Hiring freelancers is becoming not only more acceptable, but more attractive for many businesses. This creates an incredible opportunity for people with useful skills to start a freelancing business on the side, and eventually grow that into a sustainable self-employed career. That’s exactly what I’ve done with my content marketing consultant business.
Fewer taxes, lower employee-related expenses, no healthcare, less office space, the list goes on. These are but a handful of the reasons many companies are seeking freelancer writers, designers, marketers, and developers to help grow their businesses. Plus for freelancers, there are so many great freelance jobs websites cropping up meet this demand today, that the opportunities are only getting better and better.
A recent study by the University of Phoenix, polling 1,600 adults under the age of 30, found that 63% of people in their 20’s either own their own business or want to in the near future. Of those who are not already entrepreneurs, 55% identified as wanting to be, one day.
So, how do those of us, regardless of age, who want to be gainfully self-employed go about getting started with our careers as entrepreneurs? Well, choosing to start a freelance business is one of the most feasible, realistic, and attainable side businesses you can start while keeping your day job (and the security that comes along with it).
We all have bills that need to be paid and expenses that don’t just magically go away overnight once we decide to chase our dreams. Choosing to become an entrepreneur comes with great responsibility.
I recommend reading this guide all the way through from top to bottom, but if you prefer to jump around, here’s a hyperlinked table of contents that’ll take you straight to each stage of how to start freelancing.
10 Steps to Start a Freelance Business While Working Full-Time in 2023
- Define Your Goals
- Find a Profitable Niche
- Identify Your Target Clients
- Set Strategic Prices for Your Services
- Build a High-Quality Portfolio Website
- Create Examples of What You Can Deliver (on Your Portfolio Site)
- Thoughtfully Choose Your First Clients
- Mention Potential Clients in Your Content
- Learn How to Pitch Yourself
- Don’t Mix Your Day Job Priorities with Freelance Business
Now, let’s dive into my guide to learning how to start freelancing.
But First… Why I Started a Freelance Business While Keeping My Day Job
I grew my freelance business to over six figures in revenue on the side before quitting my day job in 2016.
I live in Los Angeles, which happens to have one of the highest average rent costs in the US. So for me, immediately quitting my day job to pursue my passion of working for myself was never going to be a feasible option. That’s why I chose to get serious about starting my business on the side and building my personal brand as a content marketer—all while I still had my day job to pay the bills.
Since my eventual goal was to work full-time creating more in-depth content and courses for my blog and online community (my blogging goals), I knew that if I could first transition over to a lifestyle of running a profitable freelance business, that could build up my savings and eventually afford me the flexibility to spend more time working on courses & the content I’d need to fully validate my ideas in the short-term.
In this sense, I viewed starting a freelancing business (in my case as a freelance writer) as a necessary in-between step in my progression towards getting back to gainful self-employment, on my terms this time. This strategic progression is backed up by the journeys that many top entrepreneurs have gone on—and you can learn more through my picks for the best business books and top online business courses for entrepreneurs.
Unlocking more of my time, which I wholeheartedly believe to be my most precious resource, meant I’d be able to get my passive income business off the ground much quicker than just squeezing in time around my day job. Freelancing is more flexible. And while it comes with a different set of stressors than your typical day job, it’s been much less stressful (for me) than working a traditional 40-50 hour per week job. Even if that job is remote.
Like it or not, you’ll have to create a decent amount of time in your schedule to start a freelance business (and grow it).
Because I didn’t want to go into debt or seek outside funding to start my freelance business, I chose to start freelancing while keeping my day job, during my personal time before and after work and on weekends. That meant a lot of short-term sacrifices when it came to “fun” during the week and on weekends—but it was well worth it in the long run.
Moreover, that experience has taught me an incredible amount about how much hard work it takes to launch a freelance business and to continue delivering high quality results for clients, while bringing in new contracts at the same time. It’s no easy feat balancing working “in” your freelance business with working “on” your freelance business, especially when you’re still learning how to manage opportunities that come your way.
Fast forward a bit… during the average month today, I’m now able to earn anywhere from $20,000-$30,000/mo (often more) in dependable income—now from a combination of my freelance clients, online course sales and other passive blog income sources here—which all go a long way towards funding my future business endeavors.
Make no mistake, there’s no doubt that it will be difficult to keep up with your performance at the office—and still find the time to put in meaningful work on your freelance projects.
But, when you’re running your own freelance business full-time and reaping the lifestyle benefits of hustling your way into self-employment, it’ll be well worth the extra hours right now.
Especially if like me, freelancing for you is a means to getting closer to your self-employed dream career.
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10 Steps to Start a Freelance Business While Working Full-Time in 2023
Before you start your freelance business, you need to get very clear on why you want to start freelancing in the first place. Once you have your bigger picture goals in mind, how you utilize your limited amount of time will greatly determine your level of success with freelancing.
1. Define Your Goals
Without clearly defined, easily measurable goals, you’re going to have a very difficult time getting to where you want to go.
- Is freelancing a path to just earning extra income on the side of your day job?
- Do you eventually want to become a full-time freelancer because of the lifestyle benefits of being your own boss?
- Or, are you looking to use freelancing as a stepping stone to eventually achieving a different goal entirely?
