10 things every new freelancer needs to know before they begin

Disclaimer: Read time: 13 minutes

Picture this — you’re in your final year of college, and it’s time to apply for a job that will kickstart your career. The advice your college counsellor gives you at this point is standard, and comes nicely segmented into three parts — work on your CV/resume, Polish your interviewing and soft skills and lastly build a presence on Linkedin. Once you receive this advice, you start working diligently on each of these to be ‘the best candidate’ for the job, since you’re aware peers from your school and beyond will be putting their best foot forward. There is competition in the air!

When you’re undergoing this process, you’re assessed on two and only two aspects

  1. Are you be the best fit for this job — skill-wise and culture-wise?
  2. Are you someone they perceive will grow in the organisation?

Check these two off, and you’re going to be hired.

Processes are great and having clarity on what the steps needed to get to a goal, are also great.

Unfortunately, there are no ‘steps to start freelancing’ guide or tales that come down the generations. Freelancing is such a new type of career path — every single day there is something to learn from/about.

How do you start freelancing?

Simple answer: You Google the hell out of this question, and find scraps and bits on ‘how to begin’ and then you carve a path ‘to begin’, while battling with unsurety if you’re doing the right thing.. or not.

or,

You can read this article where I’ve tried to compile what the internet ‘says to do’, along with my real-life experience of jumping independent in January 2020.

Here’s my version of the story.

Step 1: Assess if this lifestyle and career choice is for you

Before I jumped independent, the two biggest questions I kept asking myself was ‘How will I manage?’ and ‘What if I don’t make any money?’

The answers that stuck out to me were:

How will I manage? — by acknowledging that I’m now an accountant, sales executive, marketing associate and more so the work-executor as well. Freelancing and working independently makes me a ‘single-man-show’

Acknowledgement > Denial

Along with that, whenever I stress about ‘how will I manage?’ I reach out to my mentor and other freelancers — the struggle is the same for all of us in this field. Every day is a day we learn something new.

The second question, ‘What if I don’t make any money?’ was the most daunting — The honest answer I gave myself to appease my throbbing heart, it’s okay, screw it. I’ll give myself three months and then assess.

Failing > Not trying

Are you really ready to answer the hard questions? — If the answer is not obvious, keep questioning.

If you happened to answer yes, let me throw in another perspective that might scare some of you, and might motivate some of you.

Jumping independent is scary.

Jumping independent is scary because your brain is suddenly going to throw in grey clouds of doubt. A lot of self-doubt, and a significant amount of doubt around ‘is this really for me?’ and more so, ‘what if I fail?’

You have two options:

Are you going to carry your umbrella and walk through the rain?

Or, are you going to stay home and wait for the weather to get better?

Now, knowing the parameters and the two biggest things that will most likely hinder your decision, if you’ve still decided to take your umbrella and walk out — this is for you.

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Step 2: Do a skill and market analysis

What am I good at? What will customers pay me for?

When you jump freelance, or independent — you are jumping into a ‘skill-and-demand economy’. Your clients will only want answers to two questions:

  1. Is this person able to take on this project?

2. Why should I hire X over Y?

You have -the- skill, and now you need to create demand for it. Here’s how:

A skill-market analysis is very simple to carry out, and I would say requires not more than 2–3 hours. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Write down all your hard skills, these are the skills that let you tackle/handle/carry out all job-specific duties and responsibilities.
  2. Now, associate a ‘task’ to each skill. For example, if you’re good at Adobe Photoshop you can become a graphic designer or a photo editor.
  3. Look at the list and now sort according to how much you’d like to do this every single day of your freelance career. This will also show you a skill-passion analysis
  4. Go on websites such as Fiverr, Freelancer.com, Truelancer or wherever you perceive you’ll get leads from — and look at the competition profile, and the money for each kind of task you’ve marked out. — Here, you might realise that a photo editor is paid higher than a graphic designer, for instance.
  5. Now, reevaluate your list basis the new information and try and create an approximate on how many projects you’ll be able to take up in a month and the income you’ll make.
  6. If that number sounds good to you, you’ve found your skill-market fit. You now know what skills will fetch you what amount of money, and in short, your ‘worth’

You are in a skill-driven market when you freelance, your demand will only be matched based on how lucrative or wanted it is.

Your skill is your service offering. Make it the Kohinoor in your crown!

Step 3: Define a market space you want to dominate in, and a niche that’ll help you do so

Your target market is not every small business in the world. Your target market is also not every small business in India.

This is where most freelancers go wrong, and they also overwhelm themselves.

Here’s an example of Dot Lung, an Instagram Strategist to the Rockstars, Misfits & Rebels. Here’s her website’s screenshot.

