I get this question many times: “I want to work remotely, how do I start?” It is my 2cents and complete guide on how to launch a successful freelancing career and even land $5K within weeks.
At Anywhere Consulting, we help entrepreneurs to launch their business remotely - but most of the entrepreneurs start as a freelancer. Even me started as a freelancer, and till this day, sometimes I do freelancing gigs. I wrote this guide many times for my friends, peers and those who asked me, so I figured, why not combine this into a blog post now.
I also added a possible number: $5K/month. Though I don't know the average monthly income for remote freelancers, I find this number very descriptive. It is a convenient number: you can live well on this monthly income anywhere in the world. You need to make certain adjustments to your lifestyle if you are living in NYC from this number, but most remote freelancers are living abroad or remotely somewhere with a lower cost of living. I also secluded low-paid freelancing gigs as it is almost impossible to build up a steady income of $5K on a 5$ hourly rate. Also, adding this number answers the most basic need on why many of us start a freelancing career while still retaining a day-job: we want to earn more.
Step 1 - Get to know yourself
Be honest with yourself. There are many things you need to decide before you jump on the remote freelancing journey. Maybe it turns out - it is not for you. Most of the freelancing careers fail because they don't have the necessary capabilities or qualities at work. It is easy to land a small gig online but to find a genuinely successful freelancer is ever-challenging.
What do you know NOW? What are your skills, what are you comfortable with? From your capabilities, what are those that can be sold online?
How much time you have NOW? Most of the remote freelancers start out in freelancing as a side-hustle, a part-time work while they still have a regular in-office full-time commitment somewhere. If they succeed in freelancing, they tend to transition to full-time freelancing, but for a start, that is not the case. If your job requires 6-8 hours of work per day, you probably have a few hours to work on your freelancing. Be pessimistic about your prognosis.
Can you work online? Remote freelancers are self-starters and highly independent workers. It sounds easy, but most of us love to work in a typical work environment. Colleagues, real-life connections, office life, all treats of a typical working style. Remote working has none of these. Will you be able to perform in an environment like this?
What are your long-term goals? What do you want to do next year, work-wise? How much time do you want to commit to freelancing? How much money do you want to earn? These goals ultimately define how you should start out freelancing.
Step 2 - Find your niche
It sounds startup-bullshit most of the time, but it is not. However, don't overthink this niche concept. A friend of mine, he started as a virtual assistant as a freelancer. You would think, yeah a VA, and nothing can be more accessible, lots of competition around and crazy low hourly rates. It is true, but he is German. With German as a mother-tongue, he approached German companies with his VA skills. For obvious reasons, he didn't have to deal with the VA competition from the Philippines or India or Eastern Europe, because there, everyone speaks only English. He could charge higher hourly rates, and after a year, he had around ten people, who worked for him. It was a business, not a freelancing career. Since then, he tours around the world and managing his VA-business for German-, and since then, French clients.
Because the number of fresh freelancers online, you have to find a niche for yourself. If you are a developer, specialize in a language or platform only. If you are a marketer, offer services for only one solution. If you speak another dominant language, apart from English, you are already rocking it. The more valuable your niche is - the higher your hourly rate, and the faster you grow.
Step 3 - Decide whom you want to work with
I'm in this business for years now, and if I need to narrow down the situation, ultimately there are two types of freelancers: the gig-focused and the project-focused. Those who want to score some new gigs, tend to flow to the low-hourly rates, multiple gigs at the same time path. You usually move to UpWork, Fiver and other sites to find your gigs. Those who want to get a job or a long-term project, they typically roll out one, maybe two projects at the same time.
Everything comes down to your personal goals, but if I have to pick, I will go for something long-term. I would do a try-out on the gig-based freelancing, see how it goes. It is perfect to try yourself out and get to know how to work remotely. However, I would switch to long-term projects as soon as I can and only apply for remote jobs, not gigs. Landing a remote position with a $2-3K compensation can be harder maybe, but building up a gig-based freelancing career and earn the same cash is even harder and takes even longer.
You must also make sure to transition away from hourly rates to fixed priced contracts. It gives you a steady income, plus it makes it easier to transition away from a freelancer and build a business if you want. If you picked your niche carefully, this shouldn't take up a long time.
Step 4 - Be committed and don't be picky
The hardest challenge is to get your first 1-3 clients onboard. Period. So be committed and apply for anything. The key is to build up credibility and a significant portfolio of your services. You can, and you will be super-picky after a few weeks of course, but as a starter, most of the time you don't have this luxury. Many of my friends started out freelancing before - some of them gave up after they applied for a few gigs and did not get an answer. I always tell them: a daily ten applications is a minimum and continue this process every day, even if no one will answer you. One day, someone will.
By not being picky, I don't advise to get on with any client. Pick your first clients that can help your long-term goals. Even if they pay less, will they help you to build up a vast portfolio? Do you need to take an internship in the preferred industry maybe? Do you want to work with a company that has no verified payment?
Step 5 - Build a portfolio site
It is a must, and you should do it ideally before you even start freelancing. It is excellent for three different things. One, it helps you to summarize what you are good at and how you can help. Second, it allows others to find you and relate to you online, and it makes everything transparent. Third, when you apply, you can send your portfolio site right away, even with personalized pages if needed, which makes a better impact, than just writing a cover letter or attaching a PDF CV (which, I don't know why, but it is still widely used...).
