With the modern-day internet explosion, freelancing is more popular than ever.
After all, what’s better than working in your pajamas and getting paid on vacation?
But unlike many traditional careers, there’s no “right way” to become a freelancer. In fact, you need to consider dozens of factors before you decide to pickup your first client.
Fortunately, the internet makes it easier than ever to start a freelance career. With platforms like Upwork, all it takes is a little determination and hard work to start your freelance career today.
Everyone’s freelancing journey begins differently. Some people save money from their day job until they have enough to quit and start freelancing full-time. Others start making money on the side while they keep their 9-to-5.
No matter what route you’re running with…
You’ve likely heard stories of people struggling to find clients after they start freelancing. Some people may even tell you it’s hard. And that you won’t be able to get enough work to freelance full-time.
We’re not saying freelancing is easy – actually, it’s one of the most challenging career decisions you’ll make.
But the right mindset and consistent effort will make the difference between a profitable, flourishing freelance business and a frustrating lack of traction.
It’s true – freelancing is more popular than ever. In fact, 34%¹ of Americans identified as freelancers in 2015. And that number is consistently growing, thanks in part to the ‘digital nomad’ lifestyle.
And, in this day and age, who really wants to slave their entire life away for someone else?
Freelancing gives you the opportunity to start with nothing. Learn something. And build your own career so that you can be your own boss, control your own hours, AND…. build a long-term asset out of you!
That way, your income goes up as your skills go up. And the only person stopping you from getting that raise is, guess who?
But if you want to join the more than 55 million freelancers in the United States, you’ll need a solid strategy to get started.
With the right approach, you can start your freelance career on Upwork in a reasonable amount of time and say ‘see ya ✌️‘ to the 9-to-5 grind.
In this guide, we’ll look at what you can do to become a freelancer. By following these tips, you can arm yourself with knowledge and have a leg-up on the competition as you begin your career.
Before we begin, understand that most of our tips are for Upwork freelancing.
Yes – you can start by cold-pitching clients and replying to job boards — but creating an Upwork profile is one of the most effective ways to find your first clients.
Upwork makes it easy to find reputable clients and accept payments without hassle. We’ll take a look at what makes Upwork so popular for freelancing, but you can apply our tips to non-Upwork freelancing if you prefer other methods.
Find The Right Job For You: What Services Will You Sell?
The beautiful thing about freelancing is its versatility. It offers hundreds of different jobs, each valuable in their own unique way.
Whether you’re an artist, a writer, a programmer, or great with customers, there’s something for you to offer on Upwork. The site is open to freelancers representing many careers and you’re sure to find one that interests you.
#1 Ask Yourself: What Are Your Skills?
To find your ideal freelancing careers, think about your skills. What are you good at? What can you do that – in your opinion – other people will pay for?
During this step, it’s important to be honest.
Are you good enough at graphic design to sell your services, or are you still learning?
On the flip side, are you an excellent writer? Don’t shy away from your skill or downplay your talents – great writing is valuable in today’s market.
Your chosen field might seem easy to you because you’re good at it, but that doesn’t make it easy for everyone.
Depending on your existing skills, you might need to learn something new before you start freelancing.
For example, you might enjoy playing video games but you aren’t good enough to be a professional eSports player.
That’s okay! You can capitalize on your passion by mastering software testing.
With your newly acquired skill, you can advertise yourself as a beta tester for video game developers. Suddenly, you have a career playing video games!
Chances are, there’s a way to market your existing skills – you just need to learn how. Take writers, for example – millions of people enjoy writing stories but can’t fathom sales copywriting.
If you’re the fiction writer who’s willing to learn to write sales copy, you can transition your existing skills into a more profitable career field.
Some skills are easy to learn on your own. With others, you may want to take classes before you start offering your professional services.
It’s important to differentiate between your marketable skills and activities you merely enjoy.
It’s possible to turn any interest into a career but if you’re just learning Spanish, you may need more practice to sell translation services.
