How To Be A Successful Freelancer - 11 Steps To Mastery 2021

How to be a successful freelancer and work hard from any where.

You’ve heard all about the benefits of being a freelancer — freedom, flexibility, and of course the ability to work from anywhere. But how to be a successful freelancer still remains a mystery for many… until now.

At Love Work at Home (LWAH), we’re passionate about encouraging and equipping others. We banded together as a team to give you the 11 steps to freelance success. These steps are not “theoretical” but are the practical steps on how to freelance that we have taken ourselves to become successful freelancers in each of our respective fields. 

Under each step, you will not only find practical “Action Steps” to take but will also find hot tips and insights from each of the LWAH team members.   

Whether you want to start freelancing, earn some extra money, or pursue a passion you weren’t able to previously explore — follow these steps on how to be a successful freelancer.   

This post contains affiliate links and I may be compensated, at no additional cost to you, if you make a purchase after clicking on a link.

How to Be a Successful Freelancer — Do Some Research First

Freelance designer creating a graphic on research

The freelancing world is HUGE and “virtually” (pun intended) limitless, thanks to the internet. 

However, not every service is equal. Some freelance services have a higher demand and earning potential compared to others. However, no matter the service, as long as there is a demand, you can still succeed as a freelancer. 

You may, however, have to do some extra research if your area of expertise is less obvious or popular. A good place to start is to spend some time on various freelance websites and look at the type of job requests that are posted by potential clients.

Ask yourself:

    • Are there people out there who are actually paying for your service? 
    • Can you find more than 10 freelancers who offer the same service? 

If you can answer “yes” to both, it’s very likely that your skill is in demand. Great!

Now it’s time to get the ball rolling. Follow these steps on how to be a successful freelancer.

# 1 — What Freelance Service Will You Offer?

The first step is to become crystal clear on what freelance service you can offer. This is especially important if you want to know how to become a freelancer online. You may have a skill, but what problem does it solve and whose problem does it solve? Who will walk away with a smile on their face after you’ve helped them?

A smiling freelance client

The answer to these two questions will form the foundation of your work and your career as a freelancer.

Once you know what problems your skills can solve and who needs them, you will be able to narrow down the audience that will be willing to pay for your expertise.

For example, if you’re a freelance writer you could describe your services as:

“I help online business owners create brilliant content for their website through relevant, value-adding blog articles.”

Simple. But what if you’re not a writer? What if you’re a video editor?

Then you could say something like…

“I help business owners create engaging and compelling YouTube videos through my video editing skills and artistic talent.”

Noleen

Noleen: “Start by choosing only one skill or service to offer. I started by offering proofreading services to authors.”

You get the drift. It’s not supposed to be a long description. Just long enough to cover all three parts — your skill, what problem it solves, and whose problem it solves.

Action point

Action Point — Write down what and whose problem you can solve. Once you’re clear on this, form a small description that explains what you offer. Make sure to include what you do, how you do it, and who you can help.

But, how to start freelancing with no experience? Let’s address that!

# 2 — What Freelance Skills Do You Have and What Do You Need?

If you’re a complete beginner and you want to start freelancing with no experience, it’s a good idea to first develop your skills.

Freelance photographer taking a photograph

Jumping into the freelance world without any prior experience is a recipe for disaster and freelancers who walk over this step tend to lack the confidence or know-how to serve any clients, especially in the long term.

You never want to skip or rush this step, as it’s an integral step on how to be a successful freelancer.

Like the photographer above, don’t forget the power of practical experience… offer your skills to family and friends and use these opportunities to build your portfolio.

Take an online course around your chosen skill, read a few books and follow the top blogs around your topic. And, if it helps, reach out to other freelancers in your industry for tips on how to freelance in your respective field.

Rowan

Rowan: “How can you quickly and effectively gain knowledge? One word. Immersion. It’s mind-blowing how much information is out there that’s either free or costs next to nothing. In this era, you can consume the knowledge from experts in your field by text, audio, or video while virtually cycling the French alps or perched on a hill watching a sunset.”

