Freelancing For Newbies: Before You Freelance

I want to preface this by saying that I am in no way an expert in freelancing. I’m relatively new myself (I’ve been officially freelance editing and writing for a little under a year currently) but in the eight months that I’ve been doing so, I’ve learned a lot of valuable information, especially when it comes to what you should know before you start up.

A lot of this will be taken from my experiences with Upwork, Outsource, and Freelancer, as well as what I researched when I originally started doing freelance work.

Let’s get this one out of the way: Understand that you will ‘spend’ money to work, one way or another.

I put ‘spend,’ because depending on the freelancing site you use, you will either directly or indirectly give money to the site that you use, for the use of their services; it’s unavoidable when utilizing a site to do work.

So, what exactly does that mean?

Some sites offer paid memberships, that are billed to you monthly or yearly – directly paying for the service. They can be offered through a tier system (basic – premium plan spectrum with each plan offering more and more features and capabilities at each higher tier,) flat-rate (you pay X amount of dollars each month or each year for the service,) or on a per-application basis (you pay X amount each time you apply, or you pay a lump sum to apply to X amount of offered jobs.)

Other sites don’t bill you directly monthly/yearly based off a plan or flat-rate, or per-application, but rather through a percentage of your earnings. This simply means that, while you might not pay for a membership, a percentage of what you earn on each job or a sum of your earnings either weekly, monthly, or yearly, will be taken by the site you use to pay for your use of the service.

Often, sites use a combination of any of the above payment options. I do all my work through Upwork, for example, which offers a basic, free membership, and a plus membership. The free membership gives 60 ‘connects’ monthly, which you could look at as virtual coins you use to apply to jobs. With this comes basic protection for hourly and fixed-rate work (basically, I won’t be cheated out of work because of a shady client.) A plus membership on Upwork, which would cost ten dollars monthly and is billed monthly, would offer 70 ‘connects,’ and a few additional perks to having a paid membership. In addition to both the paid and unpaid memberships, Upwork takes a percentage of your earnings on a sliding-scale basis (the more you earn/work with one client, the lower the percentage of your earnings Upwork keeps for the work you do with that client.) So while I don’t pay for a monthly/yearly membership, I do have a percentage of my earnings from each job I complete that goes directly to Upwork for the use of their site. Other sites are different, and this is something that you will have to keep in mind when looking into sites you may potentially want to find work through.

Search around for the right fit. Then search some more. Once you’ve searched, refine your search. Then do it again. 

I find that it’s a good idea to do a thorough research of any site that you’re considering before committing. Review multiple freelancers’ experiences, the good and the bad. Learn how to pick up where the freelancer may or may not be exaggerating, or where they might be on to something. Don’t just settle on one place because one person said it was the best thing since sliced bread – do your research.

You can also look into business magazines that go in-depth on the practices of various freelancing sites. Online business magazines are a plethora of information, and often give tips and tidbits to freelancers or other people looking to start up their own businesses. There are a lot of resources out there that tell you the direction that you should be going, and where you should potentially steer clear. Be aware of shady practices. 

I also find that it helps to start up a profile on multiple sites, just to see how the layout and the process suits you. It also provides a good back up if the site you choose ends up not working for you – you’ve already gone through the process of making a profile and may only need to transfer/update information in order to have one at a different site ready for use.

Know your strengths and weakness, especially how to sell your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses.

A big part of freelancing is selling yourself – that is, getting people to want to hire you for the skills you posses. You need to be able to clearly and effectively communicate what you are good at. You will be likely creating a profile specifically pitching to potential clients what you have to offer them. Make a list of what you’re good at in the area that you’re wanting to freelance in, and pre-write this information down in the form of a good profile overview.

Planning ahead for scheduling and knowing how much time you have to work is a must.

Freelancing, while flexible, takes a large amount of scheduling. Because it’s not a traditional 9 – 5 job, you have to be aware of the fact that you will be in charge (for the most part) of your hours. It also means that you won’t necessarily have conventional hours. Knowing what activities you have, events you have coming up, any vacations that you might take, and having the foresight to plan your working schedule around that can and will save a lot of headaches when it comes to taking on projects and clients.

Have examples of your work ready to be added to a portfolio, or for attachment purposes for applications. 

It’s very easy to list your skills and tell someone about your experience, but a lot of potential clients want to see samples of work. For me, as a writer and editor, that means providing approved editing samples (you need to make sure past clients are alright with you sharing what you’ve edited of theirs) and samples of my own writing – anywhere from 500 to 1,000 words usually suffices, unless a larger or smaller sample is requested. I would suggest 5 to 10 good, well-rounded, varied examples of the work that you do, to provide a balanced overview to anyone looking at your profile of reading over your application, so that they will be able to see exactly what it is you have to offer and, hopefully, hire you for a project or recurring work.

Last, understand that this takes time. 

You will, likely, not land your first job.

Even if you have experience, if you are new to a site, it takes a while for you to be picked up by a client; it happens. There are people who are applying to the same jobs that you are, who have been on the site longer, have more experience, and more importantly, have more feedback than you. Clients want someone they know has given reliable work in the past, with proof from other clients that they can see alongside their work. Some sites allow client feedback from work done outside of the site – places like Upwork, however, where I do my freelancing, do not; all of the feedback that is seen on your profile is feedback given from clients that you work for on the site itself.

The biggest thing to remember is to keep applying, keep trying. After you land your first job, it’s that much easier to accumulate more work, either from repeat clients, or from new ones.



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