I’ve heard many times that as soon as you start getting paid for you work, you’ve officially “made it.” That once you have your first client, everything will fall into place and get easier.
While both those statements are true, they don’t do anything to help encourage new freelancers to begin their careers. Almost every freelancer starts off with zero experience and no clients. Everyone has to start from scratch and although it can be challenging and frustrating, it can be done.
Here are three tips to becoming a freelancer with no experience:
Build a Portfolio of Personal Work
Prospective clients want to see your work in action. If you’re a writer, they want to see a published post on a blog versus a draft in Word. If you’re a graphic designer, they want to see your live, redesigned homepage, not a mockup of what you would do. So, if you don’t have any clients to complete this work for, do it for yourself!
Start a personal blog and publish one to two posts every week. Design your personal website or animate a video introducing yourself. Work on a personal project that showcases your work and the kind of services you would be able to offer to clients.
Proactively Reach Out to Companies
When you’re a new freelancer, no one will come knocking on your door to ask to work with you. You have to do all the legwork and proactively contact companies you want to collaborate with.
First, identify the industry you want to work in. Do you want to work with software companies, nonprofits, or schools? Once you’ve narrowed down your niche, create a list of 10-20 companies you’d like to work for.
LinkedIn can be a great tool for finding new clients, read my article here about the right way to make connections on LinkedIn.
Then, find specific people to email at those companies. Sometimes, I just search “John Smith email at XYZ company” and can find an email address, or I send a message on LinkedIn. Don’t be overly sales-y in this initial outreach. Your message can be as simple as, “Hi John, I’d love to help you with content marketing. I was looking at your blog and have some specific ideas to improve traffic. Can I take you to coffee to talk more?” The goal is to talk to a real person and ideally, meet for coffee.
Explore Creative Marketplaces
If you’re having trouble finding new clients on your own, you can join a creative marketplace like Fiverr, Freelancer, or Upwork. These marketplaces allow companies to post jobs and freelancers can apply to complete that job. There are hundreds of possible jobs freelancers can complete, ranging from graphic design to front-end development to content development.
Generally, I am not a fan of these services as they tend to grossly under-value the contractor (that’s you) and set unrealistic expectations in the eyes of the customer. Further, it sets you up for a career of managing bargain-basement, coupon-cutting clients who will forever fail to see the value you bring to the table.
That said, finding gigs on sites like this can serve as a springboard for freelancers who are just starting out. These platforms offer access to a lot of clients quickly. You can use this as a way to quickly build a portfolio of work to show off your skills or creativity, gather feedback and client reviews, and optimize your own internal processes.
These jobs are usually short-term, quick projects that don’t pay the most money. I would not recommend using these creative marketplaces for your whole freelancing career, however they can be great for building your portfolio when you’re first starting.
How to Start: Becoming a Freelancer
In addition to creating a portfolio, the most important thing you can do to grow your freelancing career is to network. Attend as many industry events and conferences as possible. Connect with established freelancers to learn from them and find a mentor. Don’t be afraid to ask people out for coffee who you admire; these connections have a way of eventually coming full circle.