There are many things I wish I had known before I began my freelancing career.

However I couldn’t fit every single thing in one post so I’ve narrowed it down  the top 10 most important.

These are the 10 things I wish I knew before I started freelancing.

In this article we’ll take a a look at some these most important aspects of freelancing and how you can prepare for a freelancing career.

There are many factors that can determine the success of freelancer in today’s freelance market. We’ll take a look the most important factors here.

I hope this article can serve as a guide to help you get started with the 10 things that I wish I knew before I started freelancing and enable you to build off of this list.

With a good foundation to start off of you can build off of this list and grow and expand into the world of freelancing.

This is a list of the top 10 things I wish I knew before I started freelancing. I came up with this list on the fly in less than 5 minutes. I’ve you feel that I have missed something go ahead and leave some feedback in the comments below.

1. you are not an employee

A big misconception that inexperienced freelancers have when first starting out is that they are looking for a job from a client. This is not the case. You are essentially a business owner offering your services to customers or clients. So, you should carry yourself as such.

At the same time never allow a client to treat you as an employee. Make this clear and set expectations with your client before you accept the clients offer.

You’ll often hear “if you do well maybe we’ll even offer you a full time position”. This is where you need to remind the client you are not interested in that and that you are running your own freelancing business and have no desire to take on a full-time position with the client.

If the client doesn’t like this or seems irritated by this it may be best to decline the clients project and look for something else. The last thing you want to do is enter an engagement with a client that is going to treat you as an employee.

After all, that is one the reasons you left the 9-5 grind. You want to be your own boss. Your clients are your peers not your employers.

Check out my article on dealing with difficult clients in-case you do happen to fall into this trap here.

2. craft an incredible cover letter

When bidding on projects it is so vital to write an attention grabbing cover letter that outlines what you bring to the table.

You should also talk about previous projects that you have taken that turned out successfully. If you have not taken on a project as a freelancer then talk about your prior work experience. Be sure to touch on what separate you from other freelancers for this particular project.

You would be very surprised at how much a great cover letter matters even more so than your degree or years of experience in your particular field. You could have no degree and maybe only a year or two of experience in your field, but if you have an exceptional cover letter you’ll greatly increase your chances of winning the contract.

By doing this you’ll find that at times you’ll be winning contracts over people who have far more education and experience most likely because those candidates are writing sub-par cover letters.

3. always have more than 1 client

This is one that I really wish I knew before I started. It would have saved me so many headaches and saved from a few financial hardships.

You have to understand that because this is not a employee-employer relationship clients can leave the engagement at anytime for any reason. This is why I always say you should be willing to work up to 60 hours/week as a freelancer.

You never want to allow only one client to take all of your time. Doing so will set you up for a very difficult situation in the future if that particular client decides to end the engagement for whatever reason. If that happens then you suddenly finally yourself with 0 clients and no income at all from your freelancing business.

Having more than 1 client will help to mitigate this. Never give a client more than 40 hours as this goes back to what I said up being willing up to 60 as a freelancer.

This is because if a client does request a full time engagement (40hrs)  then you will at least have 1 or 2 more clients that you can fall back on while you try to fill the void if your full time client decides to leave for whatever reason.

 

4. the first contract is most difficult

I’ve always said that obtaining your first client is the most difficult and frustrating part of starting your freelance career. It is something that ALL successful freelancers have gone through this to get where they are today.

As a professional freelancer you must have a high level of resiliency and persistence in order to be successful. Like sales, obtaining new clients is numbers game. You have to keep at it. Keep bidding on contracts. Bid on as many as you possible can. Take as many interviews as you can.

If you don’t have a contract yet then fill up your schedule with as many interviews as you can. Don’t assume that just because an interview went well and the client says they like you and want to move forward with you that it will actually happen. Clients can be incredibly flaky so assume nothing until an offer is in front of you and you have accepted it.

Until then keep interviewing!

You can read my article on how I started out and became a successful freelancer here.

5. bid on as many contracts as you can

As I touched on above, getting that first contract is a numbers game. It can potentially take anywhere from 50 to 100 proposals before you get an interview or even more depending on your niche.

This is why being resilient and persistent is so important.

This part of the process, the beginning, is where so many freelancers get frustrated and fail which leads them inevitably giving up and returning to the workforce. Rome wasn’t built in a day and your not about to be raking in six figures in that time frame either.

