First time freelancer in a coffee shop sitting at a table with her laptop open smiling

Being a freelancer sounds like a dream come true. You get to set your own hours, decide your own prices, and work on projects that you find interesting. What could be better than freelance work? There’s only one problem: you need clients. You know you’re a capable expert, but you must first convince someone to pay you for your work. So, how can you start freelancing with no clients?

The good news is that every successful, experienced freelancer today was once a new freelancer in the same spot you’re in now. They have earned supplemental income, replaced their full-time salaries, or created a thriving freelance career, making significantly more than they ever thought possible.

We’ll explain how to start earning money as a freelancer, even if you have no experience. 

What is freelancing, exactly?

Freelancing is self-employment where an individual provides professional services to clients as an independent contractor. Instead of working for a company as a W-2 employee and receiving a regular paycheck, a freelancer works for clients of their choice for an agreed-upon payment rate and receives a 1099 form documenting their income.

While freelancers choose their work and set their prices, they’re also responsible for many aspects of business management that employees of a company don’t deal with, like accounting, marketing, and paying employment and business taxes.

Benefits of freelancing

Freelancing equates to professional freedom, which is nearly impossible to find working in a corporate structure. The only rules you’re required to follow are the ones you make. The benefits are numerous – here are a few of the biggest ones.


When you’re a freelancer, you have complete control of your schedule. Want to start working at 9 p.m. and knock off in the wee hours of the morning? Go for it. Take a month off to backpack through Europe? No one’s going to stop you. If it’s flexibility you’re after, it’s hard to find a better gig than a freelance career.


Bad management is one of workers’ most common complaints about their jobs – it’s something most of us have encountered in our careers. No one looks over your shoulder or micromanages your work when you freelance. You don’t have to put up with difficult coworkers for the sake of being a team player, and the only processes you have to follow are the ones you establish for yourself. If you enjoy autonomy and relish the thought of operating as a solopreneur, a freelance job is where it’s at.


By choosing this career path, you become the creative director of your own freelance business. You get to choose the work you want and take on projects you feel passionate about, which can inspire your most inventive work. Plus, you have complete freedom to evolve and shift your strategy as you see fit, so you never have to be bored.

Is freelancing worth it? Check out these pros and cons.

How to start freelancing with no experience

1. Define your services

The first step is getting clear on exactly what you’ll be offering. What marketable skills do you have? What type of work do you most enjoy?

While it’s tempting to generalize–i.e., offering “marketing” services–trying to do it all is a recipe for failure. Instead, it’s best to zero in on one or two specialties, like social media management for B2B brands or email marketing for eCommerce stores.

If you can become the go-to freelancer in your chosen niche, not only will you attract more clients, but you’ll be able to command higher rates.

2. Build a portfolio

Next, you need a portfolio of work to showcase. It is how you’ll land your first freelance clients.

Oh, wait. That’s right–you have no experience. So, how can you create a portfolio?

Your portfolio doesn’t have to be work you were compensated for professionally. You can include projects done for fun, unpaid work for family and friends, pro bono work for a nonprofit, and side hustles. You can even create a few “assignments” for yourself and do mock work, like redesigning an outdated logo or writing a blog post on a specific topic.

Depending on what you’ve been doing for a living up until now, you may have work from your full-time job that you can use in your portfolio. Just be careful when sharing creative work that may be owned by your employer or one of its clients.

You only need a handful of items in your portfolio to get started. Shoot for 3 to 5 strong examples. You may even get by with less if you have a strong testimonial from someone who’s worked with you.

3. Set your price

Now for the fun part: deciding how much you’ll charge. There are several things to consider when setting your rates as a new freelancer.

Begin by looking at industry trends to learn the going rate for your skill set. Many websites document this information, but be advised: the numbers are all over the place. One survey we found, for example, said the hourly rate for mobile developers varies from $25 to $150 an hour. That’s a huge range, but at least it’s a ballpark figure.

Unsurprisingly, I’m partial to zengig salary data, so check it out first.

Another option is to find successful freelancers who are advertising their rates online. Find a few people who have similar experience and skill levels and take note of how much they’re charging for freelance work, specifically.

The best option to set your rate is to work backward and figure out how much you need to charge to earn your desired income.