Don’t forget, YouTube is a great resource. You can pick up practical “how-to” skills, pro tips, and inspiring videos all for free.

Action point

Action Point — Check out our bumper article on The Best Online Courses for Remote Jobs and Online. You can choose your work-from-home profession and find the top online learning providers for that career. Find a few books on Amazon related to your career.
Research top blogs or podcasts on your career and subscribe to them for regular updates.  Do a YouTube search on your particular area of learning or career.

# 3 — Who Can You Help?

Before you go all in and start freelancing, it’s a good idea to narrow down who you can help. Are you going to help small business owners like these high-fiving executives, or perhaps individuals?

Small business owners high-fiving

We’ve already briefly touched on this area above, but defining your client base helps you achieve two things:

1 – It clarifies who you can and can’t help… yet

This tends to go hand in hand with your skills. Although it’s great to be a Jack-of-all-trades and help everyone, when you first start freelancing, it helps to focus on one particular client. 

For example, if you plan to offer book editing services to authors but have not yet upskilled sufficiently to proofread books, focus on offering proofreading to blog owners and submerge yourself into learning the world of non-fiction book editing while you hone your proofreading skills. 

2 – It communicates to prospective clients that you’re the person they need

By stating who you help, whether that’s on your social media bio or a job board, prospective clients are more likely to take notice. They already know they need help  — now they know who can help them.

Donald 2

Donald: “A good idea is to carry out some research around your target client. Where do they look to hire? Are they in a specific niche? Where do they find other freelancers?”

Ultimately, if you offer freelance work online, you want to get to a stage where you know your client like the back of your hand. This can be challenging in the beginning. But with more research and experience, you’ll start to develop a stronger understanding of your market.

Action point

Action Point — Choose the service that you feel most confident offering to clients and focus on that as a starting point for your freelancing career. 
Research your client and find out as much information as you can.

# 4 — Create an Online Presence

So far, you’ve defined your service, upskilled as needed, and highlighted who you can help. The next step on how to be a successful freelancer is to create an online presence, after all, you’re going to offer freelance work online.

Laptop with Join Us Online on the screen

Without an online presence, your chance of succeeding as a freelancer is very slim. Almost every client you’ll find will expect you to have one. And even if you don’t, they’re still going to snoop around.

If you want freelance work online, you can’t hide from prospects. They want to know and feel that they’re talking to a real human being which is an essential step on how to become  a successful freelancer.

Now, you don’t have to go over the top. Having an online presence doesn’t mean you have to constantly post on your profile every day. It simply means being accessible to those who are most important — your clients. 

How can you achieve this? It’s quite simple.

Create a social media profile

If you haven’t already, start by setting up a social media profile. I recommend either Facebook or LinkedIn or even both. In the bio/description area of your profile, state what services you provide, and who you can help. Where appropriate, add any relevant skills, qualifications, and experience you have.

Don’t forget your profile picture. It should be you on a clear background, with only your face and shoulders showing. 

Create your freelancing profile if you’re using a freelance website

If you have joined a freelance website, spend time setting up your profile. Be sure to add your qualifications, courses you are currently studying, a portfolio of work, and anything else that will build credibility with clients.

Check for any industry specific portfolio sites

In some industries, anyone who is anyone will use a certain platform. For example, a huge proportion of graphic designers and illustrators use Behance. It’s just the done thing, so have a look around for any that are specific to your niche.

Noleen

Noleen: “Write your portfolio description to meet a client’s need. For example, instead of writing ‘I edit and proofread blogs,’ write it as ‘Do you need help with proofreading or editing your blog posts? I can help you...’”

The goal is to look and be professional. Clients are more likely to do business with you when you look like you know what you’re doing.

Action point

Action Point — Create your social media profile or profiles. If you don’t have a suitable photograph, ask a few friends to help you capture the perfect profile pic.

Spend time completing your freelancer profile and revisit it as much as you need to.

#5 — What Will You Charge?

