This is actually me posting this freelance guide on Begin Wandering and getting hit by a wild Subscribe pop-up. Karma.

How To: Start a Freelance Career for Beginners

Always wanted to make thousands of dollars per month online, but never knew how? This How To: Start a Freelancer Career for Beginners Guide is made for you!

Not everyone knows how to go from making $0 online each month to making $4000 and frankly, not everyone believes you can. Most people believe these are empty promises and large numbers that are thrown around by liars and charlatans to make an easy buck from coaching (which in most cases doesn’t go anywhere beyond lining the pockets of the "coach") and books (which rarely teach you anything).

Franklin is listening to your lies and he's judging... (Source: Pexels)

In the majority of the cases we all know, the distrust surrounding these promises is well-placed. How often, after all, do we watch sponsored ads of some twenty-something-year-old standing around a (rented) Lambo, saying he made $100,000 this month and offering to teach us how? What about that guy who does the silly dance or joke before offering you the book he’s written that will make you a millionaire? I’m sure you’ve spotted these on social media once or twice, and you’ve probably seen right through their scam. If not, I apologize on their behalf – we’re going to help you get back the money you wasted on them.

The freelance and online entrepreneurship industries have been surrounded with the heavy mist of disbelief and a lack of trust for a long time now, thanks to the fact that many people pretending to be experts are not experts at all, but just a modern version of snake oil salesmen with thousands to spend on Facebook and Instagram advertising. It has made people stick to what they know: slaving away at a 9-5 job, five days a week.

In short, the risk factor continues to put people off. But we’re here to change that.

The Freelance Life and What It Can Offer You

Imagine you were able to sleep in, eventually waking up not to have a shower and hurry to work, but to walk over to your balcony and stare out at the beautiful city as thousands of people scurry on the streets to their jobs; all this while you sipped at your coffee and awaited the Skype meeting with a client who pays you $50 USD per hour for your work as a marketing specialist…and that is, mind you, just one of the four clients you’re working with?

Like this, except indoors. (Source: Pixabay)

This mental image is not something out of a dream – thousands of people are living this previous paragraph as a reality, making their daily income from the comfort of their home (or a rented space halfway across the world in a sunny destination), relaxing most of the day before getting to work for a few hours and making the same amount the average Joe can produce during forty hours of weekly hard labor. It may seem like a fantasy, but it is closer to you than you think.

It has been estimated that half of the United States workforce will consist of freelancers within the next decade, and that the industry will only continue to grow as the online world reaches and more corners and pushes past more obstacles that still holds it back in certain (minimal) aspects, such as internet limitations and banking restrictions.

If there is a moment for you to hop onto this gravy train and ride it to the very last station, it is right now, when the industry is not young enough to present a massive risk, nor too old for you not to be able to find a job due to lack of demand. In fact, if you’ve browsed your way into this guide then you’re in luck, it means that you are already on the way to becoming a freelancer, and subsequently an online entrepreneur.

Getting Started as a Freelancer

1. Selecting your niche

The first step into your freelance career should be recognizing just what you’re good at, and what you plan on offering to your clients. This may not exactly be the same thing, considering that there may be a slightly more attractive niche in your general specialty (for example, you write fiction books, but find it more profitable to write non-fiction).

I swear it isn't as difficult as this picture makes it look. (Source: Pexels)

For this step, you will need to reflect on which of your skills you can monetize. Are you a good graphic artist? Can you write a story that keeps people gripped? Do your videos blow your friends away? Think of this as you choose.

I’ve written an entire in-depth article on this, if you’re interested. Check it out here if you want to identify the freelance niches and get some advice on selecting one:

Freelance Niches: How to Find Your Specialty (+ List of Freelance Niches)

NOTE: Freelancing sites have been clamping down on the most popular niches due to an excess of supply – there are simply too many translators, graphic designers, certain types of writers and so on – so be sure to make your niche more specific! Example: TECHNICAL Writer; COMMERCIAL Photographer; LEGAL Translator and so on.

2. Thinking of how you're going to get paid

This one is an interesting one: I never formally coached on getting into the freelance industry before Begin Wandering, but I definitely helped many people start making money online – I used to tell them to wait until they had begun before worrying about payment methods…I was wrong!

