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How to start freelancing in 7 steps

Thinking about freelancing? It’s knowing how to get started that matters.

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Freelancing can be a great side hustle, part-time gig or full-time job. You can usually charge more per hour than employers pay for the same work, and enjoy a much better work-life balance. The problem is knowing where to start. To make those early days easier to navigate, we've put together a freelancer's guide, laying out all the main steps, so you know you're on the right track.

1. Set your goals

Why are you considering freelancing? Is it to make some extra income on the side? Do you want it to become a full-time gig? Or is it simply a stepping stone to another goal? Before you get started, it's important to know the answer. Knowing which direction you're going to take is really important before you make the plunge into freelancing.

Before you go quitting your day job, you'll need to get your freelance income up to a healthy amount. This probably means you won't have much free time on your hands for a while, so you'll need to be really good at time management. Doing this means you can walk away from your full-time salary without worrying about paying bills. It can be a slow process, so you'll need to have patience.

2. Find your niche

This is probably the best advice I can give to someone starting out freelancing – find your niche and become an expert in it. The more you know about a specific industry, the more unique your skillset, making it much easier to attract work.

Unless you're really determined to work in a specific sector, you're probably best to look beyond popular areas for freelancing like travel and entertainment. The finance, business and insurance industries value freelancers with experience and are often far more lucrative.

Once you get your foot in the door, it becomes much easier to attract similar clients through referrals and good reputation.

3. Look for work

Strategy is one thing, but looking for freelance work can be tough, especially when you're just getting started. My advice is to be patient but persistent. Set aside an hour or so each day to reach out to clients looking for freelancers. LinkedIn is usually pretty good, as is Facebook, and sites like Indeed and Jora sometimes have freelance roles as well. You can also reach out to businesses directly. Let them know why you'd be a good fit and send some examples of past work that you think apply to their business. Don't just stick to client-side – marketing agencies are worth getting in with as well. They often use freelancers and work can be a little more varied.

For Australians, I wouldn't personally recommend using sites like Fiver or Upwork because the pay is usually well below what you need to get by here. If you're struggling to find work, it might be a good starting point, purely to build up a portfolio, but many are not looking for quality, which is what you'll need to build a good reputation.

4. Set a rate

Don't sell yourself short. Set your price based on the value you can bring, not on what others are charging. And never settle on a really low figure. Your time is more valuable than a little money.

With freelance writing, some clients prefer to pay by word. This might be a little off-putting at first but it can actually be a really good way to make even more money if you're a fast writer. The problem is, it can often compromise quality a little. In general, I'd recommend charging a set hourly rate regardless of what work you do. Once the client recognises that you're a fast, reliable freelancer, they'll be more than happy to return to you for future work. At a certain point, money becomes a secondary concern; quality and trust are more important to the majority of businesses.

5. Create a portfolio website

If you want to build a successful freelance business, you'll need a strong online presence. A portfolio website makes it easy for potential clients to find you and see exactly what services you can provide. Contently, Squarespace and Clippings.me. are good places to create a website and require minimum effort.

6. Show what you can do

Your portfolio website is a great place to showcase your previous work. It might seem a little time-consuming, especially if you have plenty of work, but updating it regularly with new content is a really easy way for clients to see the kind of work and results you're delivering elsewhere. If you don't have much work yet, create content for your website that's tailored towards the kind of client and industry you would like to do work for. In the long run, it won't be a waste of time either. That content will be a great resource for ideas and inspiration when you actually start getting paid work.

7. Choose clients wisely

Work with clients that you're more likely to have a long-term relationship with. This is really important at the beginning. It helps you establish a network of contacts and shows other potential clients that the work you produce is of high quality.

For those who have a very limited amount of time to find new clients, it's crucial you only do work with the ones that you'll get the most out of. If the content isn't going to enhance your portfolio, it's not worth doing.

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