How to Start Your Freelancing Journey with No Experience

Believe it or not, every successful freelancer started without any experience.

As obvious as that fact may seem, it is easy to look at others who are thriving in their freelancing field and forget that in the beginning they had no idea what they were getting into. Sure, they may have developed their skills in the corporate world, or acquired some type of education that equipped them for their chosen profession, but they did not know everything there is to know about freelancing on day one. Heck, I’ve been at it on some level or another for over 15 years and I’m still learning or encountering something new almost daily.

So, how is one supposed to get started in a field that, regardless of their skill level, is brand new to their life experience? In this post, we will look at some tips to help the newborn freelancer take their first breaths, crawl and eventually walk down the path toward success.


Answer Key Questions

Before you decide to pursue freelancing, there are some key questions that might help you decide if it’s really the right move for you. Here are a few I can think of:

  • Why do you want to freelance?
    The answers to this may include, “Because I hate my job”, “I have control and authority issues and want to be my own boss,” “I want to try something new” or a bevy of others. While these are understandable reasons to pursue freelancing, I firmly believe they are not enough on their own. Not that there is only one correct answer, but I believe a key ingredient to a freelancer’s success is the answer, “Because I want to make a living doing what I am most passionate about.” If this is at least part of your answer, then it usually will provide the motivation, drive and stamina for all the unexpected that will come your way. And believe me, it will come.
  • What do you hope to achieve by becoming a freelancer?
    Determining your goals beforehand is always an excellent place to start, as well as a solid way to examine your potential for achieving them. If your goal is to no longer deal with clients, or to get rich, or to work less, then freelancing is probably not the best choice for you. If your goals include independence, personal satisfaction, fulfillment of your passions, and the like, then freelancing may be your ticket.
  • What is your backup plan in case your freelance attempts fail?
    This is a trick question. I am a firm believer that once you create a backup plan you will almost always need it. I would be the first to answer this question with, “I don’t need a backup plan. I am determined to succeed and I will.” There are obviously different schools of thought on this, but my experience has proven this to be the best answer for me.

Scout the Terrain

Once you are satisfied with your answers to the above questions, you should take some time to explore the field you are endeavoring to enter. The best way I know to do this is to identify and get to know your ‘competition.’ I’m not a fan of that word, because I have learned that if I engage and interact with others in the same field, they become my community instead of my competitors. I have gained so much and my business has grown immeasurably due to the relationships I’ve built with other freelancers in my field, and I continue to do what I can to get to know as many of them as possible. Their experiences have benefited me, and I have been able to avoid some of their mistakes. In turn, I do what I can to share my experiences and I believe it has been helpful for some others.

Get to know your field, other freelancers in it, and educate yourself all about it. You may find reasons that steer you away from the freelance life (and save you in the process), or you may discover a wealth of motivation to continue your pursuit. Either way, the odds are pretty good that you will at the very least make some new friends.

Take a Trial Run

When I first started freelancing, I was doing it on the side–nights and weekends. This was great preparation for several reasons: I wasn’t yet relying solely on my freelancing income, I was able to make and learn from mistakes and I was able to get a taste of what I would be dealing with should I ever go full-time with it. This method allowed me to gain the experience I needed along the way, so that when it came time to go full-time I was more than ready, and pretty experienced at that.

I would suggest simply trying your hand at a freelance project as a way to get started and reap these benefits. For me, this meant actually doing a number of jobs for little or no money because I did not possess the experience of other web and graphic designers, so it was the best way I could get my foot in the door. You may or may not have to take this route, but regardless you should give freelancing a trial run to determine if it’s really the route for you.

Go for It!

In the end, the bottom line is that it takes guts to start freelancing, and without them you will obviously never take those first steps. If you have followed my advice in the previous paragraphs and still have the gnawing hunger to pursue a freelancing career, then I say, “Go for it!” No one else but you knows what you are capable of, and there is no one size fits all solution or path.  Take your strengths, weaknesses and motivation into account and head off in the direction your heart desires. In the end, if you fail, at least you have the satisfaction of knowing you tried and did not give up without ever starting. If you succeed, well…congratulations!

Your Turn

If you are currently freelancing, please share any other tips you have for those who are considering taking the plunge. If you are one who is considering freelancing, please share any thoughts or questions you have that weren’t covered. Let’s help each other become the best freelancers we can be!

Image by CRASH:candy

Comments

  1. says

    These are great points. So true about the “backup plan.” When I started my small business I made sure to surround myself with people who would encourage me to keep moving forward (especially when I would contemplate that backup plan). This support team still includes other freelancers, friends, family, and people who are definitely smarter than I am. Without their support I would have fallen prey to the backup plan in no time.

    Thanks for sharing. Always a great reminder, even if one is already freelancing.

  2. says

    That post is great. But somehow, I can’t agree with your point that people can start their freelance career with NO experience. Because they must know what they are going to do as a freelancer, that means they know something about the job. May be they don’t have much experience yet, but I don’t believe that they can start up any business WITHOUT ANY experience. That would be so so risky to start doing what you have no idea about.

  3. Abdul says

    Thanks for guideline, i have over 1 year freelancing industry experience but i always fail to get new orders, few ways of getting orders i know are getafreelancer and some webmaster forums.