Regardless of what your ultimate goal is, you need to make it abundantly clear. This is something that all of the world’s top entrepreneurs agree upon when it comes to successfully starting a business.
Take the time to understand why you’re considering starting a freelance business in the first place. Do you want to…
- Become a freelance writer?
- How about a freelance designer?
- Maybe a freelance developer?
Make sure this decision is the right move in your progression toward achieving your bigger picture goals.
Only after you have the clarity around where you want freelancing to take you, can you start backing into your shorter-term goals and benchmarks that’ll help your freelance business become a success.
Over on the Millo blog, April Greer shares one of my favorite takes on the importance goal-setting within your freelance business, and how to set meaningful goals that move you forward.
Let’s say your bigger picture goal is to become a fully self-employed freelancer. You’ll set your own hours, decide who you want to work with, and call all the shots in your business. Now, how do you get there?
You know that you’ll need to get your freelance income up to a sustainable, healthy level that allows you to eventually quit your day job without stress about where your next paycheck is going to come from. Because I’ve quit my day job too early in the past with the phone case business I started (and ended up moving in with my parents for a few months), my personal rule is that I now must reach a side income of at least 75% of what my salaried job pays me, before even considering quitting to pursue my side business – full-time.
Starting with your freelance income target, based on your living expenses, risk tolerance, and realistic expectations on how long your savings can sustain you, now you can back into a rough idea of how many clients you’ll need (and what you’ll have to charge them), before making it to the point where you’ll be able to leave your day job to freelance full-time.
For me personally, a major goal of freelancing was to unlock more time for myself to just be. To live life. To pursue things like hiking with more of my free time—and as a result of doing that, I now have a hiking blog called Hike with Ryan. I’ve been writing about topics like my favorite Yosemite trails, the most thoughtful gifts for hikers, reviews of the best hiking boots, the right time of year to visit Yosemite and more.
2. Find a Profitable Niche
Let’s assume you’re a graphic designer by trade, or you’ve at least been building your skills with Adobe Illustrator & Photoshop in your free time.
Clearly, there are a lot of competitors in your industry that’ll be willing to charge much lower rates than you, no matter what you do. There are people from all around the world with lower costs of living that’ll always be willing to accept lesser-paid gigs than you. Get over the idea of trying to compete on price as a freelancer, right now.
It’s not worth racing other people to the bottom for work from home jobs on a freelance basis, especially when sites like Fiverr, Upwork or other freelance jobs sites already have countless options for low-priced freelancers. Side note: I personally recommend not ever listing your services on either of those sites, unless you absolutely need to (after striking out from trying everything in this post first).
By taking the time to find a profitable niche for your freelance business (just as you’d pick a niche to blog about should you choose to launch a blog), you’re actively seeking out an industry and type of client that values quality. When you’re in a space that competes on quality, you’ll completely change the ways in which you sell your services. You’ll be competing on value, not price.
Instead of taking any graphic design project that comes your way, choose to concentrate solely on infographic design for startup blogs, or writing eBooks for enterprise tech companies. Choose an area that genuinely interests you, and focus on becoming the best designer in that narrow space—that’s how you really find the right side hustle niche. Once you’ve built your skills to a level that you can confidently charge a premium for, then you’re ready to start your freelance business and look for your ideal clients.
Once you’ve made yourself invaluable within your niche, you’ll have a platform by which you can expand your freelance business in any direction you’d like in the future. Rather than stressing about how you’re going to get from step 0 to 100, take freelancing one small step at a time. Progress begets more progress with your side hustle.
3. Identify Your Target Clients
Just as important as finding a profitable niche, is attracting the right types of clients for your freelance business.
As you’re just starting your freelance business, it’s fine to take a bit more of a shotgun approach to landing a few clients. Make some initial assumptions about who you want to work with, target them first, and after working with a few of them, you’ll develop a very clear sense of whether or not you want to continue pursuing similar clients.
Since starting my freelance business, I’ve honed my target client profile over time to matching only two very specific types of businesses. High-growth tech startups and business influencers with well-established personal brands.
The primary reasons I’ve narrowed down the focus of my freelance business this far, is because I work best these types of (very similar) clients, and they both run in similar circles that lead to frequent referrals. I’m building my reputation within my niche.
This is a difficult decision to make at first, because it means turning away a lot of business. However, the process of narrowing in on your target clients that you work best with, will help you achieve much better results in the long run. Once you have a few clients who are willing to advocate for you, the momentum will really pick up. This is something Caroline Beaton has had a lot of success with, when she got started with her freelancing business.
Going back to our focus of competing on value, not price, everything you do in regard to starting your freelance business – especially when you have a very limited amount of free time – needs to point back to your ability to deliver the highest quality results for your clients. As one of my freelance idols, Paul Jarvis so eloquently puts it, “make your clients so happy & successful that they become your sales force.”
Your goal is to build your authority and eventually be seen as the go-to resource for a specific type of client(s). Do that well and you can unlock true organic business growth.
By appealing so well to a narrow (well-selected) niche, your target clients will have a very quick path to deciding that you’re the best person to help them with their projects. This above all else, is the path to charging premium rates without anyone batting an eye at the first prices you throw out.
