Freelance

How to Start Freelancing: The Ultimate Guide To Becoming A Freelancer In 2021

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Boost Team
How to Start Freelancing: The Ultimate Guide To Becoming A Freelancer In 2021

COVID-19 left us all shook. Adios college classes. Job security went out the window, and social distancing is here to stay. Ughhh. 

But look on the bright side, more go-getters are turning online to see how they can start a lucrative side hustle or main gig. To all of you we say: Welcome to the world of freelancing 🤩

In this guide, we break down everything you need to know about how to get set up, market yourself, and do the work to become a poppin’ freelancer in 2021. 

Yupp, those are the steps, and yupp, it’s that straightforward. (You’ll thank us later.) 

For now, let’s get to it! 

First Off, Let’s Talk About Freelancers

A freelancer, also called an independent contractor, is a self-employed individual who provides services to a company.

Nearly any service a business needs can be accomplished by a freelancer — content creation, managing a company’s social, graphic design, you name it!



👍🏽 Pros of freelancing

Freelancing is pretty sweet for a number of reasons, including:

  • Set your own hours and prices. That’s right. YOU decide your rates. When clients hire you for a project, you can decide how much to charge and when you’ll work.
  • 🧔🏽 Pick and choose your clients. Accept or reject client projects to your heart’s content. You don’t have time? The client is a PITA? Drop it like it’s hot. 
  • 💻 Get real-world experience. Interested in a certain field but haven’t had a chance to really dig into it? Helloooo freelancing! It’s perfect for you. Ditch the s*** internships that teach you squat in favor of gigs that let you flex your creative and business muscles. 
  • 💲 Getting started doesn’t cost much. A laptop, smartphone and stable WiFi is really all you need to get going. Additional costs incurred from other business expenses - like your website & app subscriptions - are usually minimal. 
  • 📁 There’s more work out there than you think. Job boards, referrals, online marketplaces, community work, oh my! The ways to make a living and a name for yourself as a freelancer are endless. 
  • 🧘🏽 Live life on your own terms. Want to go on an extended weekend trip with the crew? Power through your projects early on in the week. Have to attend your mom’s bday brunch? Work around it. It’s that easy.  

👎🏽 Cons of freelancing

On the flipside, freelancing can also stink at times. This is why:

  • 🏥 You have to figure out benefits yourself. While you don’t receive traditional full-time benefits — health insurance, retirement plans (yes, there will be an older you some day), educational benefits, etc. — fear not. Companies like Catch and Sidecar Health make figuring this out easier for you.
  • 💰You have to pay self-employment tax, also called social security tax (again, for when you’re older). It’s normally paid for by employers. However, as an independent contractor, you have to foot the bill for both the employee AND employer.
  • 🚦 Work can be inconsistent. Almost every freelancer has had some months where they make bank and feel on top of the world, only for these months to be followed by “droughts.” (Pro tip: Budget accordingly for the highs and lows of freelancing.)
  • ⏳ Your patience may be tested in landing your first project, or any for that matter. Because of ‘rona, more freelancers entered the market. So, if you don’t do the work to set up your foundations, projects will not pour - or even trickle - in. 
  • 😩 Juggling multiple portfolios can take practice, especially without systems. Imagine you’ve sent a proposal to a client only to have her confirm three weeks later, when you’re knees deep in a different project. 💩 like this is part of freelancing. Get used to it.
  • 🧾 You’re in charge of everything, from billing clients to marketing.Yupp, we mean EVERYTHING. You have to do everything that involves handling your clients, nurturing business relationships, managing your finances, marketing yourself, and more, all the while effectively tackling administrative tasks. Woohoooo! 

📚 Understand the process of working as a freelancer

Let’s break it down 💃🏿 

You can work on an ongoing or project-by-project basis, charging per project or by the amount of time it takes to complete said project (usually an hourly or daily rate).

Once assigned a project, you’ll work whenever you want. Just hit deadlines, and you’re good.

Here’s a quick example.

Imagine you’re a freelance content writer, and you’re assigned to write four blogs each month

It’s up to you WHEN you want to write them. If you want to write one each week, all four in one week, or two every other week, go for it. 

