When starting out as a freelancer, it can be really overwhelming trying to figure out where to start and what your focuses should be on. In my opinion, I feel strongly that the first focuses should be on getting your first short term clients that you can then add to your portfolio, gain quick feedback from, and earn yourself some reviews to share with the world. Nothing beats having 5-6 positive reviews as a statement of your ability and work ethic.
Remember your realistic goals!
- Generate income
- Build a client base & Portfolio
- Gain experience and prepare for the big contracts
The goal here is to have quick turnarounds on projects and to begin generating income for yourself in rapid fashion. When going after short term clients, you can ensure you're not committing yourself to lengthy obligations and potentially working on projects you don't enjoy. Another benefit is the ability to touch on various technologies and ways of working with different teams and ideas. This will afford you the chances to learn in most cases which will add value to your services and offerings.
Being able to add work examples to your portfolio is extremely helpful early on, and having references that can speak to your abilities is equally important.
Once you've secured and wrapped up some short term client projects, you can begin to start taking a serious look into acquiring long term clients. Clients that will ensure you can have fairly stable income for the foreseeable future can help ease stress and give you the freedom to focus on fewer projects, as opposed to juggling many.
The great thing about long term clients is that you can begin to build meaningful and lasting relationships. Being able to earn their trust (so long as you perform well), it's likely they'll begin to send referrals your way, knowing that you can handle tasks and important projects.
Ideally, you'll find yourself working on a retainer which guarantees a set of hours worked for a client, and ensures you get paid upfront, each month. These are clients that will understand your services and what they are getting beforehand, they'll usually be the most respectful of your time and schedule and may pay a premium for any work performed outside of the agreed hours.
After spending time working with retainer based clients, you'll begin to realize additional benefits you can offer your clients to help validate your costs to the client (monitoring their services, for example).
Most of us will face issues finding their first clients due to a number of reasons
- Your skill set isn't up to par
- Your competing with too many other on your network
- Your price is too high
- Your portfolio is too weak
If you're finding that a lack of skills is the main reason, then the answer is to go back to working on side projects, studying, and practicing skills. Taking up some Udemy courses, or various other Bootcamp coding sessions may also benefit you.
If the network you're competing in is too crowded, you'll need to set yourself a part from the rest either through your branding, your pricing, or the services you offer. If you're on Fiverr offering WordPress sites among thousands of others, what would draw potential clients to YOUR services?
The hardest part of freelancing at first, is to figure out a pricing model that works for you and can attract the clients and projects you're after. Keep in mind that you should NEVER work for free, but be open to working for amounts that may be slightly lower in order to build up clients and get to the price point that is more comfortable.
Having a weak portfolio is another big issue, and the answer is simple! Focus on some personal hobby projects that will demonstrate your abilities and skills. Go ahead and flesh out that cool design in Bootstrap 4, or build that crazy to-do list in Nuxt.js, you'll be able to show these projects off and display you are a capable developer or designer.
One of the most consolidated misconceptions about programming, since the early days, is the idea that such activity is purely technical, completely exact in nature, like Math and Physics. Computation is exact, but programming is not.