How to start your freelance career
...work from home and be your own boss!
Maybe you love the idea of being your own boss, or prefer to work alone. Maybe you're a stay-at-home mom who needs a little extra income. Or maybe you want to be location independent and live on a sailboat off the coast of Thailand.
All of these things are possible if you're a freelancer, as long as you have access to the internet and work (or want to work) in a field where you can go "out on your own". It's perfect for writers, graphic designers, musicians, translators, consultants, photographers... you get the idea.
Is going freelance right for you? While being your own boss may seem like a dream come true, it also means there isn't anyone looking over your shoulder, asking you if a project will be ready by a deadline... signing your paycheck. You're responsible for your own income, for finding clients (and keeping them!) and keeping your business afloat. If you're not self-motivated, freelancing is not going to be easy.
Get legal. Find out what you need to do in your country/state to register as self-employed (if anything). Also keep in mind that if you're doing business with different countries you will need to look into what may be required of you when submitting invoices (tax numbers, etc.) in order to comply with various regulations.
Revamp your CV/resume and cover letter. Include pertinent information and get rid of the rest. Your CV should be concise and easy to read, maximum two pages, in black and white (maybe grey). This is not the place to show off your design abilities with fancy fonts and color, this is a place to show your professionalism and skills. Fine tune your cover letter and have a few trusted friends (read: good writers) review it before you start using it.
Get Marketing. You need to be able to find clients, but more importantly your clients need to be able to find you. Snap up a website url that fits your needs (you can purchase one for about $10-15) and put together a simple site that gives information about you and your work. This is what the world will see of you, so be sure it makes you shine (without going over the top of course). Make sure you get the site hosted so there aren't any "Powered by XYZ site" ads on your site. Many sites have website builders where you drag and drop your way into a clean, good-looking basic website - some with hosting included. Once your site is set up, have some business cards printed.
Set your prices and offering. What do you do? What can you offer potential clients? Price your work according to industry standards (this may take some research).
Find clients. Join websites, forums, groups online, professional associations, etc. that are designed to connect clients and freelancers in your field. Note: do not join sites that generally connect freelancers with clients on bidding platforms, and beware of sites that want an up-front fee for joining without offering a free trial. Get creative. You might be surprised to stumble upon potential clients by typing "graphic designer needed" into a search engine. You may want to contact agencies, though they will take a cut of the profit. Think about who may need the services you offer, then go there, send an email, make a phone call - try to get your foot in the door. You may even consider offering some small service for free or at a discount in order to start a relationship with a client and gain their trust.
Keep your clients happy. As long as you're good at what you do and treat your clients fairly and with a smile, they're going to continue to come to you when they need your help. Remember, each client is your boss, so don't forget to treat them with respect! It's certainly possible to maintain a friendly with a client while still being professional.
...and now, the less exciting part.
Keep a financial buffer in the bank. Freelancing is not a "steady" job, in the sense that some months you may be so busy that you're turning clients away and others you might find yourself twiddling your thumbs for a week or two, wondering if it's a holiday that you don't know about. While you are sure to be excited when you land your first, second, third job, make sure you don't get ahead of yourself. Put as much money aside as would make you comfortable if you couldn't get a client for three months - or more. This will ensure that you'll stay in business in the long term and won't be forced to stop freelancing if a couple of weeks or motnhs are slower than others. Once that money is in the bank, feel free to buy yourself that nice new computer screen you know you need!
Freelancing can be extremely rewarding - and dare I say, fun! -as long as you can stay motivated (and pay the bills!). Try to get in touch with other freelancers and share ideas and tips... you never know, maybe one month they'll refer one of their clients to you when they're too busy!
Good luck and happy freelancing!