If you’re not willing to deal with the frustrating and hard parts of starting out as a freelancer then something like this just isn’t for you. You may find that you are just more comfortable as an employee. This isn’t for everyone.

Here is a great video by former bodybuilder Rich Piana (RIP) on “doing whatever it takes”.

The video is geared more towards bodybuilding but can be applied to any area of life.

6. continuously interview

As I said it can take many bids to finally receive that first interview. Do NOT stop there. You should continue bidding on as many projects as you can so that you can continue to add more and more interviews to your schedule.

It is a numbers game so the more interviews you can setup for yourself the more likely you will land that first contract. However, do not stop there. Continue interviewing. You need more than client so even after you get your first contract KEEP INTERVIEWING.

If you are a poor interviewer than this is something you must practice and get better at. Being able to interview well is so crucial to being a successful freelancer.

When I first started out it took me several interviews to finally land my first contract. These days my interview skills have improved tremendously and it typically only takes me between 1 and 3 interviews to land a new client.

They secret is there is no secret. You have to do it and fail a few times in order to learn and get better.

Practice, Practice, PRACTICE.

7. don’t get low-balled

It is important the clients respect your pay rate as a freelancer. So many clients will offer up all types of excuses as to why they don’t want to pay as much as they should. Do not fall into this trap.

However, in the beginning of your career don’t set your rate sky high or you’ll have a difficult time winning over any new clients. When first starting out you have to realize that if you have no social proof on your profile meaning that you have not completed any projects yet you many need to start out with a lower rate listed on your profile.

Although, if you’ve listed what you feel is a reasonable rate based on similar researching similar freelancers in your niche with similar experience and client asks you to substantially lower your rate then tell them to keep it moving. At that time you should figuratively walk away from the negotiating table.

On the other hand if let’s say for example that your listed rate is $25/hr and you haven’t many or any clients yet and a client offers you something like $20/hr or maybe $18/hr +  performance incentives it many not be a bad idea to oblige if the client otherwise seems like a good fit.

So, don’t get low-balled but be reasonable and be willing to negotiate.

On a side note be weary of clients that offer you a low hourly rate with promise of high commission payouts. Ask to see the commission structure first and it if it looks suitable ask that client include the exact commission structure in the actual contract itself.

Here is great tool called AndCo for setting up your own contracts if you do not wish to use contracts provided by the various freelancing platforms.

8. recognize client red flags

As you begin taking on more and more clients throughout your freelance career you’ll run into great clients and not so great clients. You can help protect yourself from taking on bad clients by recognizing the warning signs early on.

So, what are some of these red flags to be wear of?

The first most obvious sign is if the client has bad rating on their profile or a review site. If other freelancers have only had bad experiences with this client then AVOID.

Some other not as obvious signs to watch out for can be found in the clients behavior from the time they request an interview to the time the make the initial offer.

A good client will always request an interview of some kind. They want to know if their money is going to go to good use or not. Be weary of clients that send an offer and ask you start without first setting up some kind of initial consultation with you.

Avoid clients that seem like they may try to treat you as an employee rather than a professional freelancer. This is a client based relationship not an employee employer based relationship.

Watch out for clients that set no expectations for their project or provide very little insight on how and when they want the project delivered. This is just asking for a fight later on.

Lastly, the kind of client that I absolutely despise is a client that feels the need to micromanage. A client like this has absolutely no respect for you. Checking in every now and then is acceptable. Asking for weekly reports can happen sometimes happen too and that is fine. What isn’t fine is if you find your client constantly checking in on you throughout the day. This is a huge red flag and this kind of client needs to be avoided at all costs. Not only is it unprofessional and incredibly annoying but you could possibly be setting your self up to be abused and mistreated further down the line.

Check out my article on dealing with difficult clients here.

9. great customer service

Maybe more important even than delivering results is providing great customer service. Always be supportive and understanding of your client. Do not settle for doing the bare minimum. You should go above and beyond for every client.

Even in instances where you may be struggling to complete a task reach out to the client and see if you can come up with a solution together. If worst comes to worst you should always try to give the client the impression that you area freelancer with integrity.

If you find yourself unable to complete a certain task for any reason you should immediately reach out to your client. Do your best to fulfill their needs and perhaps suggest that your skill set isn’t enough to complete the task at hand.

