How to Start Freelancing (And Get Your FIRST Client!) [Updated May 2022]
The SPI community has been asking about the world of freelancing a lot lately, so I thought I’d share some recent thoughts on freelancing to guide you in how to get started freelancing (and get your first client).
But first, I want to take you back to a post I shared in November 2017:
The 2 Quickest Ways to Generate an Online Income
In that post, I explain that freelancing is one of the two quickest ways to generate online income (the other is affiliate marketing). Freelancing allows you to quickly get paid for a task that can actually help solve problems for people.
And when you’re first starting out, freelancing is the number one way to get started online. It’s not passive income, which is an important thing to understand. Freelancing is definitely not passive; it’s super active. If you don’t do the work, you’re not going to get paid. But if you are dedicated and put in the effort, freelancing is a great way to get your foot in the door of an industry or niche you’re interested in. It’s, quite simply, a great way to get started in business.
After all, think about this: You just need one client. One client to make a little money. One client to get the ball rolling. One client to make a difference. And then, as you’ll hear me talk more about later in this post, you can take what you learn working with clients, and turn it into something more passive—with tools, or even a team! But first, let’s figure out how to get that first client.
Let’s get started!
What Is Freelancing, and Why There’s Huge Opportunity in Freelancing
I think it’s important first to define what freelancing is. Freelancing is, at its core, offering a skill you have in exchange for payment. If you have a skill a particular client or brand or business needs to help them solve their problems, they will want to hire you to solve it. And you do so with your specialized skill.
The cool part about freelancing is that there are so many different types of freelancers out there, offering up a huge range of skills. Even if you don’t have that skill right this moment, who says you can’t learn it and eventually offer up that skill too?
Here’s just a sampling of some of the types of freelance skills out there:
- Graphic design
- Photo editing
- UI design
- UX design
- Video editing
- Video production
- Voice acting
- Web design
- 2D animation
- 3D animation
- Ajax development
- Java development
- API development
- HTML development
- WordPress development
- Administrative support
- Email tech support
- Virtual assistance
- Data entry
- Academic writing
- Copy editing
- Creative writing
- Business analysis
- Advertising consulting
- Google AdWords
- Marketing strategy
- Lead generation
And that’s just a small portion of the types of freelance skills available on the market. That’s a huge benefit when it comes to starting out in freelancing. You probably have a few of those skills already. And even if you don’t, you know that there’s a big opportunity for you to build your base of skills for your future clients.
Another benefit of freelancing is that it empowers you to enter a particular business space, get to know the people in there, and learn the ins and outs of that specific business type or industry. You may be hired for a specific skill, but you (or them or both) soon realize that there are other opportunities that you see, other areas where you can benefit the business.
In SPI Podcast session 460, Jay Clouse joins me to talk through an easy way anyone can get starting freelancing. Listen to it here:
How to Get Your First Client (and Why You Just Need One Client!)
Once you have your own client, the road ahead gets a little easier. Don’t get caught up in thinking you need ten clients out of the gate. You just need an audience of one to start.
To help guide you through what that’s like, I had a chat with Charli Marie of CharliMarieTV.
In the video (embedded below), Charli, a successful freelance designer, shares essential tips for how to get your first freelance client, best practices for working with that client to make sure that it’s a great experience, and advice for making sure you get paid on time.
Once you have your first freelance client, how do you start making more money? In the second video in my freelance series, I continue my conversation with Charli Marie on the topic of:
5 Ways to Make More Money (As a Freelancer & Entrepreneur)
So, you have your first freelance client. Now what? How do you start making your freelance life fruitful? There are many ways you can start making more money as a freelancer and entrepreneur, but we’re going to focus on just five ways for now.
1. Start building a reputation
As Charli says, building up your brand and getting your voice out there allows you to be “known for your craft.” A few great mediums to make yourself known is a blog, YouTube channel, and podcast—all platforms I use to build and grow my brand and reputation. The more you put out there, the more useful and relevant content and information you share with people online, the more you’re going to look like an expert in your particular craft or skill.
2. Have a good process in place
Know your process, and know it well. A good process means that you have an organized system and way to work with your clients from the start, the middle, and the end. If your process is non-existent, it’s just a disorganized mess, the less likely your clients are going to want to continue working with you, and probably won’t recommend you to their friends.
3. Serve the clients you already have
It can be tempting to want to always go after new clients, or to land the next great client. But when you’re too focused on new clients, you’re often forgetting about the clients you are already serving. Focus on your existing clients and the ways you can improve your service to them.
4. Upsell in an authentic way
Upselling can be tricky, and in some cases has a bad reputation. But here’s how Charli does it for her freelance clients: a tier-based approach:
- Tier 1: You do the basic work to meet the client’s stated need
- Tier 2: You meet the basic needs of the client, but also provide additional value
- Tier 3: You have a solution for the stated needs of the client, but then you also offer an additional service based on your review of the client’s situation and your experience
5. Increase your prices
Most freelancers undervalue or underprice themselves when they’re first starting out. It’s an easy thing to do because you’re just doing everything you can to get your foot in the door. But it doesn’t have to be that way—especially if you have your one client. Focus on what you do and your value.
For an extended look at more ways you can make money as a freelancer, check out my video with Charli Marie below!
Now that you’ve started freelancing, what’s next?
Freelancing, THEN WHAT? Career & Biz Options for Freelancers
As a freelancer, you’ve probably felt the pull to do more in your career. It’s totally natural. And so in this final section of this post, I am going to share a few ways you can expand on your freelance career and business. (And don’t forget to watch the video below for the full deep dive into your many options—with Charli Marie and Caleb, my videographer!)
1. Freelancing can transform into a full-time job
In the video, Charli shares how she got her first full-time design job after doing some design work for a company. If you do good work for your clients, and you have a good relationship with them, that’s a potential opportunity if the client is looking for a more long-term, stable solution.
2. Your side hustle can transform into a full hustle
Caleb, my videographer, used to work at Fizzle doing video work. He loved that part of his full-time job so much that he set out doing videography as a side hustle. And that side hustle is now a full-time hustle! In the video below, Caleb shares how he prepared for that transition, and how he masterfully worked his way to a successful videography business owner.
3. If you want to scale, you have to hire people
I know this very well, as I tried to do everything myself for a while before realizing that I needed to bring in a team to free me up to do bigger and brighter things for Smart Passive Income. The same is true for Caleb’s business. He wanted to grow and push the limits, and he realized he couldn’t take that journey alone.
Read about how 20 different entrepreneurs made the exciting decision to finally hire someone—and how it changed their business for the better.
And if you want to hear the story of my very own first hire—and why I tried really hard to avoid it—then give SPI 474 a listen.
Make sure to check out the full video below for an extended conversation about career and business options for freelancers!
Before I go, make sure to also check out SPI Podcast Session 158 with my guest Brian Casel, who shares how to productize your service-based business—a great lesson for freelancers like yourself.
Brian returned in episode 314 to share how to turn your service-based business into a product, or into something that can be scaled and automated, so check that out, too. (Don’t forget to subscribe to the SPI Podcast!)
And don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel for instant access to my weekly videos!
Again, you can check out the full Freelance Video Series below:
Click here to take my free Build Your Own Brand challenge.