Getting Started as a Freelancer
Getting fired hit me like a ton of bricks. I still remember the copy machine going off in the background moments after my boss told me he was letting me go. In fact, that buzzing sound is etched in my memory. Why? It was a wake-up call. I realized on that day that full-time employees have no control.
A lot has changed since becoming self-employed but one thing hasn’t. My desire to gain more control over my future. The point of this post is to help you get more control of yours right now.
But I’ll tell you upfront: it’s going to require action.
See despite the fire in my belly, I soon became dependent again. This time it wasn’t to a boss or coworker. It was to my sales pipeline. I needed clients. Feeding my family depended on it and the stress was getting to me.
“But I’m too busy to look for work.”
I’d gone through dry spells before but this one was bad. Each day the stress mounted. The importance of every new potential client meeting ballooned greater and greater. I was desperate, and clients could smell it from a mile away. I went into every meeting thinking the same thing: “I need this job.”
Not exactly a position of strength.
It was weeks before I found my next client. It felt horrible. But something good came out of it. A desire to understand dry spells. A desire that led me to conducting a survey of over 500+ freelancers where I asked two questions:
“what do you do when you run out of work?” and “how much do you make?”
Their answers were a big surprise but probably not for the reason you’d guess.
40% of freelancers said they use social media when in a dry spell, 24% said they sit and wait, and 12% said they email prospects.
This seemed reasonable until I correlated each of these to their income. I found one group made way more than the others.
The freelancers who emailed prospects made 2.5x more money than those who did nothing.
It seemed obvious and yet almost everyone (close to 90%) overlooked it. For me, it meant I had the power to change my fortune. So I started to experiment. I cold emailed one new client every day for weeks and soon my income tripled.
“I feel like I’ve put all of my eggs in one basket.”
Eventually I got busy with client work again and stopped emailing clients. I told myself it was okay because I’d “pick things back up if it calmed down”. But the truth was, in the back of my head I knew I was making the same mistake again.
I was relying too much on the work I had. At any moment my current batch of clients could pull the rug from underneath me. And the worst part was despite realizing this — and even expecting it — I wasn’t doing anything to prepare.
Projects seemed to end in bunches. One second I would be juggling multiple gigs and the next I’d be scrambling to find anything. By the time things “calmed down” it was too late. Something needed to change.
Now, I know what you’re saying. This sounds exactly like you. I know because this cycle is an epidemic amongst freelancers. We’re so busy doing great work for our clients that we “forget” to maintain a healthy pipeline for ourselves.
There’s even a term for it: the feast or famine cycle. It keeps thousands of freelancers up at night — and afraid to look at their bank account at any particular moment. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
“I don’t have time to find leads by hand.”
As a high-value freelancer, I was losing over $2,000+ in billable hours each month by looking for leads myself. Losing that much time was unsustainable for my business — especially when I was already up to my nose in client work.
That’s when I started experimenting with different options.
First, I “hired” my girlfriend (now wife, Hi Kieranne!) to do it for me. That lasted about a minute. Next, I considered a sales person. But after asking around I realized how expensive that would be… about 50% of my total sales. (So if I landed a $10,000 contract, they might ask for $5,000!). It was just too much.
Lastly, I ended up paying a VA over $600 to look for leads. But it didn’t produce a single quality opportunity for me, plus I was wasting almost as much time training them as I would just finding leads myself.
I wished another option existed. I wanted to hire someone like me, not a VA. Then I had an idea. If I wanted this maybe other freelancers did too? That’s how I created Folyo, with a simple offer: I’ll find great projects daily and email them to you.
“I just want a steady stream of clients coming to me”
I’ve now helped freelancers all over the world find over $1 million USD in client work. It took a while to nail down the process — so I’d like to share it with you now in hopes you skip years of testing different methods.
That way, even if you don’t end up buying this service from me you can still have the same success yourself. Here’s how I’ve found over 10,000 great clients in just a few years:
- I finally discovered the best job board for high-value freelancers.
And it turns out the best job board for high-value freelancers is ALL the job boards. The reason? Great clients are all over the web not on any one site. If you monitor 300+ job boards daily, you WILL find projects that are a match for you.
- I know where the RFPs are.
On top of job boards I find additional opportunities on Google (filetype: pdf), Linkedin, Twitter, and even the FB (occasionally). I do custom searches for projects that aren’t listed on job sites.
- I screen each one by hand.
Background research is key to finding great clients. I get more information about every lead I find before I send it out. That means all of my leads have a name, email, photo, and my deep contemplating / beard-rubbing stamp of approval before they get sent out. A real human looks them over. I know because that human is me.
