A recent study by Upwork indicates that most U.S. workers will be freelancers by 2027, and nearly half of millennial workers are currently freelancing.
Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork, believes that the freelancers are uniquely positioned to serve the Fourth Industrial Revolution — an economic era driven by rapid technological innovation and automation. Kasriel said:
“Professionals who choose to freelance make this choice knowing that, as their own boss, they are in control of their destiny. Freelancers therefore think more proactively about market trends and refresh their skills more often than traditional employees, helping advance our economy”.
The continued rise of freelance work seems certain. But, does full time freelancing make sense for everybody? Here are some considerations and resources available to assist you in becoming a freelancer.
1. Know Your Niche
If you want to become a freelancer, you need to know what makes you worth hiring. Your niche exists at the crossroads of what you can do and what clients are willing to pay for.
You can find your sweet spot through self-reflection, asking for feedback, and conducting freelance market research.
To start, make a list. What can you do? At this point, don’t limit yourself to skills that apply to freelancing work. This exercise is purely to start understanding your potential.
For example, your list may include skills across different areas. Some skills might lead to freelance work, and others will not, it may look something like this:
- Legal writing
- Legal advice
- Technology writing
- Public speaking
- Business building
- Living with a chronic illness
The main point of this exercise is to prove that your abilities are more diverse than your employment history.
Even if you have never been employed as a business consultant, medical advisor, parenting coach, or full time public speaker. Your life and business experiences may have developed skills in each of these areas. Such skills create the foundation for a potentially diverse set of freelancing services.
Ask for Feedback
Self reflection is a great starting point. Friends, family, and colleagues are a great resource for identifying skills and strengths that might not be obvious to you.
The simplest way to get feedback from others is to ask. Set up a meeting over coffee or lunch, and let the person know that you are looking for feedback regarding your strengths and skills.
Beyond a conversation with a friend or colleague, many tools can help you identify your strengths and skills. You can ask your entire network for feedback through tools like TruScore and Benchmarks.
To get a full picture of your skill base, self assess and ask your network.
Test the Market
Once you have an understanding of your skillset, explore the freelancer marketplace. Like never before, companies are shying away from hiring full time employees in favor of contracting freelancers.
Start with online marketplaces and review jobs that clients are actively seeking. Good starting places include Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer.com
In addition to browsing freelancer marketplaces, search job boards. Although job postings are typically designed to solicit employees, the posting describes a company’s need. If your skill set addresses a company’s need, you can potentially save them money and land a new client. The most expensive freelancers are almost always cheaper than a new, full time employee.
2. Create a Presence
Build a Portfolio
When pitching clients for freelance work, the client will want to see samples of your work. If you cannot produce a quality portfolio, you risk losing business to other freelancers who have portfolios readily available.
When building your portfolio, your goal is to build a body of work that will attract clients. Be willing to develop your portfolio for lower pay, or for free. Think of portfolio building as a business development expense rather than a revenue generating freelance activity.
Build your Web Presence
The booming freelance economy is fueled by the web. Clients hire on the web. Accordingly, build your web presence.
An attractive marketing website is a good start, and easily accessible through quality website builders like Squarespace, Weebly, Wix, and others.
Some freelancers have built their web presence solely through social media. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn provide an endless supply of potential clients. If you can effectively showcase your freelancing abilities through social media, do. But don’t rely on social-media too heavily. You’re essentially building on other company’s “land” and any changes in policy, or how the company surfaces content, can have a negative impact on your visibility.
While the Internet provides easy access to clients, it also overloads clients with choices. When a client posts a project on a freelancer marketplace, freelancers across the world immediately flood the client with responses.
Standing out as quality freelancer in a marketplace crowded with people promising quick turnaround at low cost can be frustrating. A great way to avoid getting lost in the shuffle is to build and nurture your personal network.
A client would much rather take a referral from a trusted source in their network, than dig through 500 replies to a posted project in a freelancer marketplace. Take advantage of this and constantly build your personal network.
3. Build a Business, Not a Lifestyle
A freelancer lifestyle sounds nice. Work when you want, where you want, for whom you want. But don’t let the allure of the lifestyle blind you from the fact that freelancing is a business.
