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How to Start a Successful Freelance Business (10 Essential Steps)

You know why you want to start a freelance business, (but here’s the million-dollar question), do you know how to make it a success?

And if you’re going solo, does that mean you have to take this journey alone?

I’ve good news for you. No, it doesn’t.

Because there’s a well-trodden path you can take.

Carved out by the steps every successful freelancer takes, ones that will show you how to start a successful freelance business.

So, before you begin, follow their footprints and give yourself the best chance of getting to where it is you want to go.

Here are ten steps that will lead you in the right direction.

Step 1. Ask yourself – Why am I starting a freelance business?

This first step is entirely a personal one; you might be asking “(what’s this got to do with business?)” the answer’s everything.

Before you start your entrepreneurial journey, you need to know what you want out of it and why you’re doing it, because it can be a rough ride.

Your commitment will be tested, there’ll be highs and lows, and at times you might even think about giving up.

But if you know your why, you’ll have your reason, and that will give you the strength needed to carry on.

4 questions you should ask yourself:

  • What’s my reason for starting a freelance business? – (Possible answers: To be my own boss – set my hours – or spend more time with my loved ones)
  • What do I want from it? – (Is it a full- time profession or a side income?)
  • Where do I see my business three years from now? – (Maybe you want to stay as a freelancer or create a booming e-commerce business)
  • Am I willing to make the sacrifices? – (This one’s very important because it’s your journey, so it has to suit you. Think about how many hours a day/days a week you’re willing to devote to it)
 

Once you have your why, you can implement your way.

And for that to happen, you have to set your goals:

Step 2. Decide on and set your goals

Successful people use Smart goals because it’s a system proven to get results. Smart goals are measurable, specific, attainable, relevant, and time-based. Basically, they get things done.

You should use them too because they’ll give you your route to success. One, you can rely on for direction when lost, a system that tells you what you should be doing, and when you should be doing it.

For it to work, every decision you make has to move you toward achieving your end goal. Also, review your goals and results daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly; by doing so, you’ll know where you’re achieving the required results and where you’re falling short.

The Smart Goal method:

  • Short-term: (Daily/weekly/monthly/quarterly goals)
  • Long-term: (Annual goals)
  • Ongoing: (A goal that requires consistent action)
 

It’s well known that the world’s most successful entrepreneurs use this strategy as part of their daily routine, so come on, get smart!

Your next step? Go where the money is:

Step 3. Choose a profitable niche within your market place

A mistake many freelancers make when entering their market place is not knowing what the most profitable niches are.

You see, your skill or service is not your niche, it’s your market, and within every market, there are numerous niches, some vastly more profitable than others!

Have you heard the saying “Racing to the bottom”?

It means competing on price; it’s what many new freelancers do because they haven’t chosen a profitable niche, and it never ends well.

To succeed in this game, you must adopt a (COMPETE ON VALUE) mindset, because thousands of available freelancers can charge less than you, perhaps due to their geographical location, cheaper living costs, or pure desperation to get the gig.

Fortunately, there’s a solution.

Finding your niche:

  • First, choose an area within your market that interests you. The goal is to find a niche that you like and pays well, not to end up hating what you do.
  • Research the online demand for your skill or service, are there any (sub-markets/niche services) of your skillset that clients are looking for more than others?
  • Choose two or three that are in demand.
  • Research freelancers offering those particular niche services, find out what they’re charging.
  • Research freelance employment websites, find out what they’re paying.
  • Obtain any further skills required for competing in your chosen niche.
 

Once you’ve established authority within your niche, you’ll attract the right types of clients, and you’ll never have to compete on price.

Now you’ve found your profitable niche it’s time to find those profitable clients:

Step 4. Identify the best clients in your niche

Your freelance business’s success relies heavily upon identifying and attracting the best type of clients.

So, who are they?

Your target clients are those wanting to work with professional freelancers. They are happy to pay appropriately for your service, provide ongoing projects, referrals, and will help you build your online profile.

They sound great, but I know what you’re thinking.

I’m just starting a freelance business; how do I attract them???

Try the following strategy:

At this early stage, your goal is to get a paying gig, one that might lead to a referral and provide an example of your work for future clients to review. But to get your first job, you might have to cast a wide net and take what you can, even if it’s below your desired paygrade. That’s where freelance job site platforms like Upwork and Fiverr can help you.

 

Next target desirable clients:

After you’ve got your first gig, you can then look for clients that fit your buyer’s persona (your niches target clients), AKA those who want, and are willing to pay for your service.