Step 6 - Perfect your pitch
Many freelancers fail at this point. The perfect pitch for a gig or a job, an excellent cover letter, an exemplary application - it is almost an art form itself. The bottom line is this:
You need to do this, every time, multiple times a day. It is OK to have some template copy which you tailor to the exact needs. It saves time. However, don't send the same pitch to different applications, ever.
First, talk about how you will help them. What value you can bring to the table. Everything else is secondary, and you need to grab the attention in the first seconds.
Second, focus on your strengths - mention case studies, references that are relevant to the project. The more you have, the better.
Third, suggest next steps and show some passion. Please make sure they know you are ready to jump on anytime.
If there were questions or special needs in the job description, make sure you answer and relate to them. Don't miss anything.
Step 7 - Be active online
If you are working online, you have to be active online. Get a Twitter handle, start a blog and polish up your LinkedIn profile. Not every employee will check your background, but some of them will. Please make sure that they can find you and your content is fresh and spot-on. It gives a massive bonus during an application process.
You don't need to be super active, just a couple of content pieces that shows that you are interested in your profession and your work. It also helps you to learn more about your skills and develop them even further. Also, remote working is a clear concept - the more searchable and findable you are, the more likely you get hired. For the long-term as a freelancer, you also have to build your brand. What else can be more useful to build your brand, than the content of your own?
Step 8 - Learn & inform
Being a freelancer is constant learning and improvement. If you have a day job at a company, you probably have training programs and employee development programs. As a freelancer, you have to do this on your own. Thankfully, the internet is full of free content which helps you learn more skills and enrich your current capabilities. Online courses are vast, and you can read pretty much anything. You also need to be more efficient and be a better performer in remote working. Learn not just the core skills but also master the remote working skills.
Learning can also help you to find your niche if you don't have one yet. A friend of mine wanted to work as a marketer in the blockchain industry. He knew blockchain is super important and will be even more important in the future. However, the problem was, most of the marketers haven't worked at a blockchain company - because there weren't any blockchain companies before. Also, most of the people don't get what blockchain is - it's true. So, he spent a couple of months only to learn everything he could about blockchain. He also started pushing out content to Medium and other platforms on this topic. Eventually, he landed a high-paying marketing job at a blockchain company. He couldn't have to do this without learning everything about the industry first.
You have to know yourself, your skills, your capabilities and your approach to remote working first. You also have to be able to define your long-term goals and pick a niche to grow faster.
Build up your profiles, portfolio and learn everything you can before actually diving into freelancing. Investing in yourself is the best investment you can ever make - don't skip it. It will help you to boost the growth of your career. If you have a day job, learning more about your skills will help you to succeed even in your day-job - not just in your freelancing career.
Be committed if you are ready to start. You will fail and feel neglected first, but don't let this ruin your commitment. Landing your first 1-3 clients is the hardest. The good news is: growing your freelancing career to a $5K monthly revenue can be done within weeks if you are prepared and determined enough.
After the first weeks and the first projects or gigs, try to transition away from hourly rates to fixed prices. Also, make sure you can increase your base prices from the start. Don't start cheap - learn about your market and examine other freelancers.
Be active online and build a transparent personal brand - it will help you in the long-run.
There are a couple of common mistakes that most of us make when starting their freelance career. Here are the most important ones:
Undervaluing your services. When you are starting out, it is easy to fall into the trap: if I charge less for my services than most of the others in my field, I would get new clients quickly. It might happen yes, but in the long-run, you will need more time to increase the price of your contribution to the average level. Plus, you most like still have a day-job so what would you lose if you don't get your first client on day one, because of your ultra-cheap prices? Don't undervalue yourself, ever.
Not spending time growing the personal brand. You've got your first clients, great, but you still don't have a transparent profile on social channels? Developing a personal brand is a must, and you should allocate some time to do it, even if you have clients already. Your public portfolio will help you to land clients, even if you are not actively looking for a job.
Skipping the prep work. Learning everything you need to know about remote working is a must. Defining your goals, short- and long-term is a must. Don't skip on these, and you have to think like an entrepreneur, where the business plan is yourself. Most of the freelancers apply for gigs and do the work, without any goals in their mind. Trust me, and they won't grow above a certain level. Don't be like them.
Faking your skills and portfolio. Yep, that is a thing. Just don't do it. You are working online, and everything can be traced back, plus, if you are working through a freelancing site, clients can publicly review your work. What's better, having some clients and 'milk them out' while risking to get a bad rep or building up a trustable, valuable profile which supports your lifestyle in the long-term? Don't lie and fake your skills, ever.
Mixing your day-job with your freelancing career. It happens often, but you should avoid doing that. You need to keep in mind, that the luxury of security comes from your day-job, so you don't want to risk it. Make sure you can separate the time you put in your day job and your freelancing path. These go without saying: don't work during day-job hours, don't use company assets to boost your freelance career, don't violate contracts on your day-job and never risk getting fired because of your side-hustle.
What is the end-game here?
It is different for everyone of course. I would say, every freelancing careers have a cap on their income. On average, it is around $10K per month, which can be different depending on what do you work. Even for me, years ago I've found myself in the situation when I couldn't grow my monthly income revenue above $13K. It was the max, no matter what type of work I did as a marketer. It is because as a freelancer, you are selling your hours, your own time. Which is limited.
There will be a necessary milestone, where you need to make a call: stay in freelancing or start to build up a business. If you wait, you will have a steady income of the capped revenue, or you can learn something else, which is even more profitable. If you want to start a business though, you will need to make sure, and your time can be outsourced to a team. The transition from a freelancer to an entrepreneur is hard and requires careful planning. However, it is worth it, trust me.