It’s more complex than dividing an annual salary by the number of working hours in a year. You’ll be responsible for many hidden expenses as a freelancer that you don’t pay as an employee.

You’ll need to factor in your business-related costs, like office supplies, software subscriptions, marketing costs, and the additional taxes you’ll pay as a freelancer. You’ll also want to factor in vacation time and holidays since you won’t have a bank of paid time off to tap into like you do as a full-time employee. Finally, depending on your circumstances, you may also need to pay for your own health insurance and retirement savings.

This calculation will look very different for each individual, but here’s an example.

Desired take-home pay: $60,000

Two weeks “paid” vacation: $2,500

Office supplies: $1,200

Business expenses (software, subscriptions, equipment rental, etc.): $800

Individual health insurance: $4,800

Retirement contribution: $6,500

Taxes: $18,000

Total: $93,800

If you want to actually net $60,000, you’ll need to earn about $93,800. If you’re working an average of 40 hours a week, that comes out to an hourly rate of around $45.

Again, this is just an example. Plug in the numbers that make sense for your situation and do the math from there. 

4. Put the word out

Once you’ve created a portfolio and set your prices, it’s time to announce you’re open for freelance business and spread the word to everyone you know.

The importance of referrals can’t be overstated. While word of mouth isn’t the only way to land clients as a new freelancer, it’s the easiest, least expensive, and tends to result in high-quality contracts.

Announce your new venture on LinkedIn and update your profile details accordingly. Post on your personal social profiles like Facebook and Instagram. Email people in your network and, if it’s appropriate, reach out to business contacts you’ve already established relationships with to let them know you’re available for freelance work. 

5. Add your profile on freelance marketplaces

A freelance marketplace is an online directory. It’s where prospective clients can find and hire freelancers and where freelancers can showcase their work. You’ll build a profile by filling out some personal and professional details and adding examples of your work.

Once your profile is set up, you can browse open jobs clients have created and apply to them. As a new freelancer, your profile might not be as enticing to potential clients as someone who’s been in the game for many years, so you’ll need to work a little harder to stand out.

Clients often receive dozens of applications for a single project, but you can get their attention by going above and beyond in your proposal. For example, rather than just submitting a generic application with a link to your portfolio, give concrete examples of how you’d complete the work or offer a few free suggestions to guide them as they start their project. You can also begin with a lower rate to land your first few contracts, then raise it as you build a track record of successful work.

Toptal, Upwork, and Fiverr are a few of the most popular and reputable freelance platforms to sign up with.

6. Market yourself

The steps above will give you a great foundation to win your first handful of clients, but you’ll also want to grow from there. That’s when it’s time to think about doing some additional marketing for your services. LinkedIn is perfect for building your new freelance brand beyond your existing network. Connect with prospects and referral sources by posting valuable content showing you’re an expert in your niche. Join groups that align with your specialty area, and participate in relevant discussions.

X (formerly Twitter) is also an excellent route for proactive marketing. Follow and interact with popular accounts while sharing your expertise to a broad audience. Stay focused on the mission and use your account accordingly by not mixing business and pleasure.

As you progress, consider building your own website, doing email outreach to clients or brands you’d like to work with, and offering incentives like seasonal promotions or a new-client discount.

Taking the First Step in Your Freelance Journey

Now that you know where and how to begin, it comes down to taking action. How big your workload grows is entirely up to you, whether it’s a handful of projects to earn extra spending money or a full-fledged, full-time business. And that’s the beauty of becoming a freelancer: your work is entirely what you make it. 

As the saying goes, the first step is always the hardest. Having been there myself, I learned that each subsequent step becomes easier, and before you know it, you can be well on your way toward freelancing success!

Home / Career Advice / Freelancing / How to Start Freelancing With No Experience in Six Easy Steps
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Pete Newsome is the founder of zengig, which he created after more than two decades in staffing and recruiting. He’s also President of 4 Corner Resources, the Forbes America's Best Staffing and Recruiting Firm he founded in 2005, and is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance. In addition to his passion for staffing, Pete is now committed to zengig becoming the most comprehensive source of expert advice, tools, and resources for career growth and happiness. When he’s not in the office or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his career knowledge and expertise through public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Finding Career Zen & Hire Calling podcasts. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn