how to start freelancing

How to Start Freelancing

In the past, we’ve covered freelancing 101, but realize that you might need a step-by-step approach to getting started as a freelancer. We’ve been there and want to help you set up your freelance business to, not only be successful but also attract cool projects you actually want to work on. Let’s get started, friends!

1.  Make a plan

Before you start reaching out to clients, set up your business plan. Your plan should be pointing you in the direction of (a) the jobs you ultimately want to do and (b) your desired benefits and salary. You’ll see that, once you gain momentum as a freelancer, you’ll be tempted to take every job that comes your way (which is how you can get burned out). Cheesy as it sounds, you’ll want to “vision board” this out first. We’re not talking about making a huge poster board collage (though, you do you!). Just ask yourself the important questions and answer them honestly: Where do you see your freelancing business going in six months? How about a year from now? Your ultimate vision should include a plan for your finances, quarterly taxes, an invoicing system, a plan for your retirement, a list of benefits you’ll need (whether that’s marketplace healthcare or working only four days a week) and your desired salary (by hour, by project and by the year). Once you have this plan ready, you’re ready for your next steps. 

2. Gather your resources

Don’t reach out just yet, but take a look at your resources. Look at your skills—are you fully equipped or do you need to take a quick class on certain software? Speaking of software, is there anything you need to set up for yourself? Chances are you need to get your own creative subscriptions set up, have a solid method of backing up clients’ work, decide how you’ll clock your hours, and create invoices (apps like Wave are great for this). The other half of your resources will be your valuable network. Who do you already know in the industry you'd like to work in? Do some research and make a list of people you’ll reach out to—but don’t send those emails just yet! There’s still one last thing you have to get in order…

3. Create your brand offering

Ah, yes, creating the dreaded portfolio and website. But it’s really not so dreadful when you realize you’re your own boss now! You get to decide how to present yourself in order to attract the clients you want. If you don’t have any work that reflects those clients you want to attract, then create them! Dream big here. Have you always wanted to illustrate? Create logos? Animate? Interview someone and write a profile? Your portfolio can consist of unused concepts and some client work that you love. It will wow clients to see what you’re interested in and capable of, especially if you’ve never been able to do it for a previous client. These pieces can also display skills you have yet to use for other clients, like animation, art direction, illustration, project management, product design, and more. Need help? We have a few pieces of portfolio advice to get you started. Once you have at least three top favorite projects ready on your site, including case studies (where applicable), you’re ready to start reaching out.

4. Reach out

Now's the time to break out that list of people and companies you want to work for and start networking. There’s no particular order here, but we recommend starting with the people you already know. Ask them if they know anyone or are a degree of separation from your dream company. These conversations should be one-on-one. You have a goal, yes, but be genuine with the people in your network. Don’t use people as stepping stones, instead, repay favors and send thank-you notes after each conversation. You can definitely post general inquiries on your socials, highlighting that you’re beginning a freelancing career and are interested in a certain industry. Both these one-on-one interactions and sporadic status updates can help get your feet wet. Ready to make bigger moves? Do the research and find out who the key decision-makers are in your dream companies. Cold-email them with an introduction, what you love about their work, and let them know you’re available if they ever need your skills (insert portfolio here). 

5. Assess (and then reach out again)

Not getting anywhere? Only getting attention from clients who are not ideal? Talk to your friends, especially if they are already freelancing. Have them take a look at your portfolio and methods of communication. Ask for their advice and take it! Then repay the favor in some way. You might also find that reaching out in this way is not the best approach for you. If you prefer working with a recruiter, well, look no further! We can help you take your skills to the next level with clients who are as cool as you are. 

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Need help with the next steps in your freelancing journey? Don't worry, we've got a lot more advice on this topic:

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