For years, entering the mysterious freelance world sounded more intimidating than living in a foreign country alone. I’m not kidding. I heard about freelancing all the time and it sounded so great. But, I just didn’t know where to begin. Not only had I never freelanced, but I honestly felt like I had no freelance-able skills.
Freelancing has what allowed me to volunteer for the past 4 months in Southeast Asia and also help pay back my student loans! I started without experience, and so can you.
This post walks you through how I got my first freelance job with no experience and how you can too. It’s also how I continue to get freelance jobs easily only a couple months into my first job.
I’ve included my Beginner’s Guide to Freelancing in this post. It’s part of my Side Hustler Library, which you can have (free) access to by signing up below. If you’d like, go ahead and grab that guide now and we can work through it together during this post. I’ll patiently wait. 🙂
Choosing my niche
I wasn’t overly confused on where to find freelance work. If you google it, there are loads of websites that come up. That part isn’t tricky (though I do add my favorite websites in my Beginning to Freelance Guide below!). What you need to figure out first is what type of freelance work I was going to try.
I decided to focus on writing freelance jobs. I hadn’t been published anywhere famous or done any professional writing. Nonetheless, I thought it was my best bet. This was for a couple of reasons:
- I have a degree from a well-respected university, so I knew that could at least give me some leg to stand on.
- I won a pretty reputable essay contest once. Score.
- Freelance writing jobs seemed to be pretty common.
- Freelance writing jobs seemed to often be more about how much time you’d spend on something than about your specific writing experiences.
Before you begin applying to several different types of freelancing jobs, try to focus on one market you want to break into. This way, as you do get jobs in that niche (and you will!), you’ll have high recommendations in the industry. You’ll also gain the experience to charge more. Plus, applying for jobs in several different niches is very time-consuming. In choosing one, you can use a similar proposal for most of the jobs. You don’t need to rewrite your background, credentials, abilities, and ideas with every single proposal.
What’s for you?
So, here’s where you need to think about what you think you can market well for yourself. If you do have experience in any sort of profession, I encourage you to leverage that (even if you are trying to get out of that profession). For instance, if you’ve worked in finance, IT, law, or anything design-related, market those! All of those niches have a smaller market than “writers” (like me). They also probably have clients willing to pay up for your expertise. However, if you’re like me and don’t feel like your professional career has equipped you with a specific skill, think broader. Writing, editing, or formatting are common freelance niches that need only a little experience.
Where to look
There is no shortage of freelance websites. Once you’ve decided what type of work you want to freelance, you can easily find websites searching for that kind of work. I list all the websites that helped me at first in my Beginner’s Guide to Freelancing (grab yours below). But the website that landed me my very first job was Upwork. I know that Upwork has a huge variety of freelance jobs. So, no matter what niche you chose, Upwork is a great place to start. Creating a profile is easy and you have a lot of say over your pricing. Upon creating your account, you will need to choose an initial niche. This is another reason I encourage deciding this before you begin.
If the niche you decided doesn’t work out, that’s okay! You’ll try another. But then you can rule that one out and waste no more time on it.
You’ve decided on your niche… check! You’ve found websites that have jobs… check! Now comes the big old bridge of getting said jobs. It’s not easy!
When you’re first freelancing, your proposals need to be good. I know with Upwork and many other freelance websites, both the freelancers and the clients receive reviews for their work. This is a good thing! When I look for work, I don’t want to apply for jobs to a client that only received a 3-star rating. That brought up all sorts of questions. That made me wonder if I wouldn’t get paid, or the client would give me a poor rating, or if the work was different than the job description.. so many questions! So, don’t be intimidated by ratings. They are a good thing. If you’re new to freelancing (like I was), you won’t have a rating. Don’t let that shake you. It’s probably better to have no rating than a mediocre rating. You’re doing just fine.
So, look for jobs from clients with high ratings! On some sites, the client can pay in escrow, too. I love this feature because it ensures I’ll get paid once I complete my job (to the client’s satisfaction). You don’t want to work hard just to not get paid.
Your freelance application
Before you begin applying to job postings you see on websites, make sure that you have a completed profile on that website. Most freelance websites have extensive options for your profile completion, make sure to do as much of it as possible! This will make it much easier for clients to learn about you and also find you. I also do like to include a photo though I can understand why some wouldn’t. I think it makes your profile more personal and relatable.