You may already have an idea for what type of freelance work you want. If so, the rest of this article is made for you. If you don’t know, check out our guide to the best freelance careers for beginners for some more ideas.
#2 Pick Your Niche – Get Specific!
Listen – it can be tempting to list as many skills as possible on your Upwork profile or freelancer resume.
Keep in mind that freelancing isn’t a game of throwing a handful of darts and hoping you get a bull’s eye.
You need to have a defined plan of action if you truly want to succeed.
Think about how many millions of people identify as copywriters. If you list your specialty as ‘copywriter’ you’ll blend in – you need something to help you stand out.
We call this your “niche”
When you choose a niche, you can make yourself more valuable as a freelancer. Let’s talk about finding your niche and choosing the right one. That you can: maximize your potential.
What is a Niche?
A niche is a well-defined category. For example, a copywriter who specializes in digital marketing would call that their niche.
Your niche tells potential clients a lot more about your skillset. It tells them what you can do best – in fact, that’s the point of choosing a niche. It gives you a strong foundation on which to market yourself.
Why Choose a Niche?
Choosing a niche sounds counterintuitive, right?
After all, why would any smart freelancer limit their potential audience?
That’s the way most freelancers think. And it’s why they reach their upper limit of success early. Or why they have a hard time landing clients at all.
If you’re just getting started, choosing a niche is one of the best things you can do for your freelance career. It limits your competition and makes you a more ideal choice for roles in your chosen specialty.
New freelancers with education from previous careers have an advantage when they choose their niche. For example, an ex-lawyer will have an easier time starting a freelance career if they seek legal clients.
Choosing a niche will make freelancing more fun for you, too. By limiting your scope, you can take on projects you enjoy. If restaurant photography is your niche and you love taking pictures of food, you’ll enjoy your job a lot more than taking photos of something you don’t enjoy.
Why else should you choose a niche?
On Upwork, many clients will look for freelancers directly – meaning, they may accept open proposals but they will also be seeking out and inviting candidates as well.
By advertising yourself as a niche expert, you can appeal to their searches.
Think about a client who is searching for pet writers, for example. You’re a pet writer and you include that in your Upwork description.
When the client searches for “pet writers,” you’re more likely to appear in their results than writers without the keyword.
Ultimately, choosing the right niche can change your freelance career drastically. It can help you get your first clients on Upwork and help you command higher rates. Clients are more willing to pay high rates for field experts, so establishing yourself as an authority will open many doors.
How to Choose Your Niche
Choosing your niche may feel intimidating. We get it – it’s a big decision!
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be hard. When you’re choosing your niche, ask yourself the following questions:
- What do I enjoy doing?
- What do I know a lot about/what am I good at?
- Is it profitable?
The first two questions might be easy.
You know you like coffee and you’re an expert about identifying different roasts, but is it profitable enough to be your niche?
Some niches are more profitable than others. The right focus for your freelance career depends on which services you offer and what you’re good at.
You can make your niche as specific as you want. For example, one person may advertise themselves as a graphic designer, the other as a logo maker, and another as a healthcare logo designer.
Wedding photographers, travel writers, and back-end developers are all examples of freelance niche careers.
When you’re choosing your niche, do research.
Find out which of your interests are profitable.
We won’t lie – you can make a profit out of most interests, but some are easier than others.
Writing about digital marketing will open you up to more clients but writing about landscaping will minimize your competition.
With the right strategy, it won’t take long to find a niche that works for you.
And once you do, you’ll be the expert in your field. Then, clients will start coming to you!
Getting Clients and Marketing Your Services
Once you’ve picked your niche, you’re ready to get clients.
It will feel daunting, but getting your first client on Upwork (or any other freelancing platform) can happen quickly if you have the right approach.
Before you start looking for clients, you need to create a pitching process.
Are you going to prioritize finding and pitching clients yourself or are you going to attract them to you?
Generally, freelancers prefer when clients come to them with offers but it can be rare until they have some glowing 5-star review on their profile.
