UpworkHere’s the truth. On Upwork, you’re most likely competing with a template. The average Upworker sends the exact same message to every client they pursue. So your “competition” is a generic, uncustomized template 9 times out of 10. There are also a lot of small simple jobs which make it easy to get your feet wet, try different types of projects and decide which one you enjoy.
Another, often overlooked, reason why it’s better to start out with small, simple jobs is that it’s easier for the client to take a chance on you as a beginner when the stakes are small for them, as opposed to a bigger job where most would prefer to hire a freelancer with more experience. – Danny MarguilesTo get started applying to Upwork jobs, check out this post on Upwork proposal tips.
SlackOverall this one is pretty simple. You join Slack Communities, monitor them for people looking for referrals, and when you find them, DM them. There are ton of great Slack communities out there. Find some that have your ideal clients, and join. A quick Google search will turn up a ton of great ones. They likely already have a channel specifically for sharing referrals. So when you see an interesting project pop up, DM the them.
Hey Bill, saw your message looking for X. I’m a web designer and have worked on a couple similar projects. Happy to point you in the right direction, wanna chat?That’s it. Build real relationships with people by providing value in a human way. It goes a long way. This is a quick way to book 3-5 sales calls this week. Here are some Slack communities I’d start with:
Job BoardsMost people want to be the first to reply to a job post, but very few companies decide to hire quickly. Often it takes months. That makes specialty web design job boards a gold mine of opportunity. Look for jobs that are about a month old and reach out with:
Hey [Bob], I saw you were looking for a remote UI designer to redesign you app about a month ago. Are you the right person to talk to about this?It’s likely you’re emailing them at time when they’re much less busy, and yet in a better position to actually hire someone. Bonus: Here’s a video on how to automate it: I like to email “warm” clients. These are clients that know they have a problem and are actively hiring to fix it. You probably don’t need to go further than a few niche job boards to find a list of great clients to email. (We include a full list of tools and tactics for doing this inside Endless Clients.) Remember that it takes about 30 emails to land one client – even if you write a great email. So don’t get discouraged. Here’s an awesome freelance email template you can use. A few general tips for you:
- Do your research on the company first. Make sure you understand their goals, style, and values.
- Try to find an actual person, rather than a general contact email. If you can directly pitch the person who will make the hiring decision, that’s a better chance for you.
- Use a proven email template to make your pitch. This made all the difference for me.
What you’ll need
Relevant Work SamplesIf you know what type of companies you want to work for, your work needs to reflect it. I recommend removing everything that isn’t relevant to your ideal client and just keeping 1 or 2 great work samples. If you haven’t landed any of these wishlist projects, you can still do this. Check out this article with some ideas for creating work samples that will attract your dream clients. One way around this is to use side projects or fictitious work. So for example if you wanted to get freelance photography work for a Vogue? You’d need samples of photography taken in their style. If you want to redesign Disney’s retail website, you need to create a sample retail brand website that reflects their preferred style. Remember: your portfolio work samples tell clients you’ve done similar work and can do a good job on their project. It proves it. So anticipating dream client needs and get a head start.
Knowledge of How Clients TalkMost people who are new to client work tend to talk about themselves. Our passion, our experience, our love for our craft. But that’s not what clients care about. Clients, like all people, care about themselves. They care about their brand. The choices they’ve made in business. That’s why using their words in your communication with them is way more effective. For example, the voice, language, personality and style of the words you use to attract a dream client like Pixar is probably going to be different than what you would use to Nascar. The key is these words don’t come from you. So figure out how your ideal clients are speaking then use those words. This goes for all the channels you use to promote yourself, including social media.
A Plan for ReferralsGetting referrals is probably the best way to get new clients. But most people take a very passive approach to them. Instead, there’s two I’ve seen to increase the number of clients you get by referral.
- To simply ask every client for a referral.
- To get very specific about the type of work you do and the problems you solve.
A Great OfferThe four steps above all focus on presenting clients attractive offers. So how do you tailor yourself to what dream clients are looking for? First you need to understand what they’re looking for. What are their pains, hopes, dreams and fears? If you’re not sure, here are a couple places you can get clues:
- Their job advertisements. If they’re hiring, they might straight up tell you that their goal is to: “grow their audience.” Use this!