- I make referrals happen.
This is the newest thing that I’ve added to my system. (I’ll be writing about this more soon.) I now do outreach for every lead I find, myself. I email each lead and get additional information about the project, and refer it to someone in Workshop. Simple — but amazing results.
“My pipeline is burning bright, even when I’m swamped.”
This exact process has resulted in over $1 million dollars of paid client work since 2013. It’s not proprietary in any way so you could probably do it yourself in about 40–60 hours a month (even after refining this process, it still takes me about 4 man-hours.)
But I think that’d be a shame. Instead I think you should skip years of trial and error and just get the system right now. You deserve to have a steady stream of clients coming to you. You should be able to focus more time on what you love to do.
Where would you invest that time?
Who would you spend it with?
Those answers are the reason I’ve run this service for 3+ years. They are why you should sign up today. So, if you’re serious about taking control of your freelance business, you need to make sure you’re doing it right.
Fortunately, I can help you get your lead pipeline across the finish line. This is the smallest investment you can make that still provides solid results — and you get it for just $39 a month, less than your Starbucks budget.
These leads are exclusive to Folyo subscribers — and once an email is sent, you don’t get another chance at seeing it again. Sign up today and don’t miss another lead.
Part time remote jobs can make starting a freelance business 10× easier.
Why? Because when you’re starting out you need one thing: clients – and finding enough leads to build a pipeline can be challenging, especially if you’re already working.
But part time remote jobs can help. You can even use them to supplement your existing client work.
This post is going to walk through everything you need.
Step 1: Finding high-quality part time remote jobs
Hiring a part time remote employee doesn’t require paying for things like health insurance and other benefits. That makes them a popular option for companies looking to grow.
The problem is these websites typically attract cheapskates that don’t value your time and create a race to the bottom in terms of pay, work quality, and more.
Instead, you can keep track of every remote part time job (in the design space) for free by registering for a free Folyo account.
Here are some remote part time design jobs we’ve featured recently:
Recent Part-Time Remote Design Jobs, Contracts, & RFPs
Folyo exists for one reason: to help you find work that supports your best life. As a result we hand-screen every single job we send.
(It’s totally free. Create an account and you’ll get a portion of our premium part time remote jobs sent to you.)
Now, let’s get to how to approach and land these gigs.
Step 2: Build a design business on the side with part time remote jobs
One of the best ways to start and grow your freelance business without a huge time investment is by applying to part-time remote jobs.
Why use part-time remote jobs?
- Less time requirement
By definition, companies looking for part-time help expect a small amount of time from you, typically only 10-20 hours a week, that means you can continue your main job while adding to your income.
- Easy to automate / build a process around
By using a tool like Folyo, finding these jobs requires almost no time investment from you. You simply have to pitch each opportunities in a fraction of the time.
- Faster hiring process
Since they don’t have big flashy budget, these jobs typically don’t have the same amount of competition that a full-time job or large contract might.
- Great source of recurring retainer work
Even though they’re usually short-term gigs, they’re also prime candidates for small retainers which make them a great way to build a steady, sustainable freelance business.
As you can see, I believe part-time opportunities are one of the best ways to start building a freelance design business on the side.
Believe 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.
How to approach a remote part-time design gig (audio case study)
Part time jobs are unique.
And approaching them takes some skill.
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.
Having success selling part time remote design job means you need a range of additional skills including: excellent time management, being efficient at the business-side, a fast lead generation process, and awesome email/communication skills.
To help you continue with this, below I’ve put together a few of the best resources I’ve found on building these skills, designed to help you do more work on the side faster.
Other recommended resources for building your side hustle
- Side Hustle by Chris Guillebeau
- Folyo: All part time remote jobs in one place
- How to offer a retainer agreement
- Time Management Magic by Lee Cockerell
- How to send an introduction email template
Virtually every freelancer uses confusing terms to describe their work. Just try explaining one of the terms below to a normal person:
Chances are you lose their attention in the first 10 seconds.
So with that in mind, why use these words to describe your service to clients? Most of them aren’t even clear to people in the industry.
- UX design? That’s debatable.
- Brand design? What’s a brand?
- .NET development? .Whaty-what-now?
Using these terms, you’re disconnecting yourself from what you’re really selling. Instead of selling the benefits of working with you, you’re trying to just sell the thing you do. The problem is no one wants to buy that thing. They want to buy the result that thing will bring for them.
For example, take another common phrase people use:
I create [desirable skill-specific term] for small businesses.
