How To Start A Successful Freelancing Business

Last updated on November 4, 2020

how to start a successful freelancing business

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Have you always desired to work from home as a freelancer but have had no idea how to start?

There is some amazing news: freelancing is not only profitable and fun; it is also much easier than you always thought.

I say it is easier compared to how I and other early freelancers, began here in Kenya.

We had no mentors, no clue where to find jobs, no idea on how to get paid.

In short, it was a tough journey. However, we made it through, and you will too. I’m happy to share with you tips on how to start a successful freelancing business.

Step 1: Choose Your Niche

Nowadays, just about everything can be outsourced.

No matter what skill you possess, someone somewhere is in need of it.

As such, ask yourself, “What do I want to do?” “What can I do very well?”

You can be a transcriber, writer, designer, tutor, virtual assistant, Forex trader, web analyst, SEO specialist, voice over talent, and so much more.

Unlike conventional jobs, you can focus on the one thing you know you can do best. You will be surprised at how far a little faith in your skills can take you.

How did I settle on transcription? I had studied secretarial and business administration way back, and when I researched on online jobs, I bumped into transcription.

Reading more, I learned that one needed to have good typing skills, coupled with a good command of the English language. As such, that niche seemed to fit perfectly with me.

Step 2: Learn or Sharpen the Skill

From step 1, you have realized that you are talented with the skill of decoding every word in a movie. As such, you can make a great transcriber.

Or, maybe, you remember how famous you are on Facebook for writing juicy stories; meaning you can be an awesome freelance writer.

Are you a creative artist who can do wonders with Photoshop? Then you can make loads of cash through online graphic design!

However, just because you possess a perfect skill doesn’t mean that you should immediately start bidding for jobs.

You must understand the required skills and the intricacies of online work, such as online payment methods, how to avoid scams, etc.

In addition, in freelance writing, for instance, there are different forms of text, ranging from blogs to articles, white papers, media releases and so on. Getting the requisite training will help you become a much better freelancer.

Read: Here are some of the bestselling online courses on Udemy – an online learning platform. 

Step 3: Create an Online Presence

This is simply a call for you to create an outstanding online brand.

For you to make it in freelancing, you MUST have a strong brand which will lift you above existing competitors. This is your identity and should creatively communicate your unique selling proposition, that is, what makes you better than the rest.

Put your best works on display.

How do you do this? Simple: once you have chosen a suitable field to freelance in, your social media accounts should also reflect what you do.

If you are a web designer, ensure that you state this in your Facebook Bio, on Instagram, Twitter, and on LinkedIn too.

This is something that I’ve learned from experience after being contacted by two clients via my Facebook account.

It’s a great idea to start your own blog too. Again, I can attest to this as I have been approached by some clients via my HireMe page.

Step 4: Set Up your Home Office

You’re probably a victim of those old, clustered, noisy and unfavorable traditional offices.  It could also be the exact opposite – you probably have a beautiful office, something like what Harvey Specter of the Suits series has.

However, there’s nothing that is as sweet as setting up your own office, in any layout that you like.

While setting up your home office, you’ll need certain tools/equipment. As freelancers, our major tools are a good PC, fast and reliable internet connectivity, and a comfortable ergonomic chair.

However, depending on your industry, you will need additional tools. As a transcriber, I cannot work effectively without headphones.

Other tools freelancers use include Dropbox – a file hosting service, where clients can share files with you. Skype, a software that provides online text and video conversations, Paypal for receiving payments from clients, among others.

Step 5: Getting Clients

Once you have all the above steps in check, it is time to start hunting for clients or to put it simply, it’s time to start looking for work.

There are several ways to get freelance work.

  • Via freelancing sites such as Upwork, Guru, Toptal, Fiverr, 99designs, etc
  • Via online work sites that are ‘take sites’. With take sites, you don’t have to bid for work. You simply log in and pick a file. Such sites include iWriter, for freelance writing work,  or TranscribeMe and Gotranscript for transcription work.
  • Via cold pitching. This is where you come up with a list of clients that you would like to work with, and then introduce yourself and your services to them via email.
  • Via your blog by creating a Hire Me page. You can see mine here.
  • You can also get freelance work via forums such as Redditt and Quora. This is not really a direct way of getting freelance work, but as you comment on other people’s posts and help people with their questions, for example, design related questions,  you can make a name for yourself and get clients in this way.
  • Via job boards such as the ProBlogger job board (for writers)

If you don’t remember anything else that I’ve said, please remember this. No matter how skilled you are, you will not have a sustainable freelance business if you don’t market yourself.

