Today Margaret Latham shares advice based on how she got started in the freelance graphic design world.
Going into business for yourself can be tough at first. You might have trouble getting clients and making sales. Working as a freelancer gives you lots of freedom, but it isn’t always easy to stay busy.
Once you get started, it can get much easier, but taking those first steps is the trickiest part. I want to give you some guidelines for starting out and hopefully help you take your first steps as a freelancer.
Know Your Niche
If you are going to be a freelancer, then you need to be doing something that you love. You will be setting your own schedule, and if you don’t like the work, then you are unlikely to put in the hours. You need to pick a freelance job that you get some joy out of. Many people take their favorite hobbies and turn those into regular jobs through freelance work. Doodlers become artists and fanfiction writers become copywriters.
Once you have settled on a niche you want to get into, you need to get good at it. You may not be an expert at that particular skill in a way that will make you steady money yet. So, read up on how people are monetizing that skill and turning it into a job. Read their blogs and find out how they work from day to day.
For instance, if you are going to be a freelance writer, you need to know how people write for websites and search engines. That’s far different from writing novels and screenplays. You need to learn the ins and outs of your niche.
Find a Job
Now, here is the hard part. Finding someone who will hire you is probably going to take a lot of work in the beginning. You will often be rejected and run into people who are not going to treat you fairly or who demand outrageous things of you. You have to know when to turn down job offers and when to accept, and you will likely only learn that through some trial and error. You have to watch out for scammers too, and you are going to have some bad experiences, but that’s part of the learning process. I’ve had luck using freelancing sites like Freelancer.com, UpWork.com and Fiverr.com. These are great starting points to find your clients. Put out as many feelers as you can, apply for all the jobs you can handle and be prepared to not get a lot of the work you apply for. These are very competitive marketplaces, but they are also the best place to find legitimate clients. There will be lots of people looking for freelancers on these sites and lots of freelancers trying to find work there, so they are very busy marketplaces.
It also helps to make some friends on both sides of the work pool. Maybe a potential client doesn’t need you for one job, but they may want to keep you in mind for the next one. Connect with them through professional and friendly application letters that make you stand out. You can also connect to other freelancers in the same niche as you. If you make friends with some of them, then they may send you some extra work every now and then. That can lead to a lucrative and successful partnership with clients that the other freelancer has acquired.
Make Yourself Competitive
You have to make yourself stand out in some way when you are competing with other freelancers for the same job. One of the best ways to do that is to make yours a bit lower. Don’t make them so low that you are working for peanuts, as that can make you seem unqualified. Instead, look at what people are offering on average for the work you are applying for and cut your price just slightly. You might not like working at such low rates, but you need to keep in mind that you are simply trying to enter the marketplace.
Once you get your foot in the door, then you can start asking for higher rates. Getting started means making sacrifices at first and working for wages you might not feel are worth your time, but once you build up a reputation and a client base, you can quickly grow from there. Your clients will recommend you to their colleagues, and before you know it, you will have a whole network of clients to work with. This is how we ended up with one of our first clients, a cleaning service called Diamond Cleaning Calgary. They could not afford the more expensive graphic design companies, so they went with us. They were so pleased with the work we had done, that when it came time to increase our rates, they were happy to pay. They knew they needed us to keep working with them if they were to continue seeing the same level of success.
Of course, you will only be able to leverage for higher rates if you do excellent work. Even though you may be working for low rates at first, you need to put your best efforts in. This will pay off later when you go to increase your rates. Your clients will be willing to pay those higher rates because they love the work you do.
Another way to make yourself competitive is to advertise. You can get your application boosted on some of those websites we mentioned earlier to make it more visible. This is really only necessary for very competitive job offers, but you can take the same concept and apply it to your business as a whole. You make yourself look more professional by having your own smartly designed website and by doing some marketing on platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Get your name out there, and the little bit of money it costs to do so can be richly repaid.
Thanks again to Margaret Latham for sharing these actionable methods to start freelancing.