DEV Community

Kyle Prinsloo
Kyle Prinsloo

Posted on

How to Start Freelancing (The Basics)

If you’ve been wanting to start freelancing but do not know where to start, this is the perfect article for you.

Freelancing can be a lucrative source of income that can earn you 6 digits in a month, but before you get to that level of success, you have to take the right steps.

In this article, we’re going to discuss the basics of how you can start freelancing the right way.

But first, let’s talk about mindset.

In our years of teaching people how to start a freelancing business, we’ve seen many people who start and fail after a few months.

Why did they fail?

It’s not because they have no skills or resources.

It’s because they had the wrong mindset.

Many people think that:

• Freelancing is a way to earn easy money.
• It will only take them 2-3 months of hard work to reach their target income.

If this is your mindset, stop right there.

We’d like to warn you that freelancing is NOT easy.

It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s a real business that requires hard work to build and grow. It’s a long-term game.

You have to put in the work consistently for months before you see any real results.

You may have to sacrifice a lot of Friday nights and weekends, but once you get your first client and continuously build your business, it’ll all be worth it.

As a highschool drop-out with many struggles in the past, I can tell you this as fact:

Freelancing takes a lot of hard work. Not just a little, but a LOT. BUT it's all worth it.

If you are willing to put in the work, read on to find out the right steps to build your freelance business the right way.

Here's a quick video summary if you prefer watching:

Let's get started.

Define Your Goal

If you don’t know where you’re going, there’s a high chance you won’t get there.

Knowing why you want to start a freelance career is crucial because it will inform your strategy and the way you do things.

These are some questions you should consider:

• Do you want to eventually become a full-time freelancer or is this going to be a temporary part-time gig?

• Are you looking to have a freelancing business to use it as a stepping stone to achieving an entirely different goal?

Having clear, realistic goals will help you formulate an effective plan, manage your expectations, and keep you committed to your vision.

Services Offered

Choose a skill that you’re really interested in and specialize in it. If you love writing, offer writing services. If you love editing videos, be a video editor.

Don’t be a jack of all trades trying to be everything to everybody because they’re not as effective and well-paid as specialists.

If you have heart disease, you’re going to want to be treated by a cardiologist rather than a general practitioner. You’ll also be willing to pay more! The same thing works in freelancing.

What you can also do is think of a skill that complements your main service. For example, a web developer can also offer digital marketing or content writing services because these services go hand in hand.

You can always expand and add more to your skillset once you get the hang of freelancing.

Determine Your Target Market/Niche

A common pitfall of new freelancers is they try to offer their services to anyone who might need it.

This approach will:

• Limit how much you can earn as a freelancer
• Waste so much time and effort

Just like in determining your services, it’s best to target a specific market or niche because this will make it easier for you to build a reputation and start charging higher.

“I develop websites for any business” screams inexperience and vagueness.
But saying “I develop high-converting websites for law firms” screams expertise and clarity. You can even narrow this down further by targeting law firms specializing in divorce cases.

Other possible niches:

• Coffee shops
• Wedding photographers/videographers
• Events places
• Local businesses in your area
• Tech startups
• SaaS companies
• E-commerce stores

Having an idea of who your ideal clients are or what they are like will make it easier to choose which projects to accept.

Ask yourself the following questions to identify your ideal client:

• What should they already have? For example, some content marketers prefer to work with clients with an existing personal brand because it’s easier to come up with campaigns with a high chance of success. Should your ideal client already have a competitive line of products and/or services, website, huge following, good marketing strategy, etc.? You can also narrow down based on location.

• What are their pain points? What are some of their problems that your service can help solve?

• What values should you share? What are some of your non-negotiable values or advocacies? If you’re vegan, will you be willing to work with a meat supplier? Most freelancers stay away from clients in murky industries like gambling and others.

Create A Targeted Portfolio Site

Once you’ve chosen a niche, it’s time to put together a professional website that will clearly show what you can do:

1 – Buy a domain related to your niche.
2 – Write a clear USP or unique selling proposition that will clearly state who your target clients are and how you can help them.

Example: “I create high-converting sales funnels to help business coaches get more clients.”

This website is going to be your primary marketing material, so make sure everything supports your claim in your USP.

Here are things you can do to make your website more effective in convincing potential clients:

• Create a portfolio. Ready three or more sample works so your clients can have an idea of your style and quality. There are many ways to build a portfolio even if you don’t have a client yet. For one, you can offer your services at a discount in exchange for a testimonial. But what if no one takes up your offer? Then you can just create a sample work and publish it on your portfolio. If you’re a web developer, create a website.