- Their content. You can infer a lot about a company by how they choose to speak to their audience. Pick out key themes, what their strategy is, and who they’re trying to attract.
A Great Proposal TemplateIf you’ve followed the steps in this article, your pitch will stand out among 99% your competition. As someone who’s seen thousands of pitches, they’re almost always me-focused. Keep this in mind throughout the process, from your subject line, to your opening paragraph, to the meat of your proposal. Focus on what you admire about their company and the results you could get for them. Look to actively answer “what’s in it for the client?” and “why should they trust me?” These are the questions that matter most.
Ideal Client ProfileIf I were to ask you right now what a dream client looks like, could you answer? Many people can’t. And that’s usually because they haven’t worked with one yet. It’s hard to picture something you’ve never seen firsthand. But, by taking a second to think about what you want – you can start to create vision. Start by finishing the following sentences:
- The best clients value the …
- The interest my best clients and I have in common is …
- The type of work that I find unethical is …
- The best clients share my passion for …
- The best clients pay me no less than …
Ability to Say NoWe’ve talked a lot about how to tailor yourself to get clients. Now I want to touch briefly on where you shouldn’t change.
- Forget your boundaries. Decide upfront what you’re comfortable with. Don’t let any client walk over that line.
- Alter when and how you get paid. Set terms that you expect to be followed. Your payment requirements are non-negotiable.
- Change how you work. It’s actually illegal in the US for a company to dictate a contractor’s work. So you’re protected on things like when, where, and how the work happens.
Getting Your First Clients With No ExperienceDespite what most people say, things like having a ton of experience or a polished portfolio don’t really matter when starting a freelance business. Here’s what to focus on instead:
1. Focus on Talent and Communication Skills:The most important requirement to start freelancing is having the bare-minimum professional skills required in your field. You don’t need a ton of experience. You don’t even need amazing skills. In fact, the quality of the your actual work is less important to your success with clients than you might think. Why? Because often, your communication skills are more important. If you’ve ever had a boss who loves you, you can probably build a great freelance business no matter your talent level. Why? Because the bar is really low when it comes to servicing clients. If you read a couple good books on communicating with clients and focus on keeping your clients happy by being organized and generous with your communication (things like sending weekly check-up emails go a really long way) you can build a great business. That said, being proficient at what you do is a requirement, no getting around that. Plain and simple, it takes work to get to that level but there are some great classes on places like Skillshare that can help but lots of practice will be required.
2. Get a Good Computer and Internet Connection:If you’re going to be a freelancer, there’s almost no getting around it, a computer is going to be your single biggest expense. Personally, I would go with the best computer and fastest internet you can afford. There’s no need for a top of the line iMac if that’s outside of your budget. You can make almost any iMac or Macbook Pro from the last 5 years or so work, so check out Craigslist for good deals. If all else fails, go with what you have now and upgrade when needed. I recommend not using the same computer you use for work.
3. Get the Required Software:I recommend staying away from free software. If you’re a designer, Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and XD are what most freelance graphic designers use. You can get all three for $39 per month. Alternatively, for primarily vector graphic design work (like illustrations) Sketch ($99) is a great option or Figma (free up to 3 projects, then $12/month) can also work. See if there is cheap software in your niche too. Secondly, you’re also going to need a way to get paid. My favorite payment processor to use is Stripe. Stripe lets you manually create and send invoices and accept payments. They take a 2.9% + 30¢ fee per successful card charge. And that’s it! That’s all the software you really need. Well, besides an email address but I pray to god you have one of those already.
4. Learn How Taxes Work:So how do taxes work if you’re a freelancing while working full-time? In most countries, you’re going to have to pay a higher rate for any income you make freelancing. The US, for example, charges a 15.3% self-employment tax on any income you make from freelancing. You’re also required to keep track of all deductions and paperwork yourself. You can do this yourself pretty easily yourself, or use something like Turbotax. Eventually you’ll also have to start making estimated tax payments (which are basically just pre-paying taxes in chunks.)
