Freelancing is exciting and liberating – yet – daunting and difficult.
You’re either held back from the fear of taking such a huge risk with your career or you’ve already taken the leap, but things don’t seem to be going anywhere.
Isn’t it frustrating? You know succeeding as a freelancer can be done, but, how do you get there?
It’s not easy and it takes a lot of hard work, but you’re right, it is possible. Although there may not be a paved road, there is a general process you can follow to get to where you want to be.
I’ve been struggling, learning, and growing as a freelancer myself for over four years. I’ve failed more times than I can keep track of, risked my freelance career on multiple occasions, and worked with clients all over the world—All while observing the work of others more successful than myself – distilling their success.
What I’ve learned over the years is that you can achieve success much quicker if you start by setting yourself up for success.
Like I mentioned, it took me years to figure out what I was doing. You don’t have to do the same and spend years establishing yourself. Part of my mission with this blog is to make your life easier by sharing everything I know.
So without further delay, here’s the step-by-step guide to building the foundation to your freelance business.
Step 1: Commit and create your freelance business plan
If your goal is to succeed as a freelancer then you need to start by committing 100%.
You can’t stay held back forever, and trust me when I say there will never be a perfect time to start!
It’s cliché I know, but it’s very true. It’s going to take a lot of time, so the sooner you can get started, the sooner you’ll get established and on the road to success.
Understand now that you’re going to struggle at first, that’s inevitable, but you have to start somewhere.
At this point you’re going to have many fears and questions. That’s expected. Lucky for you there are many people willing to help. If you have any questions, leave a comment on this post. I’ll personally try my best to answer your questions, settle your fears, or at least point you in the right direction.
Creating your freelance business plan
One of my biggest mistakes when starting my freelance business was not planning it out. I didn’t define any details about my freelance business or establish goals to work towards.
So rather than spend a year struggling like I did, start by planning for success right off the bat. Kind of like a map, chart the path you’d like to take to becoming a successful freelancer.
I shared a sample freelance business plan on my personal blog a while ago. Check that out for the sample if you’d like, but to save you some time – in a nutshell – here’s what you should do:
Open your favorite text editor, type out these three section headers and answer the following questions as best as you can.
My freelance business
- What’s your business name and location?
- What is your specialty?
- Who are your clients and how do you plan on helping them?
My Marketing Plan
- How will you find clients?
- What type of marketing will you do to get your name out there?
- What results are you looking for with your marketing? (For example, a target number of client projects per month.)
My Financial Plan
- How much will you charge per hour?
- In order to make ends meet, how much will you need to earn each month?
- What type of business expenses will you have?
- How will you diversify your freelance income outside of client work?
Even if you don’t know all of the answers yet, at least put your ideas and plans down. By investing the small amount of time to do this you’ll have a much better idea of what goals you should be shooting for.
Calculate your freelance hourly rate
Figuring out your hourly rate is fundamental to building the foundation of your freelance business. Not every freelancer charges by the hour, but having one in mind will help tremendously when it comes to estimating client projects.
To calculate your hourly rate, use my Freelance Hourly Rate Calculator – it’s 100% free and uses a simple equation to give you the exact hourly rate that will lead to your annual earnings goal. You may not be able to/feel comfortable charging the rate you’re given, so once it’s been calculated, adjust depending on your skill level, experience, and the market’s demand for your services. This may fluctuate your hourly rate by ± $10–30.
When I started freelancing I was charging $35 an hour. I had just graduated college, so I didn’t have too much experience with working with clients, but I had the design skills. Figuring out your hourly rate ultimately comes down to your financial goals and what you feel comfortable being paid.
If you’re looking for information on how to use your hourly rate to estimate client projects, check out another post here: How to set your freelance rates and never get ripped off again
Step 2: Build your brand
Before you create your website or any business materials, you need to first develop some sort of brand for yourself.
Rather than spending days or weeks developing the “perfect brand” – start simple.
For your logo you can design a simple monogram with your initials, or if you lack the design skills, find an appealing font that fits the look you’d like to portray (preferably a Google web-font so you can use it online) and apply that to your name. Then develop a color scheme that you can apply to everything (logo, marketing materials, link colors, etc.)
Build your online presence
If you’re a designer or developer, then you may feel comfortable with creating your own custom website. However, if you lack those skills, don’t try to build it yourself. Rather, try using an online service like Squarespace or Behance.
Once you’ve found the perfect solution for your online portfolio, upload your best work, and be sure you’re sticking to your new brand identity.
If you haven’t already, also create your Twitter account, Facebook page, and any other social media account that you can utilize for your freelancing. Again, make sure you apply your new brand to your profiles. Consistency is key.
With your new social accounts set up, start putting them to use. Give the followers you want a reason to follow you. Share useful links, post updates on projects, and connect with as many people as possible on a personal level.
Step 3: Identify your clients and prep for work
Before you start reaching out to clients you need to create the essential business documents so you can confidently reply back with the next step to take. Your clients will appreciate this.