Dot Lung’s website screenshot
Helen Dibble Linkedin profile screenshot

Last but not least, here’s mine where I’ve niched down (after a lot of experimentation)

A short break down:

  1. I only work in the domains of brand creation and building, storytelling and communications.
  2. I only work with small and medium (tech-based) businesses that are struggling to create and build their brand.

To define your niche and market segment, here’s a simple step-by-step guide:

  1. Find your ‘big domain’ — for example, you are a content writer
  2. Research to find ‘niches’ within that ‘big domain’ — Case study writer, E-book writer, Blog writer or even Ghostwriter.
  3. Do a self-analysis and ask yourself ‘why me?’ Ask yourself tangible reasons why someone should trust you for the job they’re looking to get done!
  4. Look at the industries you are knowledgable about/passionate about/want to be in— is the industry big enough to generate a steady monthly income? is the industry booming/slumping?
  5. If the industry is stable/booming and you have an in-demand skill to that industry, you’ve found your niche and market space.
  6. Last but not the least -promote promote promote to the right target audience! —If your target market is funded companies in India who are looking for a technical content writer — then, go after that audience on Linkedin. Connect with people in the marketing team to understand if they’re looking for this skill and service you have.

Step 4: Build your portfolio/trust factors

This is the part where I got wound up, because it was chicken and egg. And the only way to beat a chicken and egg, is to crack the damn egg.

Two myths I need you to stop believing in

  1. You need client(s) to have a portfolio
  2. You need to have a website to have a portfolio

All that your client needs to know at this point, is ‘Can they trust you?’ and for that, you must have a portfolio in place to make a ‘Yes’ obvious.

Answer these questions while creating your portfolio:

  1. What do I need to show to prove I’m the best at this skill?
  2. What is the client looking for?
  3. What format works for my industry?

Start creating, start compiling. Don’t get too wound up on quantity, most likely your prospect will only check 1–3 deliverables, because attention span.

Then, the next thing that comes up is format.

There is no one ‘right’ format. I had my portfolio for the first 8–10 months on a Google Drive. It got me work, and it worked to convince clients. Check it out below. No bells and whistles, just work.

I only got a website once I felt the need to. It was a nice-to-have, not a need-to-have. There’s no need to stress yourself out on this point!

Hint hint: Check out vanshichats.com

Since every industry has its own standards, you’ll have to see what works for you. It might mean that you need to upload it on a third-party website (Behance or Dribbble) — it all comes down to understanding what your peers are doing, and where clients are looking.

Tip: Be seen on public platforms if your major channel of getting clients is inbound.

Step 5: Define your pricing

Money, money, money! The hardest but also the simplest discussion.

Before you pitch client #1, you must know your pricing (hint: you’ve already done it above)

What’s a minimum viable price (MVP)?

Minimum viable price is the lowest price you’re willing to accept for a deliverable, based on what your research has told you — that’s your bracket of acceptance.

That’s theory. In reality it does not work just as seamlessly.

In reality, pricing is where all freelancers trip up, as if they were all walking wearing stilettos.

Photo by Gavin Allanwood on Unsplash

While this can be a whole article in itself, here’s my understanding of how to price, broken down, as simply as I can put it:

  1. Understand the service you’re offering, and the MVP for the same
  2. Understand pricing models and what works in your industry and/or for your service (per hour, per word, project, value-based, or any other method you use)
  3. Take a consultative approach to chatting with prospects; get to know how ‘deep’ their problem is and how ‘large’ your solution is. The deeper the problem, the more money you can charge (theoretically). Also, logically, a large organisation will have more money to give out, than a smaller one. However, they too are smart — don’t take them on a ride!
  4. Look at your portfolio as a client, along with your work experience. Is there enough depth for the service you’re pitching?
  5. Calculate your project-specific MVP + margin (money you want to add on top of your MVP)
  6. Post the chat with the prospect, send an email with pricing, and go get yourself a chocolate.
  7. There is no ‘right answer’ to pricing, you have to figure it out based on understanding the project, the client, the problem, and even read between the lines with unspoken words.

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Step 6: The client funnel, and carrying out acquisition right

The freelance funnel looks something like this:

Accquisiton -> Consultation -> Pricing and Discussion -> Project -> Feedback

How do you acquire a customer?

There are only three ways in freelance, from my understanding:

  1. Inbound (Personal brand, Content on your blog, Opt-in email lists, Community, Public speaking, Video content)
  2. Outbound (Emails, SEM marketing, Cold calling, Advertising, Direct Messages)
  3. Referrals (Lead passed from a third person who trusts you)

Accquisition is the first thing you need to focus on as a freelancer, then with the funnel.

Now, the problem with accquisition is it is not something you can ‘start and forget’ — it requires a behavioral change based on what method(s) you pick.

The funnel is basic math, that you have to tie back to a goal. In this instance let’s take money and projects as parameters.