5. Find Clients by Getting Leads:This is one of the most important areas to focus on if you’re freelancing while having a full-time job. The truth is if you don’t have clients you don’t have a business. But since you have a full-time job, you likely don’t have a ton of extra time to look for work too. That’s why we created the course Endless Clients which will help you automate your lead generation in a few weeks. While there are a ton of different approaches and methods for finding clients, here are a few tips for getting clients fast. The key is you want to focus on your value proposition. Freelance work alone is worthless. The value is in the result you produce for your clients. The best way to get clients at first is to focus on that and reach out to clients via great cold emails.
6. Decide on a Price (or “Rate”):As mentioned above, every freelancer has do decide how much they are going to charge for their work. It’s one of the first things a client will ask you for. Typically, they will expect an hourly rate. I recommend starting with $50 per hour. If you are very new, go as low as $35 per hour. Keep track of how many hours you work in a spreadsheet and email your client every week with an update. Include how many hours you worked that week, a summary of what you got done, and what you plan to work on next. I also recommend billing your client upfront. Don’t start work until your client has paid you in full for the work at hand. This makes things simpler and less of a risk for you.
7. Learn How to Use a Video Chat App (or Have a Phone)Talking to clients in real-time is also very common. A cell phone works fine for this, but if you want to use a separate phone number, you can use Google voice to create a new number for free. Another free option is to use Zoom for video calls. This way you’re able to integrate with your calendar, and share your screen.
8. Get a License (if Applicable):If your government requires it, you may also need a business license. If it is required, don’t fret. It’s probably easier (and cheaper) than you think. For example, the business license in my city is only $40 per year and the application took less than 10 minutes to fill out. It’s unlikely my city will ever check on this, but it’s cheap enough that I prefer not to worry about it. (Anecdotally, most freelancers I know skip this step with little consequence.)
9. Get a Good Contract:It’s a good idea to have use a contract with your clients to protect the both of you legally. Getting a custom contract written by a local small business lawyer is your best option. This typically costs a couple hundred dollars, however, you can also use a boiler plate contract you find online. For these, I recommend Docsketch’s contract templates (free), and Bonsai’s contract template (free).
What about X?Here are some common mistakes that new freelancers make when starting a freelance business. It’s a mistake to focus on any of the following:
- Business cards: waste of time and money.
- Tons of supplies: most of your work will be in your inbox.
- Accounting or Book-keeping service: safe to skip until after you have a few clients.
- A Logo: not needed, nobody cares.
- Business Formation / LLC: consult your tax laws and business regulations, but usually it’s easiest to start off as a sole-proprietor.
- Office or Storefront: work from home, or, once the quarantine ends, the library or Starbucks.
- Employees: focus on getting clients not hiring someone.
- Strategy / Business Plans: here’s a business plan go find some clients.
- Website / Portfolio: the truth is your portfolio or website isn’t going to sell itself, instead get good at communicating the value of your work over email.
- College Degree: You do NOT need a formal education (degrees or certificates) to start freelancing.
Should You Really Start an Agency?Yes! Here’s why: when you’re a freelancer, you have options. Instead one source of income you have (hopefully) many clients. Instead of filling one role, you take on different projects. Instead of getting paid a salary and asking your boss for raises, you set your own rate. But nowadays the lines between a full-time job and a freelancer are becoming blurred. The truth is most people don’t work at one company “permanently” anymore, in fact most full-time employees I know are constantly looking for another job “just incase.” On average, most people really only work at a company for 3-5 years (or less) before moving onto their next gig. That’s not too different from a freelancer. In fact, often freelancers work with clients for years too (some even have only one). They can even work on-site! The main difference between a full-time employee and a freelancer nowadays is who has control. The hardest part though is actually just taking the leap. It can be tough to build a system for looking for clients regularly at first that’s why I recommend starting with a proven system.
How Long Does It Take to Start Getting Clients?If you have 10-15 hours and the talent to produce quality work that’s currently in demand (for example, website designs, blog posts, video, web apps, just to name some options), you can start earning real income on the side in just weeks or months. You don’t need a degree or business plan to get started. What you do need is focus. Making money quickly means you can’t waste time on non-essential tasks.