Typically, it’s used like this:
- I create beautiful websites for small businesses.
- I create intuitive user interfaces for small businesses.
- I create fast web apps for small businesses.
- I create attention-grabbing copy for small businesses.
These all may seem like reasonable ways to describe a service. But take a closer look. Who’s the real star in all of these? You. You’re talking about what YOU do. What makes YOU good. Why YOU are great at what you do.
What about your clients?
The only place where you (briefly) mention them, you’re calling them small. In business that’s almost derogatory. They don’t want to be small they want to be big. At least they want their revenue to be big.
So why again are you taking this approach?
If you had to flip one of these positioning statement to instead focus on your clients, you might say:
I create simple interfaces for great iphone apps that want to reach the next level inside the app store.
I create marketing graphics that make great companies stand out even more for their brilliant content.
I create tight web apps for amazing software companies that want to deliver the best product to their customers and improve retention.
All of these revised positioning statements take the emphasis away from you and shifts it to the clients. A client wants a better version of themself. It’s not about the skill you have. It’s not about the service you’re selling, it’s about the results. It’s about how you’re valuable to your great clients. That’s all that matters.
People are looking to pay for an outcome. They want results. They want a problem to go away.
So remember, you’re not just a UI designer. You’re not just any one skill. You have clients. You make their life better because of what your UI design does for their business. That’s what matters.
“There’s no rule that says you need to describe what you’re doing in one word.” — Ryan Singer, Designer, Basecamp
You don’t have to reduce yourself down to a one word specialty to describe what you do. Not just because it’s hard, but also because it doesn’t work anyway.
Books on positioning for Freelancers
Obviously Awesome by April Dunford
I recently read April Dunford’s short book on positioning, Obviously Awesome which I strongly recommend if you are looking for help with positioning.
My main takeaway was that I needed to stop positioning my business in a market category that I thought it should be in and instead look at the data. That sounds intimidating but it’s really not. She walks you through simple questions like these in the book:
- What are the competitive alternatives to your product?
- What market category are these alternatives in (example: CRM vs Email)?
- How well do MY features compete in each individual category?
The result is you may find a market category that you had never considered is WAY better aligned with your feature set and serving your ideal customers.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the 2 market categories I always thought I was competing in are actually highlighting big negatives about my product… and on the other hand another market category is much better aligned to my features and ideal customer.
So instead of just defaulting to something that you picked when you were first starting the company, the book can help guide you to positioning your product or service strategically.
The books definition of Positioning:
“Positioning is the act of deliberately defining how you are the best at something that a defined market cares a lot about.”
Five Components of positioning:
- Competitive alternatives
- Unique attributes
- Value (and proof)
- Target market characteristics
- Market category
- Relevant Trends (Bonus)
Ten Step Positioning Process:
- Understand the Customers who Love Your Product
- Form a positioning team
- Align Your Positioning Vocabulary and Let Go of Your Positioning Baggage
- List Your True Competitive Alternatives
- Isolate Your Unique Attributes or Feature
- Map Attributes to Value “Themes”
- Determine Who Cares a Lot
- Find a Market Frame of Reference That Puts Your Strengths at the Center and Determine How to Position it
- Layer On a Trend (but Be Careful)
- Capture Your Positioning so It Can Be Shared
For the curious…
- Obviously Awesome on Amazon
- Obviously Awesome: A Product Positioning Exercise
- Userlist’s Positioning Overhaul
Anyways that’s my review of the book!
A couple more awesome resources:
- The book 6
- Userlists Review/Takeaways from the book 1
- April’s blog post 1
- I’ve also got an interview with April coming up soon that I will post here once it’s live
The Positioning Manual by Philip Morgan
I actually interviewed Philip Morgan about his book in an episode of my podcast. I talk to Philip about how to decide which clients to go after.
How to Find Your Dream Job
Folyo is all about building a business that lets you do the work you love and that’s why Rob asked me to share my story today. When people ask me what I do for a living I get excited because I get to answer: my dream job. What is my dream job, you ask? Going to Disney World… well… technically, I run a Disney World planning website called Double Your WDW.
I started this business in 2018 and now I spend every day doing something I love. But It took me a long time to figure out how to create a business that combined the flexibility I wanted and the things that I feel passionate about. So in this post I want to share how I did it, incase you’ve struggled with finding a business idea or niche that’s both profitable and passion-inducing.
“What is My Dream Job?”
So don’t worry if you aren’t totally passionate about your current gig. I didn’t always make money by going to Disney World. For many, many years. I worked in a cubicle. It was ok. It paid the bills and I was grateful. But I never felt passionate about what I was doing. I felt like a soul-less cog in a machine.