Really, it’s your call 🤷🏽‍♀️ 

The client would then pay you per blog, per day or for the hours worked to complete the blogs, as previously agreed upon. 

In sum, the freelance process goes like this:

  • The client reaches out you or vice versa for possible work
  • You complete the project according to terms
  • The client pays you for your work
  • Rinse and repeat 🙌🏽

If things get messy from the get-go, the project can simply be dropped, and everyone walks away like nothing ever happened.

🔮 The future of freelancing

If you’re gonna put all this sweat and tears into a side hustle, it’s gotta be sustainable, amirite? 

Lucky for you, the future of freelancing is looking bright. 

Get yo shades 😎 because we’re gonna dazzle you with some stats for a hot minute ✨

Just a few months before the pandemic hit in October of 2019, UpWork released the results of their sixth annual “Freelancing in America” study

Within this study, 71% of participants said perceptions of freelancing as a career are becoming more positive. Also, 51% said that no amount of money would convince them to accept a traditional job.

We know what you’re thinking: What? 😱 Not even a million dollars?? 

(Psst - We might be onto something.) 

Anyways, for those who are new to remote work because of COVID-19 closures, 73% believe freelancing has made them more productive, and 74% already prefer working remotely over returning to an office. 

Unsurprisingly, 86% of freelancers claim the best days are yet to come.

So come on in and ride the wave 🏄🏿‍♂️ 

Let’s Get Down to Business: Set Your Foundations

Before diving head first into freelancing, you need to do your research and prepare yourself. Follow these steps:


🔎 Identify skills the market needs

Some of the top hard skills that companies need most include UX design, affiliate marketing, video production and blockchain. We didn’t say it. Forbes did. 

By working in high demand areas, you’re guaranteed to always have a large pool of clients.

Also, burnout is real. Try and avoid it.

Work in something that actually interests you – not just what pays the most (however tempting it may be!).

🎯 Determine who your customers and target market are 

Now that you know what you’ll be selling, it’s time to determine to whom you’ll be selling.

A quick way to do this is by making a list of industries and people you’d like to work with so you can target them in your pitching process (more on this later).

However, you can really cash out by creating a buyer persona, a semi-fictional representation of your dream customer.

Creating one is EXTREMELY powerful because it helps you understand your ideal clients’ problems and gives you key details about how they communicate on- and offline.

If you’re smart, you’ll then take this info and develop a strategy to meet them where they are (again, more on this later!) 😉

*Cue note taking* 

📅 Plan your freelance career before quitting your day job

Building up your personal brand, creating your online portfolio and getting that steady stream of clients to get your freelance career poppin’ takes time.

Trust us. It doesn’t happen overnight.

So, we agree with Skillcrush. Grow your side gig to 50 – 75% of your total current income before renouncing your full-time job.  

This way, the ball (and money) will be in your court before you dive into the uncertainties of post-pandemic freelancing.

Leading us into our next point nicely... 

📝 Prepare for sustainability and set goals 💪🏽

You want to live the best life possible as a freelancer. 

So, why not start thinking about how a sustainable freelancing gig looks for you?

Ask yourself:

  • 🕜 Do I want to freelance part-time or full-time?
  • 🤔 Do I want a lot of clients, or do I want to work long-term with just a couple?
  • 🌅 How do I want to spend my days?
  • 💵 How much do I need to make to live comfortably?
  • 😍 How do I want to feel when I achieve all of this?
  • 🏙 Do I want to be location independent? (Keep in mind that some clients will require you to be in the same time zone to make collaboration easier.)

With this rough plan, you can draft short- and long-term goals

Make sure they’re SMART, which means specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

Keep this vision and these emotions in mind, and they’ll carry you far beyond your end goal, especially if the going gets tough.

🤝🏼 Fellow freelancers are friends

Freelancing can definitely feel lonely, especially with #nonewfriends to lean on for support and advice.

How can you fix this? 

Stop seeing other freelancers in your field as competition 🙅🏾‍♂️ 

They can actually be landmines of info, if you let them. Ask them pointers, what they like about the industry, any challenges they face, whateva. 