 

Contact them via their websites, connect on social media groups, use platforms like Instagram, email them directly with a link to your portfolio website (more on that later). Also, consider advertising on paid freelance advertising platforms within your niche as the clients using them are looking for the best freelancers, not the cheapest.

Your goal now is to create a reliable client list and a substantial portfolio of your work. It might take a little time, but once achieved, you’ll be on the premium shelf and in high demand.

But before you can get your first gig, you need to set strategic prices for your services:

Step 5. Set prices for your services

To set strategic prices for your services, you have to decide how you’ll charge your clients and on your minimum hourly rate.

Before we get into this one it pays to be realistic because you’re new to freelancing, and there’s nothing wrong with using a flexible pricing strategy to begin with; most entrepreneurs do; it’s a sign of commitment and determination—two things every entrepreneur needs.

OK, your charge options are…

Hourly rates: Vary from freelancer to freelancer, and several factors can determine them (your experience, location, the demand, and the client). To use an hourly rate, first research what other freelancers are charging for similar services. If the rate is above your minimum, you can afford to compete by the hour.

Flat fee rates: Are a pre-agreed set amount between you and your client that doesn’t change even if the workload is increased or decreased during the lifetime of the agreement.

Project quotes: Are one-off prices for individual projects. Before you agree on a project rate (divide the project price by the estimated hours needed to complete it), if it’s above your minimum rate, you know you can accept it.

 

It’s advisable to research freelance pricing before deciding on your strategy. You can also find pay rate information on websites like Payscale, Glassdoor, Clippings, Payoneer.

Another thing we all need is a professional-looking website from which to advertise our growing portfolio:

Step 6. Build a high-quality portfolio website

Regardless of your niche, you need to create and maintain an online presence; and your first step is building a high-quality website.

Why a website is crucial to your success:

Every business needs a website. It’s your digital shop front, project gallery, meet and greet, personal bio, professional resume, and client history platform all in one!  So, it has to hit a home run every time potential-clients drop by.

The good news is you don’t need an overly complicated website, but you do need one that reflects your professionalism because nothing turns potential clients away quicker than a poorly made site.

Remember, first impressions count, and your website’s the face of your freelancing business, so make it smile. Your website should be easy to read, easy to navigate and last but least, it should advertise your brand.  No one likes a complicated website.

Essential website pages:

Blog: It’s a great way of increasing your website’s ranking and for building a community around your new freelance brand.

Hire me page: A contact page where clients can request your service.

About page: Highlighting your relevant skills, accomplishments, and education.

Portfolio: Showcasing previous projects.

Service’s page: A detailed description of the services you offer.

Pricing: This is optional; some freelancers prefer not to show pricing upfront.

 

The benefits of a website:

  • Online visibility.
  • Free advertising platform.
  • Point of reference for potential clients.
  • Proof of professionalism.
  • A platform to share throughout your networks.
 

Creating your site:

You can find out what website designs work in your niche by looking at your competitors, do the same on social media platforms, get ideas on how they write, what language they use and content they post. This information will give you a blueprint for your new website.

To build your site, you can use WordPress or Squarespace, both are user-friendly platforms, and there are numerous free instruction videos available. Next, buy your domain and register your site with a hosting server. The great news is you can do it all on one platform, which simplifies the entire process; for example, if you build your website with WordPress, they also provide domain registration and a hosting service.

OK, deep breath, next up your pitch:

Step 7. The perfect pitch

No one’s going to hear you above the crowd unless you learn how to pitch yourself.

Did you know this is a huge stumbling block for many new freelancers? So, relax, you’re not alone!

I guess it’s the fear of putting yourself out there, beyond your comfort zone, the fear of cold calling, and the rejections that can follow! Seriously, no one likes it, but to land those first clients, you have to do it.

But you can help remove the fear!

Approach your pitch as an opportunity, a personal audit if you like. Highlight your positives, experience, and achievements, write them all down—then use them in your pitch.

Some pitch core elements are:

  • Start strong, use an elevator pitch – (a short, precise, attention-grabbing explanation of the services you provide, finished with your unique selling proposition).
  • Provide evidence that you understand the job/company you’re contacting.
  • And examples of your work that demonstrate your expertise.
  • Testimonials (If you have any) If not, don’t worry.
  • A call to action – Give them a reason for contacting you then provide them with ways of doing it.