If you’re a graphic designer, design a poster and include it in your portfolio and do the following:

• Write blog articles consistently – Blogging is an incredible way to show off your expertiseIf you’re targeting business coaches, you can write about a topic that’s relevant to them such as marketing or time management tips for business coaches.

• Publish client testimonials – 72% of consumers say that positive reviews and testimonials boost their trust in a business, so testimonials are a must. But how will you get a testimonial if you don’t have a client yet? Offering an incentive like a discount or freebie in exchange for a quick testimonial works like a charm.

Determine Your Pricing Strategy

Pricing is a huge topic with lots of areas to cover, but pricing can make or break your business.

A common question of beginner freelancers is should they charge by the hour or by value. We won’t go into too much detail here because we’ve already discussed it at length in this blog post, but we strongly believe that charging according to the value you give is a wiser option both for you and your client. You can learn more about it here.

In deciding how much to charge, your niche also plays a huge role. A local arts and crafts store won’t have a budget as big as that of a law firm.

Make sure that your price is competitive for your specific niche.

Reach Out To Potential Clients

Once your services, website, and pricing are ready, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and do the hard work of manually reaching out to clients.

There are lots of things you can do:

• Use paid advertisements like Facebook and Google ads.

• Create a Facebook group and invite your target clients to join. Regularly post helpful content to build trust, and eventually, you can start selling your services to them.

• Look through directories, Google, newspapers, or magazines to find the contact details of your target clients. Then send them an email or give them a call. Make sure to follow up if they don’t respond within 2-3 days. Create a spreadsheet where you can track down who you’ve contacted, who’ve replied, and who to follow up.

Do these things consistently and persistently and you’re bound to land your first paying client.

I said “persistently” because you can’t send emails to seven people and then be disappointed that it didn’t work!

Some of you may be thinking, “How am I going to find time to do all that?!”

But if you really want this, you’re going to create time. Cancel your Netflix subscription. Limit your time spent on social media. There’s always more time if you prioritize.

There is no shortcut to this process. You will be rejected. Some won’t even call you back. But you need to persevere.

Johannes (the other half of SWD) always says, “You need to have a lot of persistence. Keep trying, keep knocking. Every “no” will bring you closer to a “yes”.”

Analyze, Learn, and Adapt Your Approach

After about 3 months of applying these strategies, you need to analyze the results to figure out what works or not. How can you make improvements? What else should you try?

If you’re advertising, you need to analyze if what you’re spending is giving a decent return. Analyze what copy, landing page, keywords, budget, and others work best.

If you created a Facebook group, what can you do to maximize it?

Once you figure out the strategies that work best for you, drop the others, and start focusing on these key strategies.

Those were the 7 basic steps you can take to jumpstart your freelance career. This process worked for us, it worked for our students, but whether it will work for you depends on the amount of work you’re willing to do.

Also, don't be afraid to start "small":

We hope that you’ve learned something from this article.

Thanks for reading 😊

Top comments (34)

luisaugusto profile image
Luis Augusto

This a great write-up, thanks! I also suggest that when starting out, focus on quality over quantity. Instead of trying to find as many opportunities as possible, find one or two projects and treat those clients well. The most important goal when starting is just building strong connections with a few people, and from there you can then decide whether to expand your audience or focus on client retention.

I recently read a great book called Company of One which talks all about how to start a solo business while avoid the most common pitfalls, I definitely recommend that book to anyone who wants to learn more about freelancing!

study_web_dev profile image
Kyle Prinsloo

Awesome! Thanks for your comment, Luis :)

starbist profile image
Silvestar Bistrović

Great article, but I don’t agree with the “discount for testimonial” advice.
I think asking a client politely to provide a testimonial should work in most cases, especially if you did an excellent job.

study_web_dev profile image
Kyle Prinsloo

Thanks for reading, Silvestar :)

This is only at the beginning phases. Clients are a lot more influenced by price if the experience is not there yet.

I found this to be a good approach at the beginning phases

starbist profile image
Silvestar Bistrović

Thank you for the clarification. 👌

sylwiavargas profile image
Sylwia Vargas

Hi Kyle! Thank you for this post. I recently posed a question to freelancers about liability insurance. Are you using one? If so, which one are you happy with?

study_web_dev profile image
Kyle Prinsloo

Hey Sylwia :) great question!

