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6 Steps to Starting Freelancing from Scratch

  • By Jessica Thiefels
  • November 25, 2020

More than one-third of the American workforce is employed at least part-time on a freelance basis, according to Forbes—that’s 57 million people.

With the rising popularity of freelancers and contractors in today’s culture, there are plenty of ways to earn extra income with the skills you already have.

Whether the goal is to supplement your income or move toward more job flexibility, starting a freelance business has its perks. What’s more, it’s possible for nearly anyone to do. Translate your creative passions or area of expertise into a freelance business using these simple tips.

1. Identify Your Hard and Soft Skills

Your skills can be categorized into two groups—and both are equally important. Hard skills are technical in nature. These are measurable, quantifiable and, in most cases, learned from training or experience. They include things like:

  • data analytics
  • website design
  • cloud architecture
  • computer technology
  • social media content
  • photography
  • search engine optimization
  • writing
  • translation

Soft skills are more interpersonal, and describe how you relate to other people and tackle the rigors of a job. These include:

  • motivation
  • teamwork
  • leadership
  • time management
  • communication
  • problem solving

Both hard and soft skills need to be “working in concert with one another,” says Laura Wilcox, from Harvard Extension School. She says soft skills help you think more creatively about how to best use your hard skills.

Make a list of both types of skills in two columns and consider how you can use them together to run a successful freelance business. For example, if you have web design skills and work well on tight deadlines, you could attract clients that pay more for quick-turnaround projects.

2. Consider Which Skills Are Money-Making

Once you pinpoint your hard and soft skills, decide which ones can be used to start your freelance business. This stage in the process will likely focus more on hard skills, like writing or web design. For example, if you’re a talented writer, you can get paid work writing for websites, publications, blogs and other forms of media.

Remember, as a freelancer, you are the product, suggests Creative Entrepreneurs Online, which means your skills are the vouchers for establishing credibility and boosting conversion rates, especially as you build a reputation for yourself. Choose to focus on the skills that really allow you to shine as the expert.

Note that soft skills can still be valuable if you plan, for example, to start a virtual assistant business. This type of work requires organization, motivation, and a take-initiative attitude. Don’t downplay the value of these skills if they make sense for your interests and career focus.

Related: These are the most in-demand freelance skills right now

3. Add New Skills to Your Current Arsenal

You may need to expand and diversify your skillset to be competitive in your industry as a freelancer. For example, you may be familiar with Google Analytics, but being GA certified will make you look a lot more appealing to a company who needs help with data.   

To decide what extra skills you need, browse through listings on sites like Fiverr for jobs you’d want to get. See what credentials they ask for. Conversely, look through freelancer profiles to see what training and skills they have. When you know what you need to level-up, you can seek training from online courses, industry conferences, and certifications.

4. Consider Pricing

Pricing is crucial for making a freelance business last. You have to be competitive without selling your experience and talent short. Conversely, pricing too high will keep you from getting your first customers.

To find the best pricing to start with, do competitive research. Again, you can look through profiles on sites like Fiverr to find service-based freelancers who have similar skills and experience as you. If you want to sell products, like courses or ebooks, research on sites like Etsy or Amazon. Use this as a starting point and then let your pricing evolve as your business does.

Related: How to Price Your Services for Increased Revenue and Less Headache

5. Find and Connect with Your First Client

To get your first client, turn to friends and relatives who may want to support your new venture. You can even give them a discount for being your first client; remember, this is a learning opportunity for you as well. Ask in person, or post a status on social media, asking if anyone is interested in your services for a discounted price. As you do that, continue looking for other clients.

Here are a few other ways to connect:

  • Develop contacts on LinkedIn, or the network most used by your ideal customer, by reaching out directly and posting regularly about topics relevant to your target audience.
  • Attend local networking events, which allow you to reach a wide range of people in-person.
  • Email websites, blogs or internet startups to see if they need contract services.
  • Sign up for freelancing websites and apply for gigs, or wait for potential jobs to invite you to interview.

6. Create and Develop Your Brand Identity

To continue finding and driving clients, you need to develop a clear, definitive and recognizable brand identity. Consider the brand to be your business’s narrative—the human impression you leave on customers when working together.

You want your brand to feel both memorable and personable because “brand identity—one with a face, trust and a mission—attracts people who agree with what your brand has to offer,” explains HubSpot. They continue, “Once these people become customers, that same brand identity gives them a sense of belonging. A good product generates customers, but a good brand generates advocates.”

Here are some of the main areas to take into account when developing a brand identity for the first time.

  • Consistency: From logo and website to the color scheme and typeface of your marketing materials or invoices, all elements of your brand need to be uniform across the board. This makes it easier for customers to distinguish your business from others whenever they come across your brand online.
  • Personality: Customers want to engage with brands that are human and drive an emotional response. This comes through in the words you use and your messaging. Ask yourself: Is my brand spirited and quirky? Refined and upscale? Sharp and witty? Bold and assertive? This will help refine how you talk with customers and what your messaging conveys.
  • Authenticity: Whether you interact with customers through an email newsletter, social media comments, or over the phone, be authentic. A strong brand identity helps you create a story about who you authentically are. This sets you apart from competitors and is attractive to the modern consumer.

Turn Your Skills Into a Freelance Business

Use these tips to start building a business that brings in a second stream of income or allows you to move toward a life with more flexibility.

Work hard at this process, and you can build a thriving freelance business that allows you to make the most of your abilities and passions.

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