darkempressinfinitemind asked: How did you get into freelance?
The short version? Accidentally!
Longer version? It started with a friend hiring me to ghost write their memoir (before either of us knew what ghost writing was. Also he apparently had this awesome life before he knew me and never bothered to mention it before the idea of writing a book came along. Who knew? Random happenstance). I became more confident in the idea of writing for others, and then was referred to the site Peopleperhour.com by a friend of mine, who was trying to pick up freelancing.
I applied for my first job there, and it was literally months before I got any bites. My first bite ended up paying me $3 an hour. I was desperate, so I took it. It gave me a reference, and I got a better job, and a better job, and a better job, until I had enough references to apply for REALLY decent jobs. Fast forward, and here I am with my own Wordsmithing business.
But you want advice, don’t you?
- Find a Freelancing Website
There’s Elance, PPH, and a wide range of others. Pick one that works for you (or multiple) and start drumming up your profile there. Get samples out so people can see your style of work.
- Get Reviews at All Costs
Get people you know to write reviews. Take low paying jobs to get reviews. Take whatever jobs you can and get reviews, because they really are everything to a beginning freelancer. I started out with a GED (not even a high school diploma) and still got high paying jobs, because no one needs to see your credentials – they just need proof that real life people have given you a test run.
Degrees and all that? They’re to prove you know your stuff; that someone has tested you and written off on it. Reviews are the internet’s new degrees; be willing to invest some time and effort into them.
- Take Any and As Much Work as You Can
Not only for the reviews, but for practice. There’s a new song and dance involved with freelancing that you won’t find anywhere else. Big companies are paying millions on Big Data to figure out what little nuances make customers happy. You don’t have Big Data, and you’re up against thousands of freelancers just like you – you have to figure out the key to standing out by hand.
Getting as many jobs as you can early on gives you a chance to test the waters and find your stride before you’re dealing with big clients that are less forgiving of your fumbles. You’ll learn something new from every job so you really ARE the top professional you claim to be.
- Claim to Be a Professional
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I should give you advice about being honest and doing the leg work before you get started. But they say to dress for the job you want, not the job you have. So act like the professional you want to be, not the one you are.
If you’re 18 and this is your first freelancing job, make your profile and all your correspondences look like you’re 37 and have been freelancing for 10 years (don’t lie, just be indirect. Talk like you’re older. Say you’ve been freelancing for several years, even if you’ve only been freelancing for a few months. If you’re living at home with your parents and the topic of family comes up, just call them “family;” the client won’t know if you’re a married mother of five or are talking about your dad). People will look right over you if they THINK you’re not capable, without even giving you a chance to show what you can do. If you take away that first – sometimes incorrect – assumption, your foot’s in the door and you can prove yourself.
Then after you have 300 five-star reviews and a client list as long as your arms, you can reveal yourself as 20 with three years’ experience, and people will believe you’re a prodigy. Then you’ll get hired for being the talented young professional who IS their target audience, so you’re perfect to create a product FOR their target audience.
- Be Ready to Put in More Hours
Once you’ve been in the game a while and have established yourself, you can make your weekends sacred with no work stuff. But before then, you need to be on call all the time. What’s going to make you stand out against the rest in the beginning is timeliness.
If it’s a toss-up between you and someone just as qualified, the client will decide on whoever replies the fastest and most coherently. Reply to messages as soon as possible. Talk back and forth on the weekends. Offer as tight a deadline as you can for every project, and if you can deliver early, deliver early. Once you have your reputation and your reviews, then you can tone it back to the same level as any other job; you work on your work days, and you’re gone from the planet on your off days.
- Follow Your Heart – But Follow the Money
I’ll let you in on a little secret. I hate web copy. Detest it. A client can have the coolest website idea ever, but having to don my promotional hat and describe their services to a target audience is tedious and unfulfilling as all get out. What I enjoy is blog writing, where I get to explore a concept and tell it (sometimes) in my own voice. I love product descriptions even, where I get to sharpen my description skills to be later used in fiction. But guess what? Web copy writing pays well, because it is difficult and it’s in huge demand.
Here’s a quick insider look at the market: Today, every style of business in existence needs a website. That means web designers are the key holders in a world full of locked doors. They’re making a killing, but every website needs CONTENT. They’re cranking out 15 websites a month but they’re just blank pages without some writing to make them REAL. That’s where my industry comes in, the Tonto to their Lone Ranger, to make their home pages, their about pages, their service pages, etc. so their website is a real website. So long as online business booms, web designers are Sauron and copy writers are the one ring to rule them all.
That’s where the money is. So even if I really hate web copy, I’m good at it. That’s what pays the rent, grows my business, and keeps my employees’ checks signed – giving me the financial security I need to then ALSO do things I like. Ghost writing, book editing, blog writing, working on my own stuff.
If you want to make it in freelancing, you need money for bills. But you also need money to prove to your freelancing site that you’re worth promoting. Be willing to do jobs you’re not crazy about, so you can grow to the point of having enough income to afford doing what you really love.
- Embrace the Uncertainty
One of the hardest things about freelancing is the irregularity. One month, you’re swimming in cash. The next, you scrape by. At the beginning of the month, you only have one project; at the end, you have 10. I’ve been at this for years, and I still have a mini panic during summer when I’m sure this is the year that my career finally ends. But it never has.
The upside to this uncertainty is you’re never sure when great things are going to happen. The security of a 9-to-5 lets you know exactly how much you will make, but robs you of the chance for those surprise miracles where a massive client falls in your lap and pays your rent for four months within two weeks.
Take faith that a slow month is giving you a chance to rest up for when that tsunami of work comes in. Having a new client every week is giving you a chance to have fun before you have one client for an entire year (which can get boring at times). Freelancing can be a science, but you still need a little faith. It keeps you on your toes, it gives you unexpected bonuses none of your 9-to-5 friends can count on, and it gives you freedom.
Breaking into freelancing is slow going at first, but so long as you’re good at what you do, you will break in. There’s seriously never been a better time in living memory for it.
Hope this was helpful!