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How to go about starting your freelancing career

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How to go about starting your freelancing career

Maybe you've considered the possibility of branching out on your own and starting your own business to break free from the office grind. But just maybe you haven't found the time to start. As the age old adage goes, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the second best time is now.

Here are a few tips and guidelines to help you get started. As someone who has been in the freelance game for quite a couple of years now, I can say this, there is no real wrong time to start. It is a learning game and the faster you begin, the faster you get good at it.

Starting your freelance career does not require you to have years of experience or degrees of any kind. It just requires commitment, determination and confidence and just a tiny bit of luck, which we'll go into down below. 

First off:

Building a professional portfolio website: The very first thing that people ask for when considering hiring a web developer/designer is to see your work. They are going to be spending their hard earned cash after all, so they want to know what they are getting in return. This is no different than standing at the grocery store isle and reading labels and looking at brands.

If there's one tip to take away from that model, is that looks are important. So spend a little bit of extra time (and money if needed) and be sure to present your best foot forward.

And I mean "your" best foot. So no, this doesn't have to be perfect by any means. Spending way too much time on your homepage is as damaging as not spending any time at all. But you want something that gives an overall idea of your skill set and what you bring to the table.

And you don't have to spend an arm and a leg to do it. When I first began as web developer I used the cheapest shared servers that I could find and they maintained very well for months without a hiccup. As I received more and more clients, eventually it made sense to upgrade to something a bit faster.

(Ad time) A simple shared hosting account on a provider like BlueHost should start your off just fine for a while. And they are very easy to setup and to have a site up and running within 15 minutes.

Next up:

Build your own online presence: Now that you have a website that looks clean and polished, it's time to work on your own image. Do you have a LinkedIn account? Do you have a professional Twitter account that does not include profanity and random pet retweets? If I were to Google you, would the result be someone that people would want to work with?

More than the work, people want to know who they are working with. Web development/design costs can be on the high end, so trust is highly valuable in getting clients that will want to work with you.

So start by owning your name. Buy your domain name (if available), take a few professional headshots, buy a nice shirt in the process and spend some time creating a persona that you yourself wish you could hire for a job yourself.

Again, this does not have to take you years to do. Spend a weekend really nailing down the image that you want to portray. Do you want to work with local clients in your city? Or perhaps with larger firms in other countries or states? Both of those routes are doable, but will require their own unique set of qualifications and expectations.

I first began my freelance career by working with local businesses in my city within walking distance from my home. I got to personally meet with owners and discuss their needs and more than anything, build that rapport that can take a few meetings to build up and strengthen.

Not only do you get potential clients that are a short drives away from you, but you get to help out your own community which I personally found to be an added value that allowed me to build up motivation and confidence in my work.

Another potential strategy that you can take is to create online content that targets your potential clients. This gives them a sense that you in fact know what you are talking about. You can take various routes when it comes to this process, however I find that generating an e-book and giving it away is a good way of creating an email list that you can target to later on. Plenty of authors and creators go through the process of ebook distribution whether they're writing software guides or novels - it's really not as complicated as people seem to think.

Now that you have an awesome website, a solid LinkedIn account, and an idea of the route that you want to take with freelancing, you can get started with the first big task.

Getting your first actual client: Your first client is the hardest client, for many many reasons. Some of which include:

- You don't have a baseline rate just yet
- You have a limited portfolio
- You might not know what you are doing
- No really, go set up your own website

These are all real and all valid points. But you can't find solutions or address any of them, until you have your first actual client. And this is where too many people starting off usually fall flat.

Most people feel that they need to have a perfect process in place before they can begin. This is akin to spending months working on the perfect burger recipe for your restaurant, before you actually have a restaurant. The burger can be amazing sure, but is anyone going to buy it and where are you selling it?

The actual process is built while you are working with clients. Your pricing might fluctuate from person to person depending on their demands and on their time frames. You might charge too little, or charge too much. You potentially could have to adjust seasonally depending on the type of projects that you are taking on. It's a very dynamic process.

You might also need to draft up a proposal or a contract and have them sign it. You are going to need some form of invoicing mechanism to add to your brand, such as Stripe or PayPal, so having those accounts ready is important as well.

You might even need to hire external help to aid in certain parts of the project. Which adds an entire new dimension to the process as project management is not as simple as it sounds.

Or you might simply just built a simple website by yourself and then send an invoice and get paid.

Which brings me to my last point:

Give yourself time: It takes time to build a brand for anything. No clothing brand or soft drink sold out on the first week, and neither will your services. Take as long as it needs to take and make small incremental progresses daily, not weekly.

Take constant measurements of the work that you are doing and the return on investment that you are seeing. And adjust accordingly.

Freelancing is not a money-filled beach front property type of deal. It's more about communication and working with very dynamic and varied requirements and people. But it's your own work at your own pace with your own clients that you build relationships with.

I do believe that you have huge influence when it comes to making your own luck. The more you are out there, the higher the likelihood of meeting the right client at the right time.

I hope you found this post useful, and if so, feel free to comment down below.

If you are really interested in making freelancing a career choice, then sign up to be notified of my soon to be released freelancing course where I go more in depth with my actual daily work process.

Walter Guevara is a software engineer, startup founder and currently teaches programming for a coding bootcamp. He is currently building things that don't yet exist.


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