Find Business Resources
Entrepreneurship and freelancing are hot topics right now. The web provides a wealth of knowledge to help you build the business needed to support your freelance work.
Develop a Business Plan
As with any business, start your freelance business with a business plan. At a bare minimum, you must understand the revenue needed to cover expenses, taxes, and the amount you need to live on. QuickBooks Self-Employed helps you automate these processes so you can spend more time producing quality freelance work.
Ideally, your business plan should help you prepare for future growth beyond balance sheet basics.
The business plan should identify tools needed to streamline your business operations. Affordable, web-based tools to help automate both back office operations and easily communicate with clients include:
- CRM: Salesforce Essentials, SugarCRM, Zoho
- Accounting: QuickBooks
- Email: Constant Contact, MailChimp, Drip
- Project Management: Trello, Slack, Airtable
4. Find Clients before you Make the Move
A popular principle in lean startup models is to sell your product before actually making it. The same principle should apply in making the move to freelance work. Before becoming a full time freelancer, find clients who are ready to pay.
A huge benefit of freelance work is that you can ease into it. Taking on smaller jobs on the side is a great way to build your freelance experience without quitting your full time gig.
While working a full time job, you can survey potential clients to understand:
- The services clients are willing to outsource to freelancers
- How much clients are willing to pay for such services
- Client expectations regarding time frame, results, and communication
While maintaining a full time job, you can also experiment with client building techniques.
For instance, if you are an internet marketer, you have seen plenty of ineffective ad campaigns in your everyday web browsing. Reach out to a business with the poor ad campaign and offer some free tips. Ask if you can follow up to see if your suggestions were effective.
Repeat this process with ten other companies, and you have developed a handful of potential clients without any downside.
This same client-building process can be repeated for an endless number of freelance services. Examples include:
- Writing and copywriting
- Web design
- Logo design
- Video production
5. Embrace the Hustle
Fran Lebowitz said,
“Contrary to popular opinion, the hustle is not a dance step – it’s an old business procedure.”
When considering what it means to hustle as a freelancer, a few elements come to mind:
- Minimize costs
- Be efficient
- Spend money wisely
There has not been a story of a freelancer who experienced an abundance of extra cash soon after making the leap to full time freelance work.
The more common scenario includes less than expected revenue paired with more than expected expenses. Prepare for that scenario.
Before you move to full time freelance work, identify personal expenses that you can eliminate. Necessary cuts could be as small as your daily espresso, but could be as big as your monthly car payment.
On the business side, prepare yourself to take on responsibilities that you aren’t used to. Your freelancing service is your business’ product. But, in addition to product management, you are now in charge of accounting, human resources, facilities, and everything else that goes with running a small business.
Hack it until you Make it
To execute a lean strategy, efficiency is key. Business hacks and life hacks are both popular and effective to promote efficiency.
New apps and tools come out everyday that help automate business processes. The accounting, project management, CRM, and email tools mentioned earlier in this article are great examples.
Automation tools such as Zapier allow standalone business tools to communicate with each other to further streamline business processes.
Life hacks include tools and practices that promote your personal efficiency. Time management apps such as Remember the Milk and Focus Booster are technology based life hacks.
Although you want to be as lean as possible, spend the money needed to protect your freelance business. In a recent article, we suggested that small businesses should engage legal counsel to separate business liability from personal liability, and protect core business assets. The same concepts apply to freelance businesses.
Your freelance services are meant to provide value to your clients. But, in the event that your services cause harm, or fall short of your clients’ expectations, your business liability and your personal liability should be separate.
Legal counsel can help with protecting assets, but protecting your core assets is more than a legal exercise. You may need to invest in certain business tools to ensure that your freelance service is accessible to clients.
For instance, if you offer a time sensitive service (e.g. disaster recovery, data breach remediation, etc.), your clients need around the clock ability to request your services. Investing in a third party calling service, or web-based appointment system might be smart.
Cut costs whenever possible, but ensure your freelancing services remain protected and available.
Freelancing provides a great supplemental income stream. In the right circumstances, freelancing can be a lucrative and fulfilling full time job. Before making the leap from side gig to full time, consider your business and personal needs, and explore the many resources available to assist you.