To determine the best type of target clients as you start a freelance business, ask yourself these three questions:
- Which businesses will find my services useful?
- Which businesses can afford to pay the prices I’ll need to charge, in order to get to my income goal?
- Who are the decision makers within these businesses, and what can I learn about their demographics & interests? Can I find a way to connect with them on a personal level?
- When you have all of this information, you’ll be well-positioned to craft a cold email that cuts straight to the core of what these clients need from you—you’ll be able to connect with them and offer immediate value.
With my target clients, smaller startup teams and founders with personal brands, they can instantly relate to me because of my own personal affinity to startups—and will naturally pick up with my own style of blogging strategy and content marketing strategy. Because my portfolio work is directly applicable to what they do, they also start out with much more confidence that I’ll be able to drive similar results for their business, too.
4. Set Strategic Prices for Your Services
I’ve spoken a lot about setting the right prices for your freelance business before you get started. I even architected an infographic that walks you through the process of setting your freelance hourly rate.
From a pure numbers perspective, this freelance rate explorer from Bonsai is as good as it gets for determining what your expected hourly rate should be for your industry—in order to see if your rates will meet your income goals and expense levels. There are tons of great tools out there for double-checking that you’re charging enough to afford the lifestyle you want to live, but I recommend starting to determine your pricing strategy with a very different progression in mind.
Remember, you need to price yourself based on the value you deliver, not based on what your competitors are charging.
Don’t allow anyone else to dictate the terms by which you define your value. That’s not what starting a freelancing business is about.
Digital marketing consultant Neil Patel chronicles many of the lessons he learned while running an SEO freelance business on his blog—even before he learned how to make money blogging in more passive ways. One of the most prominent lessons that stuck out to me, is that the more you charge, the less clients complain. Because he very astutely selected target clients that have big budgets, he knows that they’re much more willing to spend money—in order to make that money back through investing in your services.
Smaller clients, on the other hand, often don’t have as much money to play with, and thus can’t sustain much in terms of losses when projects don’t deliver big returns.
There’s no such thing as prices that are too high. Your prices may be too high (or too low) for the types of clients you’re targeting, but if you do your homework in deciding who to pitch your services to, you’ll be selling exactly what your clients need – for a price they can justify.
In my freelance business, I write well-researched, in-depth blog post ideas for my clients (just like I publish here, which was one of my original motivations to learn how to start a blog in the first place).
Most of my content is in the range of 1,500 – 2,500 words per piece, and designed to rank well in organic search results, which is extremely valuable for most businesses. Because my work extends beyond just writing a headline, crafting the article, and into strategic distribution and driving traffic after the content publishes, I add a lot more value for my clients than any other “writer” can bring to the table. For that extra value, my prices start at $500 per post (plus distribution) and sharply go up from there, based on other requirements and add-ons.
Don’t charge too far above your value, but don’t ever undervalue what you’re doing for your clients.
They’re going to hire someone to help with their projects, so it’s just a matter of showing them you’re the right person to help. Price becomes a secondary concern, if they’re already convinced that you’re the best person for the job. It’s business and they’ll make it work, or it wasn’t meant to be.
Keep in mind that you won’t be the perfect person for every client, and remember that just showing off the fact that you know all the business slang and industry jargon within your niche isn’t a sign of authority.
5. Build a High-Quality Portfolio Website
Because I’m such a huge advocate of creating a powerful online presence to support starting a freelance business, I brought in an expert, Laurence Bradford, to share all of the essential elements to building a freelance portfolio that wins you high-value clients. Here also, is my ultimate guide about how to start a blog (and make money from it).
As a starting point, let’s understand what the purpose of having a portfolio website is, in the first place. It’s often the first impression a potential client will have of you, your style, your work, and the past clients (or companies) you’ve worked with in your freelance business. You need to effectively communicate the services you offer, and who they’re for. Beyond that, you need to sell yourself on why you’re the best person for this type of work – for the clients you want to work with.
Your freelance portfolio needs to do the following, in order to be truly effective at selling your services:
- Communicate your specialty & display examples of your work.
- List your contact information & show off your personality.
- Highlight your relevant skills, education, and accomplishments.
- Display testimonials (even if they’re from coworkers or former bosses when you’re just getting started).
- Have regular updates that show your evolution, new clients, and updated sample work.
As you’re developing your portfolio site, find other freelancers within your space and get some inspiration from them to help uncover how they’re positioning themselves, formulating their value propositions, and going about building their businesses. If you need more resources on building out your portfolio site, then check out these guides here on my blog:
- The best blogging courses that’ll point you in the right direction on how to make a website that’s compelling
- Top blogging tips and advice from expert bloggers
- How to write a blog post (and convincing sales pages) in order to convert readers into clients
- My most successful ways to drive traffic to your blog and nurture readers into prospects
Up next, you’ll want to showcase your best work on your portfolio site!
6. Create Examples of What You Can Deliver (on Your Portfolio Site)
You want your website to serve as a destination to demonstrate your expertise.
With that in mind, one of the best ways to show you’re in the know within your space, is by regularly publishing new content, images, or videos (depending upon the content medium you work in) that your target clients will be impressed with. Once you have an understanding of what your clients need, go out and create examples of that exact type of content – as if you had been hired to produce it – for your own website.