This you must do if you want to comfortably pay your bills and avoid living the pay check to paycheck lifestyle.

The above are the most important pillars on how to start freelancing.

They are, however, not exhaustive.

In addition to these steps, I have identified some controversial issues which freelancers usually run into once they join the club. 

I have outlined them below and offered the most relevant ways to get around them.

 Should Freelancers Work For Free?

Freelancing is a little different from conventional work where you might need an attachment before getting hired. Like I said before, you must have ready-to-consume skills before pitching or bidding for work.

Most clients like it when you show rather than tell.

They like to see a sample of your previous work.  Some of these clients might ask you to work on their project for free just to showcase your skills.  For instance, a writer might be given a topic to write about.

Similarly, a transcriber might be given a small file to transcribe. Some clients will pay for the sample while others won’t.

I believe there’s nothing wrong with showcasing your skills for free, but this depends.

If you are an article writer, and the prospective client is probably a top dog in their industry, for example, a well-known blogger, you can consider writing the article for free.

As a transcriber, I am happy to take a short test for prospective clients who I believe may be a good fit, if the audio or video file is no longer than 3-4 minutes.

I know several writers who have written for The Huffington Post for free. But this is an authoritative site that gives the writer tremendous exposure, and this can lead to awesome opportunities for the said writer.

How Do You Build A Portfolio With No Freelancing Experience?

A portfolio is one of the best ways to get your foot in the door, in terms of convincing a client that you can meet their project needs.

But how do you do it with no experience?

As a writer, you can reach out to a friend who blogs and offer to write a blog post for free. You can also write an article on sites such as Ezine, or Steemit.

Designers can create some samples from their imagination and showcase their skills in that way.

Transcribers can transcribe a short YouTube video and ensure that it is portfolio-worthy.  Not just any  YouTube video though, but one that is creative commons, meaning that you have permission to use that video. 

Make the samples as superb as you can. 

Remember that it’s wise to change your portfolio as you progress in your freelancing career, removing older pieces and replacing them with newer ones.

In a nutshell: a portfolio is a must have. If  you don’t have one, make one.

Your Freelance Rates

This is another area that confuses newbies in the freelancing space.

The fear is usually that one might charge too little or too much.  

Should I charge just enough to get my foot in the door? Or should I charge what I truly believe I’m worth and risk not getting any work as a newbie freelancer?

If you have awesome portfolio pieces and have written a great cover letter/proposal,   then the fear, based on the second question, is unfounded. 

My tips?

  • As a newbie freelancer,  check out your competitor’s rates to get a rough idea of how much you should charge. Consider your skills and your level of experience as you do this, but this will be a good starting point.
  • As you receive great feedback from your clients, up your rates. This can happen within a period of three to six months. What you will deduce from that great feedback is that you are gaining experience and that you are now an asset to your clients.Very few clients are willing to let go of an awesome and reliable freelancer just because they are asking for a reasonable pay hike. The difference between how much newbies and more experienced freelancers charge, is simply the level of confidence.

Find more tips on how and when to up your freelance rates

To Freelance Full-time or Part-Time – That Is The Question

I’m a full-time freelance transcriber. If I’m not with family, friends, or attending to other matters beyond freelancing, you’ll find me on my desk, working.

I know a couple of people who are balancing a full-time job while freelancing as a side gig.

Some of them do not want to quit their day jobs out of fear. They wonder, will I be able to earn enough as a full-time freelancer? Others decide to be full-time freelancers from the word go.

This is a very personal decision and I’ve never pressured anyone to freelance full-time, no matter how skilled I think they are. 

Freelancing is serious business and it’s not for everyone

Not everyone has the self-motivation, discipline, and patience to make it through those first slow weeks/months of freelancing. Not everyone has the business skills because freelancing is a business. Some people want to earn the money but aren’t willing to get out of the comfort zone and market themselves aggressively.

But there are those who have been able to make that transition by freelancing part-time and as their freelance earnings continued to grow, it reached a point where they were able to quit their jobs.

This needs dedication, and again, marketing yourself well, so that by the time you are ready to quit your job, you have a good number of clients.

That doesn’t mean that you need 20 clients to freelance successfully. You can have three to five clients who regularly send you work even as you continue to gain others on a consistent basis.

Final Word

Do you need a mentor?

It is not a must to have a mentor, but having one does make freelancing more bearable. You can navigate this industry better if have someone holding your hand.