You must ensure you have a payment method set up before beginning to work with your first clients, due to the difficulties that this can present. Many digital wallets have a limited amount of countries and currencies they work with, meaning you may encounter difficulties when wishing to withdraw your money; furthermore, payment methods like Payoneer take time to send you their debit cards (more about this in another upcoming article), so you could be without a withdrawal method for a while.

My advice: go ahead and get your payment method set up and ready for your first payment to arrive. You won’t regret it! Payment methods will be discussed in an upcoming article, but include Payoneer, Paypal, Neteller, TransferWise and obviously, good old bank accounts.

3. Picking a website or going solo

It’s as the subtitle says: on the third step of becoming a freelancer, you have to decide where you’re going to find your work. Not a light task, you will soon realize. In my own experience, I started off working on Upwork, where I still work to this day. Online freelancing workplaces may have some drawbacks attached to them, such as fees and subscriptions, as well as those additional server/customer support issues that you may encounter, but they also bring a level of consumer protection that balances out the bad bits. 

Workspaces rock! (Source: Pixabay)

Other websites include Freelancer, Fiverr, Workana (for Spanish speakers) and PeoplePerHour.

Nevertheless, you don’t necessarily have to sign up on a website to find freelance work – anyone who says you do is probably lying or working for one of these websites. There are plenty of forums and Facebook groups that allow you to offer your services and find clients in your field with ease. In fact, Facebook groups are exceedingly good in that they allow you to find work in very specific niches, allowing you to filter out the garbage by specifically looking for communities related to your specialty. LinkedIn is another option similar to Facebook groups, although the competition is fierce.

Frankly, there are advantages and disadvantages to both methods of finding freelance work online; I have gone down both paths and can only say that maybe, just maybe, if I could go back… actually, nah. I’d still have walked the same path I traveled as a freelance initiate, only that I would have started at least two years earlier.

There is actually yet another path, which involves “cold-calling”, or in this case, “cold-emailing”…but we’ll leave this for another occasion, since the present post is for beginners.

With this said, we have successfully ended this section on “Getting Started”. It’s about time we moved on to actually moving onto the official first stage of freelancing.

Attracting Your First Client

You’re going to learn something fast as a freelance beginner: it isn’t easy to impress a client when you’re starting off. The trust factor that an experienced freelancer may own, with their job history and samples stored for any new clients who request them, is not a benefit belonging to that somebody who has never freelanced before. 

In my particular case, I had never done any writing worth sharing when I started sending job proposals to people on Upwork. Sure, I had some stuff I’d written for fun, as well as plenty of outlines for stories that I never actually begun, but none of it was worth using to convince the client to hire me. Therefore, it was my profile that had to do the job for me, and believe me when I say that I had literally no idea on what to do. Fortunately, I have since learned plenty of useful pointers that I can share with you:

1. Freelancer profile photos and why they matter

Yikes, you have no idea how much this step is overlooked. Literally no idea. Look pal, you could be the best programmer in the world with an impressive portfolio and awesome job history, but you won’t be doing yourself any favors if your photo looks like it was taken at night after you were involved in a brutal fight.

"And it was my best photo, lol" (Source: Pixabay)

I’m not even telling you to go out and take some professional photographs (which can actually go against you, due to how ridiculously forced some look), but try to get a picture that represents you and makes you look professional. Studies have demonstrated that certain accessories and features in the picture will make them more attractive for the client checking out your profile:

- Making eye contact with the camera may just be the most important profile picture feature of them all. There is a considerably higher profile view rate associated with freelancers using photos in which they make eye contact with the camera than with those that don’t.

- Adequate lighting is essential to getting the best out of your profile photo. You don’t want to go overboard on brightness, but do make sure your photo does the best of showing you clearly. You may also come off as someone “trustworthy” due to the way our minds work, associating light with “good”.

- High-resolution photos are preferred for this role. While you may not be expected to upload a photo that was taken by a professional photographer, at least make it so your clients don’t have to ask which of the 4 pixels in the photo is you.

- No concealing accessories. Seriously, no sunglasses, hats or any other item other than eyeglasses unless it’s for religious or health reasons. Clients have confessed to being less likely to view a profile of somebody with a concealed face than somebody who is showing their facial features. Don’t be shy!