Your pitch’s goal is to grab the readers` attention, and a sure way of doing that is by talking about them, showing them that you understand their company’s needs, their goals, and how you can help them.

Next, provide proof, show testimonials, or give a quick explanation of how you’ll benefit them.

Finally, finish strong, leave the client in no doubt that you can help them.

Dealing with rejection:

You’ll get rejections; it’s part of the process. The trick is to take any relevant information provided by the client, implement any changes needed, and move on.

And remember, your pitch is organic, it changes as you do, consider it as your closest confidant, it’s there to help you succeed, so embrace it.

Step 8. Create examples of the services you provide

You have to give prospective clients a reason for hiring you, do it by creating samples of what you can deliver and show them on your portfolio website.

It’s especially necessary if you’re yet to land your first gig, and it doesn’t matter if you’re not being paid to produce them because they’re not testimonials; they’re there to showcase your skills.

But you can add validation to your free samples by providing them pro-bono to charities, important causes, a free showpiece to a local company, or a free article on a popular website, YouTube video, etc.

Pro tip – On how to connect with clients using samples:

An excellent way of connecting with your potential clients without cold calling is by using a social media channel that’s popular with your niche.

Start by providing regular and helpful content, images, and videos, then connect with your target clients by liking and sharing what they’re posting. They, in turn, will look at who’s sharing their content with the community, and if they like what they see when they look at you, you could land a client!

Your goal here is to show you’re active within your niche, that you’re an authority figure who can provide the goods. Remember, the more active you are, the more you’ll be noticed.

Another way of getting noticed is by marketing:

Step 9. Market yourself effectively

A content marketing strategy is your opportunity for creating an online reputation, and it provides several options for connecting with clients in your niche, advertising your skills, and building out your community.

And the best place to do that is?

Social media, of course.

It’s become an essential part of the freelance marketing campaign, as it’s critical for engaging with new and old customers and for staying relevant within your niche.

But which platforms should you choose?

That depends upon your niche; some are more suited to Facebook, while others suit Instagram. You can find out which to use by looking at social media demographical statistics.

Some quick and useful social media stats:

  • Instagram: Favored by young adults and hugely beneficial to S2M (small to medium) businesses. Excellent for building brand awareness through posts and images.
  • Facebook: Has a broad demographic, used by teens, young and older adults. Great for connecting with communities within a niche and building a following by posting content, images, videos, etc.
  • Pinterest: If your niche is feminine orientated, then Pinterest is proven to connect as 71% of users are female, and between them, they post 93% of the pins.
  • LinkedIn: Perhaps you’re a B2B (business to business) freelancer if so LinkedIn’s your first choice for connecting with employers in your niche. Also, for promoting your services, advertising your skills, making contacts, building client lists, and establishing a professional brand image.

Consistency is one of the keys to online success, try using the same profile image and biography on all your platforms, and with the content (images, videos) you post. Your goal is to become a recognized authority figure within your niche, one with a familiar face and voice.

And numerous tools can help you do it, use social scheduling tools to help organize your content posting dates, and get all the statistics you need on websites like Hootsuite Analytics.

Step 10. Build and maintain business relationships

Once you’ve created your platforms and made your first client connections, you can boost your reputation by maintaining good relationships.

Retaining clients is far easier than finding new ones. It applies to all sales funnels, regardless of what you’re selling, the effort and cost of obtaining a paying client are far more than keeping one!

So, how do you do it?

By going above and beyond with the service you provide, including being reliable, flexible, understanding, and helpful.

Here’s why:

Clients want freelancers who provide quality service and are easy to work with.

When a client is pondering over which freelancer to use for their next project, the deciding factor might not be price or even quality; it can come down to the freelancer who’ll go the extra mile when needed and with zero fuss.

By adopting this attitude from day one, you’ll quickly form a reputation as a dependable freelancer, the go-to person. Positive word of mouth is a powerful thing because businesses prefer to use someone who’s recommended, and it can help land you those first valuable clients.

You’ll also accumulate positive testimonials that you can display on your site, helping you land even more target clients. It pays to be nice!

Over to you

All of us who go from employee to freelance business owners are driven by a combination of feelings, ones that make us leap.

But now you know it doesn’t have to be a leap of faith, and you don’t have to go it alone.

Use these steps as your guide (a trusted Sherpa) helping you get from base-camp to the summit. Take them one at a time, and whenever you slip, take a deep breath and remember why you’re doing this, because your why is what will see you through.

Good luck. I’ll see you at the top.

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