Below, we’ll talk about a few great ways to get clients and how they could work for you.
Get Started Freelancing on Upwork
We’ve mentioned Upwork before and with good reason – right now, it’s one of the best websites on the internet to start freelancing.
Freelancing on Upwork is versatile. The site supports a wide array of work-from-home careers, including (but not limited to):
- Graphic design
- Virtual assistance
- Data entry
- Customer service
- IT support
If you become an Upwork freelancer, you’ll generally go to your clients and pitch your services. They list jobs for available work and you decide which look suitable.
In some cases, clients will go to freelancers on Upwork first. They can invite freelancers to pitch for jobs but generally, you’ll pitch them without invite until you’re established.
One of the main benefits of Upwork is payment security. Using a reliable escrow system, Upwork guarantees you get paid for your work if you arrange it through their platform.
As a newcomer, this is a huge benefit.
The downsides of Upwork mostly apply to new freelancers.
It’s true – there are millions of jobs on Upwork. But there are also millions of freelancers.
But don’t let that discourage you! There is ALWAYS ROOM FOR PASSIONATE FREELANCERS who are willing to do what it takes to make clients happy, and build their careers!
Just make sure to be realistic – when you get started, you need to work hard for those first clients.
You have to give it your best effort to make yourself stand out from the competition.
Once you get your first few reviews, success on Upwork is in your hands. It’s about how well you craft your profile, how frequently you send proposals, and how well you craft your letters.
After you spend some time on Upwork, you’ll see why it’s popular. It gives you the opportunity to choose jobs that interest you, something you won’t find on some other platforms.
Make a Few Quick Bucks on Fiverr
Alongside Upwork, Fiverr is one of the most popular freelancing sites on the web.
Despite its name, you can sell services for a lot more than $5 on Fiverr. In fact, the Fiverr Pro program will let you sell services for hundreds of dollars, if they approve your application.
Fiverr uses a different method of client acquisition to Upwork: instead of finding jobs and applying, you list your services as “Gigs for Sale” and clients can buy them.
You don’t have as much control over your jobs but you don’t have to spend time pitching.
It’s a trade-off – you spend a few hours setting up your Fiverr profile and you’re ready to sell, whereas you have to pitch new job consistently with Upwork.
On the other hand, searching for jobs with Upwork is active. You control how quickly you get work – it’s all about how often you pitch and how well you appeal to the job poster.
Meaning, you can hone in on what works and then…. replicate and repeat your results!
Fiverr is a passive method of obtaining clients. You get one chance to impress them with your gig and hope they contact you.
Success on Fiverr is review-intensive. If you don’t have a lot of reviews, it can be hard to get buyers – but not impossible.
By optimizing your gigs for relevant keywords, using proper images, and making the most of your profile, you’ll get your first order in no time.
Finding Freelance Work On Job Boards
Did you know there are job boards just for freelancers?
That’s right – check out the incredible ProBlogger Job Boards, for example.
There are thousands of companies posting remote jobs in these places. Unfortunately, they don’t have a central profile and payment system like Fiverr and Upwork.
With job boards, you keep all of your earnings (minus payment processing fees). You don’t pay the platform any fees for escrow services – you also don’t get payment security.
If you hire a client from a job board, there’s no guarantee they’ll pay your invoice on time. It’s not uncommon for freelancers to seek legal counsel for non-paying clients.
We don’t say this to scare you – it’s rare, but it does happen.
Seasoned freelancers may learn ways to manage these situations but as a newcomer, using a platform with a centralized payment system is a good way to mitigate these concerns.
On the other hand, finding clients through job boards can be wildly profitable. No one is paying a broker fee so more of your client’s budget can go in your pocket.
If you pitch clients from job boards, you’ll want a strong online presence.
It’s important your ‘online business card’ looks good – we mean your LinkedIn profile, your website, and your email address.
You don’t need to go over the top but the more professional your online presence is, the better opportunities you’ll find through job boards.