Start with creating a generalized freelance contract and invoice – those are the two you’ll need to start and end every project.
Here are two resources I’ve already created for both of these documents:
If you’d like to get your hands on more freelance resources, check out my complete guide, Start Your Freelance Career. With every bundle you get five PDF resource documents to help get your freelance career off the ground – plus much more.
Develop a brief for client projects
The entire point of this step-by-step guide is to plan out all of the essentials that you’ll need to get your freelance business off the ground.
Dealing with clients is one of those things that takes a lot of time and trial and error to get a grasp of. If you can plan a work process for what you do, it’ll make your life a lot easier. For example, if a client is interested in having you design a logo, how would you begin the project? What questions would you ask?
Consider everything you’ll need to know from the client in order to begin a project. You can simply list these questions in an email, send a text document, or direct the client to an online form. Have this plus your business documents ready to go before reaching out to clients.
If you’d like to see how I typically land and work with clients, read my article: My complete process to landing more client projects
With all of these details prepped and once you land your first client project, you’ll be better prepared to share your work process, send over the contract, and get an invoice out to begin the work.
Compile a list of potential clients
Aside from telling your family, friends, and other influential people in your life, compile a list of about 15 potential clients you’d like to work with. It can be a local business that you think could benefit from your services, an organization that needs a new website, or even a design firm across the country that might have some run-off work they could pass onto you.
Focus on compiling this list of names and emails (and/or phone numbers). You’ll be using this list to reach out, introduce yourself, and to inquire about freelance work.
Here is where you’ll define your market, so really do your research on the type of clients you’d like to work with.
Step 4: Find your first client
With your established brand, essential documents, work process, and compiled list of clients, now’s the time to put it all to use.
Start with 5–10 potential clients from your list. When reaching out via email or phone, be sure you’re contacting someone within the business directly – like the owner or marketing director – and be sure to craft each email or conversation specifically for who you’re talking to. Don’t just blast out a templated email.
Start by introducing yourself. Then, hard sell what you have to offer; look at their online presence, look at their brand, and find where they’re lacking. Then inform them of your services, what you can do specifically for them, and how it’ll help them make more money.
For more in depth tips on finding clients, check out: My ultimate guide to finding clients and marketing your freelance business
NOTE: I hope you don’t mind the additional resource links (like above). Rather than packing content I’ve already written into this post I want to point you to the full information if you choose to look further into it. The goal of this post is to build the “foundation” to your freelance business, and not necessarily how to fully run a freelance business.
Promote your availability on social media
Using your social accounts, promote your freelance business and availability. Shoot out a tweet, post on Facebook, or even design a shot for Dribbble.
Service specific: “I’m currently available for design work! Get at me if you’re in need of a logo: [URL]”
Client specific: “Any design firms out there need help with design work? I’m available: [URL]”
Blogging is one of the best and most proven methods of generating traffic for your website. Either build a blog on your own website or guest post on an established blog with an audience that you’d like to draw back to your website.
Even if you’re not a writer, consider giving this a try. At the very least write/blog about your work process and past design work. I’ve personally had great success with case studies. Give it a try – you have nothing to lose.
If work remains slow, continue to reach out to potential clients every week and promote your availability/work on social media.
Again consistency is key. If you stick with it and continue to put out some sort of content you’ll start to see results. Then it’s those results that you can use to fuel your content creating and marketing strategy.
Experiment with different methods of marketing, track your results along the way, and stick to what works best for you.
Step 5: Grow — What to do next
So at this point you should have the foundation of your freelance business in place:
- You should understand your freelance business in detail
- Goals should be set to work towards
- Your freelance business should be branded the way you’d like to be perceived
- You should have an online presence with your best work displayed
- You should be prepared to reach out and accept work from clients
- And finally, you’re ready to share and get the word out about your freelance business
Growing from here is up to you – how much time, patience, and dedication you’re ready to pour into your freelancing.
I started freelancing without knowing a single thing about running a business or working with clients. After a year of pure struggle, I started over. I came up with the steps in this article and because of it – over a year later – I’ve hit the point where I can gladly say I make a living with freelancing. It’s nothing luxurious, but I can pay my bills doing what I love, also with the help and support of my fiancé.
If I can do it, then I know you can too.
Of course it’s going to take a lot of time and energy to build. But if you want to build a freelance business then you’re going to have to start right now and follow these steps with your own twist– using them as a trail to create your own path.
Continue to work with clients, build up your experience, turn your completed work into case studies so it can market for you, then consider the idea of side projects. The possibilities are endless!
I tried to cover what I feel are necessary steps in building the foundation to your freelance business. But of course there is much more to it and there’s no way I covered everything there is to know.
If you still have questions or are having any issues with getting started, feel free to contact me and I’ll do my best to help.
Also, if you have some important steps to add, please feel free to share in the comments below. Did I mention leaving comments on other blogs help draw back traffic to your website? You don’t want to miss out on such a simple marketing tactic like that now do you? ;)