If this does happen you must do as much as possible to soften the blow for the client. Remember they are spending their hard earned money on you to complete a project.

The best thing to do if comes to this is gracefully suggest ending the contract and/or recommending another freelancer or agency that can do what the client needs.Until then offer to support the client until they are able to find a replacement.

Note: I said support the client not continue to work for client. Continuing to provide work that you can’t do or providing free work is neither productive for you or the client.

10. happy client = great review

Rather you successfully complete a project or find yourself needing to hand it off to someone else you should ALWAYS do whatever you can to keep your client as happy as possible.

Even in instances where you do not successfully complete a project but the client still likes you and is still happy with the work the you put forth in most cases you can expect at minimum a good review if not a great one.

This will heavily impact your ability to win more contracts in the future. Lots of good reviews will lead to clients reaching out to you and asking you for help on their project through project invitations. Poor reviews will make it very difficult for you to win more clients in the future.

So whatever you do always, always, always try to keep your client happy!

 

10 Things I wish I Knew Before I Started Freelancing

Lance Ulin

www.letsceo.com

IMAGINE. traveling the world, being your own boss, and setting your own hours…

This could be and should be YOU.

I left my 9 to 5 prison called “retail management” and became a successful freelancer. I left everything behind, packed a backpack, took what little money I had in my account, and headed for Mexico. BUT I won’t get into my personal stuff here. I’m doing that in a separate blog series on Medium here. Instead I’ll focus solely on how I started and made my freelancing career a success and how you can too.

“Hard work without direction is a difficult waste of time”

– Anonymous

assessing your situation

Is it worth it for me?

When it comes to pursuing freelancing you have to ask yourself “are you willing to take risks?”.

Does the thought of the potential initial pay cut and uncertain job prospects give you anxiety?

For better or worse that is the nature of freelance work. You have to compare the pros and cons. If you have a full pipeline of clients then the limitations seem endless. On the other hand…             What if you can’t find clients? What if potential clients turn you down due to lack of experience?

Freelancing after all is competitive and clients want the best talent at the best rates. Even though lucky for us freelancers those “best rates” are still typically significantly higher than what you would see in the job market for the same role.

So if you’ve come to the conclusion that the potential rewards of higher pay rates, making your own schedule, traveling the world, and working from anywhere is worth it

and

you have decided you are willing to take on the potential risks to reap incredible rewards that can potentially come with freelancing and being an entrepreneur then keep reading…                            

Platform vs off-platform

Freelance platforms or self prospecting

When starting out on freelancing career there will be two paths you can take.

You can use a freelancing platform.

Freelance platforms help companies find and hire independent professionals for temporary job roles or special projects. These platforms offer a marketplace for businesses to browse profiles of freelancer candidates based on skills, experience, location, or other criteria.

Platforms include:

  • Upwork
  • PeoplePerHour
  • Toptal
  • Freelancer
  • Guru

(I don’t consider Fiverr a serious platform)

The benefits of a platform:

– clients and projects are compiled in one place

– filters to help narrow down clients and projects

– prospecting is essentially set up for you

– big networks and typically lots of opportunities

– can act as a mediator for freelancers and clients

*

The drawbacks of platform:

– typically lots of fees involved

– support tends to favor clients

– tough to get your first project

– no or little control over billing clients

OR

You can self prospect.

By “self prospecting” I mean prospecting which consists of identifying potential customers, aka prospects. The goal of prospecting is to develop a database of likely customers and then systematically communicate with them in the hopes of converting them from potential customer to current customer.

There are many different ways you can go about self prospecting.

I STRONGLY RECOMMEND USING A PLATFORM UNTIL YOU HAVE significant experience!

The benefits include:

– no fees

– full control over contract with client

– an absolute must when running an agency

The drawbacks include:

– using most of free time prospecting

– no support

– much less chance landing an initial client

– not much benefit for a solo freelancer

getting set up

Building a professional online presence

The first step is choosing a platform. We’ve established self prospecting is for seasoned freelancers so I’ll save that for another article.

I highly recommend Upwork to get started as it has a huge network, a broad range of clients and projects, and support.

After you’ve chose your platform its time to sign up for an account and setup a profile. It is very important to complete your profile fully. Be sure to write professionally and emphasize your strengths.

If you are like I was and don’t have a readily identifiable niche there are projects you can take on which require little experience like cold calling.