On that note, this blog has articles that can help you with some key issues in this freelancing business. I think you just found yourself a mentor!

Setting Goals For Your Freelance Business

If you want to start a successful freelancing business, you’ll need to set goals.

One of the reasons why freelancers quit so early on is because of cash flow problems. They are unable to meet their day-to-day needs, and usually, it’s because they had not set any financial goals.

Ask yourself, how much do I need to earn to live well? How will I get there?

For example, how many articles will I need to write? How will I price my services? Be as specific as you earn.

Remember SMART goals. Set goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and that are Time Bound.

Some of those goals may  be:

  1. To earn $1000 every month from your freelance business.
  2. To have 12 direct clients by the end of the year.
  3. To set up a blog that will earn you a passive income of $500 by end of  (Month)

This is the best time to freelance. Freelancers are in demand and freelance sites seem to be popping up, one after the other. 

There is a start-up revolution going on and all these startups are looking to hire video editors, virtual assistants, copywriters etc. Why can’t that be you? 🙂

Freelancing isn’t easy-peasy and at the end of the day, the success of your freelancing career lies in your hands.

Two things that have kept me going are: my ‘WHY’ and my attitude. I’m a glass-half-full kind of person. There always seem to be a silver lining in every gray cloud.

I have seen one too many people attempting to freelance, only to quit, a few months down the road. They earn a few dollars and quit, stating that’s it’s too hard.

Attitude goes a long way.

To survive and succeed in freelancing, you must be resilient and determined.

Over to you: Are you a freelancer? How has that journey been?

About the author

Virginia Nakitari is a work from home mom passionate about making money online. She's here to show you legitimate companies offering full-time, part-time and remote jobs from home! Stay tuned!

  • Hello Sheeroh,

    My name is Shiku and I’m not a freelancer. I am looking to freelance though, as I have found myself jobless. thank you for the well written article. It is exactly what I needed. I am interested in transcription and have sent you an email about your training.

  • Hey, Sheeroh

    Well said.

    When you say your WHY and attitude keeps you going, you nail it. I’ve realized that of late and hearing it from you adds another anchor to my support system. Thanks for the good work and keep it up.

  • I like many of the points you made. I tried doing internet marketing and I loved it but I wasnt making any money and I became discouraged. I also work full time and didnt want to quit my job. You have to really market to make it in the online world. Im hoping to brush up on my skills and try freelancing.

    • Spot on Desiree. Marketing and promotion is key for freelancers and especially in internet marketing. I want to encourage you to retrace your steps, and try to figure out what it is that you didn’t do as an internet marketer. Find successful internet marketers and see what it is that they do and try to copy (not everything, just what works for you) and I hope to hear a good report soon. 🙂

  • Hi Sheeroh, I have been following your blog quietly for some time, it has been great. I have learnt a lot from you. Thank you

  • hey Sheeroh, i love the informative article.. would you mind training me how to blog? I tried creating a blog on blogspot.com but i gave up after sometime. I want to be a fulltime freelancer.
    Thanks

  • Hi hello sheeroh
    Thanks much for this enlightening article. You have really inspired and thus helped many newbies and intermediate writers. Personally, I cannot forget your article on “how to bid successfully on upwork” as it was a real game changer in my freelancing life. The aricle came at the right time when I was about to give up, but I read the article and went back to business, within a week I got a really nice client. From there things have been great, as in am getting more clients and thus the flow of jobs is nice. We can’t really thank you enough, keep up and God bless.

  • Thank you Sheeroh. I have tried several times and how I wish I had met you before. Sincerely I can call you my mentor. I won’t give up. I will follow this like medical prescriptions. Thank you my mentor.

  • Hey
    Thanks for many points that you have given out. I really liked it. I request that you help me en be my trainer and a mentor in this.This article of yours is really great. i will inbox you my mail so as we u can help me more on this.

  • Hello sherooh,
    I want to start this transcription job.I have found your article very informative and I want to enroll for the training.

  • Hi madam, I am an up coming freelancer recently I tried to sign up at Upwork but they said they no longer require people with my skills since their market is flooded. What skills should I include to make my cv more professional?

  • Hi Sheeroh, I have been going through your blog after I read about you in the Nation Article. I am really encouraged and I now feel that it is the right time to start. I have always been interested in transciption but I need some training. Your blog has answered many of the questions I had but I would appreciate some training too. Kindly guide me to a trainer. Thanks so much for blessing us and agreeing to the used to guide and impact others.

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