Want to freelance? Five tips to get you started

Published by | Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Who willingly leaps from a warm bed on a rainy morning? Yet that’s a question you might ask if you want to start freelancing. The world awaits, while the familiar comforts. Even if a difficult situation motivates you—a bad boss, job dissatisfaction, or unemployment—fear of the unknown can freeze even the intrepid.

But take heart. You’ll still be the same, familiar, human being; you’ll only become a new human doing. Here are five tips to help you use what you have, stay what you are, and get what you need to prepare for a transition to freelancing.

1. Collect your assets.

You have a professional history: use it! Make a portfolio of your past work, even if it’s not directly relevant to your new freelance practice. The online version can be built with WordPress, Drupal, Muse, or any other web software, and it should contain tangible results of your past work, such as print or digital samples. (If your work is service based and doesn’t produce tangible output, replace portfolio samples with client endorsements and illustrations of your work process.)

While you’re at it, review the details of people you’ve worked with over the past few years. You never know who’ll be the key to finding your new market.

2. Plan your days.

People are creatures of habit, and becoming a freelancer won’t snap you out of old habits. So even before you have clients, figure out how they’ll fit into your daily life. Will you work mornings or evenings? Where will you work? You’ll have to manage your time somehow: minimizing any disruptions in your current life will allow for a smoother transition.

3. Narrow your focus.

There’s a saying:  “Nothing is sold, everything is bought.” You can’t sell a service that people don’t want or don’t understand. So figure out now: What skills do you already have? What markets use those skills? How will you craft your offering to make the intersection obvious to buyers? There are plenty of general graphic designers out there, but if you bill yourself as, say, a graphic designer specializing in posters for the healthcare industry, you’ll be a clear choice for that market segment.

4. Prepare yourself for the work.

When you’re looking for work, it’s easy to forget that you’ll eventually have to stop looking and do it. Adapt your business systems (phone, email, file-transfer service, and contact database) to accommodate your clients.

5. Expect success.

Let’s say someone at the coffee shop is interested in what you offer. How will you show that you’re right for the job? A business card, website, and resume show the world you’re ready to work, and you’re serious about it. Then once you get the client, show them you’re prepared with forms and procedures you’ve customized to make the relationship go smoothly. Finally, know how you’ll accept their payment, and ask them for endorsements and future work when the project’s done.

Freelancing doesn’t require you to become a new person: it just makes you use what you have differently. So while the waiting world may be rainy, you’ll enter it with the energy from past success.

Learn more:

• Start a 7-day free trial at lynda.com
• Tom’s Freelancing Fundamentals course on lynda.com
• All of Tom Geller’s courses at lynda.com

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8 Responses to “Want to freelance? Five tips to get you started”

  1. Jawad Khan Mohmand says:

    Dear sir, I have learned a lot from u, When nobody knew about Drupal in Pakistan, i started learning from your lectures, Now i have a website based on drupal and i can teach anyone who wants to learn drupal. And i am thankful to you for this, God bless you :)

  2. David R says:

    What should I do if I have no past work and I never work as a graphic or web designer before

    • Tom Geller says:

      Hi, David. I’m guessing from your comment that you *want* to work in those fields, yes? I’m also going to assume that you think you have the technical skills you need to succeed in them — you just lack experience.

      In the course of gaining that experience, there’s a good chance you produced *some* kind of pieces you could put in your portfolio. It’s true that pieces for “real” clients are better — partly because those clients can also endorse your work. But even student pieces are worthwhile, if they’re good.

      If you don’t feel you have any pieces that are portfolio-worthy… well, you’ll have to make some. Consider volunteering your skills for a local organization, for example to make the poster (or website) for an upcoming event.

      In the end, what clients are looking for is assurance that you can do the work correctly, well, on time, and within budget. A portfolio is the clearest way to do that, but it’s not necessarily the only one. You might be able to propose your graphics skills to people who know you as a good worker in other areas.

      In any case, consider reviewing the “Marshaling Resources” section of Freelancing Fundamentals. Good luck!


      • David R says:

        Thanks a lot Tom, what did you assume is correct. By the way I cannot understand what do you mean by “reviewing the “Marshaling Resources” section of Freelancing Fundamentals”. Please can you clarify what do you mean by “Marshaling Resources”?

        • Tom Geller says:

          Hi, David. Sorry I didn’t see your comment earlier!

          “Marshaling” (as a verb) means to organize or bring together. So “Marshaling Resources” = bringing together whatever you’ll need for a job.

  3. Jeremy says:

    Being self employed is tough but it’s worth it.

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