Having a freelance business can afford you the freedom, choice, income, and independence you need to live a fuller and a more satisfying life. To help you get there, we’ve put together this go-to guide to building a successful freelance business online. We’ll talk all about freelancing, from finding your niche to taxes and business options. Before you take the plunge into freelancing full time, ask yourself the following questions:
What are your motivations to go freelance?
Motivation is different for everybody, but some of the more common reasons are:
- You want to escape the mundane 9-5 rat race
- You need more flexibility in your daily schedule
- You want to have a better work/life balance
- You want control of your finances and career options
- You need the freedom a remote working environment affords
What’s your motivation to freelance?
Are you making a considered decision or not?
So you’ve been not getting along with your boss, or you didn’t win a particular account–both of those are unfortunate scenarios, but they aren’t solid reasons to quit your steady job and decide to freelance. Think about it: becoming a freelancer isn’t a decision to be taken lightly—we’re talking about your career here. Remember, this is your long-term future and your personal finances, so a snap decision based on a few bad days or general job dissatisfaction isn’t a smart move.
Freelancing is very rewarding, but getting started is a lot of work, so it’s important your motivation is strong enough to hold you steady while you get started.
Whatever your motivation, take the time to think things through:
Create a brainstorming board with wants, needs, pros, and cons, and find out whether freelancing is really what you want, or whether your needs might better be served by another strategy entirely. If being a freelancer is the right path for you, then read on.
What Services Can You Offer?
As a freelancer, you aren’t locked into one role or position. While some choose to specialize in one field, or even one niche of one field, such as travel writing, others use their multi-passionate natures to freelance in several fields. There are so many types of freelance jobs online, that you’ll be spoiled for choice. Consider freelance roles in:
- Graphics and Design
- Web and Mobile Design
- Digital Marketing
- Writing and Translation
- Video and Animation
- Music and Audio
- Programming and Tech
- Business Services
Perhaps you are good with Adobe Photoshop, have a beautiful voice that would be good for voice-overs, and you can also create an amazing presentation in Powerpoint. There are so many options for freelancers looking to do business online that you can build a career with plenty of variety, whatever your skills.
How to Uncover your Freelance Potential
Analyze Competitive Offerings
Let’s say that you’re a designer looking to get your freelance design business off the ground. The first thing you should do is look at others with successful freelance design businesses to gather insights into their competitive offerings. Take, for example, these Fiverr marketplace listing for designers.
You can see, even from this small sample, that there’s a lot of variety in the services freelancers offer. From the insights you gain from your competitor research, you can establish what services you can offer, and if you can compete or carve out your own niche within the freelance marketplace.
List Your Skills
Start by listing all of your current skills. Write it all down. Don’t obsess over making it perfect or only writing what you consider to be marketable. Answer the following:
- What do you do, or have you previously done, for work?
- Break down your current and previous roles. As part of your current job, do you find yourself writing reports?
- Does your job require you to edit other people’s work?
- Do you run meetings? Organize schedules?
- Were you involved with sales? What are your work-related skills?
However insignificant they may seem, write them down. Next, list everything you’re good at outside of work. Do you like to program simple applications or WordPress plugins in your free time? Do you edit photos? Make videos? Design digital art? Are you a calligrapher? A fitness fanatic?
Once you’ve got your list, eliminate any of the items that you really did not enjoy and would not want to do on a regular basis. While it’s important for a freelancer to make a livable income, it’s difficult to thrive doing things you really dislike – it’ll quickly take the shine off freelancing.
How to Be a Freelancer: 105 Tips to Achieve Success
Defining your skills helps you “zero in” on what you’re truly good at, and what can really help you thrive in the freelance world. (Read article)
Research Your Marketable Skills
Now get down to research. Which of the remaining skills are marketable? The key is to find the “sweet spot” between what you’re good at and what makes you the amount of money you need to live comfortably. Your time is valuable, so you need to establish which skills are worth pursuing. Eliminate the ones that you don’t feel pay enough to be worth your time.
Now you should have a nice defined list of items that fall into that “sweet spot”. These are the core skills you can use to start your freelance business. From here, you should be able to start building services or packages to offer potential clients.
Key Takeaway: Do your research if you want to become a freelancer.
- List all of your skills (both from work experience and hobbies or interests)
- Eliminate all those skills you don’t really want to do for work
- Start researching to establish which skills are marketable
- Establish which skills pay well enough to help you build the income level you need and eliminate the others
- Take the remaining skills as the foundation from which to build your freelance business
Study Up: Get Additional Education and Certifications
Whether you want to hone existing skills or learn new ones, self-education is perfect for those who want to freelance. It’s not just about the skills you gain – although that’s obviously the key factor, it also shows potential clients that you’re serious. Serious enough to have invested time and resources into your continued professional development. If a client is considering who to hire between you and another freelancer, and everything else is equal, they’re going to choose the candidate that demonstrates they’re committed and invested in their freelance career. And, given that we’re in the Digital Age, you don’t even have to go to school to gain those skills.
Fiverr, for example, has a section dedicated to freelancer education with all types of training courses, ranging from storytelling to technical SEO audits. Here’s an example course from Jon Youshaei about, “Stories That Sell: 7 Secrets To Create Killer Content.”