How Much Can You Make?As mentioned above, freelancers decide their own hourly rate. Which means everyone charges and earns different amounts. But don’t get hung up. Most freelance designers charge between $20–$150 per hour depending on experience. If you’re just starting out I recommend not overthinking price and just picking a number, like $50 per hour. That should allow you to start adding $1,000–$2,000 or more to your monthly income in just a few months. From there you can improve your rate fairly easily. I’m writing a follow up post on this soon. To get it sign up for my newsletter.
What Else Can You Do to Start With No Experience?
#1. Set realistic expectationsYou’ve followed freelancer extraordinaires online and marveled at their success. At the same time, have you asked what their lives were like before they could share their good freelancing fortune? For one thing, it’s super-common for freelancers to struggle, at least at first. You can study every strategy the pros share, but it’s a different story when you have to start from scratch yourself. You might find that you do have a period where things seem hard, although of course, you should always work to put systems in place to mitigate any struggles! Have goals, be determined, but also be gentle with yourself. Comparing your beginning to someone else’s fourth year freelancing will not be helpful. Sure, see what strategies you might be able to borrow from them, but don’t beat yourself up because you’re not able to share massive success on a Medium story yet! It can help to have a strong “why” for making the switch to remote contracting. What’s your key motivation? How will moving to freelancing full-time help you to meet goals you have for your career and your life? This is important to have because when things do get tough, it’s often your “why” that helps to get you through.
#2. Know your own risk toleranceNot to dull the shine of freelancing, but it is a risk! Especially at first when you’re just trying to get established and ensure that you have a strong pipeline of clients. I mean, the reason everyone doesn’t move to remote contracting is because it doesn’t come with insurance, sick and vacation leave or a set payday per period. Understand your own risk tolerance, because if you move into freelancing and find that the risk level is beyond your comfort zone, you’re going to face some anxiety. Honestly, not too many people are comfortable not knowing how they’re going to meet their expenses this month… It’s not that those who are risk-averse should avoid it altogether, but you may want to do some additional planning for your own comfort. For example, work out the minimum you need each month to maintain your current lifestyle. Save at least a couple months’ worth of funds as backup. If you want to be extra-prepared, look at what you can cut back on now to minimize expenses. No one likes to hear “prepare to be broke,” but prepare to be broke ;).
#3. Have systems in place firstUnless you’ve got considerable savings to tide you over, it’s a good idea to have certain systems in place before you make the transition to full-time contracting. Importantly, those systems should include how you’re finding clients, how you’re marketing yourself and how you’re doing your work. It will work out much better for you if you have a consistent approach to finding and landing new clients. Sure, one of the first things you do is get the word out to your networks, but that’s not always fruitful, at least not over the long-term. You need some kind of reliable system that you religiously follow to land clients. (Folyo.me has two products that can help with this – a referral newsletter that shares quality project opportunities and Endless Clients, my exact system for developing a steady stream of dream clients). Marketing yourself is also an important task to do well consistently. The basics should include your website, social channels and portfolio. Understand who your clients are, what they’re looking for and how they will find you. This doesn’t look the same for every freelancer so it’s important to have that fundamental understanding of your clients first. Here’s the best freelancing site for most beginners. It’s also worth mentioning when, where and how you will do your work. People often have this starry-eyed view of kicking back at home, being super-productive in your PJ’s, but the reality is working from home can have its own set of difficulties. You might have a rowdy family or roommates. People might expect that you’re “available” just because you’re at home. Consider how you do your best work and what you might need to put in place to ensure you have the environment to produce it.
#4. Mind your mindsetMindset is often one of the trickiest things for people new to remote contract work. It can be rife with issues that cause you to doubt your own abilities or question why you’re doing this. Imposter syndrome can be a real thing – where you doubt your own talents and accomplishments and have this internal notion that you’re a “fraud.” There’s no one right way to manage your mindset, but there are a few common things that can help. For example:
- Be clear on why people should hire you. Perhaps someone else is a more experienced contractor, but you might have specific industry knowledge, a likeable personality, different connections…
- Be firm in your own value. Have the portfolio samples to back what you can do and remind yourself of why you’re a worthy hire.