2. A bio that sells you to the client

Whether you’re finding work on LinkedIn, Upwork, Freelancer or Facebook groups, you’re going to want to make your profile look not only attractive but also unique. Nobody wants to read the same old phrases, such as “quick worker”, “great results”, “thinking outside the box” and so on. Talk about your strengths as a freelancer. Do you write about controversial, emotional subjects as a blog writer? Are your videos regularly action-packed and high-paced? What about your fiction, is it sensual and naughty or epic and unforgettable? Tell the world! 

Don't lie, please. (Source: Pixabay)

A great bio isn’t just one that looks good – it’s one that sells. Selling is the first objective you should have, regardless of how well-written it is. Without being dishonest, you should be able to paint an amazing picture of yourself that can tell a client everything (literally everything) you can do for them, all while ensuring that they hire you and not somebody else. This may sound confusing, but I’ll make an example for you:

Client A is looking for a writer for his tech blog, and in his search he comes across Writer Jack and Writer Jill. Writer Jack has a degree in English and a long job history. His bio explains that he has worked in writing for 20 years, that he’s a responsible worker with a quick turnaround, and that he is available for appointments. Client A takes one look at the bio and shrugs. “This might be my guy.”

But then Client A looks at Writer Jill’s bio. She is a nurse who writes in her free time, and normally that would automatically put her behind Jack in the shortlist. Fortunately for Jill though, her bio rocks. She doesn’t just explain how long she’s been writing and how quick she is. She tells Client A that she can create amazing copy, that her captivating content has been featured on at least ten blogs, and that she has a talent for writing just about any subject she’s asked to, thanks to her research skills. She tells the Client A through her bio that she doesn’t just work as a writer on a freelance site- she LOVES writing, and NEEDS new writing jobs constantly.

Guess who Client A interviews first, nine times out of ten? Jill. She may not have the experience, but she has the attitude, and clients are looking for that. Clients sometimes even feel intimidated by the guy with the long CV and the cold attitude – they feel that they’re going to have to spend a fortune on a simple task that somebody else could do.

Think about this next time you re-write your bio – something you should try to do every so often if the jobs aren’t coming – so that you can be the Jill in this story, and not the Jack.

3. Portfolios: the essential tool to landing bigger jobs

As a client as well as a freelancer, I think I’ve hired more people based on this aspect than on any bio or profile photo, regardless of how good these last two were.

An updated and organized portfolio is worth ten good bios, and one hundred good profile photos. It is an excellent replacement to client reviews (if you don’t have many yet), and it can show the world what you’re capable of before anyone decides to interview you.

(Source: Pixabay)

Digital portfolios are a collection of files, texts, images and videos which act as evidence of who and what you are, and what you have accomplished in your career. It isn’t just a CV or job history, it is your presentation, and your (second) chance to sell yourself. 

A proper portfolio will have a short but detailed description of your role on the previous job, a COMPANY LOGO (important) belonging to your clients, and more or less the scope of the job (articles written, photographs taken, hours worked). If you can do this right, you will blow away anybody who is looking at your portfolio and most likely land the job immediately! 

Portfolios don’t even have to be exclusively on freelance sites – you can use an Instagram, Flickr, blog or just about any hosting site as a portfolio. I hired BeginWandering’s graphic designer because she sent me a presentation – a damn good PDF presentation at that – as her portfolio. It worked, as you may realize.

4. Reviews: the obvious requirement

If you’re working on a freelance website, you have to worry about one more thing that Facebook and cold-mailing freelancers don’t – reviews. While reviews can help you a LOT (there’s nothing like being a 100% Top Rated freelancer on Upwork, for example), they can also harm you greatly when a client decided your work wasn’t worth a 5-star feedback but a 3-star one instead.

Ohhh yeah! The sweet spot. (Source: Upwork)

My suggestion to get good reviews on freelance sites is not only to perform a job for completion, but to go the extra mile. Giving that extra 1, 10 or 100% for a client may seem like something unfair on your side, but you will always be recognized for doing it, ensuring that you get repeat jobs, as well as opening the possibility of extra bonuses for your extra work (I got quite a few when I started off, some as small as $5, others as big as $100).