There’s no better way to sell your services, than to already show your clients that you can create what they need. What’s more, is that it’ll make their projects that much easier when you have a library of related work to pull from for inspiration. Take for example the free blog headline generator tool here on my blog—this is a functional example of what my friend, Andy can build.
My website is a living example of this. When I set out to start a freelance business, I decided early on that at least once per month, I was going to make it a point to publish a very thorough 4,000+ word blog post on topics that fall under teaching my readers how to start and grow a profitable side business, the theme of everything on my site and something I have intimate experience with.
It’s no coincidence that I choose to work with clients that have a very similar target market, as those who I speak to on my personal blog here. All my potential clients need to do, is check out a few of my posts to see how much engagement they get, pick up on my conversation style, and get a feel for how I’d be able to work with them & their target audience.
If you’re a web designer, your portfolio site should be very meticulously curated since everything about it, is a representation of what you’ll be able to build for your clients. If you’re a writer like me, then your blog posts need to speak to the quality of work you’ll create for everyone you work with. For designers, the same thing goes – make sure the images you feature on your site are representative of the style you want to create for your future clients.
7. Thoughtfully Choose Your First Clients
Because you have a very limited amount of time to source new clients (and actually do the work for them) as you start your freelance business, you need to get the most out of the clients you do bring on. Both from a financial and portfolio-building standpoint.
Your limited number of clients and correlating portfolio pieces, will represent how you’re perceived by other potential clients moving forward.
That makes everyone you choose to work with or highlight on your website, a crucial decision – especially in the beginning. Obviously you don’t want to overthink it and go into decision paralysis, but spend a minute or two thinking through whether or not each potential client you’re considering, will help you get to where you want to go.
Bonus points if you’re extremely systematic about tracking your freelance client leads using a tool like one of my picks for the best CRMs for small business (and freelancers).
I typically only retain 2 clients for my freelance business at a time. It’s not for lack of work requests that come in, but rather because I’ve chosen to allocate my limited amount of freelance time to these two clients that are most aligned with the future clients I want to work with, as well.
Check out this post from Paul Jarvis on Lifehacker, about how to choose the right clients for your freelance business.
8. Mention Potential Clients in Your Content
Scouring the Internet for the best remote jobs won’t always net you instant results. And you’re going to have a hard time making a name for yourself within your niche, if nobody knows you exist.
That’s why within every piece of content I create on my blog, I regularly mention the brands, companies, and individuals I see myself potentially working with one day. Even if I’m not quite ready to take on new clients, or I’m not even qualified to go after such huge deals yet, it’s never too early to start building good will and getting your name in front of the right people at your target companies.
Look ahead at the content you plan on creating for your website over the coming weeks, and keep a running list of the companies you want to feature whenever possible. Then, once you publish something that mentions them, take a few minutes to reach out and let them know about it.
As an aside, if you’re having trouble with your content planning efforts, you can grab my free blog planner bundle and turn things up a notch today.
I can’t emphasize enough how integral this step has been, in helping me start a freelance business and grow my personal brand so quickly.
Almost every time I do this, the person I email responds very quickly with thanks, they’ll usually share it through their company social channels, and they won’t forget it.
Most of the time, you’ll be leading with a cold email to someone you’ve never spoken to, but this push outside of your comfort zone is healthy.
Here are the essential elements of a meaningful cold email, and below is my personal template.
- Research the best point of contact to reach out to.
- Perfect your subject line for the recipient.
- Keep your ask short.
- Sell your strengths.
- Always include a call-to-action.
Here’s my personal cold email reach out template, for giving potential clients a heads up when I publish something that mentions them, which assumes they’re already in my target audience.
I’ve been using (and loving) [Company/Product] for many years, and always recommend it to others when [relevant use case].
I wanted to give you a heads up that I featured [Company/Product] as a resource in my post about the 101 Essential Tools for Launching an Online Business and the post is starting to take off. Hoping it’ll send some traffic and new users your way.
Would you mind taking a look at the post when you have a chance to make sure I’m giving a great description of the benefits of [Company/Product] and linking to the best destination for you? I’m happy to make some quick edits before I syndicate a version of the post to Inc.com.
You’ll notice that I ask them to take an action within my email. The action is in their best interest, since I just want them to confirm whether or not I’m describing them as best as possible. Almost everyone I send this email, replies with either a thumbs up or a quick edit request.
Regardless, what’s most important is that I’ve now established a connection with them, based on value I’ve already provided. The relationship is now there, which brings us to perfecting your selling abilities.
Whether I start freelancing with them eventually, get a remote job offer, or even if nothing at all comes of the new relationship—I’m still walking away with a new friend 😊
9. Learn How to Pitch Yourself
If you want to start freelancing, you need to know how to pitch yourself—it’s an asset that’ll be worth it’s weight in gold for years to come.
No matter how skilled you are at your craft, if you want to turn your skills into starting a freelance business, you need to be able to communicate those strengths and convert your conversations into paying clients.
My entire (now closed) course on Winning Freelance Clients is dedicated to the topic of how to find, convince, and convert new clients for your freelance business—by using carefully strategized proposals and reach out tactics. And on top of that, we talk a bit about how to drive traffic to your website that stands a chance of converting into paying clients.
