How to Become a Freelancer – The 14 Steps

The Steps: Steep, Rocky, and Pretty Damn Fun

In looking through my previous entries, I discovered I’d fallen prey to one of my oldest habits: starting a giant project and abandoning it … almost instantly. The sad thing is that teaching others how to become freelancer writers is something I genuinely care about. So I’d like to continue that project (H2BaF) now, but would like to start with the organizational skeleton.

In this entry I will outline the necessary steps, giving just a vague snippet on what each step requires. Further entries will then elaborate on the topic and be linked from this page. By resuming the project with this outline, though, I hope that those paying attention to my blog won’t be left hanging.

The Step-by-Step Outline of How to Become a Freelancer

Step One: Save Up
Life as a freelancer is stressful, and it can take time to get established. Have enough in your savings account, as a bare minimum, to cover one to three months of expenses.

Step Two: Explore Sub-Fields
This industry thrives on its specialists. Before you begin building yourself in the market, you should decide where in that market you’d like to go. Articles, web content, print, translation, ad copy, legal documents, eBooks, technical writing, resume construction, and a number of other sub-fields are all viable.

Step Three: Develop a Portfolio
With a specialization in mind, put together your best work. If you don’t have a great collection, explore doing pro bono work or constructing hypothetical projects to flesh out your presentation.

Step Four: Determine Your Branding Angle
Some people brand themselves as an individual (e.g., “Rob D Young”). Others brand themselves as a company (e.g., “RDY Writing”). Some, such as myself, do both. Since you’ll be purchasing a domain name and setting up your initial image, you need to weigh the options now.

Step Five: Put Your Portfolio on the Web
You will be getting most of your work on the web, so an online portfolio is vital. Purchase a domain name that reflects your branding decisions,

Step Six: Set Up Your Tools
If you’re going to survive the chaotic world of freelancing, you’ll need to set up productivity tools now. With utilities like the Google Apps, your online tools can also improve branding opportunities and create a more professional overall presentation.

Step Seven: Set Up Additional Profiles
There are a number of freelancing sites, including eLance, constant content, job posting forums, and dozens of other sites that may be useful to you down the line. Set up at least a few of these profiles now.

Step Eight: Create an Acquisition Framework
The process of acquiring clients involves having an effective sales pitch, a solid body of work, an understanding of industry standards for pay, a tight contract, and a good timeline. Create this acquisitions backbone now.

Step Nine: Acquire Initial Clients
You will serve your time in the trenches in this industry. That means working for a penny per word, and sometimes less. Getting those clients really builds your portfolio and gets you used to the industry – and is a great way to test your ability to cope with a freelancer’s life. Acquire enough projects that you’re devoting 10 or more hours per week to freelancing.

Step Ten: Create Office Space
To prevent technical difficulties and maximize your overall productivity, should set up your at-home office before you push for full-time freelancing. There are some definite “dos” and “don’ts” in the office setup process, however.

Step Eleven: Quit Your Job
You’re now ready. After thoroughly weighing the options (and yes, this article will largely be about this weighing), if freelancing sounds good to you, quit your job so you can focus on client acquisition.

Step Twelve: Fill Your Schedule
With an understanding that some time should be left for emergencies, personal issues, and further branding, pursue clients to fill up your time and – hopefully – your bank account.

Step Thirteen: Pick a Niche
It seems strange to save it to this late spot in the program, but I do believe that writers should experience the versatile array of project types before deciding on one or two to focus on. However, every truly successful freelancer I’ve worked with has chosen a niche area – allowing them to brand as a specialist and acquire higher-rate work.

Step Fourteen: Bells and Whistles
There are now a load of extras you can focus on to increase your presence and performance. These include: business cards, computer upgrades, community participation and social networking, additional software/hardware, and boat-loads of energy drinks. I’ll cover some of these not-strictly-necessary extras in this entry.

