I started freelance writing and editing nearly three years ago out of necessity. With three small children at home and the need for two income streams, I decided to bring my background in news media and research home with me. For me, freelancing was not a way to potentially earn a living – it was a way that I had to make money for my family. I didn’t have a few years, or even a few weeks, to build up an acceptable workload. I needed to replace my income quickly.
Through a lot of door-knocking, resume posting online and good connections, I built up a client list quickly that continues to grow today. I often talk to other people, particularly parents, who want to make the switch to working at home as a freelancer. When it comes to getting a foot in the proverbial freelance door, this is my advice:
- Look the part. Not many people will follow up with a freelancer who scribbles his or her phone number down on the back of a coffee shop receipt – so get some business cards made. While you are at it, build a simple website that lists your background, services, and contact information. As your good reputation grows as a freelancer, add live links to your work when applicable or to any other places online that mention you and your services.
- Weigh in. No matter what your industry or expertise, find print or online publications of interest in your field. Look for writer’s guidelines online and then prove that you know what you are talking about through a well-written piece. You may even find that a letter to your local newspaper or the chance at an editorial will help establish your reputation as a person who knows what is happening in your industry or community.
- Tell your backstory. If you have worked in corporate America for the past 10 years, or spent that time at home with your children, let potential customers and clients know your background. Explain why you want to freelance and what past experiences make you qualified to go it alone. One of the benefits of freelancing is the personal touch so let your customers know a little bit about you and why you are a good choice.
- Offer sample work. If you do not have a lot of examples of work yet, offer to do a small sample for free. If you are trying to become a freelance blogger, then offer to write a 400-word piece based on the client’s specifications. Have the client agree to pay for the work if the blog material is used. The same goes for designers (create just one page of a document, for example) or even administrative assistants (type up a short, professional email or letter to show your communication strengths). As you start to accumulate paid examples, the need for samples will fade.
- Get referrals right away. Ask your very first satisfied customer for a review or testimonial, and several more after that. Find out if those customers are open to hearing from your potential customers by phone or email if they want to hear more about you or ask questions. If you have taken the advice about building a website that is mentioned above, reserve a section for referrals.
Freelancing can be incredibly satisfying and lucrative but you have to put in a lot of effort upfront. Keep your customer base at the forefront of all your personal branding plans and the orders will soon be rolling in.