How to Start Freelancing:
The Ultimate Guide from a Successful Freelancer

reelancing can be a game-changer for many individuals. With freelancing, you can make more money, be your own boss, and have the freedom to manage your own schedule. 

Learning how to start freelancing isn’t rocket science. Still, it does require planning, preparation, and some good ‘ole fashion hard work. 

When I started my own freelance business a few years ago, I was burnt out of my day job and desperately wanted to be my own boss. Owning my own business and having a flexible schedule were primary reasons why I started freelancing. 

With so many opportunities to freelance, now is the time to start freelancing. Over 56.7 million Americans are estimated to provide freelancing services. And this number just keeps growing.

And especially with the current economic outlook for 2020-2021, freelancing is even more appealing to bring in some extra cash or have a fall-back option for work. 

Whether your goal is to freelance part-time (potentially as a side hustle) or freelance full-time, you’ll follow the same path to launch your freelance business. 

This guide on how to start freelancing is written by someone who has launched and scaled a successful freelancing business. And yes, I believe anyone with some skills, motivation, and a can-do attitude can do this too. 

By following these same steps, I was able to create a six-figure SEO freelance business within 6-months. And then scale that freelance and consulting business to over $768,236 in annual revenue within a few years. 

What is freelancing and why is it in high-demand?

Freelancing is essentially exchanging services or skills to other businesses or individuals for money. Freelancers are generally not employees but rather independent contractors or self-employed individuals. 

As a freelancer, you’ll be contracted by businesses or individuals to provide a specific service in demand. In exchange, you will receive payment for your services outside of being a W-2 employee. 

Freelancing as an industry and profession has been growing in popularity. Over 35% of the American workforce is freelancing, which has grown by over 10M in the last five years. The majority of freelancers do this work by choice rather than necessity – freelancing can both become a full-time job or supplement your income. 

There are many benefits for both you, the freelancer, and individuals or businesses for hiring freelance workers. 

Businesses can benefit from additional expertise for projects without hiring a full-time employee. Hiring contractors saves businesses on taxes, health insurance, and other employment overhead. 

Individuals can benefit from being a freelancer because it’s a low-overhead way to start a business and a minimal barrier of entry. There are many perks to being a freelancer, including working remotely, having a flexible schedule, and being self-employed.

12 steps to starting a profitable freelance business

When starting a freelance business, you’ll be building a service-based business. Thinking of your freelancing as a business can help you gain more clients, charge more money, and have a stable income – even if your goal is freelance part-time. 

All it takes is one client to start freelancing and become an entrepreneur. Follow these steps to get your business set up, get your first client, and start freelancing.

1. Pick a freelancing niche

If you have a skill that people and businesses will pay for, you can start freelancing. 

There are considerations as to whether you should be a generalist or a specialist. Specialists generally can charge more for their time. Still, I think this can be narrowed down over time – especially as you build your reputation and experience. 

Start by outlining your skills and services where you have experience. Outlining your experience will help define what types of services you can offer freelancing and your niche. 

Here are some of the more popular services to provide freelancing:

  • Copywriting
  • Ghostwriting
  • Technical writing
  • Copy editing
  • Graphic design
  • Logo design
  • UI design
  • UX design
  • Video editing
  • Photo editing
  • Photography
  • Web design
  • Web development
  • HTML development
  • Product development
  • Software engineering
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Search engine marketing (SEM)
  • Email marketing
  • Content marketing
  • Public relations (PR)
  • Social media marketing
  • Social media advertising
  • Brand advertising
  • Marketing automation
  • Administrative support
  • Virtual assistant (VA)
  • Transcription
  • Data entry
  • Data analyst
  • Bookkeeping
  • Invoicing
  • Quickbooks
  • Academic tutor

Psst! If you need a little extra help, start by downloading our Freelance Startup Guide and for a step-by-step process to launch your own freelance business. 

2. Outline your freelance services

Outlining your services is a fun part of freelancing. Since it’s your business, you can be creative to provide the services you want and where your skill sets excel.  

Defining your freelance services involves outlining the kind of work you want to provide within your niche. There are many different areas within a niche where you can provide services – the key part is to understand your strengths, interests, and in-demand skills. 

For example, as a freelance photographer, you could offer photography services for weddings, headshots, or maternity photos. 

Another example, as an SEO consultant, you can provide technical SEO audits for websites or perhaps link development, local SEO services, or Google My Business (GMB) management. 

After you select your freelancing or consulting niche, start by brainstorming 5-10 different projects or services that you think you can offer. Then, do some research on other freelancers within your niche to help narrow down your service targets. 

Understanding the types of services you can offer will also help inform your pricing and business development strategy. 

3. Plan your pricing and fees

Planning your freelance pricing and rates is a sticking point for many freelancers – especially in the beginning stages. You may not have as much confidence in your rates if you’re a beginner or may not understand the market average. 

