How to Get Started as a Freelancer

I've written a lot about freelancing lately. As I’ve described, I’m excited about this work model because of the benefits I’ve seen for me and my clients. The freelancing model doesn’t work for everyone in every situation, but I think it’s important to be aware of alternatives to the traditional employer-employee relationship. 836493_69961123

In this post I will provide some ideas for getting started as a freelancer.

Develop deep expertise. Companies look for freelancers who have deep expertise in a particular area. Often companies use existing staff to cover general needs and hire additional generalists as they grow. Many companies, especially small ones, aren’t willing or able to hire full-time employees to fill specialized needs.

This is why the freelancing model works well for CFO’s, marketing executives, HR specialists, writers, videographers, and programmers, to give a few examples.

Gain broad experience. Aspiring freelancers should develop deep expertise, but they should also take opportunities to broaden their experience. The more a freelancer understands all areas of business, the more valuable they will be in their specialized area. It also helps to gain experience in different industries, in different locations, and with different teams.

For example, a freelance CFO may be expected to set up processes in all areas of the business from sales to order processing to shipping to bank reconciliations. A CFO is also expected to interpret data and provide strategic insight into all areas of the business.

Network. Freelancers depend on relationships and word of mouth for opportunities. Like any hire, companies take a risk by bringing on a freelancer. On-boarding takes time, and the quality of work reflects on the company.

For this reason, companies want to work with who they know or those known by who they trust. Not many freelancers get hired from a cold call.

Be a superstar. Because freelancers depend on word of mouth for opportunities, their work needs to be something worth talking about. Many successful freelancers first gain a reputation as a full-time employee for being the hardest worker and the go-person for solving problems.

Start slowly. Full-time employees shouldn’t jump ship and then go looking for clients. Look for opportunities to gradually transition a full-time role to a part-time role as new opportunities come up. Without being unfair or dishonest to your employer, take opportunities do take on freelance roles outside of regular work hours.

As I described in a previous post, my freelance career began when I had the opportunity to cut my full-time role to half time when another half-time opportunity came up.

Freelancing is a fast-growing segment of the economy. In some cases it can provide greater benefits to the freelancer and the client than a traditional full-time arrangement. Hopefully these tips help those considering making the transition to freelancer.

Question: How did you get started as a freelancer? 

Links to past freelancing posts: Here I describe how I discovered the benefits of being and using a contract CFO. Here I dig a little deeper into why companies should consider a contract CFO. Here I more broadly discuss the pros and cons of freelancing. Here I look at skills and attributes freelancers should develop.