Then I had children, and this lifestyle simply became impossible. I couldn’t balance a 40-hour workweek with the needs of my children. I started to feel lost. And it lasted years.
How I found my Dream Job and Turned it Into a Business Idea
At one of the lowest points in my career, my extended family began planning a trip to Walt Disney World. While everyone else felt overwhelmed at the idea of booking restaurants 6 months in advance, coming up with touring plans for the parks, and deciding which rides to reserve for FastPass (Yes. These are things you need to do when you plan a trip to Disney World.) I absolutely loved it! I found myself joyfully writing long emails to the entire family with tips to maximize our time at the parks.
That’s how I knew I had stumbled into something that could be my dream job. But knowing what your dream job might be and actually doing it are two very different things.
Even your most favoritest of hobbies will suck if you don’t know how to balance it with other things you care about, like family. That’s why I’d like to challenge you today to think beyond your business idea or niche. Here’s how.
Use this Formula: Your Passion + Your Customer’s Context = YOUR Dream Job
Do you know how many Disney websites there are out there? A lot. But in just 1 year I have been able to make a significant mark with my content. I did this by niching down to Disney World Planning for first-timers who are bringing along small children.
You’d be shocked at how many “Disney experts” roam the parks alone when creating their touring plans. But I can tell you from experience, being at the parks alone is VERY different than being there with a 2-year-old who throws her shoes off every 5 minutes and screams for ice cream every time you pass a snack stand.
So thats my key differentiator. I make sure it’s known that I’m a mom of 3 who is actually hitting the parks with kids. I AM my client. This makes me stand out and makes me relate to other moms trying to plan their vacations. So yes what you do should bring you joy – but it should also serve a larger, hairier, context that a subset of your potential customer are facing.
Find a unique niche in whatever industry you are interested in to really stand out.
Next, the Key to Creating a Dream Job is Prioritizing Your Time and Getting Organized
Just because you are doing something you enjoy doesn’t mean that it will always be fun. Yes, my job requires me to spend time at Disney World. But it also means I have to spend time writing and maintaining articles and pages on my website. Even when I am at the parks, I have a long list of things I have to accomplish (not to mention 3 kids and a husband who demand my time). So knowing my priorities, and keeping up a regular schedule are key to making my dream job actually work.
My advice here is to find a schedule that works for you, and stick to it every single day. I get work done in the morning while the older kids are at school, and my youngest is eating breakfast and watching cartoons. I know that this is my sweet spot where I can sit in my office and really get work done. Like Lee Cockerell (Ex-VP of Walt Disney World) shared in the latest episode of Freelance, working for yourself means micro-managing yourself. Do it or risk turning your dream job into a nightmare.
Find the times you are more motivated and have the least amount of interruptions. Prioritize your work, and have your to-do list ready to go during these peak productive times.
Take an Investment Mindset, Especially When it Comes to Automation
Even with great time management skills, there will always be tasks that suck up your time. For example, I recently discovered Tailwind which has brought my website a ton of traffic. It’s saved me a ton of time promoting content on Pinterest and I’ve been able to instead spend that time with my family. For freelance designers, a tool like Pipedrive is a great way to automate an important aspect of your business.[lasso ref=”pipedrive” id=”12745″]
More than anything, it’s important to actually use tools and setup processes that will automate the sucky chores away. Because no one’s idea of a dream job is doing things they hate.
There’s No Rule That Your Dream Job Can’t Involve Your Family
Obviously, for a Disney business, it’s easy to get my kids involved. If it means a trip to Disney World, they are always willing to share their opinions on character meals, rides, and the best pools at the resorts. But even if your business isn’t as child-friendly, I think it’s worthwhile to look for ways to get your kids, partner, or whoever is your support system involved. Some ideas:
- Ask your kids to help you set up your home office
- Having your partner proofread your blog posts
- Bounce ideas off of your parents or best friend
Even small stuff can bring you closer and help you talk through any issues, frustrations, or roadblocks you might be having with your business.
Lastly, Remember to Keep at It. It’s Worth Finding Your Dream Job.
Folyo offers a ton of awesome dream jobs and other opportunities for freelance designers. Make sure to check those out. If you do end up landing or even creating your dream job, I hope you find yourself enjoying what you do, and being able to spend more time with the people you love. And maybe even book that Disney World vacation one day. ?
Folyo is my free newsletter that sends 8,700 freelancers and counting the best client opportunities every day. We help you make more money whether you had time to do marketing this week or not.
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