I live in South Africa, and I do have liability insurance, but it's different to the US, so it wouldn't be helpful for me to provide my insurance information :)

But I do agree with you - every freelancer needs this in place :)

dobrenteiistvan profile image
István Döbrentei

It is a really good and important question!

liaowow profile image
Annie Liao

Wow, thanks Kyle for the inspiring post. I was just ruminating on the idea of opening my own shop with all the skills I've got. Your example of combining content and digital marketing with web development definitely hit home. Also, great tips on finding a niche and starting small.

study_web_dev profile image
Kyle Prinsloo

Awesome :) thanks Annie!

ftorrado profile image
Filipe Torrado

That's great advice! But for different countries you can have different realities in freelance work. I'm living in Belgium and here around 50-60% of your revenue is going for taxes and you have to pay social security deductions even if you do not have any revenue. So here the tip is to already have a client set for recurrent jobs when you start and an accountant, it makes things more difficult.

study_web_dev profile image
Kyle Prinsloo

Thanks for reading :) and yes, definitely have a good accountant when it comes to taxes

gkatsanos profile image
George Katsanos • Edited

Thanks Kyle. I started watching the video you inlined, and I must say, I'm beginning to feel there's a lot of questionable content circulating in youtube lately, built solely with the purpose of income generation from its content creators. (which is fair, but I still want to point it out). For example : First advice in order to be a freelance web developer : "Learn how to build websites". Really? Second advice "promote yourself". Aha? You forgot "buy a computer", "have an internet connection".
It really feels as if there's an "easy money making" market these days (probably because of the increase in remote work, combined with the global financial crisis). I would think twice before pushing someone towards freelance web development without them having any a) theoretical/academical background OR b) some hands on work experience in companies. Alternatively I believe the code quality result would be really sub-par (and I have worked in projects done by freelance web developers of that level which we often had to completely refactor/rewrite or throw away) and, most importantly for these people, they will never manage to reach an income that will be enough for them to live off. (these are generic statements that of course can be argued but you need to consider the big influx of web developers, the competition, the time it takes to build skills in Programming Languages, Frameworks, etc). I do also recommend some of my friends who are seeking alternative careers to go into Web Development, but with a minimum-yearly plan in sight, and only with the goal of landing a first Junior job (as opposed to becoming full-stack developers doing everything themselves). Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, but I guess these exceptions won't get much help from videos such as the one inlined. Thank you for the article.

study_web_dev profile image
Kyle Prinsloo

Hey George :) thanks for your comment.

While you are indeed correct with the "internet connection" and all, that's pretty common knowledge, so I don't want to discuss that, because where's the limit here? What about getting the money to buy the computer or choosing a webhost, etc.

All of these things are quite easily available on Google, and our focus has always been to provide nuggets without the fluff.

We've helped many people so far with this type of content :)

momentouscodes profile image

Thanks for this write-up. Its like you knew I'm about to venture in freelancing. This will actually help.

study_web_dev profile image
Kyle Prinsloo

Many thanks for reading, Adetoba :)

jwokiri profile image
Joe Oketch

Thanks man

st_dieune profile image
Dieune St-Fleur

Great article! I guess it's time for to take that leap of faith into the writing sea!

study_web_dev profile image
Kyle Prinsloo

Thank you Dieune! :)

brandondamue profile image
Brandon Damue

Thanks for this article Karl. I was looking forward to start freelancing and was in great need of advice. This article provides a lot of insight for me.

study_web_dev profile image
Kyle Prinsloo

Great, thanks Damue :)

turzey profile image
beni dibatia

Thanks, for the pro-tips it is literally what I needed to hear in order to best position myself in freelancing business as a web developer.

study_web_dev profile image
Kyle Prinsloo

Thanks for reading Beni :)

siarhei_siniak_marketing profile image
Siarhei Siniak

Yeah, searching for a customer seems to be the hardest. Especially if 3 months are being wasted, and nothing has come.

nwabuasomiriam profile image
Nwabuaso Miriam

Thanks @kyle Prinsloo great article, what would you advice a Frontend developer who wish to major in building e-commerce website as a freelancing side gig. Thank you

study_web_dev profile image
Kyle Prinsloo

Thank you Harlin! :)

pvcodes profile image
Pranjal Verma

Which freelancing site should i pickup for starting freelancing..

Some comments may only be visible to logged-in visitors. Sign in to view all comments.