Once your profile is proposal ready, you’re ready to begin applying. Your proposals should be like cover letters. Go into detail about you, your experience, and your ideas for the project. It will seem tedious, but it’ll pay off. Don’t hold anything back and don’t be afraid to brag! You know that you’ll do what it takes to deliver quality work, so talk yourself up! I’ve included the exact e-mail template that I used to get my first freelance writing job in my Beginner’s Guide to Freelancing below.
How much to charge
Figuring out how much you’re work is worth per hour can be difficult; it’s a strange concept. One of the most difficult parts of freelancing is that there are people (often in other countries) that will do the work you’re capable of doing for much less than minimum wage. It’s hard to compete with them as clients will obviously choose the less expensive option if the skills are the same. So, how do you give yourself a competitive edge with a true expertise? You need a high rating and/or recommendations. How do you get that with no experience?!
Well, first apply to a couple jobs and see how it goes. I’d say maybe 5, you don’t want to fry yourself writing cover letters. Try to pick clients that have a personal aspect of their bio or their job that you can relate directly to. This can even be something not directly related to your skills. Maybe the client went to the same college as you! Hey, whatever makes you stand out. If things aren’t going as planned, there are a couple ways to get creative.
When you’re not getting work
There are a couple of things you can do if things just aren’t working out yet and you feel like you need to get some experience to leverage your credentials.
1- Do a job for free
I know it doesn’t sound fun, especially if you’re really needing some money. But, this is an easy way to get a job (hard to turn down free work!), and therefore some experience. This gives you some background to talk about in future proposals. It also gives you a chance to be rated or reviewed by a client, and on some freelance websites (like Upwork), your rating is tacked onto your profile. Think of it this way: before new products are released onto the market, they’re often sold at a discount or given away for free to consumers. In exchange, the consumers provide testimonials. It’s the same concept and both parties benefit from it. So, even if you’re needing money STAT and this seems like a no-money option, you can actually get this going pretty quickly and easily. Then, you’ll have a much easier time applying to freelance jobs.
2- Do some work for free to leverage yourself
This clever technique is for those of you that feel like you’re very qualified in a specific field, yet don’t have much experience freelancing in it. The method is this: find a job with the assignment laid out specifically. Then, do a section of the assignment free, and submit that with your proposal. This is truly what a proposal is, in a sense. It shows what you propose the assignment should look like completed. When the client is happy with your sample and impressed that you went the extra mile before even receiving the job offer, you can leverage the rest of your time for a pretty penny. The client already has trust in you, and you don’t need to stress about whether or not the client will like your work. A great example of this method is in this article.
Getting your rating or review
Whew! You finally completed your first freelance job. Good work! I know it’s not easy, but the beginning is definitely the hardest part. Now, as we’ve covered, it’s important to make sure you have a high rating attached to your profile. So, when you submit your work to the client, mention that you’d really appreciate a five-star rating (very gently). Say that if there’s any reason the client doesn’t feel you deserve that rating, please let you know and you’ll be happy to revise or change your work. For the template to the exact e-mail I used, grab your free Beginner’s Guide to Freelance below.
As you submit your first assignment, you can mention to the client that you’re interested in further projects he or she may have. I often even see clients listing in their job posting that they will have more assignments should they find a good fit. So, if you know you want re-occurring work, you can look out for that. Either way, you can let the client know that you’re available for and interested in more work when you submit your work. Just make sure that you like the client and the style of work! Now that you have experience, you’ll have an easier time getting more work, so don’t do this out of desperation. A difficult client can easily result in a bad rating for you, which will lose you a lot of future projects. You deserve to be picky!
You’re a freelancer!
Great job. Not only did you land a freelance gig, you’ve set yourself up to be a freelancer. That’s right, a real live freelancer. For more information and help on this process, grab my Beginner’s Guide to Freelance below. It’s got tons of helpful freelance tips, useful websites, e-mail templates, and spreadsheets. Yours for free in my Side Hustler Resource Library.
If you have any questions, please comment below! I’m sure someone else is wondering the same thing. What are you struggling with in the freelance world?