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? There’s only one problem: you need clients. Sure, you know you’re capable. But how can you convince someone to pay you for your work when you haven’t done any work of yours yet? So, how can you start freelancing with no experience?
The good news is that every freelancer on earth started in the same exact spot you’re in right now. Many have earned some nice extra income, replaced their full-time salaries, and even built six-figure businesses as freelancers.
We’ll explain how to start earning money as a freelancer even if you have no experience.
What is freelancing, exactly?
Freelancing is a type of self-employment where a person provides their 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 own work and set their own 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
The benefits of freelancing are numerous, but here are a few of the biggest ones.
When you’re a freelancer, you have full 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 Europe? No one’s going to stop you. If it’s the flexibility you’re after, it’s hard to find a better gig than freelancing.
One of the biggest gripes workers have about their jobs is bad management. When you freelance, there’s no one looking over your shoulder and micromanaging your work. You don’t have to put up with difficult coworkers for the sake of being a team player. If you enjoy being a solo operator, freelancing is where it’s at.
As a freelance worker, you’re the creative director of your own business. You get to choose the work you want and take projects you feel passionate about, which can inspire your most inventive work. Plus, you have full freedom to evolve over time 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 selling. 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 if you can zero in on one to 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. This is how you’ll land your first clients.
Oh, wait. That’s right–you have no experience. So how can you create a portfolio?
Your portfolio doesn’t have to be paid work. You can include work you’ve done for fun, unpaid work you’ve done for friends and family, pro bono assignments for a nonprofit, and projects from your side hustle. You can even create a few “assignments” for yourself and do mock work, like redesigning an outdated logo or 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 you can use in your portfolio. Just be careful with creative work that’s technically 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 be able to 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 prices as a freelancer.
Begin by looking at industry trends to learn the going rate for your type of work. 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.
A better option is to find actual freelancers who are advertising their rates online. Find a few people who have a similar experience and skill level and take note of how much they’re charging.
The best option to set your rates as a freelancer is to work backward and figure out how much you need to charge to earn your desired income.
It’s not as straightforward as dividing an annual salary by the number of working hours in a year. There are a lot of hidden expenses you’ll be responsible for 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 since you don’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
So, 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 open for 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 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. List on freelance marketplaces
A freelance marketplace is an online directory where 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 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 some concrete examples of how you’d complete the work on their project 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 your rate as you build a track record of successful work.
Toptal, Upwork, HireMyMom, 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. 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.
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.