Here are the basics of crafting an effective freelance proposal that lands you clients:
- Make a strong entrance with an elevator pitch email that already provides immense value & shows you’ve done your homework.
- Sell your strengths.
- Anticipate and answer any questions that may come up.
- Lean on relevant work samples and past projects to demonstrate your expertise.
- Use a visually appealing layout for your proposal.
Head over here where you can pick up a free downloadable copy of my freelance proposal template.
10. Don’t Mix Your Day Job Priorities with Freelance Business
Above all else, it’s important to remember that your day job (and sole source of reliable income) is your number one priority.
Don’t do anything to jeopardize your full-time employment, as you still need it to sustain you while you grow your freelance business on the side. My in-depth post on how to avoid getting fired (and sued) when starting a side business is definitely worth a read as you get started with your freelance career.
There are a lot of no-no’s you’ll need to avoid, including:
- Breaching any contracts or agreements you’ve signed with your employer.
- Working on your freelance business during company time (seriously do NOT do this).
- Using company resources, computers, or paid for blogging tools within your freelance projects.
- And much more.
Now that you’ve got an understanding of how to start a freelance business, here’s why I believe everyone (especially millennials) should be freelancing on the side. It’s been one of the best business decisions I’ve ever made, and it’s been by far my most consistent side business to-date.
I strongly recommend that anyone considering starting a freelance business or transitioning into being a consultant, begin first with freelancing on the side while still working full-time.
Why You Should Start a Freelance Business While Working Full-Time
1. Testing Out Self-Employment Stress-Free
You need to build up a runway of clients and income already flowing in before you up and quit your job, unless you’re willing to blow through potentially a lot of savings or take out a line of credit to prop yourself up while you’re not generating much income with your freelance business or startup.
I’m all for calculated risks, so this one is simple to me: I need to bring in as much income as my current job affords me, or close enough to it (my personal rule is that my side business needs to generate 75% of what my full-time gig pays me), that I can justify quitting to focus full-time on client acquisition, before I even consider leaving.
By spending 10-20hrs/wk landing freelance clients and working on their projects, you’re going to get a very clear gauge on how much work it is running your own business. Bookmark these motivational quotes, because you might need them 😉
Most importantly, you’ll be perfecting all of your business practices without the stress of needing the income – because you still have your day job for that.
I’m very lucky that I loved the work I did at my day job (CreativeLive) when I started freelancing. It was meaningful, plus on a daily basis, I made great relationships and buildt my own personal brand while simultaneously driving outstanding results running the marketing for the business classes there. I wasn’t in a position where I needed, or even wanted to leave my job there, so I had the benefit of being able to start my freelance business on the side without the stress of being at a job that wasn’t fulfilling.
2. Increasing Your Income
One of the nicest benefits of testing your way into starting a freelance business while you’re still working full-time, is the additional income.
Whether it’s a few hundred dollars, or several thousand, it’s important to keep very careful track of everything you’re making through your freelance side business. I recommend using a lightweight CRM tool like Close or Salesflare, both CRM systems for monitoring your clients and tracking the progress you’re making on deals, in addition to keeping tabs on the value of each contract you’re working on.
While you’re steadily ramping up your freelance income and signing more clients, I recommend saving 100% of your earnings from your new freelance business. Before you even get started, be sure to set up a new checking account as your destination for getting paid by freelance clients. This is extremely important for several reasons. You’ll be very clearly tracking how much monthly income your freelance business generates, it’ll be in a separate account that you’re not tempted to draw from, and you’re actively building up a safety net for potential lean times ahead.
3. Building Your Skills
Arguably the most important reason to start a freelance business while you’re still working, you’re going to be getting a lot of experience very quickly – you’ll be discovering your strengths and honing your skills under circumstances that are within your control. You’re not under the gun to immediately take on an overwhelming number of clients. Instead, you can focus on delivering very high quality work on a small number of projects that’ll help you continue to get better at your profession.
As a writer, I know the importance of keeping up with trends and regularly practicing my abilities. Whether I’m writing for my own website or for a freelance client project, I get to go through the exercises I want to continue to get better at, on a daily basis.
By freelancing my services, I’m getting paid by others to improve my skills.
Plus in the lead up to all of this, I truly learned what a blog is and taught myself an even more valuable skill set by going through the process of learning how to make a website, choosing from amongst the best website builders and publishing my writing online.
In hindsight, that was really the biggest win, because I’ve since gone on to monetize my blog with articles like my compilation of the best web hosting plans and monthly hosting plans that both provide value and drive revenue. I’ve also followed this up by starting a podcast of my own, which has led to more monetization opportunities like talking about the best podcast hosting I can now recommend to my audience too.
While researchers have never agreed upon a set number of hours of practice needed in order to become an expert on any subject, the more time you spend perfecting your skills and developing your own personal style, the better. A recent study at Princeton showed the amount of deliberate practice one gets may not correlate as closely with performance, as previously thought. Nevertheless, you’ll undoubtedly experience immense benefits from working on your favorite skills.
From Michael Jordan to Bill Gates, they became extraordinary at what they do, not because they put in an incredible amount of time into practicing, but because they cared deeply about improving their abilities and being the best.
Start practicing as quickly as possible and you’ll be able to command higher rates for my freelance business down the road.