If the client doesn’t seem like they’ll leave feedback once the work is done, feel free to ask them for a review. Tell them you’ll be grateful, especially if they leave you a good score. While some freelancers believe this is bad etiquette, I find it to be great at convincing them not to damage an otherwise perfect score.

Finally, if you did something wrong, don’t just wait for the payment no matter what. FIX IT. A client who has been disappointed by your work can still be convinced you can do it properly. Once they leave that 1 star review and make you look bad, you’re screwed.

The First Steps into the Industry

1. Searching for work

You’ve finally designed your bio, prepared your portfolio and taken a deep breath to prepare for your upcoming new life as a freelancer…but you have no idea how to find jobs.

(Source: Pixabay)

The big question next is – how do I find jobs that I can perform? This is an interesting question, because you have to more or less know just what your capabilities are. Starting off, an ambitious project could be a downfall for some, while many others will want to get busy right away. You may have experience working with clients online (using tools such as Slack, Skype and Asana), or you may be a newbie…it really doesn’t matter in the end; you still need to apply the same approach.

My recommendation for a new freelancer, with experience or without, is to look for the smaller jobs. I don’t mean go and get underpaid for hard work; what I’m saying is that you need to look for something with a smaller scope. Get yourself warmed up with a client looking for a short translation, a couple of pics or a handful of blog articles. Learn how the website or how Facebook freelance groups work. Earn their trust, and start earning theirs. Don’t be afraid to work for someone briefly and have to look for your next client soon after. It develops confidence in you, as well as social skills.

2. How much do I charge?

Not an easy question, and despite my experience, I cannot give you the pricing for every single job out there in every single niche. I can, however, recommend that you apply a formula:

Project payment = (Hourly rate * Hours worked) – Flexibility factor

What I’m recommending here, is that you establish an hourly rate (which is actually part of your profile on a freelance website) first, and then establish a flexibility factor.

"Can we do this?" Of course we can, Bill. (Source: Pixabay)

What is a flexibility factor, though? In my case use that term for the amount you’re going to deduct from the total payment requested, taking into account that you’re a newbie and need to gain some reputation. If you haven’t understood what I mean yet, then yes, I’m basically saying that you will want to charge less than you normally would for your first one or two jobs.

“Why?! Why would I do that?!” I hear you ask.

Simple, because – as long as your bio, portfolio and profile photo look great, as well as your proposal – you will land the smaller jobs with ease. Flexibility factors aren’t a large deduction from the payment, either: most clients don’t like hiring people who work for pennies, since it typically means they’ll produce bad results. Try to charge 10% less, and it’ll be enough. The key, however, is to tell the client somehow. Let them know you’re willing to do this job for cheaper, just so they can see how well you can perform.

I’ve taken a look at other websites and experts, and many recommend to use your annual salary as a starting point… yeah, good luck getting a quick job on a freelance site without any job history while charging real-life rates. Not happening, guys and girls. Believe me when I tell you – your honesty and humility are going to seal the deal, and you’ll be able to up your rates for repeat work almost immediately if you can prove yourself in your first jobs.

3. Your first proposal/interview

Having established how much you’re going to get paid and having found a suitable job in your search, you are now one step away from working.

However, there’s a massive wall separating you from payment, and it’s the most important step of this guide: Making first contact with the client.

We're all disappointed in you. P.S: You're hired. (Source: Pixabay)

Very few freelancers in the world can say they’ve landed every single job they’ve sent a proposal or been interviewed for, and I can guess that you won’t be one of them either (sorry)

This isn’t a weakness, in case you’re wondering. It’s part of life. Oprah Winfrey was once taken off the air, Stephen King had trouble selling his first book, and Albert Einstein was expelled from school. Know what I mean?

Proposals and interviews are one and the same, even when you receive the interview out of the blue – you’re going to need to earn that job, no matter who you are. There is no real formula to this, unlike the previous point: research, honesty and a LOT of confidence are key if you’ve gotten this far, however. Let’s go over each one:

Clients are thrilled when they meet somebody who knows what they’re talking about in all aspects. Your knowledge can’t simply be limited to performing the task, you have to actually know the subject. This is what you accomplish when you research the job. Is somebody asking you to design a website with animations? Quickly look up some examples online and offer feedback from what you’ve seen. Is a client requesting some data entry on spreadsheets? Mention the way you’ll organize the fields and data and they’ll feel you have experience.

