How to create your own freelancing business so you can build practical experience in your chosen specialty.
One of the most common fears most college graduates have these days is being able to find a stable job right after graduating to pay off those student loans. There are several ways a recent grad can collect great working experience without having to deal with the constant “1-5 years experience” requirement most entry-level jobs have now.
Freelancing is more than just an alternative career for people who have worked in their industry for a few years and want a change of pace, it is the perfect starting point for recent grads to get a better holding in their career and start getting the experience they need–as well as the pay!
There is a lot of information and many methods out there, but this guide can help from step one all the way to that first client.
Creating a freelance brand and business
First things first: you need to be able to have an easily accessible online brand, which could be as simple as a nice, professionally done picture of yourself and “[Your Name] Freelancing” as a business name, although there are freelancers out there who create an entire business and unique brand to be memorable.
Regardless, all of these happen to be requirements before plunging into freelancing:
- A business name, even if it’s your own name
- Roughly a 150-word explanation of your business for SEO purposes, which will be added to the “Meta description” of your website
- Speaking of, you will need a website! Even a free WordPress blog will do for a time, but it is strongly advised to purchase a domain name and host your own site. You can download a copy of self-hosted WordPress here or use a professional hosted website service like Squarespace.
- Readily available contact information, even if it’s just an email address.
- A resume and/or portfolio of sorts. School projects are acceptable as previous work.
- Finally, social networking. If you haven’t already, create professional profiles on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and other websites you think will help your freelancing.
Once you have all of that set-up, it is time to check out all of the different ways you can start freelancing. A very important reminder: it is best to “spread out” your freelancing efforts online, which basically means, “don’t put all your eggs into one basket.” Take all opportunities into consideration. Remember, you are a business when freelancing.
Job bidding websites for freelancers
There are dozens of websites out there where you can sign-up (usually for free) and have countless jobs to go through which you “bid” on in order to win and create work for yourself. You bid the price that you wish to be paid on the project and the client chooses the best one for their budget.
For beginners: oDesk is a great way to start off your freelancing career because of how varied the jobs can be. There are copywriting, graphic design, programming, and even social media management jobs on there that are all freelance-based, all you have to do is create a profile and start bidding. Remember that oDesk takes 10% of the pay from a project.
For intermediates: If you have a general understanding of freelance job bidding sites, then eLance might be up your alley. It is also a better website if you already have initial “start-up” cash in order to fund your freelancing endeavors–as the old adage goes, “you have to spend money to make money.” eLance takes 8.75% from your payment.
For programming: There are many job bidding sites out there which focus primarily on programming and similar web work. However, the two biggest happen to be Freelancer.com and vWorker (formerly RentACoder). There was formerly ScriptLance, but they were bought out by Freelancer.com, which has become a huge hub for Web jobs.
For online marketing work: To keep your digital and online marketing skills sharp, check out Project4Hire and Guru. Both of them offer daily updates on clients looking for SEO gurus, content marketing experts, and general Internet marketing knowledge for their projects.
For design and graphics: For all of the designers out there, all of the mentioned above bidding sites are a great start, as well as iFreelance. It is also highly recommended that you showcase your work on professional design communities with Behance and Dribbble being the important websites to have a profile on. All of these will provide great freelancing opportunities to expand your experience with design and graphics.
A freelacing newcomer: If you’re interested in providing creative services like eBook design, logos & branding, marketing design, social media and website or interface design Microlancer is a brand new platform. Tends to be inexpensive contracts for quick work but it can very useful for building your digital portfolio fast.
While this may seem like a lot to take in at first glance, just remember that it is better to work with one or two job bidding websites at first. Do your research and read reviews on sites you are interested in. Alternatively, you can give it a “one week/month” rule to see if the website is a good fit.
Normally it is best to pick a combination of a generalized job bidding website and then a specialized one, as sometimes the specialized one will have higher paying jobs in something you want or are knowledgable in.
A reminder: Take into account how much the job bidding site takes from the final payment! Include that percentage in your bid every time you seek out work, otherwise you might have an unwelcome surprise when it comes to payday.
Finding jobs on freelance job boards
Building up a reputation and clientele through a job bidding site is one of the most common ways people break into freelancing, but there happen to be other ways to gain exposure and make some money along the way.
One of the most common ways is through job listings, but these aren’t your regular Craigslist or Monster.com job ads. These lists are usually 90% freelance work with some full-time and part-time positions sprouting up. These are also jobs ads usually with bigger brands and websites (and thus a bit more competition). The biggest job lists which are updated daily are:
- MetaFilter — A mixture of programming, design, writing, and multimedia freelancing jobs.
- Authentic Jobs — A large focus on Web work, updated daily.
- Krop — More than just freelancing jobs, Krop offers positions available with digital media firms, tech companies, and ad agencies.
- FreelanceSwitch – Only freelance jobs, updated everyday. One of the most best aggregators of freelancing work.
- Smashing Magazine — Another job board which offers both freelance and full-time work, updated everyday with new leads.
If you’d like a comprehensive list of job boards, check out this list on InspirationFeed of 40 sites to find work.
These types of jobs will require you to send an email or submit an online form with a resume and possible links to previous work. But don’t worry, school projects and non-paid volunteer work can certainly pass in this scenario. If you don’t have those either, then creating some mock-up work can be acceptable, although it’s preferable if you could do some free work at first. An unfortunate, but required, downside to freelancing: sometimes it means doing free work at the start to gain a trusted reputation.
Other freelancing resources:
Here are some other links to read over and ways to break into the freelancing community.
Freelancing Resource Websites:
Remember that freelancing is difficult at first and at times you may want to give up. However, if you stick with it you can make it work and gain valuable experience. There are few better ways to build practical skills like self-management and business administration while building experience that will dramatically improve your resume and your online reputation.