4. Nailing Down Your Pricing Strategy
When you first start a freelance business, most people tend to greatly undervalue their services and set the bar very low at the beginning. This is often justified by trying to set rates that are based on “market value” or comparable to others within your industry. This is totally backwards, as you need to be pricing your services based on the value you provide. Yet, many freelancers have to learn this lesson the hard way.
When you’re bidding on a freelance project, always start higher than you think you should. Focus on communicating how much value you’re going to deliver for the client, and lean heavily on accomplishments & results you’ve already generated for other clients, or at your job. Be sure you’re also taking proper time to plan out how long your projects will take—the right project planning templates can help immensely.
In addition to undervaluing your services, it’s easy to significantly underestimate the costs that go into running your own freelance business. $35/hr at your 9-5 job is not the same as charging $35/hr for your freelance services.
Now that you’ll soon be self-employed, it’s time to familiarize yourself with all of the new taxes, fees, expenses, and costs of living that’ll soon be placed upon your shoulders now that your employer will no longer subsidizing any of those costs. This infographic I created on How to Calculate Your Hourly Rate as a Freelancer is a great starting point.
5. Creating Your Own Personal Brand
I’m a firm believer that you’re developing a personal brand for yourself in everything you do. Deciding to start a freelance business and tie your name to the work you do for a broad range of clients, is one of the best ways to start getting your name out into your industry.
How do you want the world to see you? In starting a freelancing business, you’ll naturally need to develop an online portfolio to display your works and show off what you can do for potential clients. Here are a few of my other projects I’ve used my personal brand to help grow in recent years:
- Vegan Anj: My girlfriend Anjelica’s blog, which is dedicated to sharing lessons learned from her journey as a vegan.
- SmartWP: A blog dedicated to tutorials and guides about building a WordPress website, with my friend Andy.
- VeganTable: My own blog that’ll document my experience going vegan and provide resources to help others learn about the lifestyle.
- WordFinderPro: A Scrabble word finder tool that helps users come up with quick solutions when they’re stuck.
You’ll need to create project proposal templates, sample works, and pricing guides before you go out and start pitching clients. What better time to begin creating these materials than while you still have a steady income from your day job?
6. Developing Valuable Connections
As Jeff Haden, best-selling author and speaker simply puts it, “don’t build networks, make real connections.”
Look at your freelancing business as an opportunity to make deeper connections with clients through delivering genuine value to their businesses. You’re building relationships that have the potential to last a lifetime. The relationships you can make while freelancing extend far beyond those of just your clients.
In my pursuits as both a freelancer and as a content marketer at CreativeLive, I’ve come across countless amazing resources for learning how to start (and grow) my freelance business and I’ve sought to build meaningful relationships with the people behind them. Preston Lee who runs Millo is putting out some of the most high quality, actionable content on how to go about perfecting your freelance business.
Because I love the educational content they’re spending countless hours creating for their readers, I’m very actively aligning myself with them in everything I do. It’s a strategic decision that helps me build my personal brand in the direction I’m seeking to grow into. If I’m able to eventually work with them in my freelance business, that’s merely a side benefit to building a strong relationship founded on genuine mutual interest.
7. Discovering Your Passions
If you’re spending your limited hours of free time each day getting clients and working on multiple projects at a time, you’ll learn very quickly if you’re passionate about writing, designing, or whatever task you may be doing. Take these 8 steps to discovering your strengths and passions, and it’ll help you evaluate whether or not your freelance work is truly meaningful to you.
As you start your freelance business, you’ll also learn the types of industries you enjoy working in and the demographics of the customers you work best with.
Knowing what you’ll enjoy working on and who you want to work with is crucial to setting yourself up for success. It can mean the difference of being passionate about a project, or viewing it simply as a paycheck. Take a look at your personal hobbies and see if there are any ways to align your freelance business with clients that are somehow associated with those interests; your hobbies can tell you a lot about your passions.
8. Learning Discipline.
When you start a freelance business, you need to have a fierce dedication to delivering great results for your clients regardless of the circumstances going on in your personal life.
Procrastination can be the ruin of you. This prioritization is a huge component of my “Just Say No” Time Management System, which is also integral to developing winning blogging skills if you end up moving in that direction too.
There are no excuses for coming up short on a freelance project, other than the fact that you failed to deliver. Naturally, if there’s something serious going on that halts progress on your work, it’s understandable with most clients. However, the responsibility of clearly communicating unforeseen emergencies as quickly as possible (with revised expectations & due dates) rests on your shoulders.
If you can find a way to dedicate a few hours each day to your freelance business while you’re still working full-time, you’ll have no trouble running your own business and keeping up with deadlines in the future.
Whether you get up at 5:00am or stay up late to work on your projects, you’re training yourself for how disciplined you’ll need to be once you’re freelancing full-time.
233 replies to “10 Steps How to Start a Freelancing Business While Working Full-Time in 2023 (and Why You Should)”
What about going the other way — from freelance to full-time?
I see some steps I missed! I’ve owned my own businesses in Los Angeles (1994 – 2003) and Perth Australia (2006 – present). The casual tech writing and agency copywriting work has dried up. I used to find balance with 1 large client and 2-4 small clients a month. Now, I’m down to 1-6 small clients. This is too soon in the year for a cash-flow slump.