Does the client need his non-fiction guide in ten days but you feel you’ll need eleven? Go ahead and tell him/her. They’ll be thankful for you being honest. Nobody likes a liar, and promising something you can’t achieve is the best way to get a bad review/reputation. Be honest; don’t just show what you can do but also what you can’t. Clients will be thankful. 

Confidence, just like in real-life interviews, is what will seal the deal. You’re not just curious about the job they’re offering you – you’re DYING to start. You’re HUNGRY to get their work done, and once it’s over you’re EXCITED at the prospect of more. Show them that you can’t wait for the project to start, and it will create the necessary anticipation for the client to choose and stick with you. Furthermore, be aware that confidence can trump experience – you could look more deserving of the job than someone who’s done it for years but who can’t dominate the interview.

4. Deadlines and submissions

If you want to succeed as a professional, regardless if you’re in an office or halfway across the world, you’re going to learn the value of responsibility and punctuality. For this reason, you won’t be able to get off the hook if you constantly miss deadlines or go missing when the client is looking for you. Nobody needs somebody like that, so don’t be that guy/girl.

Or else. (Source: Pixabay)

As I said earlier, be honest. If you can’t turn in the work before the agreed deadline, tell the client a week earlier. Let them know it’s becoming a bit too tough, and that you’ll need extra days. Ask nicely, and they’ll always say yes. They’re human beings too, and they know you might have miscalculated the deadline as anyone else could in real life. Always try to have a good reason, and be patient if they don’t take it well.

Finally, once the work is done, you’re going to want to turn it in. Make sure you can guarantee the payment, and that you have a channel to communicate with them so they can find out. If you use multiple channels to talk with your client, send them a message through all of them. They might miss a Facebook message, for example, and you’ll have a mess on your hands when they decide that it was YOUR fault that they saw it three days later. Be smart, and be cautious. You don’t want to suffer the consequences of somebody else’s mistakes.

Moving Forward as a Freelancer

Once you’ve gotten past the previous steps and have landed a few jobs, learning the ropes along the way, I’m glad to tell you that you’ll no longer be considered a beginner. The doors will slowly but surely open for you as you master interviews, payments and fix a rate that truly represents what you deserve. You’re also going to learn the values of networking, a tool that will represent your first steps into the world of online business, but that’s a subject we’ll leave for another article.

In theory... (Source: Pixabay)

For now, I can recommend three steps for you to climb once you’ve surpassed the beginner level of freelancing:

1. Organize yourself and set a schedule

Pretend you’re working at an office, but from the comfort of your home. Set yourself a schedule and follow it. Production will improve. Divide your time accordingly and find time for leisure so that you don’t become a workaholic (and no, being a workaholic isn’t always a good thing).

2. Set ambitious goals

You can’t be working for the same rates or looking for the same small, one-time jobs forever. Go for massive projects; accept more jobs than you could previously handle, and aim for the heights you hadn’t even dared to look at before.

Ambition is something not everybody has, but which only the best can develop to full potential. Think about this as you advance through the ranks!

3. Increase your rates – regardless of who you’re working for

It doesn’t matter if Mr. Smith paid you $60 for new additions to his website 2 months ago, it may be time to increase your rates if he’s happy working with you. Being a professional is about personal growth, and increasing your rates is part of that. Anyone who is worth more will be paid more, as simple as that. Up your rates if your client likes your work and you both feel comfortable. You won’t regret it. Your personal and financial growth will boost greatly.

And now…we’ve reached the end of this guide. All of us at Begin Wandering hope you like it – a lot of research, experience and effort were put into it. Apply these lessons and you will see that sooner rather than later you will progress as a freelancer.

Believe in yourself. Give your all. Show that you can be a professional. Rewards will come.

Now, tell us what you thought about this guide in the comments! Did it work for you? Are you ready to be a freelancer?


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Anthony M.

Founder, Head Content Creator. Chemical Engineer. Entrepreneur. Instructor. Writer. Traveler. Once a cog in the traditional workforce machine, I decided to stake my claim in the freelancing business and haven’t looked back since. Working remotely is the first step to freedom, bringing you the ability to call your own shots and organize your own time. Now, however... I'm going to teach you how.

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