Also, you’ll be able to stay on top of current trends with the new crew and partner up with them when you’re more established to pitch bigger projects.

Start small by networking with those you find in online forums and social media. 

You really just need a couple connections who can then recommend you to others. (Psst - LinkedIn is all the rage these days for networking. Hop on the train before it’s gone!) 

💲 Set your prices

Setting your freelancing prices as a newb is one of the biggest conundrums on the internet. 

It seems like every which way you look, you have people throwing a bazillion suggestions at you. 

But don’t worry. We’ve broken them down and compiled them into a short list to make life easier for you. 

Here are a few simple methods you can use:

  1. How would you like to live? Calculate how much you need to make annually to live your ideal lifestyle. Once you have the annual figure, work backwards quarterly, monthly and finally weekly. (Pro tip: Remember to factor in your business expenses.)
  2. Go off industry standards. Consider the years of experience and unique skill set that you bring to the table. Also, reference various sources to get the most statistically accurate price. Payscale and Glassdoor are good sites to check.
  3. Ask fellow professional freelancers. If you’ve made some freelance friends already, it could help to reach out to them to ask about their rates. If they are further along in their career than you, ask them for their hindsight.

Most of the time, pricing comes down to trial and error when you’re just starting off.

The more you freelance, the more experience you’ll gain and the better you’ll be able to gauge how much to charge for each project.

👉🏽 Nonetheless, here’s an A1 bonus tip for you: Your perceived value should always be more than what you actually charge

So, if you charge $30/ hour, the client should think that’s a steal because of all the added value you bring. 

Also, keep in mind that how you price your services psychologically affects how clients perceive your value. 

So, quote yourself respectably.

❓ To niche or not to niche ❓

Focusing on a specific niche allows you to increase your prices and make a name for yourself as “the go-to” freelancer for that industry.

After all, for some reason they say there are riches in niches.

However, as a beginner freelancer, don’t feel like you have to choose a niche from the get-go, especially if you’re starting from nil. 

Dip your toes into various industries to see which one you like best.

🕢 Take your time to get a feel for what you’re doing, a more developed clientele base and rocking portfolio pieces. 

Then, pick your specialty.

For instance, if you start your career as a graphic designer, you could branch into UX design for eco-friendly small businesses. Or, as a marketer, you could specialize in email marketing for holistic health coaches.

♻ Just make sure that when choosing a niche, you target an industry that will be sustainable long-term. (We certainly saw how well travel & hospitality stood up versus COVID-19.)

🧠 Check your mindset before it checks you

Before we set you loose, we have to cover this last - and possibly, most important - point: Check your mindset! 

What are you afraid of with freelancing? What do you fear will happen? 

Are you falling victim to imposter syndrome, thinking that you got where you are today out of sheer luck, not talent?

Going deep, what have others told you will happen if you freelance?

How about, “Making a living as a freelancer is hard. No one will hire you.” 😭

All of these beliefs and fears will hold you back from the success you can achieve.

So, here’s a simple exercise you can do to bring all of those limiting beliefs to light before it’s too late.

📝 Start by jotting them down on a piece of paper. (Yes, physically writing. Not just in Notes.)

✍🏽 Then, write the opposite. (For example, if you believe that making a living as a freelancer is difficult, write I easily make a living as a freelancer.) 

👊🏽 Next, take action! Action is the most important part of this exercise as it helps you solidify the new belief. Any sized action is acceptable as long as it’s encouraging the new thought pattern.

Begin to Sell Yourself

Now we’re gettin’ to the fun stuff! 

After setting your foundations, do everything possible to market yourself. Here’s how: 

🤩 Develop your personal brand

Your personal brand is the public reputation of you and your business.

Having a strong personal brand gives you a competitive advantage, increasing your perceived value and trust in the eyes of potential clients.

By strong, we mean that your brand is easily identified with a specific trait — trendiness, intelligence, creativity, thoughtfulness, whatever  — because YOU MADE IT THAT WAY.

Your personal brand is in YOUR control. 

Write 👏🏽 your 👏🏽 own 👏🏽 d*** 👏🏽 narrative 👏🏽

After all, people hire other people with whom they can see themselves working, not abstract brands.