This can feel quite intimidating. After all, you’ve never set your own rates before. That’s what employers do. How are you supposed to accurately price your services so you aren’t getting paid less (or more) than what you’re worth?

Being a freelancer means setting your rate - a glass full of coins symbolising growth.

Well, the truth is… you can’t. In the beginning, your pricing won’t be perfect, and that’s okay. You’re still learning. You’re still gaining experience. So you can’t easily judge what you’re worth.

What you can do is what most freelancers do at the start:

Look at your competitors

What prices are they charging? Of course, the rates will differ slightly. But overall, you should be able to get an average price that you can use as a benchmark for your services. 

If you’re starting on a freelance platform like Upwork, you might have to pitch your rate a little lower at first so that you can build up your work history. 

Consider your pricing structure

You also need to keep in mind your pricing structure. In other words, how would you prefer to be paid? Most freelancers opt for project-based (fixed-price) pricing or an hourly rate.

Project-based pricing

Project-based pricing is when you charge a fixed amount for a certain deliverable. For example, if you’re a writer, you could charge a customer a fixed price for a 1000 word article. A photographer could charge a fixed price for a certain amount of photographs. 

Some businesses won’t require your services on an ongoing basis. So for them, paying you on a project-by-project basis will make a lot more sense.

As a beginner freelancer on a freelance platform, applying for fixed price projects is a great way to build up your work history and profile especially if you can deliver quickly. 

Hourly rate

With hourly pricing, however, you’re paid by the hour. But this number can vary from week to week, depending on the demands of your clients. If you’re fortunate, you can end up with quite a few hourly contracts and, if you’re willing to put in the hours, you can do quite well as a freelancer. 

Julie

Julie: “If you are working with a client that has a large budget don’t be afraid to raise your rate. Conversely, if you are working with a small business and the pay is low, make sure you are getting amazing portfolio pieces to make up for the lack of compensation. You can make up for low-paying jobs by using the finished projects to impress potential clients and increase your overall revenue.”

I can’t advise you on what pricing model to use, as this depends on the nature of your work. But what I will say is: DON’T overthink it. Once you’ve chosen your pricing model, and have a rough figure to work with, move on. 

Don’t get stuck on this step — you can always adjust your pricing later on.

Action point

Action Point — Do some competitor research and create an average hourly rate. Work out what you would charge for fixed-price projects as well. Don’t forget to add in extra for the fees that some freelancing websites charge.

# 6 — Set Up Your Business Basics

Now, the not-so-sexy part on how to be a successful freelancer. Here’s where you set up all the basics that come with running a business.

Make sure you have set up the business basics for freelance success

Although you are a freelancer, you are still running a company and it’s vital that you have the correct business set up in place for freelance success. It can also save you a lot of tax! Despite your industry, every freelancer should have these to-do’s ticked off their list.

    • Set up a business entity — Decide whether you want to either set up a sole proprietorship or an LLC. Because sole proprietor’s are the sole owner’s of their business, they are 100% responsible for any liabilities. An LLC, however, places this liability on the company, not you personally. As this differs from country to country, we highly recommend that you consult with a qualified professional so that you set up your business entity correctly.   
    • Open a business bank account and credit card — It’s always good practice to keep your business funds separate from your personal funds. However, keep in mind that you won’t be able to complete this step until you set up an LLC.
    • Find a reliable bookkeeping system — Unless you hire a bookkeeper, you need a way to track and manage the cash flow in your business. Bookkeeping systems like Quickbooks and GnuCash are perfect for this.
    • Hire an accountant — Accountant’s are way more than just tax-filing assistants. They can also save you money, manage expenses and offer legal advice related to your industry. Of course, a good accountant never comes cheap, so be sure to save enough funds for when the time comes.
    • Create a business card — Prospects can be found in the real world, too! And when you do, it’s always great practice to have some business cards on deck. Have it include who you are, your services and who you can help.
Sarah

Sarah: “Keep business and personal separate. Although you can legally mix the two areas under some business structures, it’s a terrible idea and there’s really no reason to do it.”

