How To Start Your Freelance Business – And Not Fail

I get at least one or two emails a day from web professionals who want to become freelancers. Their stories are touching, but their questions are always the same, “How do you start freelancing?”, “How do you find clients?”, “How do I get my name out there?”.

In today’s unstable work world, freelancing seems to be this big murky dark abyss for people used to working 9-5. The truth is however, freelancing isn’t scary, it’s just different. It kind of reminds me of people who use PCs, take one look at a Mac and freak out. Freelancing is the Mac of the full-time world.

I’ve written several freelance articles on how to find clients, how to set your rates and dealing with clients, but I’ve never really written a comprehensive how to, so I’d thought I’d share my experiences with you. Everything I talk about here is stuff I really do in my own business and it’s worked well for me so far. 🙂

So how do we start freelancing?

Just Do It

how to start freelancing

The Nike slogan is spot on. The best way to start your freelance business is to start. Planning and preparation are great, but if you spend your whole life planning, you’ll never get to the doing part.

You can’t just sorta-kinda dip your toes into the freelancing pond. People who do that are the people who claim to have failed and have gone back to their cushy jobs. If you want to freelance you need to want to freelance and be prepared to spend 10-12 hours a day on it when you’re first starting up. If you’re not looking forward to that, you’ll fail.

I’ll be frank with you up front. You’ll never have enough money saved, it will never be the “right” time and you’ll never be really prepared. That being said, a little preparation can go a long way. However, if you’ve been planning or preparing for over a year now, it might be time to rethink your plan.

Freelancing is like anxiety. Anxiety is the fear of fear, which means there may or may not be a logical thing there to actually fear. Freelancing sounds scary, and there’s plenty of stories on the web from people who failed freelancing to reinforce your own fears of freelancing.

A personal story of mine

getting paidWhen I was first leaving the nest and heading to college I had a fear of being poor. My parents are upper middle class, so I was certainly used to some of the “luxuries” in life. I knew that the fact my parents had money, did not mean I would as an adult. So what did I do? Did I just stay at home and not venture out on my own?

Of course not. I realized that I could never be poor, because I never wanted to be poor. You might be wondering who actually wants to be poor, but unfortunately our society is filled with plenty of people who are just scraping by because they don’t try or care. They prefer their parents to care of them, the government to take care of them or a rich husband or wife to do it. They’re poor.

Of course, stuff happens. Our house burns down, we get robbed, the main provider in the family dies. But that doesn’t make you poor, that makes you temporarily broke. Poor is a state of mind. (Dave Ramsey once said this). The trick, is not to let these things bring you down and to keep trying. You know you’re not poor, therefor you’ll never really be poor. I might have had a year where I had to be frugal and live off sandwiches and sleep on a futon, but that was only a temporary situation because I made it so.

Freelancing is the same way. You can’t fail at freelancing, you just fail in your mindset. This may sound like a bunch of happy-thinking mumbo jumbo, but coming from someone (me) who actually has an anxiety problem, I can assure you this stuff works.

Finding Clients

finding clientsFinding clients, or the fear of not finding clients, is what stops most people from venturing into freelancing. Lucky for you, the world is filled with millions of potential clients, all looking for someone with your talent and skills. The trick, is figuring out how to find those lucky people.

  • Find your niche – Niche yourself into as small of an area as possible. While this sounds like you’re making your available client pool smaller (and you’ll also turn down work) this is actually good for business. I niched myself into XHTML, CSS and WordPress work for design agencies and freelancers only. Because this, work has exploded and I haven’t had a dry period of work yet. You can read the article I wrote when I did this.
  • Social media – I can’t stand social media and SEO experts, because most of what they say is either crap or the same thing that you’ve heard a million times already. So why do these people have such a large following? Because social media works. Grab an RSS feed through Twitter with your ideal search terms (like “Looking freelance designer, for example). Follow fan pages on Facebook and LinkedIn that are your idea clients.
  • Prepare for cold – Cold calling is annoying and a waste of time. No one wants to be interrupted with what they’re doing to listen to your marketing spew. Cold emailing, however, is a very effective way to gain clients. Do a Google search for your target clients and send them a short email explaining who you are, what you do, and how much you do it for.
  • Community – Start a blog and guest write on other blogs. The major SEO boost you’ll get from your own blog, as well as the traffic and exposure you’ll get from guest writing goes a long way to brining potential clients to your site, while positioning you as an expert in your community.
  • Service – Respond to emails in no more than 12 hours (unless on weekends of course). Always say thank you and let the potential client know you’re happy to have the opportunity to work for them.
  • Referrals and testimonials – Take care of happy clients and you can gain a lot of work from it. Read my article on what to do when your clients are satisfied.

Have a designated work space

setting up your officeHave a real place you can set your office up at, and make sure it’s comfortable. If you live with someone else, make sure they know you’re working and don’t let them distract you until those hours are over. The dishes, laundry, wife, husband and kids can wait – just like they already do when you’re at your full-time job. These things can quickly and easily distract you from your work.


Do you have any freelance questions? Please share in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them!

Photos by vramak, aresauburn™, Joe Shlabotnik, mudpig