- Remember that how you choose to work is okay. You don’t have to be always on the hustle if that’s not true to yourself. Try not to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others who seem to be always hustling (hey, they’re probably not!). Everyone needs breaks and you shouldn’t feel guilty for needing one too. Find a work schedule that you can maintain and that will help you to meet your specific goals.
#5. Be prepared to compromise… on some things. It’s important to have clear standards and expectations, but don’t let those translate into an overly rigid approach to your work. We’ve all heard the expression “do what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life,” but the truth is you’ll work very hard. Expressions like this seem to have taught people they should reject work in the everlasting pursuit of “your passion” but the reality of freelancing is that you still have to pay the bills somehow! People who have been contracting for years will almost always tell you that, even if they’re able to only work on passion projects now, that wasn’t always the case. They did what they had to in order to stay in business and attain those passion projects. Or, sometimes the projects you’re really passionate about just don’t pay well – what will you do then? This is where some sense of compromise can be the more realistic approach. For example, if you’re a photographer that prefers grittier, editorial work, the fact is that this often isn’t the best for your wallet. Branching out into some commercial projects that pay well can help to tide you over so that you can still take on the passion projects and remain enthused for your work. So maybe give some thought to these questions:
- The projects I really want to do are …..
- Other projects I will take include …..
Finding Your First Clients While Working Full TimeBelieve it or not, if you have a full-time gig currently, you also have some huge advantages built-in. Let’s dive into that next. So to help you get started, I asked Folyo member, Trevor Wernisch, who recently won a part time remote job off of Folyo, to walk me through his process. Below is the full audio interview. There’s a ton that Trevor shares in the full episode, so here’s a rough breakdown the approach:
- Use your current situation to your advantage Look for the uniqueness in your current situation. For example, having a full-time job means you don’t necessarily need a part time remote job so you can afford to be more interesting in you communicate. Cracking jokes, showing personality, and giving a confident vibe means you will stand out and more clients will respond! On the flip side, if you’re currently freelancing full-time you have more time to spend on sales process. Reply to more leads, craft better emails and proposals, and create case studies that highlight the benefits of having someone who’s in it full-time. No matter your situation, use it to your advantage.
- Be approachable, friendly, and talk to the client like a person It’s amazing how many job applicants simply don’t care enough to write a well-crafted application. You can stand out by taking the time to write a well though out email. Some tips for you: lead with how great you think the client is. Tell them why you want to work for their company and project in particular. It might seem simple, but it’s amazing how often this will help you stand out.
- Stay persistent Realize at the start that you may not hear anything for weeks. This is part of the process. Job posts get a lot of responses and client’s are extremely busy. Following up is one of the best ways to improve your chances of landing a client. A 1-2 week follow up schedule is perfect. The entire process of landing one of these gigs can take 3+ months at times. By realizing this from the beginning, you don’t get discouraged with the process. That is a huge advantage.
- Find out why clients need part-time help at all One of the keys Trevor identified to landing this part time remote job was his versatility. The client was excited that Trevor could code, even thought this wasn’t in the job post. This is common with part time remote jobs because growing companies will usually have additional needs arise. If a part time employee can help with them, they become an even greater value.
- Be authentic The best way to do this is to apply to jobs that you are honestly interested in and your excitement will shine through at every step. It’s a lot harder to seem interested than it is to actually be interested. Clients can tell when people are just stuffing keywords in their email or pandering because they think it’s what they want to hear.
- Find ways to grow the project scope Even though part time remote jobs start out as limited scope and budget, as the company you work for grows there will be opportunities to expand the scope of what you do, and get paid more. It’s a great idea to be conscious of this from the start and look for opportunities to pitch additional services throughout the project if it makes sense.
