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How to Get Started with Freelancing

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Getting started with freelancing is a big and important decision. It requires you to make sacrifices and it is road full of obstacles. Through this article I want to give you some tips I wish I knew when I was starting my freelance career. I will not lie you. I made tons of mistakes and most of them was unnecessary. Make the whole transition to freelancing easier for you and set yourself for success by learning from my example. I hope these tips will help you crush it.

Choose Your Expertise

Chances are you already know what area of expertise you want to work at. If this is true, you are free to skip this step, or maybe reconsider your decision in case you are not sure about it. For those of you who have to decide what skill will they base their freelance adventure on, here are couple of tips. First, if you have no idea what skill to pick, have time and also willingness to learn, I suggest that you to do a market research. Take a look at job posting sites for freelancers, crawl some statistics and find what skills are the most viable and also interesting for you.

Even though you are not afraid to choose the expertise only on its viability, you still should have at least some interest for it. Having said that, I don’t mean you should follow your passion. I don’t believe that crap. The reality is that when you do something long enough and you are not really miserable at it, after time, you will develop passion. Simply said, passion follows hard work, not the other way. Despite this, you will have higher chance to succeed and master the expertise if you will like it. You have to keep in mind that freelancing is tough road full of obstacles and the last thing you want is to stress yourself more by doing something you hate.

Second, let’s suppose you have some skill you can use to get started as a freelancer. In that case there is not so much to talk about. Just make sure there is sufficient demand for your skill. It is very hard, if not impossible, to make money selling skill nobody wants to pay for. If your expertise is not sustainable, you have two options. First, forget about freelancing and get a regular job. Personally, I would never go with this one. Second, accept the reality and look for complementary skill(s) to learn. In other words, expand your skill set to reach other market segments.

Grab all the advantages available for you and let the mentors on Codementor help you grow your skills and reach your goals. There are dozens of courses from front-end to back-end, design and many more. Don’t wait till someone will pick you. Pick yourself and get to action.

Build Your Portfolio

The first thing I would tell myself when I was starting as freelancer is to build my portfolio first. It may sound as a logical step, but there are many people who are doing this mistake again and again, asking themselves why they are not getting any clients. It doesn’t matter what kind of expertise you want to sell, you should never launch a freelancing career without portfolio of your work. Portfolio is one of the best ways to show you have experience creating the products or providing the services you plan to sell. Without it, all you have are only your words. Wait to launch until you have multiple quality samples of the work you can show.

Here’s a list of 12 Things Web Developers must include in their Portfolio

If you can’t compile a portfolio of samples that represent your work, then you should push the breaks. A portfolio will be instrumental in marketing your products and services as well as yourself. Presenting low quality work or nothing at all will put you in danger and set you for failure right in the beginning.

Generating samples for your portfolio isn’t as hard as you might think, but it will take some time and resources. In case you have no paid assignments or previous work to put in a portfolio, you will have to create some. Here, you have two options. First, offer your services for free, work as a volunteer and then put the result on your portfolio. Second, you can create a side project for yourself in your free time. Neither of these approaches is appealing, but sometimes we have to make some sacrifices in order to get what we want.

The brighter side of doing side project and unpaid work is that you will have a chance to practice exactly those skills you will sell later. What’s more, by dedication some of your time to practice you will gradually get better. The better you will be the more you will be able to charge for your services or products and your work will also attract more viable clients. Yes, it will be painful, but in the end, it will pay off.

Before moving to next tip, I have to make a personal confession. When I started as a freelancer, my approach was to set the lowest price and work like crazy. And, of course skip the portfolio part of the business. I think I don’t have to tell you how hard it was to convince clients about my skills without portfolio to show. It cost me hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars. Please, don’t do the same mistake. Your portfolio is like your online business card.

Build Your Brand

When you put yourself on the market, regardless of your skill set, 99% of what you will do will be the same as the competition. The bigger your competition will be the harder it will be for you to stabilize your freelance career. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you can change this by focusing on building your brand right from the start. Do you remember those 99%? Your brand is the remaining 1%. This is everything that’s unique to you. It is the way you speak, write, live, clothes you wear, music you listen, movies or shows you like to watch. That’s your personal brand.

Your personal brand is something nobody can imitate without looking as a fake. The reason is that when you are doing something unnatural you are feel discomfort. It is this discomfort that will be projected by your body whether you like it or not. This also means that you should not try to make yourself looking or acting in different way than is natural to you. In most cases, people will spot it and will never trust you and work with you.

Instead, you should embrace that last 1% and use it as a tool to stand out and differentiate yourself from your competition. Who knows, maybe you will even become known for your unique quirks. Unfortunately, that 1% is the most difficult and most scary part to work on. The thing is that because it’s you, the real and honest version of your personality, it makes you vulnerable. Since being vulnerable is uncomfortable you might feel urge to avoid it. However, this is how you stand out in a crowded world and set yourself for success.