Use your competitive research to review other freelancing rates for individuals in your industry. You can also review marketplace sites and job boards to get a sense of what businesses will pay for your services. 

Also, many industry studies publish average rates. Use Google to search for [your industry] + [average freelance rates] to find data. For example, the American Writers and Artists Institute provides average rates for web page writing, copywriting, and email marketing. 

As a new freelancer, your hourly rates and fees may be lower than average. Still, you can increase your rates over time with additional experience. When I first started freelancing, I charged $100-125 per hour and now my average hourly rate is $200-300

The important thing to keep in mind is that what you charge now is not what you will likely charge a year or two from now. For example, SEO freelancers that have been in business for more than two years charge 39% more on average than SEO professionals with less than two years of experience. 

Your pricing and fee structure will also change depending on a few different factors, such as:

  • Your service levels (high-touch or low-touch clients)
  • Any packages and tiers you offer
  • Charging by the project or by the hour

It may be helpful to have a “minimum acceptable price” that you are willing to take in case clients negotiate. You may choose to accept this rate for a variety of reasons, such as needing the business or wanting to work with a particular brand.

4. Get your business setup

I firmly believe that it’s important to consider your freelancing as a business from the beginning – even if you’re only planning freelance part-time. This mindset will encourage you to have the legal items squared away as well as a more professional appearance to potential clients. 

Setting up your business includes questions on how you want to classify your business (sole proprietorship or a single-member LLC), how you want to set up your banking, and naming your business. 

Here’s a basic list of items to consider when setting up your freelance business:

  • Deciding on a business name (either your own name or a brand)
  • Registering your business with the state (if you’re in the United States)
  • Getting a federal employer identification number (EIN) – this is optional but helpful for tax purposes
  • Setting up business bank accounts 

When deciding on your business name, make sure to check if there is a relevant domain for your website (generally, I still prefer .com domains but .net or .co works too!). 

When setting up your business bank accounts, your local banker can easily do this once you have your business registration information.

5. Get your website set up

Getting your freelance website set up can be a fun project as a new business owner. While you don’t need an extensive website when you’re just starting, you’ll need some basic information to point potential customers. 

Even having a 1-page website set up for your new freelance business can help secure new work. You can easily do this with WordPress templates, through your hosting provider or using a plug-and-play website builder, such as Squarespace or Wix.

When setting up your website, it’s important that the “look and feel” is presentable as well as have the following information:

  • Your background (including a brief bio as well as any credentials)
  • What kind of freelance services you provide
  • Any clients or brands you’ve worked with
  • Case studies or results from your work
  • Portfolio of work examples (such as writing or design examples)
  • Contact information (your email address or a contact form)
  • Testimonials or recommendations (from previous clients or co-workers)

Don’t worry if you don’t have all of that information when you start. Just be sure to provide the most relevant information for your freelance niche and how people can contact you. You can always supplement with additional information as you get more freelance experience. 

You’ll also want to get a branded email address for your freelance work, which will increase your professionalism with clients. Google Apps has branded email and document storage starting at $5 per month.

6. Get your first freelance clients

Getting your first freelance clients is very exciting. It’s an important milestone for launching into the world of freelancing. Once you get your first client, give yourself a kudos and high-five – congratulations! 

Your first clients are very important as a new freelancer – they will set the early foundation of your business and bring in your initial revenue. 

Understanding your ideal client is an important place to start when forming your client-getting strategies. Do you want to work with local businesses? Do you have a specialty with SaaS brands or technology companies? Brainstorm a few qualities and industries for your ideal customer.

However, the reality is, you may not want to be picky about only taking work from your ideal clients when starting. Generally, you’ll want the work when you’re first freelancing.

As you become more experienced, you can be more discerning with your clients and increase your rates. (At least that’s my philosophy and was my experience!)

Here are some of my favorite (and most successful) ways to get new freelance clients:

  • Leveraging your network
  • Subcontracting for agencies 
  • Industry thought-leadership (such as speaking and writing)
  • Attending meetups, conferences, and networking events
  • Searching for part-time contract positions (like on LinkedIn)
  • Using freelance marketplace sites (like Upwork or Freelancer)
  • Using paid advertising, including local advertising or PPC
  • Leveraging organic search and SEO (also local search)
  • Asking for client referrals
  • Cold-calling business or brands

7. Establish your freelancing workflow

Considering your workflow may be a more uncommon concept when starting a freelance business but I think it’s extremely important. Establishing your freelance workflow will help you work better with clients, but it will also help manage your time and your business. 

You’ll want to consider your client workflow — ask yourself questions like how you want to communicate and work with your clients? And how do you want to manage your work deliverables?

Examples include establishing email or meeting routines or considering Slack communication with your clients. You may also want to use Google Drive or Dropbox to share files and documents with clients. 