After designing about every type of web project for over 20 years in company life, I thought marketing myself as a freelance designer that can “design anything” would be super valuable. The truth is I had a really hard time describing what I did well and that was stopping me from freelancing while working full-time.The most important thing you can do to begin freelancing while working full-time is get good at talking about the value of your work. Earlier this year, 40 million people who thought they had the “stability” of a full-time job became unemployed. As companies look to improve cost-efficiency, 76% of CEOs say they will turn to independent, contract workers in the coming months. That’s a lot of available contract work. If you’d like to truly create a stable income source, freelancing while working full-time is a great option. That’s where creating a portfolio comes in. Most employees get stuck when creating their portfolio. They over-think it. They get imposter syndrome. They spend years feeling like they accomplished very little.
For the longest time it felt like I’d accomplished very little, despite the fact that all my previous employers loved my work. It took sifting through old projects and piecing together a body of work to see the experience I’d gained to finally start freelancing while working full-time. Coincidentally this ended up helping quite a bit with my imposter syndrome.The truth is your portfolio doesn’t need to be complicated. You can create it in an afternoon even if you’ve never freelanced before. In this post I’m going to walk you through how to do that.
Here’s how to create an MVP portfolio you can use to win contracts and even start freelancing while working full-time:Repeat after me: you don’t need to have dozens freelance projects under your belt to create a portfolio. Nowadays, full-time employment looks nearly identical to freelancing. The average modern employee spends only 3.2 years with their company. So if you put together a list of project you’ve done for each company you worked for that’s very similar to a freelancer’s portfolio. Here’s exactly how to do it:
1. List all your past jobs and projectsFeeling like you don’t have enough experience is the #1 deterrent for people looking to freelance while working full-time. That’s nonsense. By opening up Google docs and listing out every full-time job and project you’ve had in the last years, you likely have more than enough experience to start freelancing. It just takes writing it down. So keep it simple. Literally list the company name and major projects you accomplished at each job. That’s it. If you’ve ever felt like you’ve accomplished very little, or battled imposter syndrome, often the main reason simply a failure to note down what you’ve done!
2. Now write a before and after statement for each major projectYou should now basically have a list of resume bullet points. We want to transform these into case studies. The first step to doing this is to tell a simple story for each by writing a before and after statement about the job/project. You want to paint a picture for potential clients with this sentence. For example:
- Before this project the company was experiencing X painful problem which meant that Y negative result was occurring but after my project the company was able to get Z benefit.
3. Add relevant data to your case studiesThe final step is to add details about the project.
- Who worked on it?
- What was your role?
- What did you do?
- Do you have any stats or screenshot of the work you can share?
- What proof can you offer that the company benefited from your work and that there was some measurable outcome of your work?
4. PublishThe last step is to publish your portfolio. While you can create your own site for this, for example using WordPress or a portfolio site like Behance, I recommend publishing directly from your Google doc by clicking share in the top right corner. Set it to public and copy the link. Now you’re ready to send your portfolio to clients that ask to see your work.
Yes it’s really that simple.You might be thinking that this won’t be enough to win you 5-and-6-figure contracts, but you would be surprised. The freelancing bar is low. If you’ve followed each step above, you likely have a better portfolio than 90% of freelancers. Don’t just take it from me. When I asked freelancers in my audience what the biggest mistake they made was when making the switch to freelancing, 90% said waiting to long to tell people about their work. Here’s a real quote that Marie R. shared with me:
As obvious as it may sound I failed to do two very simple things, which I am now trying to correct. 1. Collect data (so you know where you’ve been, what you’ve tried and where you’re headed) For me this now includes prepping portfolio pieces after a project wraps up. For the longest time it felt like I’d accomplished very little, despite the fact that all my clients were repeat clients. It took sifting through old projects and piecing together a body of work to see the experience I’d gained as a freelancer. Coincidentally this ended up helping quite a bit with my imposter syndrome. 2. Tell people about your work! 🤦♀️
Once you have your portfolio, you’re ready to freelance while working full-time. What’s next?Now comes the fun part. Finding and landing clients. Don’t get intimidated. You’re likely already familiar with the process. It’s very similar to keeping an eye out for your next job. You have to:
- Keep your contacts warm by networking and letting them know you’re looking
- Apply to interesting opportunities on a regular basis
- Have conversations with hiring managers about the value of your work