With Fiverr’s courses, you aren’t locked into a monthly subscription. Each course is a single purchase, and you retain lifetime access to it, so you can revisit and refresh your skills whenever you need.
Key Takeaway: Invest in yourself and your freelance business by honing existing skills and learning new ones.
- Look at the skills you’d like to learn, and prioritize them
- Take a relevant course in the one new skill that you identified as your highest priority
- Add the skill to your freelance profile and start practicing that skill, building your experience and portfolio in that area
Building and Testing Your Idea
Its time to formulate a clear plan to freelance success.
Scope and Price Your Projects
Start with one or two services that you can excel at. Flesh out what you’re prepared to offer and at what price. Keep your offering simple, but make sure you are very clear about the scope of what you’re offering. Don’t leave any room for misunderstanding. If you’re building a content writing business model, for example, you may decide you want to offer a blog article service.
- How much are you charging? Review competitive price points, and do your research on what you should be charging.
- How many revisions are you prepared to do?
- How many days will it take you to deliver?
Identify what the scope of work, and budget range is that you are willing to work within. You want to make sure that you are comfortable the that range.
Test Your Project
Before you dive in, you should test your freelance project ideas. Don’t just rely on a single test – run several with different people. Here are some simple ways to test your ideas:
- Offer free services to friends and family.
- Offer heavily discounted rates for your first 5-10 projects, or do the work at cost.
- Donate your service to a non-profit or cause of your choice to get started.
You get a few other benefits from the multi-test approach, aside from finding out if your service works:
- You get samples for your portfolio
- You get on-the-job experience
- You find out how long it really takes for you to complete the job to the best of your ability.
Identify and Locate Your Target Clients
If you’re wondering how to get freelance work, the answer is simple: It’s knowing who your clients are and where to find them. One of the most challenging aspects of your freelance startup will be finding clients. But not just any clients. You need the right clients.
It’s time to put together your primary client persona – that’s the ideal person who wants your service. This way, you can narrow down and only focus on clients who fit your buyer persona.
The persona should include as much information as possible, such as:
- Job title
- Pain points/needs
- The solutions you can offer to solve those needs
- Where they do business
- Online presence
Whether you’re doing client outreach or listing your services on Fiverr, make sure you keep your customer persona right at the front of your mind.
Key Takeaway: Finding new clients is challenging for freelancers, but you can make it easier.
- Create a customer persona for each of your services
- Establish how best to make contact with that persona, and do it
- Make sure you have a robust Fiverr account with strong service packages and upsells
- Do plenty of competitor research using tools like SimilarWeb
- Use FollowerWonk and email finders to reach out to prospects directly
Create a Strategy for Your Freelance Startup
It doesn’t matter whether you’re starting to freelance on the side while working your regular job or jumping in feet-first and aiming to go full-time right out of the gate – you still need a rock-solid strategy. Assuming you’re following the steps in this freelance guide you are off to a good start. You already have the answers to some of the key components of your strategy.
A good freelance business strategy will start with the foundation and basics of your business model. So far you should have documented:
- Service offering overviews
- Pricing of your services
- Test project results and insights
- Your buyer personas for each service
Now it’s time to add those components to your freelance business plan and round it out with the other essential factors, which include answering questions such as:
- What timeframe are you looking to become a freelancer within?
- How much do you need to earn per month or year to comfortably meet your financial needs? How many gigs or hours of billable work does that require? Can you be competitive?
- How many orders can you comfortably accommodate in a week or a month?
- Establish a foundation of your business (personas, pricing, project overviews)
- Establish long-term goals for your business (timeline to becoming full-time, incoming revenue goals, etc.)
Keeping Yourself on Track
Productivity is a crucial element to success in your freelance business, so you need to incorporate it into your overall strategy. It’s easy to get lost in the minutiae of being a freelancer or in all the little distractions that occur when you start to work from home. You can lose focus or have so much to do that you dither and procrastinate and end up achieving very little.
Set Working Hours
Get yourself on a tight schedule, just as if you were going to work at a brick and mortar job. Set strict working hours, whether that’s 9 to 5 or 6 to 10, then 2 to 8. Make sure it’s a realistic and achievable schedule.
Then, within that schedule, pencil in specific times for particular tasks. For example, set aside an hour on Mondays and Thursdays for checking and responding to emails. You know you need to network on a regular basis, so maybe set aside two hours on a Tuesday morning just for that. Punch in the times you’ll be working on client gigs, the time you’ll be spending researching new potential clients, and time for learning. Obviously leave some room for flexibility, as the most successful freelancers are agile as well as well-organized. Using a calendar and strict timetable will help you stay on track and help you avoid overwhelm.
Use Project Management Tools
Another great freelance tip to avoid overwhelm is to use project management tools and systems to keep yourself on track. You might prefer a whiteboard, or a pen and paper journal. There are also a number of great project management tools digitally to tap into for digital to-do list creation such as Asana, or Trello.