How can I test my full-time “employability”?
I truly am passionate about my current work, but it’s not paying the bills. I was able to rely on my husband’s income for most of my time here in Perth, but he was laid off 6 months ago.
Should I up my pricing model to meet my needs instead of match industry norms, if I go full-time?
My gut instinct is my financial needs are a mismatch for the freelance market. I chose the wrong field. If I get the full-time job (probably in an administrative role) – should I set my rates up to a level that matches my financial requirements? In other words – do you think my freelance business could buy me out of my admin job?
Adrift in Perth, – Shauna
I actually wrote a post on this exact topic over on CreativeLive’s blog (http://blog.creativelive.com/how-to-transition-from-freelance-to-full-time/) where I go into more specifics about transitioning from doing freelance work to taking a full-time job at CreativeLive.
In short though, I don’t believe there will be a single silver bullet to address your unique scenario and I can only speak from my own experiences. I checked out your website and I would honestly say with your experience, that you could forego an administrative position and make more in a full-time role as a more general copywriter for a brand or local business that creates a lot of digital content (if you’re sold on going the route of taking a job).
If you’re more set on making your freelance business work (which is what it sounds like to me), then I would definitely considering upping your prices and seeing what happens.. if you’re already in a scenario where you’re considering taking on full-time employment again, then the worst thing that’s going to happen is you’ll end up needing to go through with that. The best case scenario is getting back to an income level that’s better for you. Be prepared to need to change your service offerings a bit, better position yourself for the new type of customer you’ll be looking for, and learn from your first experiences pitching them.
I wish I had read this article 10 years ago, especially the part about pricing strategy. It took me years to stop undervaluing my services. I’ve been freelancing on top of my full time in-house creative job for almost a decade. Now in my early 30’s, I’m debating pulling that trigger and doing my own thing full time. I’ve had a tremendous amount of success but I have big nerves about the feast or famine notion. At the same time, I’m finding that good-paying senior level creative jobs are hard to come by, and I think I would be happier freelancing. I’ve come to the realization that I am afraid to make the leap, fail and go broke. “You can’t fail if you don’t try,” they say. 🙂
I completely agree with you! If you don’t start setting specific goals & targets and push yourself to build up your freelancing side income, it’s not going to magically happen on it’s own overnight 🙂
Personally, I shoot for getting my sustainable side income level to about 75% of what my full-time job pays me (factoring in value of benefits and other non-salary related compensation), before I’ll allow myself to leave a full-time gig. It sounds like you’ve already built a good reputation for yourself within your niche, which means you’ll be walking away with some great relationships once you’re ready.
Check out Paul Jarvis (https://creativeclass.io/) and read up on his story. It reminds me of you!
Very cool blog post with a ton of information that I wish I had known before. I tried to do website design/development as a freelancer and although this was a niche and a much needed service. I didn’t have enough savvy to make it work. Although I went to school for design, have a BS, there wasn’t any classes on how to make my degree in interactive media a business for myself.
So I made it up as I went along. I have gotten cheated, had some clients really do me dirty. I spoke to one of my instructors and he said I wasn’t charging enough. Then there was the turn around time that I could not really give a direct answer. So eventually I deemed the idea a headache and continued to work fulltime at jobs that had nothing to do with my degree. Now, my career is focused on sales and I would like to freelance again doing sales related marketing and blogging but I’m at a loss on how to go about it and now with the abundance of information on the internet, I’m too overwhelmed. There has to be a better way.
I just signed up for your newsletter and really love the info you’re putting out. Good job!
I have started freelancing but I have not made much progress as in making more than a $100 here or there because I procrastinate a lot. Sometimes I do it out of fear, other times I think may not be good enough or whatever.
But I really need to get out of this rut as I am hoping to transition to full-time freelancing from June 30 (I don’t know if this is a bit too ambitious) but I aim to make it work.
Thanks for listening!
Thanks for the kind words, Tasia! That’s awesome to hear.. how are you progressing on your June 30th full-time transition goal? Have confidence in yourself. The more paid gigs you take on, the more you’ll build your portfolio, which gives you more bargaining power when bringing on new clients. When you have tangible results you’ve done for past clients, it helps big time when pitching new potential clients.
Hey, Ryan. You’re really killing it with content lately. Loving the newsletter. Thank you for your kind words about Millo in this article. Keep it up, man.
Great post! i want to go into freelancing, but don’t know how to go about it, please need help. Thanks.
This is exactly where I am with my freelancing. Thank you for the encouraging words!
To start with, I have figured out my goal, the first step as you directed. And then, was messed up, lacking a proper knowledge where and how to start. I have read your blog, seemed clear and understandable; and huge! I need pretty much time to initiate what I have learnt from this blog, from you. Looking forward. Credit goes to you. Keep helping people, and keep rockin’ 🙂
Thanks, Rocco! That’s great to hear. Feel free to reach out and shoot me an email if you’d like any feedback or advice as you progress. email@example.com.
I’m currently a student who will finish my BA by next year. I am planning on going into further study for a couple more years and have always thought that freelancing would be something good for me. However, I have come to several conclusions of just how difficult it is to really build up a reputation and eventually earn money from it.
