Answers to the 6 burning questions every new freelancer asks.

Aug 17 2018 | Contributing author Brenda Do, Upwork

Most new freelancers have similar questions when they start: How much should I charge? What type of clients should I target? How do I maintain a steady income? Here, get answers to six of the most frequently asked questions by freelancers.

1. How do I know if freelancing is right for me? 

What clients look for when hiring freelancers is different from what it takes to succeed as one. Most people freelance to gain more freedom and flexibility and to make more money. While the thought of working in your pj’s or as a digital nomad may seem ideal, remember freelancers operate their own businesses. Many freelancers are incorporated or registered as a business, while others operate as sole proprietors.
 
As with any business, your success depends on how well you plan, organize, and remain disciplined. Because in the beginning, you’re likely the only one bringing in the projects, producing the work, and collecting payments. That’s a lot of hats to wear.
 
To help you succeed, start by being honest with yourself:
  1. List all the skills and tasks you’ll need to grow and maintain your business. This includes sales, marketing, administrative, accounting, and production.
  2. Circle the skills you’re good at and the tasks you enjoy doing. Are you good at maintaining an organized schedule? Do you shine at face-to-face networking events? Are you skilled at networking through social media?
  3. Make another list of areas you want to improve. Are you great at talking with prospects but can’t seem to close the deal? Do you struggle with the isolation of working quietly by yourself, all day, every day? Do you have trouble remaining productive while responding to emails and calls throughout the day?
All the items left uncircled from step 2 and the list you created from step 3 are the areas where it’s smart to find some help with now. Help is at your fingertips and, many times, free.
 
Browse tips on YouTube for making cold calls or asking for the business. Download an app to track project hours and streamline billing. Ask other freelancers how they time-block their days to remain productive while also providing responsive customer service.
 
It's worth investing the time upfront to organize and set up processes. As you become busier, you’ll have systems in place to sustain growth so you can remain focused on what you do best.
 
Any seasoned freelancer can tell you it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the daily tasks and deadlines. It’s not uncommon to hear of people working 15-hour days while struggling to make ends meet, even a year or two into their new life. Do yourself a favor by setting yourself up to succeed now before it gets harder to make time for it later.
 
 

2. Which customers should I target? 

When starting off, it’s tempting to take any project that comes along. But the truth is, not all customers are the right customers. Working with the wrong ones can cost you money and stress in the long run.
 
Some freelancers are fortunate to start off knowing what their niche is. If that’s not you, no worries; your niche will reveal itself. You can gain clarity by understanding your brand:
  • What’s your mission and vision?
  • What’s your unique selling proposition? Why should your ideal client work with you instead of your competition?
  • What types of projects do you enjoy most or excel at?
  • What do you specialize in? Who do you want to help?
 
In the beginning, figuring out which businesses to target may require a bit of experimentation with various industries, project types, and company sizes. Take on what seems interesting to you and stay observant. Every project provides learning experiences. In time, you’ll know what resonates with you, what feels most enjoyable, and where you’re inspired to do your best work.
 
 

3. How much should I charge?

Several factors go into your rate like how specialized you are and the amount of competition within your niche. Other factors include:
  • Your experience level
  • Certifications
  • Other expertise or services you provide
  • What your competitors charge
When quoting project fees, search salary guides and competitors’ sites for rates in your area. Then balance them with rates in your client’s area. A company hiring a skilled CSS developer in Topeka will likely expect to pay lower rates than a company hiring the same developer in San Francisco.
 
If you see a project you’d like to submit a proposal to but the client didn’t write an awesome job post, ask them a few more qualifying questions. Let the client know it’s to help you provide a more accurate quote—they’ll appreciate it.
 
 

4. Do I need a contract? 

No matter what, don’t start a project without a contract. Always have a contract for every project, even if it’s a client you’ve worked with a dozen times, you know what they want, and it’ll be a quick turnaround. Sometimes things go sideways. To protect yourself and your client, have a contract in place before work begins. Your contract should specify the work to be done, deadlines, payment terms, milestones, and so on. You can find a few sample project contracts online or ask other freelancers if they’re open to sharing their templates.
 
If your client provides an offer through a freelancing website such as Upwork, that could serve as your contract. Feel free to seek legal advice regarding your contracts too.


5. What if I don’t have a portfolio to show clients?

If you don’t have permission to showcase the work you completed previously, no worries. A portfolio doesn’t have to showcase paid work. It just needs to demonstrate the scope, creativity, and quality of your work, so fill it with personal projects.

If you’re a developer, show the work you contributed to open-source communities or the data security measures you implemented in your own home.
 
If you’re a graphic designer, redesign the logos from businesses you frequent. You know them well enough to include a description of their business, their clientele, and their vibe. Then explain your new designs and why you believe they represent the businesses better.
 
If you’re a copywriter, write blog articles about topics you enjoy. Or write a direct-response piece “on spec” where you get paid only if the piece converts. This way, you can get real experience at minimal risk to the client.
 
There are many ways to build an initial portfolio. Just be clear about which are personal or hypothetical versus paid projects.
 

6. How do I create a steady flow of business?

Freelancing websites make it easier and safer for clients to hire talent with less risk. Some freelancing platforms like Upwork even offer Payment Protection, a program that helps ensure freelancers are paid in a timely way for work they’ve done, for both hourly and fixed-price contracts.
 
Online resources also make it so much easier to connect with companies that nearly a third of freelancers find their first project within 24 hours. But it takes more than finding projects to create a steady freelance income.
 
Although new freelancers can now find work more easily and quickly, it’s valuable to build a network. Your network may help you generate more steady income or find the type of clients you enjoy working with most. 
 
Your immediate network is made up of the people you know on social media, past employers and co-workers, friends, neighbors, family, your dog sitter… everybody. Let them know what you’re doing now and the types of projects you’re looking for. You don’t need to be pushy, just send out a mass email asking: Who do you know who can use my help? Then thank them for their support.
 
Connect with reputable people in other professions who work with the same types of clients you target. It’s why graphic designers usually know other marketing creatives such as PR professionals, copywriters, and web designers. Not only can you and the others in your network refer projects to each other, but you’ll also have skilled and trustworthy people to refer when your client has a need.
 
Every person will have different experiences starting off. Learn from your mistakes quickly, always do good work, be professional, and extremely reliable. In time, you’ll build a strong reputation and create the freelancer’s life you dream about.
 
Upwork is a freelancing website where businesses of all sizes can find talented independent professionals across multiple disciplines and categories. If you're a business looking to get projects done, start today.
 
The contents of this site are provided for informational purposes only. You should always obtain independent, professional accounting, financial, and legal advice before making any business decision.

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