Keep in mind you may only stat off making 10-12/hr cold calling but you can increase your rates up to 30+/hr for same kinds of projects as you increase your experience.

As you go a long you may notice a trend in desirable skills in the projects that are posted. A lot of what I and many freelancers have learned is self taught. Don’t be afraid to hit up Coursea or Udemy in your free time.

A useful skill you can learn to branch out from cold calling is “lead generation”. There are tons of articles and courses on the web that can easily teach you the ins and outs of lead generation within a couple weeks.

Once you have discovered what your niche is you need to really sell yourself on your profile.    You should have a professional headshot. You should have a professional looking profile that sells clients on what you can offer them. It is a good idea to get a professional resume design too.

Once you are all set up it is then time to start bidding on projects!

                         

bidding on projects

Winning your first client

Now you will start submitting bids and cover letters to potential clients. On your chosen platform you should customize your feed filters to show only the types of contracts you wan to bid on.

After opening a project you will see the project description and you have button that will allow you to submit a proposal.

A PROPOSAL includes your cover letter, your proposed hourly or fixed rate, and answers to any additional listed questions.

TIP: It is a good idea to bid low in order to win your first project. As you successfully complete more projects you will be able to continuously raise your rate.

Submit lots of proposals to projects that fall into your niche. Remember that it is a numbers game so the more projects you submit proposals to the more likely you are to get interviews.

Again, it is a good idea to line up a lot of interviews not just because it increases your odds of getting a contract but also because a lot of times clients may only start you at 10 hours/week.

Therefore it is good practice to keep multiple clients if you want to freelance fulltime. Initially you may want to take on 3 or 4 clients but as you build relationships with clients they will gradually increase your hours. So eventually you may be working fulltime with just 1 or 2 clients.

When you are first starting out freelancing on any platform persistence is key. Submit as many proposals as you possibly can. Think of freelancing as a snowball rolling downhill. The more projects you pick up the more momentum you gain the easier things become.

                                                               

client relationships

Maintain your clients and build your pipeline

Building and maintaining client relationships is important across any industry. It is how we keep the business we have and how we continue to build our business going forward.

When it comes to freelancing on platform it is exceptionally crucial.

The strength of your client relationships ultimately determines the length of your engagement, if you get repeat business, referrals, potential references, and your profile feedback.

If you can’t keep your clients happy you will have a very tough time maintaining a full workload.

Mot importantly however is your profile feedback. If clients are constantly leaving bad feedback on your profile it will hurt your standing with the platform and your future contract prospects.

However, if you are taking care of your clients and delivering results your clients will reward you with positive feedback. This helps your standing on the platform, improves your reputation, leads to big increases in landing contracts, and will lead to you to being invited to apply for projects.

Invitations: These are sent out to from either clients or talent specialists on the platform. Only the best freelancers in their given niche are invited to apply on contracts. Being invited to project strongly increases the likelihood of receiving a contract.

Remember, taking care of your clients and ensuring that they are happy can sometimes prove more useful than the results you deliver. If a client likes you on a personal level and you have a great relationship you open yourself to so many more opportunities.

                                                               

the next steps

How far can you take your freelancing venture

You can take this entrepreneurial journey as far as you want to take it. There is no set roadmap for what you an do after you’ve established yourself as a freelancer.

The skills you learn along the way and the experience you gain becomes invaluable. The clients you work with and references and relationships you can obtain from freelancing can continue to help you throughout the entirety of your career.

For me personally, the next step was building an agency “Ulin Consulting”. An agency geared toward helping independent freelancers gain more work and higher rates.

www.ulinconsulting.com

Next, I set up this blog “Let’s CEO”.  I set up this blog as a site for entrepreneurs to share information and network.

I am currently in the middle of writing an entrepreneur themed eBook which will be advertised and sold across all of my websites.

Freelancing is a great way for prospective entrepreneurs to gain experience but I view it as only a “foot-in-the-door” opportunity for entrepreneurs. Realistically freelancing alone isn’t going to make you a millionaire. At most you may be able to turn it into a 6 figure venture but only barely.

Instead, freelancing should be thought of as ONE aspect of your money making ventures. ONE of many income streams.

                                                               

– Lance

Resources:

  1. www.upwork.com
  2. www.ulinconsulting.com
  3. www.letsceo.com
  4. www.linkedin.com
  5. www.hubspot.com