These aren’t huge tasks, but they sure do save you time, money and legal problems in the future. Nail these basics, and you’re ready to move onto the next step.

Action point

Action Point — If there are two points to focus on first it would be the business entity and the bank account. Research and consult a professional before you set up the business entity. From there, you can open a business bank account

# 7 — Set Up Your Home Office

While the thought of working from home sounds alluring, you can’t just work anywhere. Your job still demands a sense of professionalism in the house. And one way to achieve this is through creating a home office.

A home office designed for freelance success

A fancy home office or separate room is not essential to start freelancing. Just a simple space that you (and everyone in the house) knows belongs to you.

Once you’ve marked a spot, you’ll need a desk, chair, and a desktop or laptop to work on. Key to being a freelancer is to invest in equipment that is designed to help you stay productive. After all, you’ll be spending a good couple of hours a day (or night) in this space. 

Noleen

Noleen: “Initially my husband and I just had a small laptop on the kitchen table. When we took the leap to being full-time remote, we invested in super fast laptops. At the time, it was a lot of money for us, but it was a game changer. As our business grew, we invested in equipment that would help us be more productive. We got desks, multiple screens, standing desks, and better internet. Having a home office set up also helps you stay in a professional mindset which goes a long way to being a successful freelancer.”

Staying organized and productive is essential to your success as a freelancer. Make it one of your first priorities to build a home office you love.

Action point

Action Point — Set aside a designated office area and set it up so that you feel professional and organized. Even if it’s just a corner in the lounge, having a specific space to work is essential.

# 8 — Find Your First Client

And now it’s time. You’re ready to win your first ever client.

Freelancer working on a freelance client's project online

At this stage, don’t worry about marketing yourself through social media. While it generally is a great client-attracting method, it’s not necessary to get your first client. There’s actually a much easier way…

Join a freelance website. 

It’s staggering the amount of job opportunities you can earn on freelance platforms. Simply sign up to a platform like Upwork, Fiver, or Freelancer. Then once you’ve set up your account, start applying for jobs.

The benefit of these platforms is they allow clients to immediately connect with freelancers. 

Generally, there are two ways that this happens: client’s post a job and freelancers apply or freelancers advertise a specific service (like a virtual shop) and clients contact them. To find out more about each platform and how they work, check out: 10 Best Freelance Websites For Beginners to Professionals In 2021.

Now, joining a freelancing website will require hard work. You will have to send out quite a few proposals before you get your first client. This isn’t necessarily something to worry about. It’s just the nature of finding freelance work online.

Here are some other tips for when moving forward with a client:

    • Start small — Aim to complete lower paid projects so that you can build up your history on that platform.
    • Deliver great customer service — Always be available to help, communicate regularly and ask questions. Be professional.
    • Be prepared to work hard — Put in the hours to build up a good bank of work history. Don’t be too choosy initially on the projects you do.
Julie

Julie: “I would apply for multiple jobs every day (when I started, I only applied for those I thought I was qualified for and would wait too long to receive replies, now I apply for jobs on a weekly basis from trusted sources so I always have back-up clients.)”

So, actively apply for jobs. When you win your first client and the ball starts rolling, you won’t be far from snagging your next client.

Action point

Action Point — Create a few proposal templates that you can use to apply for proposals. It will save you time. Be sure to mention your work history and why you feel you can help the client. 
Work on your portfolio if you are advertising a package. For example, if you’re offering a fixed amount for a certain service. 

# 9 — Set Up Your Schedule

When you start freelancing, it can be tempting to take on any project that comes your way. But when there’s too much work on your plate, things can get really messy. 

Calendar showing setting up your freelance schedule

You may become so overwhelmed with work that you miss deadlines, forget appointments, or even forget to invoice your clients. That’s why following a schedule should be non-negotiable.

With a schedule, you know when to work and what to work on. And you know this before it happens, so you have time to adjust your plans where necessary.

It also gives you a bird’s eye view of the week (or month), so you can make better informed decisions with client work plus fit in the odd afternoon off or extra gym session. 

