Can you imagine how great it would be to work from anywhere in the world?
I think it’s every travel addict’s dream, and somehow, I’ve managed to achieve it! Right now I’m typing from a New York City coffee shop, having only just moved here a few days ago. Working as an online freelancer means I’m totally location independent. I don’t need to have a permanent workplace and be stuck in the same city as my clients.
My husband has also been working as a freelancer over the past few weeks. With his skills as a software developer, he was able to pick up some work to fill the time in-between jobs. This was all while his client was back in Australia, and we were in Barbados.
You might think we’re ‘lucky’ to be able to do this, but in reality, we created our own luck. It’s taken a few years and a few sacrifices, but it’s been well worth the effort to create a lifestyle where we can work from home or from anywhere in the world. If you’re also thinking about making the transition, here are the first steps to making it happen.
1. Assess your skill set
When I first thought about becoming a freelancer, I decided to use my current skills in graphic design and photography by designing stationery and setting up an online store. I’d spent years creating birthday cards for my friends and family, putting together photo albums, and generally making things look pretty by using my creativity, so this seemed like the logical direction for me.
Taking what you are passionate about and turning it into a career can be a very scary thing to do, and it’s certainly not the easiest path to becoming a freelancer as it takes time to get set up, but it’s probably the most rewarding. This is not the only option, however – I think there are three major paths you can take to becoming a freelancer:
- Follow your passions. Graphic Design is just one example, but I think it’s possible to turn almost any skill or passion into a career. Do you enjoy travel writing? Consulting? Giving advice on certain subjects? Ask yourself if you can turn any of your existing skills or knowledge into a career that you’re passionate about.
- Continue your current line of work as a freelancer. If you have no idea what passions you’d want to commit to as a career, then could you keep doing what you currently do? Are you good at it, and do you enjoy it? Many jobs that people are already doing can be converted into a freelance job.
- Train yourself up in a new field. If the previous options don’t tempt you, then this might be the best option. Take a look at some in-demand industries (the tech industry is booming right now in many parts of the world) and think about what training you might need to get into it. Try looking at it this way – if there are plenty of jobs being advertised for that industry, then there will be people willing to pay you!
2. Plan, plan, plan
Planning is essential! Things aren’t just going to magically fall into place, you’ll have to think about the steps you’ll need to take and then start making things happen.
It’s wise to go through this in detail (this is why I created the super fun worksheet for you!), so set aside some time to go through the following questions:
- What skills or training will you require? Do you need any further training to get your skills up to scratch? Even a short refresher course might be a good idea to build up your confidence in going it alone from here on out.
- How much money will you need? This can vary greatly depending on what your line of work will be. Will you need a decent laptop? How much will your training cost? How much will you need in savings to be able to quit your job and still feel financially secure until you start making money as a freelancer? It’s a really, really good idea to save up a buffer of money to keep you going for a few months at least.
- What’s your timeframe for getting set up as a freelancer? The eternal question, and one that has no simple answer. How long will it take to get your training, save enough money, and set yourself up? If you’re not sure about this one, maybe keep going with steps 3 and 4 then come back to it when you’ve thought about it a little more.
3. Create an online space
Having an online space is becoming an essential part of freelancing. People who are interested in your services need to be able to find you and see your skills on display! Depending on the type of work you’re aiming for, your online space could be anything from having a LinkedIn profile to building your own blog or website. Here are a few options:
- An online resume. If you want to freelance your services and bill customers by the hour, then you could start off with something simple such as an online resume. This could be a profile on LinkedIn or a page on your website.
- An online portfolio. If you want to get into a creative field such as photography, writing, or design, you’ll probably need an online portfolio to showcase your work. This can be a blog, or you can create a visual portfolio through a site such as Squarespace.
- An online store. If you’re hoping to open a shop, then you can try Etsy for handmade and digital items, otherwise Shopify is a great online store option for general products.
4. Find work
There are so many ways to find work as a freelancer, and the same ones don’t work for everyone. It’s best to test out a few different ways until you find something that works for you.
- Ask everyone you know. Word of mouth is incredibly powerful when getting started as a freelancer. Let every single person in your friendship circle, every family member, and every one of your mortal enemies know that you’re now available for hire. By doing this, someone might just know someone else who’s looking for a person to do the job that you do. Robert got his recent freelance work through an ex-colleague, just by asking her if she knew anyone who needed some web development done. It really works.
- Network like you’ve never networked before. Join meetup.com and search for groups of like-minded people getting together in your area. There have been multiple times when I’ve met someone new at a meetup and found freelance work through them or someone they know later on. Just make sure you’ve got some professional business cards printed and an elevator pitch ready – you need to be prepared for answering the inevitable ‘what do you do?’ question!
- Use keywords. I get customers through Etsy when people use the search function on the site and find my products. To make this work for you, think about what phrases people might type into a search box and add those keywords into your products and posts.
- Use social media. If you’re already familiar with using social media for marketing, then this is a great way to get your products and services out there.
5. Build up a reputation (super important!)
Here’s the secret to why people buy from me. I mean, yes, it is because they like my products or design style, but the reason they actually hand over money is because they can see that I’m trustworthy.
How do they know this? On my Etsy store, the left sidebar shows that I’ve made over 300 sales, and I have over 30 five-star reviews from people who have bought my items.
Would that convince you to buy from someone? Of course it would! People love seeing proof that you won’t run off with their money or give them a faulty product/service.
This is why companies have references on their websites, testimonials from customers, or star ratings shown from review websites. How many times have you seen a sticker on the window of a restaurant, stating that they are one of the top-rated eateries on TripAdvisor? This proof is what convinces people to walk in the door.
- Don’t be stingy. Invest in your future self with a website design, a logo, professional advice, or training. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars, but little investments here and there will go a long way for making you look more professional. Have you ever visited a website that looks like it’s come straight out of the nineties? You don’t want that to be yours.
- Take your time. Becoming a freelancer doesn’t happen overnight. For me, it took about 2 years of slowly growing my Etsy shop and online reputation to be able to quit my full-time job for freelancing, and even then I wasn’t making as much money as I would have liked so I continued working part-time for another year. So take your time, and know that if you jump into it too quickly, you’re probably doomed to fail.
- Make it fun. There are many parts of being a freelancer that aren’t fun, such as tight deadlines, shitty customers, and moments where you’ll be wondering where all the money is (this happens a lot!), so try to appreciate all the fun parts. After all, this is you taking control of your career, and you can do what you want with it!