The Freelancer’s Guide to Success: How to Jump-Start Your Career as a Freelancer
We live in both an interesting and amazing time.
You have the ability, from the comfort of your own home (or wherever you rather be), to start a career doing virtually anything you want provided it’s something people search for online.
Particularly, freelancing has become a highly lucrative career option. If you’re interested in becoming a graphic artist, programmer, writer, or videographer (and that’s just to name a few) you can generate a living doing what you love as a freelancer on your own terms.
“You can think of freelancing as volatile and risky, or as flexible and opportunity-rich.
Doesn’t having multiple sources of income and multiple moneymaking skills sound less risky than putting all your eggs in one employer’s basket?
Freelancing lets you shift gears when the world does.
– Sara Horowitz
If being a freelance writer, artist, programmer, or whatever else is something that interests you then you have an incredible opportunity to create a great lifestyle while getting paid to do what you love. But you need to know the right path for doing so, otherwise, you’ll waste a ton of time trying to figure things out.
In my time having become what most would refer to as a “successful” freelancer, I’ve learned a thing or two– lessons I’d like to pass on to you in hopes that you might be able to use them to fuel your own freelance career.
I’ve simplified what I’ve learned down to the bare essentials. You’ll find some great tips and tricks throughout the Internet, but most of the information you’ll find online is littered with information that just isn’t essential.
Below are the absolute most essential steps for realizing success as a freelancer and exactly how to execute on each of them. There are some nice additional bells and whistles, and I insist you explore every edge you can create for yourself, but know that these steps below are what really matters. Everything else is inessential.
Step 1: Get great at showing, not telling
This is going to sound harsh for experienced freelancers looking to get ahead in the new digital landscape, but for newer freelancers, it’s incredible news that should make you single-handedly jump for joy (yes, it’s that important– in fact, possibly the most important point here).
Ready for it? Okay here it is:
Potential clients want to see that you have the ability to perform the task they need done. They do not care about your experience.
Having said that, it’s your job to show them you can get their specific job done, not ramble on about your general experience. Relevancy is the name of the game if you want to win jobs on any freelance platform online (or anywhere else for that matter).
This principle is part of what allowed me to jump-start my freelance career so quickly. Clients don’t want to hear you drag on about, “I have this qualification, here’s my resume, blah, blah”. They want to see proof– typically in the way of samples– or at least be convinced (if you don’t have samples you can use to prove), that you can perform the task that they need completed.
The reality was, while I did have some samples when I started, most of them were completely irrelevant to the projects I was applying to and this made it difficult for me to get jobs in the beginning.
However, once I learned this principle, it began to change. Big time. At least, once I combined it with the next step…
Step 2: Create high-quality samples
You can sell your ability to complete a task if you’re good with your words, however, this is somewhat difficult and not something most people will be able to reliably do.
A much faster path to communicating this? Acquiring high-quality samples of your past work.
I know what you’re thinking– I just started (or haven’t started at all…), I don’t have any samples. That’s okay, you don’t need any! Am I making sense? No? Great.
What I mean is, you can make the samples you need on the fly as you find jobs you want to apply to (or now before you apply for jobs).
Side note: I prefer UpWork for finding freelance jobs, however, there are several big freelance websites out there now to choose from.
So, let’s say you’re a graphic artist and you find a job with someone asking for a PDF design on the topic of Bourbon. All you have to do is make your own sample design of a PDF on a similar topic (not the exact same), like beer, and present it to the client in your proposal.
And, remember, you’re selling the potential client on your ability to perform the task, so get straight to it and link your samples instead of dragging on about your experience. That won’t help you land the job– your samples will.
But what if you still don’t get the job? Did you just waste all that time? No. This method will increase your chance of getting the job astronomically, but whether you do or don’t, don’t worry. The great part about this method is you now have a great sample which you can use to apply to other projects indefinitely.
The more you do this, the bigger and more diverse your portfolio becomes, and the easier it gets to land jobs. That’s part of the beauty of it, provided you’re willing to give it time to build on itself.
Step 3: Wow your client
A big part of becoming a successful freelancer, like any business, is offering an incredible client experience. You can’t just get the sale, deliver the product or service, and then leave it at that high and dry. You need to maintain the same level of professionalism from beginning to end.
Ways you can do this include:
- Offering realistic complete-by dates…and then turning in a day early
- Offering daily updates (clients love it when you keep them in the loop)
- Find some small way you can go above and beyond and surprise your client (like more than one version of a graphic so they can choose instead of just having one, the kind of thing you probably already created anyway)
This is huge and really can’t be understated, if for no reason other than the fact that, in freelancing, many of your clients will become repeats if they love your work.
I’ll repeat that again because it’s ridiculously important: treat your clients right and they’ll keep coming back, over and over again, for more work from you.
This is critical because it increases your return on the time you invest in searching out, writing, and sending proposals, a time-consuming process in itself. This means that one proposal can potentially pay you ten, twenty, or thirty times (or way more, frankly) that initial job with said client.
However, if that weren’t enough, there’s something else that further increases the importance of providing an incredible client experience: reviews.
Nowadays, you’ll get most, if not all, of your clients from freelance websites like UpWork and Freelancer.com, meaning your freelance career can be made (and somewhat hurt, although not broken) by the quality of reviews you receive on said platform.
If you provide a great client experience, you’ll end up with reviews that blow potential clients away, which then helps you turn around and get more clients.
Like this one from a previous client of mine who was launching a nutrition blog:
Working with Matt is a dream. His communication is spot on. His delivery time is honest and accurate. And most importantly, the quality of his work is top notch. I will be looking to hire him again in the future for similar projects.
Reviews like this help instantly prove your worth and they work as a renewable resource. Place them prominently on your profile or portfolio and every new client you send a proposal to sees it.
Jump-start your freelance career
Freelancers today have an incredible opportunity, one which has never existed before. Now, you can make a living doing something you love from home and build a lucrative career working for great companies all around the world remotely.
In addition, the experience, portfolio, and reviews you build as a result are something you can take with you forever into any and every future opportunity. Are you an animation artist and have a dream of getting into DreamWorks? Several dozen glowing reviews, a huge high-quality portfolio, and impressive work history can’t hurt.
Whatever kind of freelancer you want to be, the opportunity is the same (and it’s only getting better). Master these three points and you’ll have what you need to succeed as a freelancer in the digital era.