5 Steps to Get Started as a Freelancer
So You Think You Can Freelance?
You probably can - and even succeed at it.
But consulting isn’t for everyone. In the beginning, things may feel very unstable. You’re using mental and emotional muscles that you might not have been aware of before. No boss is going to tell you what to do, so you set your own hours and decide on how you’ll talk to clients. Are you an emoji 😂fiend or an eloquent 19th century aristocrat?
Even the way you make money will feel strange. You will probably make a lot more money per hour, but a ton of it will go to taxes, healthcare, and paying for all of the unpaid accounting and prospecting work you need to do.
I’ve been freelancing part-time for years before I moved full-time, and I’m still trying to grok* it.
Still, freelancing isn’t rocket science. It can be learned like any other skill. And if working for yourself and having more freedom is something you desire, it’s worth it.
On my end, I promise to be quite candid about my struggles and successes to help you understand the realities of full-time, remote freelancing.
How to Get Started Consulting
There are five main steps to take when you decide to start freelancing. It makes the most sense to try these out while you have a full-time job. Bringing on one or two clients is a great stress-test to see if this is something you’re interested in.
Determine your “why”
Create a professional online presence
See what you’re worth
Find your tribe
Get your first client
1. Determine your “why”
Before you do anything, it’s imperative that you figure out why you want to freelance. Do you want more money? Are 9am - 6pm hours too restrictive for your lifestyle or family? Do you hate your job and worry that any new job will be the same old, same old?
For me, I needed to make enough money to afford my (super) expensive healthcare costs. My chronic illness makes it difficult to perform during normal work hours, so I had to find a way to apply my skills.
This meant that I couldn’t take a ton of cheap gigs and work all the time. Knowing this was a constraint was an important boost - when you’re just starting out, the amount of options can be utterly overwhelming.
Finally, write your “why” down and come up with a few bullet points that will get you there. Pay attention to the amount you’ll need to make to survive if you want to go full-time.
Re-visit and edit this list forever.
2. Create a Professional Online Presence
One of the first things I did was find an awesome web designer to create my site. This wasn’t my first foray into freelancing. I wanted to make sure it worked out this time, so I sunk some of my non-existent savings into it.
But, really, all you need to start is a single page site or a well-optimized LinkedIn profile. When potential clients do research on you, you want them to find a curated page that you manage. Call yourself a consultant - because you are now - and write a few sentences about your experience.
“But what if I have no experience?” you ask. I say get creative.
Looking to be a blog writer? Talk about your experience editing your company’s sales materials. Breaking into graphic design? Discuss your college coursework.
Don’t lie - it’s the digital age, and everything is indexed somewhere. Instead, think outside of the box. Your experience managing the PTA or working as a receptionist is project management experience - for what else is project management but making sure everything gets done on time and on budget?
3. See What You’re Worth
Research your industry and see what other consultants are making. This is a crucial step to make sure you’re getting paid what you’re worth. Check out freelancer marketplaces like UpWork, ask your friends who consult .
You will likely start working 2 - 3 hours of unpaid work for every hour of paid. WHAT?! Yes. You'll need to track your income and expenses. You’ll need to craft, edit and present proposals for potential clients. Depending on your niche, you might need to go to networking events.
My current rule of thumb is that I land 1 out of every 10 jobs that I submit an outbound proposal for. Meaning, when I see available projects and apply, I land 10% of them.
Eventually, you’ll get to a point where you can quantify your unpaid work. For the time being, if you need to make $25/hour for consulting to be worth it, charge clients $75 per hour. You need to do a lot of prep work and accounting that can’t be tagged to a specific client.
(Yes, this seems like a lot to start. I’ll discuss how to get there in another post.)
It’s good to start out pricing yourself by the hour. After 6 months, you can move on to project-based or value-based pricing, but at the moment you really want to know how many hours it takes you to do everything.
One of my first shocks was finding out that my old rules for time management no longer worked. I’m much, much more efficient when I’m not in an open office. I had to rejigger my benchmarks on writing social media posts, setting up ads, and other steps.
Then, go back to your “why.” Will your pricing work with your budget and the amount of time you’re willing to spend working each week?
4. Find Your Tribe
I am an unabashed loner. My dog and I are perfectly happy with just each other. But even I need to set-up play dates with my friends to stave off loneliness. Beyond finding a social circle that supports your emotional health, you need one that supports your consulting.
Facebook, Twitter, Slack, or even Discord have groups for freelancers to chat tactics, client woes, pricing, successes, and other day-to-day matters. You may have the best friends in the world, but unless they’re freelancers, they won’t understand your struggles. That’s okay!
If you can, find a mentor that help you get off the ground quickly. I recently bought into an advanced email marketing course that offers coaching, classes and Q & A’s with successful consultants in my field. It was perhaps $1,000 split into 3 monthly payments for lifetime access. And, I have to say, I paid off the course in one month just from the advice of other consultants.
5. Get Your First Client
This may seem like the hardest step. How do you find the right company with the right budget? How do you overcome self-doubt?
Constantly selling myself was a huge turn-off when I started. I’m not a salesperson, I thought. I hate the used-car salesman approach. Believe it or not, you will get over this hurdle. It’s not nearly as scary as you think. You’ll develop your own selling style.
For me, it’s a consultation process where potential clients and I chat to see if we’re a culture fit, and if they have a problem that I can (and want to) solve. From there, pricing feels like it’s done by another person. I have set rates for different things, and I stick with them in negotiations.
After a few months, delivering results became the hardest part for me - and that’s what I want. I like the challenge of creating exceptional campaigns that bring in leads and increase sales. That’s the reason I specialize in B2B SaaS and FinTech. Consumer can feel too easy sometimes.
I have a decade of experience in my field. Delivering awesome results is what I’ve trained for - not selling myself. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how effective you’ll be when you dismiss “selling” and realize it’s a partnership between you and a client.
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t teach him to fish. Or something.
The final kick in the pants to get started has to come from you. It’s a risk like any other, but once you’ve done your research you’ll be able to quantify the potential losses. I can guarantee you’ll be surprised by the wins you accumulate.
Want to chat about my experiences? Need to bounce a few ideas of me? Hit me up on Twitter @TomBasgil.
*understand and fully appreciate (i.e., I’m a nerd.)