they are not working as a full-time employee in the corporate world that they don’t need to act and look professional.
The truth is that good clients want to have professional work done for them. If you are a web developer, your client wants to hire a professional web developer rather than a freelancer. This is why you need to present yourself as a professional rather than a freelancer. Put yourself in the shoes of the owner/general manager of a small company you are cold calling, and think about this situation.
You find their phone number online and give them a call. The receptionist answers your call and you ask to be connected to John Smith (the owner of the company), she asks who is calling. You tell her it’s Bill Murphy and say you are a freelance web developer, she tells you John Smith is busy but she can take down your contact information. This was a pleasant call but it will not lead to money in your pocket.
Instead, when the receptionist ask who is calling you say it’s Bill from Signature Web Development. She will connect you to her boss because you make it sound like you are a professional (you are). You can then pitch her boss as a professional, from a real company. Saying you work with a real company is such a useful form of social proof and the psychological impression it makes on other people should not be underestimated
How to appear more professional
Since you are starting a freelance business, you have to create the appearance of a real business. This will include at least the following with things:
- A name for your business (this isn’t complicated, pick a simple name that you will have attached to your business.)
- A company domain name and website (get a domain and hosting so you can have a fully functional website, if this is your first time building a website and need a step-by-step guide, read a complete introduction to web hosting (with recommendations))
- A professional appearance for your website (if you know web design you can build this yourself, if not you should get a premium WordPress theme so your website gives off a professional impression, read the article on the best WordPress themes)
- A company email and phone number (if you built your website with Siteground, like I recommended in the beginner’s guide to starting a website that guide shows you how to create an email address for your website).
- Build your website (your website does not need to be complicated at all, a website with a good WordPress theme, and your contact information. Keep your website simple)
- Create an email signature (professionals have signatures at the bottom of their emails, it should have your title, your email and phone number, and your business name and possibly a logo)
You need to figure out your pricing before you start marketing your services and acquire clients. Proper pricing is incredibly important, you want to maximize the amount of profit for the amount of time you work. The good thing is that you can always adjust your prices once you have an established freelancing business.
Start off by figuring the hourly rate you will work for. Think about the lowest hourly rate you will work for, a number you will never work for less than, under any circumstances. This is your price floor, your minimum price you will work for.
A huge tip is to check out the best freelancers in your local area for your industry. Ask for quotes for the exact same work you will be doing for clients, so you can figure out the prices other freelances are charging. You need to get quotes from 5-10 different freelances to see the proper variance in pricing. The free market economy is incredibly efficient at pricing goods and services.
If you find freelancers to get quotes from, other people will be finding them and buying their services. They have an established business, with real prices, and real services. Copy the prices of the other people in your economic sub-market. Now you have properly priced services, that you can change the prices of at any point.
Marketing & Client Acquisition
When you start looking for your first client you should start by looking in your own network. Think about your friends, family, and colleagues that could potentially use the services you provide. Look at your Facebook friends and LinkedIn connections, write down the people that could use your services and send them a “catch-up”/introduction to your business message. Towards the end of this message include something like – “if you know anyone who could use my services feel free to forward them this message. People will appreciate the update on your life and the new venture you are starting.
The next step you should take should be to get a box of business cards made, and start going to networking events in your area. There are usually multiple organizations in each city that have networking events for small businesses and startups. At these events you can meet like minded entrepreneurial people, make new friends, and form strategic alliances that will pay dividends for years to come. It could also help to start a referral program, if your clients refer you to other businesses you will give the a fee (15%-20%).
Last but not least, you should be doing cold calling and cold emailing. This is when you do outreach to a business or person you have no previous connection to. Businesses cold call/email each other all the time, it is one of the best ways of doing sales. For cold emailing you will should create an email template with boiler plate text and a certain part that you can change to make each email unique (e.g. person’s name, what you can provide to their specific company. Cold emailing is not difficult, it just takes a bit of time to figure out what converts strangers into clients best.
Cold calling is the simplest form of client acquisition but often the most intimidating for beginners. You will want to have a rudimentary script for when you pitch new clients, you can figure this out by searching online for “cold call scripts”. In all honesty, the best process for cold calling is to understand the value you can provide to a business, what their needs are, and the smile and dial. Get over the fear of cold calling and just do it!
You have an established business, you have clients, now all you need is a way of keeping track of all the profits you are making. For your business, you need good invoicing and accounting software. Real businesses do not do all their accounting on Excel spreadsheets. Real businesses use accounting software such as FreshBooks.
Freshbooks allows you to get paid upfront with deposits, and quickly build professional invoices with due date. You are going to need to do invoicing, so it’s best to use a company that that allows you to do it easily. You can keep track of your profit with instant updates when an invoice is paid, and they even have a mobile app.
When you work hard to build a freelancing business, you will really enjoy seeing the profits on your invoices. You are an independent entrepreneur that gets paid purely off of the value you provide to your customers. Remember to periodically take breaks and appreciate the success you have created for yourself.