Once these steps have been completed, your time in the industry will still leave plenty of questions. I’ll try to cover those tricky topics – like how and when to request a rate increase, maneuvering issues with contracts, sub-contracting to other writers, budgeting issues, the oh-so-common motivation struggles, what to do when a client goes dry, dealing with some of the pitfalls of freelancing, how much to focus on quality versus quantity, what to do when you’ve taken on too much, etc., etc. – in future entries.

Just let me know if you have any questions! Wherever you are on these steps, and whatever your exact passion, I’m glad to help those who are seeking great self-ownership and freedom through freelancing get a better foothold in this challenging market.

How to Become a Freelancer — Step One: Save Up!

In 2008, I made my first attempt at becoming a freelancer — and failed. The industry was intimidating and I had no one to show me the ropes. In the How to Become a Freelancer (H2BaF) series, I will help you avoid that same problem by walking you through the required steps for freelancing success.

It’s a pretty little piggy! Now, fill it up.

Step One: Save Up!

So, you’re ready to get yourself in gear and get moving on your freelancing dreams. I’m going to do you the immense favor of walking you through the process step by step, and the first step here is saving up a big wad of cash.

Why Save?

There are plenty of more technical things you’ll need to do, plenty of more learning-oriented stages, but this one step is going to be the most crucial. Why?

  1. You will have dry spells in this industry. Clients will have zero work, you won’t be able to find anything new, your computer will die, or you’ll just lose a client (hey, it happens to the best of us!).
  2. You will have to spend for business success. Remember, you’re going to become your own janitorial staff, IT service, office manager, software guru, sales team, and more. Whether it’s for an internet router, an ergonomic chair, a subscription to a freelancing site, or a new computer hard drive, you need some “buying power.”
  3. You will have your preferred form of freak out (panic attack, binge eating session, retreat into video games, obsessive cleaning, etc.) if you have to earn or die. It’s just not a stress-friendly place.
  4. You will have a transitional period where you don’t make as much as you will. You probably want to eat during that time.
  5. You might just hate freelancing. It’s not for everyone. Don’t force yourself into a corner by relying on freelancing for income.
So, how much money should you save up? At a minimum, you will want to save enough to get by for one month. Something more to the tune of three months would be best for optimal security.

The Exceptions

There are a few circumstances where saving money isn’t necessary. They are:

  • If you’re transitioning from unemployment to freelancing, and getting a job just isn’t practical.
  • If you’re currently a stay at home parent.
  • If you currently receive sufficient income to cover your monthly costs from a source that doesn’t require work (social security, disability, workers’ comp, a legal settlement, etc.).
Already being at your rope’s end for money isn’t an exception. Things will only get harder with freelancing.

Ways to Save Quickly

There are four ways I’ve seen to save up money more quickly, and they work very well for those who are living “at the edge of their income.”

Option One: Wait for Your Tax Return

Most of us get a very solid tax return. If you can’t save, hold out for your check from Uncle Sam to start freelancing.

Option Two: Sell Your Car

You probably need your car right now. Once you’re working from home, it will seem much less necessary. Not only will that car give you the handful of cash you probably need, but it will also lower your monthly “personal overhead” by eliminating gas, maintenance, and insurance costs. Be wary, however! If you decide freelancing is not for you, you will likely regret having made this choice.

Option Three: Go Into Debt

While I can’t recommend this, it’s what I did. I opened a $5,000 credit card, and while I hate that I went that route, it let me get my foot in the door. Considering how much I’m making now, it was well worth the investment. You can also use a student loan for this purpose.

Option Four: Work Harder!

Start taking minor freelance gigs on the side. Take a second job. Work overtime. It’s stressful, it’s hard, but you’ll certainly have earned your place! Plus, working the extra will prepare you for those “deadline days” in the world of freelance writing.

As you save this money, put it in a separate account designated to serve as your backup. After all, if you play your cards right, you may just get enough from the get-go that your savings will continue in its fail-safe role. Once you have enough to cover one to three months of expenses, move on to step two.

Do not quit your job yet.  I will tell you when you’re ready for that. (It’s a much later step.)