Key factors to a successful personal brand include:

  • 👉🏽 Your values. What do you believe in? These values should form the foundation of your brand and everything you do.
  • 👉🏽 Your passions. How do you enjoy spending your time? Weave your personal passions into your brand to stand out.
  • 👉🏽 Your strengths & weaknesses. Assessing both will help you uncover what makes you unique as well as the areas in which you need to improve.
  • 👉🏽 Your vision. Where do you see yourself going in the future? What do you want to be known for? Your personal brand should also reflect a future you.
  • 👉🏽 Your story. Why do you work how you do and serve who you do? What got you started? Stories are proven to attract more customers. Do yourself a favor. Get one.

If you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, reach out to friends and family. Their answers may give you inspiration for your own brand.

Remember: Potential clients will size you up before your first conversation with them. In our digital world, your first impression begins before you meet people. Don’t leave that to chance.

Also, your personal brand can change throughout the years. It should evolve and adapt to you, the real human being you are.

💻 Create an online presence 

With your personal brand, now you can think about how to wrap it all up and package it into a nicely-bowed online presence 🎁

Follow along for four hot tips on how to up your game:

1️ Set up a website that shows off your style, has your services, and includes your portfolio filled with your best examples. 

Some popular website builders are Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, Webflow, and WordPress.

(Pro tip: Include additional resources – such as a blog, free guides, or e-books – to show off your expertise.)

2️ Next, polish up your social media accounts. Have professional, on-brand headshots for all platforms, and optimize your social media accounts for keywords.  

Have you heard of color psychology? Well, it plays a role in branding as you take things online. Check it out. 

📱 While you’re at it, leverage your knowhow across social 

3️ Develop a content strategy to share value-packed posts, tweets, stories, videos, vblogs, blogs, etc.

They should always appeal to your target audience! (This isn’t about you, per se.)  

👀 This is when you’d refer back to your buyer personas. Since you already know their communication preferences, you know where they frequent online. 

Show up there. 

💪🏽 Your goal here is for your audience to acknowledge you as a skilled freelancer in your industry whom they can trust, before even starting to work with you.

Be mindful of the fact that the more you give, the more you get

So have an abundance mindset when it comes to sharing tips and tricks that will help out your ideal clients. 

✍🏽 Start putting yourself out there

And now to our final point in this section.

4️ With your personal brand and online presence up to speed, start putting yourself out there.   

While guest posting on relevant blogs and publications is one of the fastest - and most traditional - ways to increase your online visibility and get seen by potential clients, it’s not the only way to do so.

Here’s where you get creative 💡

Your job is to get in front of your target market (remember: this means ideal customers) by connecting and partnering with established brands that share your audience. 

Think: Where are my customers hanging out? 

You could do an IG takeover or even work on getting those followers on TikTok so you can get involved in influencer marketing and sponsored content — getting paid while you’re at it, duh. 

Whatever you do, be strategic about it

Not only should their target audience closely align with yours, but you should choose brands that get substantial traffic to their sites and social media.  

Now, Actually Do the Work

We’re on the final stretch! 🎉

Now that you have strong foundations and you’ve started to get your name out there, start putting in the work.

📢 Begin pitching to potential clients

Obviously with COVID-19 upon us, going to traditional meet-ups, mixers, networking events and the like is on hold.

So, get creative when pitching for freelance projects. Do so by: 

  • 🤝🏽 Networking
  • 📧 Sending out emails
  • 🖊 Replying to job board ads
  • 📲 Direct messaging clients in social media
  • 💻 Checking out freelance sites such as Toptal.com, Fiverr.com, Upwork.com and Freelancer.com. (Beware that some online marketplaces come with fees, which can be up to 20% or more of your earnings.)
  • 👩🏽‍💻 Joining freelance communities and groups on Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit, Slack, etc. 

No matter which way you choose, the process remains the same.

  1. Identify the problem your client may be facing.
  2. Solve it with your solution.
  3. Position yourself as an expert using testimonials, case studies, and/or examples.

