What needs to be in place before you can become a freelancer?

Hoping to launch yourself as a freelancer? Find out what needs to be in place before you embark on a freelance career.

Today, starting your own business can mean a lot of different things, and whereas in the past there were perhaps a limited number of options, today anyone who wants to work for themselves can take a variety of different paths depending on what they want to do and how they want to do it.

One of those paths, and something that is popular among self-employed people, is freelancing. There’s definitely an allure to the idea because you get to work on your own terms, choose your own clients, set your own prices, and you’ll generally have a flexible lifestyle. 

Freelancing sounds idea, but before you get started, there are some things you’ll need to put in place to ensure you can enjoy all the benefits that freelancing offers. Remember, there are downsides to this way of working, and unless you understand them and you make sure you have contingencies ready to use if need be, you might not enjoy it as much as you could.

With that in mind, here are some of the things you’ll need to do and think about before you take the plunge and become a freelance writer, artist, consultant, or anything else (the list is a long one!). 

Assess your skills and expertise 

Of course, before you can start freelancing, you’ll need to work out what it is you’re going to freelance in. We mentioned just a few of the potential options above, but make sure you explore all the different ideas you can think of because if you make the wrong choice right at the start, you’re definitely not going to like what freelance life brings you. 

The best place to start is with your own skills and expertise – what is it that you’re particularly good at and what interests you the most (hopefully these things will come together). What skills do you have that people would pay you to use? What’s actually in demand when it comes to freelancing?

Answering these questions and as many others as you can think of will help you narrow down your choices and find the one freelancing job that will suit you best – and the one you’ll have the most potential to make money from, which is the ultimate aim, after all. 

Remember that you’ll need to pick something where you can have a chance of standing out over and above your competition, and it’s wise to specialise in something rather than being too general – clients are going to want an expert, and the more you can show them you’re a specialist, the more likely it is they’ll choose you. 

Define your goals

Once you know what your skills and strengths are (and your weaknesses – it’s always useful to be aware of them as well), you’ll need to take the next step and think about what your goals are when it comes to freelancing. Is this going to be a full-time job? Is it a side hustle? Do you want to build a bigger business or perhaps franchise the idea? Or do you want to stay small and have more control?

Having your goals in place means you’ll be able to make better decisions and shape your career in the way that works for you best, so although it can be hard to think about the future and what you’re hoping for, it will definitely be helpful. 

Knowing what your goals are isn’t going to be enough to make you successful or help you reach them, however, so you’ll also need to make a plan and ensure those goals are SMART. This means you’re going to have to make your goals specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.

When you do this, it will be easier to make them happen and it will keep you more focused – that’s crucial when you’re a freelancer, as you’re the one in control of everything. You can choose not to work, but you won’t make any money, so your income is literally in your hands. Being focused is essential. 

Build a strong portfolio 

No matter what you’re doing as a freelancer, people aren’t going to hire you unless you can prove to them that you’re good at what you do.

This is where your portfolio comes in, and you’ll need to have created this well before you start looking for clients – they’re going to ask to see it, and since you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, you’ll want to have it ready to show them when they ask or, even better, don’t wait for them to ask but instead be the one to offer it to them. This shows you’re happy to share your work and that you’re prepared, both of which are positive things in the eyes of any potential client. 

When it comes to creating your portfolio – which can be digital or physical, or perhaps you’ll want a version of both for any occasion – there are a few tips to bear in mind, and some hugely important elements to include. Firstly, you’ll always need to pick your very best work and include a variety of different projects that showcase exactly what you can do – you’ll want to show off as many skills as possible so that no matter what the client wants, they’ll see it in your portfolio. 

It’s also a wise idea to give some context to everything in the portfolio. If you’re an artist, a writer, or anything else, don’t just show the finished work, but give some information about what it was the client wanted, how you worked together to come up with ideas, and what they thought about the end result. The more information you can offer, the easier it will be for someone to choose you and know they can work with you. 

Plus, keep your portfolio updated. Over time, your style and ideas might change, and you could develop new skills – most freelancers get much better at what they do as they get more practice, for example. Take a good look at your portfolio at least every year and ideally every six months (or even three months) to make sure that what’s included is still your best work and still gives a good overview of what you can do. 

Work out your pricing strategy

One of the most difficult parts of being a freelancer is working out what you’re going to charge people. If you price yourself too low, you’ll undervalue your skills and either clients will be wary of using you because they don’t think you’ll do the best work, or they’ll hire you and you’ll end up barely making any money for hours and hours of effort. Price too high, and you could put people off entirely, especially if you’re just starting out and you don’t have any good reviews or much experience to prove you’re as good as you say you are. 

To work out a fair – and competitive – pricing strategy, it’s best to do a lot of market research to see what other freelancers in your sector are charging. But before you can pick a price to go with, you’ll also need to look at your expenses to ensure you don’t make a loss.

When you’re doing this, don’t forget you have to pay your own taxes, so a percentage of whatever you earn will have to be set aside for this; make sure you calculate the right amount so you can do that and not have to use your tax money to live in, causing you a lot of problems when the time comes to pay the bill. 

Think about finances 

Unless you’ve been planning your freelance career for some time and already have clients lined up (or you’re about to take your side hustle into the mainstream, so you’re already making money), you’re going to need to think carefully about your finances and ensure you have enough money to live in while you build up your freelancing business. 

There are a few different routes you can go down, including using your own savings or perhaps your investments after speaking to an investment advisory expert. Alternatively, you can borrow money to help you get started in your freelancing career.

Some people aren’t keen on that idea because it means they have to get into debt, but with a good plan ahead of you and the right pricing, you should be able to pay the loan back more quickly, getting out of debt and into profit sooner rather than later.

You’re the only one who can determine what it is that will be the best option for you, and how comfortable you are about borrowing money to start your freelancing career, so it’s worth thinking through all the pros and cons to be sure you’re making the right choice. 

Have a business plan

Business plans aren’t just for traditional businesses; they’re for anyone who wants to go it alone, including freelancers. A well-thought-out business plan gives you all the structure you might need to help you make decisions and wise choices when it comes to your business because it’s where you can outline your goals, details about your target market, your financial forecasts and projections, and so on. 

Following on from the point above, if you want to borrow money to use in your business (rather than a personal loan), it’s the business plan that will make all the difference and prove to lenders that you understand finances and that your business is a viable one in the first place.