If your acquisition channel is Linkedin, and you’ve picked outbound marketing wherein you’re reaching out to people actively:

Presumptions: You want to make INR 1L a month, and your MVP is INR 20,000.

To make 1L you need 5 clients, but to get 5 clients you need to talk to 20 prospects, and to talk to 20 prospects, you need to reach out to 60 prospects. Therefore, to reach out to 60 prospects, you need to send connection requests to 80 people a month. That is 3 per day.

Read that again.

It’s just 3 a day, but, how many of you will actually do this every day?, and along with that, some might convert sooner than you expected, some might delay, and some will just be… unresponsive!

If there is no response, then you need to up the numbers of outreach — it’s as dynamic as it gets. Maybe in one week you might need to do 5 a day. If no one responds in one week, then that gets added on to the next week.

It’s not a rush to ‘getting clients’ — it’s a rush to ‘getting the right kinds of clients’. Not every client is going to be a client you want to work with.

Accquisition stresses a lot of new freelancers out because they want to see ‘instant success’ — that’s a trap. The instant success will be ego-boosting but you need to focus on the larger picture.

Bottom line: Find an acquisition channel that works for you, and make sure you are putting in the work to get clients regularly. If not, it’s a waste to even think of freelancing.

Like I said earlier, you need to be the all-in-one when you’re freelancing, and do it in tandem. For example: I’m always pitching new clients even if I have existing ones — because it’s important to think ahead of just that client.

Step 7: Know your 30 second pitch for when you get on the call

“…. thanks for asking! Firstly, I help startups and growing businesses create and build a brand their consumers relate with, second, I clarify and solidify your brand communications and lastly, I assist you with business writing such as emails and pitch decks”

What’s yours?

Write this down on a sticky note, and when you’re on a call — read off it as many times as you need to, to get comfortable with the pitch. You cannot and should not fumble and tumble here.

This isn’t meant to be a paragraph, this is meant to get the conversation rolling with your prospect while you’re on the phone.

Make sure it’s crisp, tailored to them, and answers their questions. Get them talking after you say this!

— Now you have a client, and what’s next —

Step 8: Build a process to onboard the client

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

The first few interactions are going to be delicate with a new client -which is why I suggest everyone to spend time on doing this right.

For me, when I onboard a client, here’s my process which had taken me about 7–9 months to ‘fix’:

  1. Send a statement of work detailing out all the work to be done, along with legalities to protect myself and lastly, timelines
  2. Send an invoice for the advance amount
  3. Send a standardized questionnaire based on the project to get the first information download
  4. Get on a call 2–5 days from the day the questionnaire was sent where I go through the questionnaire and fill in the gaps, or even clarify
  5. Get on the project
  6. Set up times to chat on the calendar, in advance so your client does not feel anxious of when they’ll hear from you next

Step 9: Think beyond just doing the work, think delight

Being in a service business, you are a solution-provider and therefore, just delivering is great, but not enough to build trust and retain the client.

You need to think of delight, and what ‘more’ you can do to the best you can for your client.

For example, a well-done job submitted earlier than expected, is delight or even if you went ahead and formatted your article better than requirements, is delight.

Submitting shabby deliverbales is not delight, and even more, not communicating with your client while you’re doing the project, making them anxious — is not delight.

Delight comes in many shapes and forms. As long as you’re making the experience great for them, delighting them, and satisfying their requirements — they will be happy, and retain as a happy client for longer than you expected.

Think delight > Just doing the work.

Photo by Hybrid on Unsplash

— You’ve finished the project, what’s next? —

Step 10: Offboard, and ask for a testimonial

Just as excited as you were to onboard your first client, you must also offboard them with that much excitement.

Here are some things I do to encourage a healthy relationship:

  1. A closing email thanking them for trusting me
  2. A short note on learnings/things I enjoyed/things that might not have gone right, but were fixed
  3. Permission to use this project (once this goes live) on my website/collaterals
  4. A request for testimonial on Linkedin with bullet points on what they can write

A signing off note

First off, I hope this article helped you in either understanding what you can do to begin, or if you’ve begun, helped you direct your boat in the right direction. This article needs to be taken with a little marsala, since it is heavily based on my experience, and my thought process — this might not work for everyone, you might want to use it as a torchlight rather than the guidebook, and that’s okay.

If you’re liking what you’re reading, sign up to my newsletter to keep learning!

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Brand Strategist, Story-creator, Comms Consultant, Freelancer turned team builder, Linkedin Top Voice 2021 with 100K+ followers, Travel addict, Podcast addict

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Vanshika Mehta

Vanshika Mehta

Brand Strategist, Story-creator, Comms Consultant, Freelancer turned team builder, Linkedin Top Voice 2021 with 100K+ followers, Travel addict, Podcast addict