Ultimately my question lies in the fact that how can one compete with others who already have a higher set of skills in the community when I would just be starting to build mine up as I go whilst studying? Also I find it quite difficult nowadays to figure out a way to find good niches or options in starting up a freelance blog or other as the issue lies in the fact that everyone has access to all sorts of social media apps and use them frequently. How different does one have to be from those just using them as past times as some Instagrammers get tons of likes and followers were those of higher quality from professional photographers for example get less in proportion. Likewise anyone can start up a Youtube channel but even those that are really good who may deserve to get revenue off their investment are still unemployed in that retrospect.
I’ve read loads of articles from different bloggers also concerning how to travel whilst being a freelancer. Yet I just find it quite difficult to believe how attainable it is for the average tech savvy person these days as this way of life is becoming more modern day by day. I hope I’ve explained myself well enough for you to give me some advice on this matter that I am struggling with. Thank you very much for your reply if you do and I thoroughly enjoyed reading your articles. -Jessy
Hey Jessy – First of all, I completely agree: It is incredibly difficult to build up your reputation as a high-value freelancer largely because of the fact that not only does your work & client results need to reflect a high degree of quality, but you need to spend almost as much time marketing yourself, writing about, and showing off your successes for others to see. The more you’re able to take a few little wins and share them with a wider audience (of potential new clients), the more opportunities you’ll serendipitously bring back toward yourself.
On the competition front, there will always be people with more skill, experience, innate talent than you. It’s up to you to decide where you can differentiate yourself. I’ve chosen to make myself different from my competitors by investing deeply into becoming a prolific writer about freelancing-related topics first on my own blog and now on major publications where I’ve taken a LOT of time and effort investing in relationships with over the past year.
Based on your questions, here’s my biggest piece of advice for you: *Don’t be a victim.* Only you can take charge of your own future and create the opportunities that’ll set you up for success. The reason why people with sub-par content often hit it so big on Instagram, YouTube, [anywhere] is because they’re great at marketing themselves. It’s a very true reality (and one that unfortunately isn’t taught in school enough) that the people who do the best jobs at selling themselves, regardless of the quality of their work as long as they’re somewhere in the right ballpark, are the ones who will become most successful – hands down.
So, for your next steps… spend the time creating work that is truly great (whether it’s for yourself on your own blog or for a client project), then spend 5x as much time finding ways to promote that work you’ve done – to the right audiences. I’d be more than happy to bounce around some ideas of how this could take shape with you.. shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org 🙂
Wow. I wasn’t expecting such an informative article when I clicked this. Very helpful and glad I found this! Thanks.
Thanks for information helpful article. I want to freelance work full time.I have software development experience. Please help me what i do step by step and send a any link after that i do it easily freelancing.
Hello, you actually nailed it. Although I still offer my services on Fiverr and Upwork, but it’s better you sell your services on your personal website for a higher pay as you advised. No commsissions, No charges, nothing!
I want to freelance work part-time.I have software Testing experience. Please help me what i do step by step and send a any link after that i do it easily freelancing.
Great article! I have thought about freelancing on the side, and this gives great detail on how to do it right!
Excellent article ! This information provided by you would definitely give a platform to one who are new to this field. Thanks once again for this..
I also do it. very nice.
I think it’s really hard to get into freelancing when you are doing full time job at software house. I always wonder how software developers manage time to do freelancing while working full time.
Have you given it a try yet, Mike?
I’ve found that freelancing outside of your day job is all about context. What’s your goal with freelancing? How much time can you afford to allocate to client work?
Start by landing and working with just 1 client to see how it goes and what the time commitment is like. Don’t rush to sign 3 or 4 deals that’ll be sure to overwhelm you.
I’ve been reading a lot of your articles and blogs especially when the topic is about launching your own business or like this one in particular.
You got yourself a fan in here bro. I even registered in your 30 days to validate but unfortunately, i don’t have that kind of money to enroll in it.
I always wanted to start freelancing for marketing or recruitment agencies since i am currently working in a recruitment agency here in the philippines.
I started as a recruiter. but now, a recruitment and training officer.
Unfortunately, i am sick of working with this bunch of people who don’t really appreciate all the good things you have brought and done for the company. All they can see is the negative, all they do is complain.
But, I’m not really sure how to start. a response from will be very much appreciated by me. send me an email if you have time or if you can give me some advice. Thanks Ryan!
Thanks for following along, Christopher!
Well, this post is about how to start freelancing so you’re in the right place 🙂
1. Have you created a target list of companies you could see yourself doing some freelance work with yet?
2. How about putting together a simple portfolio site that can highlight a couple of the relevant projects you’ve worked on so far?
These two steps would be a great place to get started. Then you can work on making your pitch to some of these target companies.
so complete, thank you
The undervaluing is sooo practiced these days by many freelancers so I gotta say that you nailed it there.
And I have to admit that I wasn’t inspired enough to choose my first client carefully…he ended up giving me twice the work for the same price, but now for every extra work, I tend to charge 2x so that the client lays down the entire plan before we start, not while we work.
Amen! Couldn’t agree more. Some of these lessons are really learned best through experience too.
Can you help me for taking first step because i don’t know how to start work here…?