Sounds strange, but a schedule helps you to be flexible — one of the benefits that we love most about being a freelancer — but it will also build good work ethic and discipline. 

Obviously, your schedule won’t be extremely busy at the start. But you can still fill up this time with other tasks like prospecting, writing a proposal or productive learning.

Donald 2

Donald: “Choose a definitive time to start and finish work (e.g. 10am - 6pm), but don't forget to mark out time for a break and lunch. Schedule your day either the night before or the morning you wake up. Write down the tasks you need to accomplish that day, then fit the most important tasks into your calendar.”

Most importantly, be honest about how much work you can take on. If you don’t have the extra capacity, let your client know. They will respect you a lot more if you’re up-front about it, instead of telling them sweet nothings.

Action point

Action Point — Draw up a daily schedule. It doesn’t have to be too detailed but set a time that you start work and end it. Be sure to stick to this as much as possible but be flexible if you need to… after all, that’s one of the many benefits to being a freelancer. 

# 10 — Be Prepared for Rainy Months

When you first start freelancing, your income will fluctuate. One month it might go up, then down the next, then even lower the next month, then right back up again. It’s all part of being a freelancer.

Cat on a couch to represent rainy days when freelance cash flow is low.

Of course, as you build stronger ties with clients, your income will become more stable. Until then, however, you’ll need to financially prepare for those rainy months.

This means actively putting money aside to use as “income” for times when work is slower than usual. 

Donald 2

Donald: “A good amount to save would be 3-6 months worth of your monthly income. For example, if your monthly income is $2,000 a month, you'll want to have $6,000 - $12,000 saved in the bank.”

But, you don’t need this amount saved up before you start freelancing. The main goal of this step is to gain self awareness and to start taking the right actions towards building your safety net.

Action point

Action Point — Open up a savings account to save a percentage of your earnings for rainy months. By having a specific account, you can be sure you are saving. 
If you are currently employed full time and hope to transition to being a freelancer, start building up your savings now. It will help during the first couple of months when you’re building your profile and work history.

#11 — Never Stop Learning

So you’ve found your first clients — congrats! But that doesn’t mean you should stop learning. 

In fact, it means you should be learning MORE especially if you want to know how to become a freelancer with no experience.

Man learning freelancing skills for ongoing freelance success

Learn more from books, articles, courses and anything else that can help you widen your skills. Having a “student” mindset will keep you hungry and determined to be better, no matter how much you’re earning. 

Top athletes are always looking to add that extra edge to their game. What is a freelancer any good for if they aren’t doing the same? Don’t be limited by the skill you have on your profile, if there’s something you’re interested in learning… pursue it.

Noleen

Noleen: “Continually improve and expand your skills that you can offer - read articles, complete courses, figure out how to use new tech etc. Everything helps you find projects to complete and sometimes you end up working in different areas for the same client. For example, if you’re a writer, you might end up editing or if you’re a designer you could end up writing. That’s the beauty of freelancing, you can learn anything and offer this as a service.”

Want to know how to start freelancing with no experience? Continually improve and expand your skills that you can offer. In the long-term, every single thing will contribute to you delivering better projects (and results) for your clients.

Action point

Action Point —  Find one area or skill that you are interested in learning and add a time into your schedule to learn one thing about that subject or read an article on the topic.

Ready to Be A Successful Freelancer?

It might feel like a huge leap from employee to freelancer but, if you follow these steps on how to be a successful freelancer and put in the hard work, you’ll soon find yourself loving the freedom and flexibility that being a freelancer brings. 

Define your skill and who you can help, then the steps that follow become easier to manage. Now all you need to do is price your services, then leverage a freelance platform to attract your first client.

Remember, being productive is key, and a home office can help you stay on top of your freelance game. 

But, what ultimately makes you a successful freelancer is a relentless ability to keep learning. Get this part right, and you’ll be surprised at how many clients will come knocking at your door.

Thank you for reading this article on how to be a successful freelancer. If you enjoyed it, please don’t forget to share it with anyone who you think will find it helpful.

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