Don’t be afraid to get personal. Are you a huge fan of their viral TikTok vid? Did you both attend the same e-networking event? Mention that to fire up a connection from the get-go.

Also, you don’t have to have the entire project figured out 100% when you pitch someone. Your entire pitch should really only be two to three short paragraphs at most.

⚠ Again, always focus on the client’s needs, not yours. ⚠

Make them the hero in their own journey. You’re just there to guide them along to overcoming their biggest obstacles.

❤ Nurture client relationships

So, you’ve landed your ideal clients. You’ve started freelancing for them. This is where the work stops, right?

Wrong.

As our home girl Missy Elliott said,

You gotta work it 🎶

Just as you had to work to get those clients, you have to work to make sure the relationship stays healthy.

What does this mean? 🤔

👉🏽 Pay close attention to instructions. 

👉🏽 Meet all deadlines. 

👉🏽 Communicate consistently throughout the project. 

👉🏽 Make edits as needed. 

👉🏽 Basically, the whole shebang. 

(Pro tip: Be available during some of their office hours so you can easily bounce ideas back and forth without having your schedule inconvenience them.)

The stronger your client relationships, the better reputation and personal brand you’ll have. 

This will make it easier for you to secure more freelance work later on.

On a final note, encourage word-of-mouth advertising, and ask satisfied clients for referrals. It’s a major part of bringing in more business. 

Offer clients who send referrals your way a 10% discount on their package with you. 

🏫 Be proactive about learning

Work never stops as a freelancer, even when your client’s project is finalized. 

To stay competitive in your field, level up your skills or work on getting new ones.

If there’s a certain line of work you want to delve into but don’t have the experience, launching a side project is the best way to do so. 

Or, even do pro bono work around the community. Working for free for the good of the ‘hood isn’t just noble. It’s also a great way to develop meaningful connections and receive honest testimonials from an early point in your career.

Future clients will interpret the undertaking of personal interest projects, courses, volunteer opportunities and more as dedication to your field, giving you a leg up over competition.

🏎 Streamline your processes

It’s time to streamline your business

Oh yes, we’re talking SYSTEMS, baby!

We get it. It’s the not-so-sexy side of freelancing. But, they’re SUPER NECESSARY! 

🛑 Stop getting overwhelmed with day-to-day tasks.

✅ Do take your freelancing to the new level with systems to gain control over your time. 

From prospecting all the way to project completion, there’s a system for that. 

Here are the main ones in five steps to help you leverage your time:

  1. Create a system for onboarding clients. Looks like this: Receive an inquiry from a client. Send a proposal. Bill for the deposit. Begin the project. Boom 👊🏽💥 Done. Next.
  2. Establish a system to manage finances. Open a separate business bank account. Sign up for accounting software with an app. This’ll save time on manual data entry. (If you’re interested in using a tool that helps you with these first two steps, stay tuned to join our waiting list! We’re almost done with developing it 🔧) 
  3. Set up a system to manage contacts. Keep in touch with clients, fellow freelancers, and friends in the biz. Even set how often you do so, depending on the relationship.
  4. Develop a marketing system. This ensures you always have leads flowing in. Blogging, social media and email marketing are the top marketing strategies freelancers often lean toward, but get creative so you stick out 🤓 
  5. Streamline your business administration. Get on top of email and task management so that you can worry less about tedious admin and more about making that money!

We know what you’re thinking.

“This is really too much for me rn. Can we just like, skip all of this and get to the part where I’m successful?”

No, we can’t. #sorrynotsorry

As is the case with, well, life, practice makes perfect

Try not to feel overwhelmed. With time, you’ll find a rhythm with your freelancing and be making the whole process, including systems, your friend in no time 🤗

Pinky promise.

Because all in all, freelancing is a long-term game

By identifying what the market needs, defining your ideal clients, and planning how to sell yourself with a strong personal brand and online presence, you will be well on your way to building that dream side hustle. 

Make a promise to give it your best for every client and project you get your hands on. 

Before you know it, your reputation will precede your pitch, and your clients will be your most dedicated salespeople. 

Be patient. Be consistent. Enjoy the process. Don't worry. The results will come. 


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