Looking to expand your professional skillset, grow your collection of work samples or increase your income this year? Freelancing can help. Whether you’re employed full time or less employed than you’d like, freelancing evenings and weekends can be a great way to beef up your resume, portfolio and earnings.
As a freelancer and full-time employee myself, I’ve put together 10 tips for quickly ramping up a freelance career on the side.
1. Read your employer’s fine print
Some day-job contracts and employee manuals contain non-compete clauses designed to prevent you from simultaneously working for competitors or any other company. Before you put your freelance stake in the ground, be sure you won’t be in violation of any of your employers’ non-compete rules. If you run into these restrictions, you may have to choose between your day job and your nascent freelance career.
2. Start with the skills you already have
Say you’re a mobile-app developer who’s done a little technical documentation and wants to do more of it on a freelance basis. The quickest way to land freelance work is to capitalize on your app development experience, not on your desire to write more user guides. You of course can offer technical writing to your app development clients as an additional service, and you can beef up your tech writing resume and portfolio through classes and volunteer work in the meantime. Once you have a solid amount of tech writing under your belt, you’ll have better luck landing freelance projects based on your tech writing chops alone.
3. Reach out to your extended network
Let your friends, family, neighbors and professional contacts know you’re in the market for freelance work and give them specifics on the type of projects you’re interested in. Email and social media blasts are a great place to start, but sending personalized notes to your top professional contacts can work wonders, too. Hint: past employers and colleagues who already know and appreciate you make great starter clients. You’re already familiar with their work processes and preferences, which means you can get down to the business of making money that much faster.
4. Get to know other freelancers
Go out of your way to meet newbie and seasoned freelancers, both online and off-. Some of your best leads will come from other freelancers who hear about projects they don’t have the time or interest to take on. Some of your best advice will also come from them. That said, avoid leaning too heavily on any one freelancer for mentorship. Remember they have a business to run, too. Make an effort to build your own posse of solo workers: The bigger your freelance brain trust, the more support you’ll have.
5. Market yourself online
Update your resume, website, LinkedIn page and other social media profiles to reflect your freelance status. Do your best to brand yourself consistently among each. If you’ve sworn off social media, consider creating a blog or digital newsletter to increase awareness of your budding business. If your trade requires work samples, create a simple online portfolio using a tool like Behance or Muck Rack.
6. Go where the quality work leads are
This will take some research. (If you don’t like research, freelancing may not be for you.) Asking your freelance friends to let you if they hear of any projects for you should not be the extent of your research. Also ask them which online groups, services, social media accounts, agencies, and professional associations they’ve found to be the best source of leads for good-paying, reliable freelance clients. Then take the time to investigate these resources yourself.
7. Charge fair market rates
“What should I charge?” is the perennial freelance question. Asking your fellow freelancers what they think a fair price is for a project you’re considering certainly helps. But I encourage you to take your research a step further. Look to professional associations for guidelines on what someone with your skills and experience level might make in your chosen industry. (For example, see these pricing guides from the Editorial Freelancers Association and Graphic Artists Guild.) Resist the urge to undersell yourself or drastically undercut the competition. The lower your starting rates, the higher you’ll have to raise your prices in the future to earn what you’re actually worth.
8. Choose clients wisely
Being selective is the name of the game. Since you’ll only have a limited number of hours to freelance each week, make sure every project you accept aligns closely with your goals. If you aspire to make an extra $1,000 from freelance work each month, don’t accept a menagerie of $50 assignments. Instead, aim for fewer projects with better pay. If you’re an illustrator who wants to branch into books, magazines and personal commissions, think twice before taking on a corporate web project. If you’re our mobile app developer looking to break into tech writing, focus on software development clients who will also give you an opportunity to write user documentation.
9. Make balance a priority
Juggling freelance clients with a day job can be tricky. Be careful not to bite off more side projects than you can chew or let your freelance work jeopardize your primary job. Dropping a ball or two can earn you a reprimand from your clients or boss (ask me how I know). Also be sure to leave enough room in your schedule for relaxing, socializing, sleeping and other self-care. Build up your freelance workload slowly until you know how much you can feasibly handle without burning out.
10. Practice patience
Growing a stable freelance side hustle takes time. Expect to spend some extra hours wooing clients and otherwise promoting yourself at the start. Persistence and a thick skin are essential. You may not always get the gig you want or hear back from a potential client as soon as you’d like. But the more viable project leads you pursue, the sooner you can start cashing those freelance checks.