Include Break time
Don’t forget to schedule in breaks. It’s all too easy as a freelancer just to burn right through the whole day, but that isn’t healthy for your body or mind. When you’re setting up your timetable, make sure you include regular breaks to get away from your desk, get up and walk around, get outside, or just to go make a drink and some food. You need to get up and move around regularly throughout the day, and your eyes and brain need regular digital breaks.
Start Your Freelance Business
So now you’ve got a solid plan. You’ve identified your goals and established how you’re going to get there. Now the real work begins – starting your freelance business. Building your brand as a freelance startup is crucial, just like any business.
Yes, you can build a freelance website, as it’s a great branding tool, but it’s costly and time-consuming, particularly if you don’t know how. That’s one of the reasons Fiverr is a great place to start freelancing. You don’t need any coding or web development skills – all you need to do is sign up and create your seller profile. Then you can create your first gig and start selling. See our how to start selling on Fiverr help article for more info.
A freelance marketplace like Fiverr makes freelancing easier for beginners are career-long professionals in a number of ways:
- Clients come to you, specifically looking for your service
- Reduces the cold pitching you need to do
- Lets you showcase your best work
- Lets you set a clear scope of work up front, right in your service offering, so there’s no misunderstandings later
- Allows clear upsells
- Shows verified reviews and feedback to establish trust
- Lets you send custom offers
- Lets you easily add video to your gig
And that’s not all. In 2018, Fiverr acquired And Co to help freelancers manage the administrative side of their businesses. Services and features include time tracking, invoicing and payments, customizable proposals, contracts, expense tracking, income reports, and more. This helps you free up valuable time that you can invest in securing more gigs, engaging with clients, and learning new skills.
Do I Need an LLC to Freelance?
Whether a freelancer should form an LLC (Limited Liability Company) or not is a personal choice. The biggest benefit is that it may limit your risk to the amount of capital you’ve invested in your business. Sole proprietors have unlimited liability, you are your business, and your personal assets and funds may be at risk if you encounter legal trouble. If you decide you do want to form an LLC, remember to factor the state fees and filing fees into account when pricing your services. You’ll also need to keep different and more thorough business records.
Key Takeaway: There’s a lot to think about when you launch your freelance business.
- Building a freelance website is a secondary consideration, given the marketplace options available
- Make it easy on yourself to establish yourself and find clients by signing up as a seller on Fiverr
- Set up your Fiverr seller profile
- Create your first Fiverr gig and start selling
- Sign up to And Co to help run the administrative side of your freelance business
- Decide whether you need to form an LLC or whether you want to wait until you’re more established
How to Win Freelance Work
There are a few different strategies you can employ to help you win your first clients.
1. Really work on your Unique Seling Point
Your unique selling point is how you differ and/or offer more value than your competitors. Don’t drop your prices – you’ve already established how much you need to charge to meet your needs.
Instead, focus on what you can offer that other people don’t. Maybe you can include two images in your blog post offering. Perhaps you could do a time-limited offer of an infographic with a blog post. How about a free printable calendar? If you’re bilingual, you could offer a free translation of your blog post. A free upgrade to a higher-quality image file? A free content health analysis with your SEO service? Or perhaps your USP is your demonstrable expertise in your field. Perhaps you only work on one project at a time, so your client gets your absolute, laser-focused attention.
Whatever your unique values are, emphasize them when you sell.
2. Leverage Your Social Networks
You may be surprised at how many people in your existing social network need your skills, so it’s a great place to start to attract clients. And you can ask family and friends to share, too. This kind of self-promotion is invaluable, whether you’re just starting to freelance or you’ve been doing it for decades.
On LinkedIn, for example, make sure you create a strong profile that showcases your skills and get involved with relevant groups and conversations. And don’t forget to use Fiverr’s social sharing functionality to showcase your available gigs.
3. Win Clients With Your Knowledge
You can show you have industry expertise, help people at the same time, and expand your brand trust and reach. The easiest way is to use sites like Reddit and Quora to answer questions in your niche. Just make sure your answers are accurate and offer real value, otherwise, you’ll get yourself a bad reputation instead of a good one. Read our guide to freelance marketing with Quora for more info
4. Use Paid Ads
If you have the budget, you can drive targeted traffic to your freelance offerings with paid ads. Choose from social ads like those for Facebook or LinkedIn, or go with search engine ads. Just remember to make sure you target your ads specifically to your primary customer personas, or you’ll be throwing away your money.
Key Takeaway: Winning your first freelance gigs isn’t as difficult as it may seem.
- Define your unique selling point and use it
- Leverage your social networks
- Showcase your knowledge on sites like Quora and JustAnswer
- Use paid ads if your budget allows
- Bring existing customers to Fiverr to expose them to your other services
Find more strategies and tips on how to succeed on Fiverr as a seller with this free ebook.
Deciding to become a freelancer may one of the biggest decisions you ever make. It takes dedication and commitment to achieve success. There’s an awful lot to wrap your head around as you get started, too, from trying to decide what services you can offer to taxes and retirement plans. This guide breaks down what can seem like a gargantuan task into manageable chunks, guiding you through the process. We’ve included plenty of actionable insights and useful freelance tips to get you started the right way.
At Fiverr, we love to help freelancers win, so you’ll find lots of other help on our blog.