Then, you’ll want to consider your project management and work time as a freelancer. If you’re a part-time freelancer, are your “working hours” early in the morning or perhaps a block midday or evening? Find a routine that works for you and your schedule. 

Other essential items in your business workflow will include managing your invoicing, bookkeeping and taxes. Ensuring you have systems in place for getting paid and tracking expenses is critical when you’re a business owner. 

Freshbooks and Bench.co are my favorite platforms for invoicing and bookkeeping services for small businesses.

8. Learn how to market yourself

The goal with marketing yourself as a freelancer is to establish yourself as an expert in your niche — whether your niche is marketing, graphic design, programming or business support. 

You don’t need to be the #1 expert in your niche to get freelance business but you do need to be a credible professional and make sure the clients trust their investment in your services. 

Being active in relevant communities for your niche as well as where your clients are present is always a good idea. Your marketing may include activities such as creating social media channels or a blog and contributing to them regularly to market yourself and thought-leadership.

Here are some ideas that can help market yourself as a freelancer:

  • Writing on your website or blog
  • Speaking at conferences or local events
  • Gathering testimonials from happy clients
  • Creating case studies to showcase your results
  • Networking at industry events and local meet-ups
  • Contributing to industry publications and guest posting
  • Advertising on social media or search marketing

All of these activities can result in an increased brand presence for yourself and your new freelance business. They’ll also continue to establish your expertise in your niche and community.

9. Prepare for full-time freelancing

There are many different capacities to freelance, including part-time or full-time. Freelancing full-time may not be the end-game for many individuals but for some, that’s the ultimate goal to leave the 9-5 job and go full-time freelancing. 

Preparing to freelance full-time requires preparation and planning to smartly and successfully leave a 9-5 job. When I started freelancing, this was my end-goal – to become entirely independent with my consulting business. 

To be smart in making the transition to full-time freelance, start freelancing part-time 3-6 months before you want to go full-time and quit your day job. Freelancing in advance will allow you to get your business set up, start getting clients, and save for a financial buffer as you transition to self-employment. 

By freelancing on the side of your main job, you’ll be able to establish your operations and processes before you launch into your new business full-time. 

Check out our guide on how to freelance with a full-time job as you make the transition.

10. Keep your existing clients

Once you have your freelancing business up and running, keeping your existing clients will help you maintain your freelancing income and work. 

It’s important to continuously do business development and proactively look for new clients. However, keeping your existing freelance clients so much easier than always finding new ones and more cost-effective. 

If you’re good with client retention, you’ll have to do less business development and have a reliable source of income. 

Here are some of my client-retention strategies that have helped me retain clients for over two years on average: 

  • Do good work (this is non-negotiable)
  • Be communicative (proactive and frequent communication is key)
  • Be dependable (be a reliable partner and do things when you say you will)
  • Make things easy for the client (they’re paying you to help their business)
  • Be organized (this includes project management)
  • Be enjoyable to work with (clients will keep you if they like working with you)

11. Pitch yourself effectively

Mastering the art of business development includes learning how to pitch your business and your services effectively. 

You’ll need to learn how to sell your experience and work effectively to close deals and secure new clients since you are ultimately selling freelance services.

You might think you don’t know how to do sales or don’t have business development skills but the good news is that this is something you can learn and can improve on to grow your business. 

I didn’t have any sales experience before starting my freelancing business but this is something you have to learn if you’re in business for yourself. Over the past few years, I’ve created a systematic approach to business development that includes the following elements:

  • Set the introduction meeting
  • Research the business in advance
  • Be organized, prepared, and professional
  • Establish your value propositions
  • Gather client testimonials
  • Build impressive case studies
  • Create winning proposals
  • Be consistent in follow-ups

12. Learn to scale your freelance business

Learning to scale your freelance business is an essential part of creating a successful and long-lasting business. Whether you’re only freelancing part-time or full-time, you want to learn how to future-proof your business.

As a service-based professional, your freelancing work maxes at the hours you can work in a given day, week or month. Once you’re maxed out on your time working, there are a few different ways to grow your revenue:

  1. Increase your hourly rates or project fees
  2. Create waiting lists for clients 
  3. Hire subcontractors to supplement work

Either option is a common and viable approach to growing your business. I’ve done all three before and found each strategy can all be successful depending on your work and business development pipeline. 

As you continue to grow your business, you may need to contract with other freelancers to fulfill your work or even consider hiring full-time employees. 

I started subcontracting work after about a year. I then hired my first full-time employee after about two years running my consulting business. Importantly, your name is on the line so you’ll want to make sure you trust your team – even if they are contractors or employees. 

Looking to start your own freelance business? Check out our 7-day freelance jumpstart bootcamp to get the motivation and skills you need to to start your own business. Join us now!

How to Start Freelancing