With platforms like Upwork and Fiverr, you don’t need these luxuries to gain traction. If you already have a strong personal brand, searching job boards could be wildly beneficial but prepare to do some groundwork if you’re new.
If you’ve ever worked in sales, you know what we mean by ‘cold-pitching’ – and you’re probably not happy we brought it up.
Cold-pitching is the key thing about sales that drives most people away. They can’t adjust to calling someone out-of-the-blue and making a sale.
And we get it – it’s hard. It’s a special skill that takes practice.
But we’ll also tell you it’s valuable to learn. Cold-pitching will help you get your most profitable clients.
Learning how to cold-pitch takes time and we won’t go into detail here. But if you’re comfortable doing it, by all means, find places you’d like to work for and offer your services.
The rules that apply to pitching job postings applies here – you want a strong web presence.
You want your brand to resonate with your audience and sell your services.
If you can master cold-pitching, we have no doubt you have a successful freelance career in front of you.
Setting Your Rates and Adjusting to the Freelance Lifestyle
We won’t lie to you – freelancing is great.
It’s one of the best things you’ll ever do if you do it right.
But there are a few things you have to keep in mind if you want it to be profitable.
How much can you charge freelancing?
Freelancers have one of two problems when they first begin:
- They charge too much
- They charge too little
You may feel tempted to negotiate low rates to win clients over your competition. However, we don’t recommend it.
Pricing your services too low doesn’t help you. It can help you get your first clients but they may not be the types of organizations you want to work with.
You know how they say “you get what you pay for?”
It’s true in reverse. You get what your clients are willing to pay for.
If they’re only willing to pay you $5 an hour, they aren’t respecting your time and they won’t respect you as a freelancer.
On the other hand, doing a “new to Upwork/Fiverr” sale can be a great way to introduce new clients at reasonable rates.
We won’t tell you not to ask for $100 an hour if you’re confident your services are worth the price. But until you have reviews on Upwork, it may make it harder to find clients.
How do you fix this?
With a sale!
Offer reduced rates for your first ten Upwork clients and then raise your rates after you get positive reviews.
Ultimately, you should charge what you think you’re worth.
Hourly rates will vary among different careers and niches, so do your research. Find other freelancers in your niche and find out what they’re charging according to their experience.
The more experienced you are, the more you can raise your rates.
How to calculate how many unpaid hours you’ll work?
When you set your rates, you need to account for unpaid hours.
After all, no one is paying you for client acquisition. Every hour you spend searching for clients isn’t paid.
Of course, it pays off when you get clients. But until then, you aren’t getting much from the pitching process.
Some freelancers spend more time each week finding clients than working for them – that’s not our goal. But keep in mind this possibility especially when you’re first starting and learning the ropes.
The goal is to eliminate the sales process entirely. To have so much work you don’t need more. And this does happen, you just have to get setup and keep improving your game.
Get ready for your freelance life…
Freelancing can be an excellent career choice but it takes some adjusting – after all, you probably aren’t used to staying at home all day.
Dedication and a strong work ethic are required if you want to be a successful freelancer. It won’t land in your lap – you need to be active about getting clients, marketing yourself, and doing your work.
It will take time to adjust to freelancing.
You won’t have co-workers you see every day (unless you pay for a co-working space).
You won’t have a schedule.
The freedom will be invigorating but it will challenge you. How will you use your time now that it’s all in your hands?
Whether you want to become a freelancer on Upwork or get started freelancing on job boards, it will take some dedication to get your first clients and establish yourself.
However, it’s well worth the effort if you enjoy having total freedom to live and work wherever you please. In fact, the sooner you get started freelancing, the sooner you can make it happen!
If you want to become an Upwork freelancer, you can make it happen with a few key strategies. By following this guide and our other resources, you can become a freelancer on Upwork in no time.
Be aware that freelancing has some drawbacks but if you’re willing to work through them, it can be the best career decision of your life.
It’s not for the faint of heart but with the right approach, it can be the road to the freedom you’ve always wanted.