Building a unique personal brand is the most rewarding and the most important part of our freelance career. But in order to do this right, you’ve got to do a bit of introspection. In other words, to build your brand you have to know who you are and what you stand for. You have to know your values. Otherwise, your brand will not be stable and sustainable. It will be just a cover. When you will define your brand don’t think about it as a tactic to make the sale. Think about brand as a guiding set of principles defining what you make and how you present it.

Few last words about branding … Take a look at boards for freelancers and count how many people are here competing for projects. It is insane. Trust me here. I was looking for work for about year and half only through these job boards. It was often leading me to exhaustion. Unfortunately, I still had to make to job done and deliver it to my clients. This was one of the worst stages of my life. All because I take no time to manage my online presence and create a personal brand to distinguish myself. I was just another drop in the ocean. Invest time into building your brand and avoid this.

Set Your Pricing

If you were following the steps – choosing your expertise, building your portfolio and your brand – you might already have some idea about what price should you charge for your services. If you do, that’s great and I applaud you. It took me long time before I was able to determine the right price. About five years ago, when I started as a freelancer, I was underpricing my services in a big way. Sometimes, I was willing to work for a week for just a few bucks, literally. It was very demotivating and almost discouraged me from working as a freelancer.

Fortunately, I had nothing to lose and, after reading couple articles, started to experiment with different price levels and also types of pricing. Common pricing model for many freelancers is to work for hour rate. This is where I started as well. If you can, don’t do that. Otherwise, you are committing professional suicide. It is not scalable. It doesn’t matter how many hours per day are you willing to put in it, sooner or later you will hit the limit. There is only certain number of hours in a day and you have only certain amount of energy. Don’t try to burn yourself out.

What you should do instead is to either use project-based pricing or value-based pricing. The idea of value-based pricing is built on the notion that you should get paid for the value you create and not specifically for the time you spend on the project. In other words, the bigger value you bring to your client, the more you should charge him, no matter how many hours you spent on it. The advantages of this approach should be obvious. Using this model, you will earn more money without the need to put in more hours. Downside is that it might not be viable for smaller projects because you will have a hard time coming up with fair price.

Another option is project-based pricing. In this case, you are using a mix of hour rate-based billing and value-based pricing. Instead of billing by the hour, you create a project and sum it on its whole. This pricing model will allow you to charge for your expertise rather than just number of hours spent on project. You can also bill your client for the overall value of the service you are providing him. This is something you cannot do in the same way in an hourly rate fee. Downside of project-based pricing is that projects may change in scope, or may be hard to predict. Fortunately, over time, as you gain more experience, your estimates will get much better.

Believe in Yourself

The last thing I would tell myself five years ago is to believe in myself. Back then, self-confidence was nothing I had in abundance. No, that would be lie. I was feared every mail from my clients. I was afraid that I made some mistake in code or they didn’t like the design. I often felt overwhelmed and anxious. I was afraid that I can’t deliver the results I promised. In short, I didn’t believe neither in myself nor my skills. This is can be slow and to your freelance career.

When you decide to become a freelancer, believing in yourself is one of the fundamental blocks you need to have. If you doubt your ability to find success, you won’t find it. Any time you will face moments of panic, question your abilities and doubt whether you have what it takes to really work for yourself, don’t let it stop you. Instead of letting those thoughts get the best of you, shift your focus and attitude. Find other successful freelancers and let yourself be inspired. Say yourself that it is possible to achieve your goals. Remember that if they could do it you can too.

The reality is that everyone has to start somewhere. We all have our doubts and fears, sometimes preventing as from sleep at night. Accept your doubts and then overcome them. It takes practice, but it can be done. In the end, there’s no way you can sell something to clients that you haven’t first sold to yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, why should your clients? Make sure you’re completely mentally prepared for your full-time freelance career before quitting your day job.

Final Words

Thank you for reading this article. I hope these tips will help you avoid many mistakes I and many other freelancers did. Making the decision to start your freelance career can be one of the best things in your life. Don’t put yourself on in weaker starting position by going through failures you don’t have to. We often want to learn from successes of people around us, forgetting that we should also learn from their failures. Don’t skip one in the favor of the second. You can reach our experts here on Codementor and learn as much as you want. So, what are you waiting for?

Author Bio:

Alex Devero is a multidisciplinary designer & developer living Prague, Czech Republic. Alex works with Adobe Photoshop & Illustrator, Balsamiq Mockup, HTML5, CSS3, Sass, JavaScript, jQuery, PHP, Bootstrap, Foundation, and WordPress with a bit of Ruby on top. Alex also blogs about design and business here.

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