    For me webmaster forum work is really cheap and its hard to win project on freelancing sites, i will glad if you will talk on this issue.

  4. says

    @Abdul: this is not easy to start up and keep moving on a freelance career. Most people think that freelancing means “doing less and get more money”. But the fact is that a freelancer will “do more and get less”, at least in the beginning of your career.

    I’m also a freelancer with over 3 years experience. And I have written an article of where to get a project, especially the first project, please take a look at http://kulnova.vn/index.php/2010/07/28/freelancers-where-to-get-projects/

  5. says

    This is a great post and I really enjoyed it! In terms of additional tips, I know that my clients ALWAYS want to see clips, samples, clips, samples and more clips! So… get clips/samples. Even if it means writing a “Letter to the EDitor” at your local paper, writing up product reviews on Amazon.com, writing an article on gardening for a great nursery website (even for no-pay), it’s really valuable to have clips. Pointing a potential client to a published article, story, sample or whatnot can really go a long way toward proving your credibility and talent in this field.

    Bonus tip: start a blog. My clients love to see samples but they dont’ want to go chasing around the web for them. Wtih my blog I can link to other samples but also clients can stick around and read several blog posts to get a feel for my writing style and get to know me better.

    I hope this helps!!!

  6. says

    @Thang: in everything we do, we start without any experience doing it. There’s no way to start freelancing with experience if you’ve never done it before. Yes, you should have some clue and skills and practice in whatever field you are considering freelancing in, but you can’t possibly take your very first step in freelancing WITH experience, or it wouldn’t be your first step! See what I mean? I think you’re mixing up ‘experience’ with ‘skills’. Thanks for the input, though! :)

  7. says

    @Brian: yeah, good point. I think that’s is the difference between your job and mine :) please don’t get me wrong. But I have been working in software development. In the last 3 years, I develop applications for iPhone/iPod touch and iPad. And in my industry, we can’t start if we have no experience (obviously we always need good skills).
    I would think of experience as “experience to do freelance job” and/or “experience on managing clients/projects”

  8. Ronald McMeekin says

    Never ever, ever work for nothing you put in the hours so get paid for it you are not a charity provider you are a business so bill them and make sure you know where to send the bill to who’s in charge of paying you and when it is going to be paid.
    Best idea is to be paid in cash and make sure if this is not possible half payment and the remainder on completion don’t give away your talent.
    Oh and web designers don’t go live with a site until you see the money in your account or in your hand.

  9. says

    People often remark to me: “How brave you must have been to take the plunge and go freelance”. Actually, I wasn’t brave at all. I’d been made redundant and so didn’t have a job to give up.

    The truth is, I didn’t intend to freelance – I was looking for another job but there wasn’t much around at the time. Two friends of mine both ran small PR agencies and both were in need of an extra pair of hands but didn’t want to take on a permanent member of staff.

    So within a couple of weeks of each other, they both phoned up and asked if I could do a couple of days a week freelance work for a few months. I said ‘yes’. That meant I was working four days a week and keeping one day a week free to apply for jobs and go for interviews.

    It struck me that if I could get four days a week freelance work without actually trying to get it, then maybe I should give up looking for a permanent job. That was back in 1991…

  10. Ronald McMeekin says

    You talk as if a backup plan was a bad thing well I am of different opinion god how I hate self-satisfied freelancers yeah life’s a breeze well when money’s tight and you need income and clients are going out of business you will do anything to get by so for fuck sake be realistic.

  11. says

    I quit my in-house editing job at a publishing company to go freelance in April, and it was the best decision I ever made. I did, however, and still do, have a serving job to fall back on. Serving has been a great way to network and meet new clients. Working in the restaurant industry motivates me to build my business faster though, so I can focus all my attention on editing and not have a part-time job.

  12. Ronald McMeekin says

    Freelance Factfile well “woop de do” for you, so in reality your pals bailed you out and if they didn’t or couldn’t you’d need a plan B sounds familiar.

  13. says

    @Ronald: if you read the article linked in my point about a backup plan, you’ll see that this is more about a philosophy of living and not as literal. I also said “There are obviously different schools of thought on this, but my experience has proven this to be the best answer for me.” I can really only speak from my own experience and opinion, just as you have. Am I self-satisfied? Well, I find a lot of satisfaction in doing what I do, so I guess I am. Is my life a breeze? Absolutely not. But it is definitely fulfilling, and my wife and 3 kids are being provided for in these rough economic times. I can’t ask for much more, can I?

  14. says

    I believe the first thing anyone should do who is thinking of freelancing as a career is to establish their niche market. If you have something unique and marketable that you know a certain group of people will key in on, then you’ve found that illusive “niche”. Once you’ve found this then the sky can be the limit for you, because you’ve tapped into a marketable “vein” which you can now work on developing to your advantage.

  15. says

    @Ronald: Apparently your business prowess is as limited as your use of commas.

    @Freelance FactFile: So, in reality you continue to provide a well sought after service. Bravo!

    @Brian: Once again, your article provides vital incite as a stepping stone to launching a freelance endeavor. I am absolutely sure your children will appreciate your hard work.

  16. says

    I found your words like a path for my incoming trip. Im in the middle of this process and is awesome to know that im doing exactly like you said without reading the article. unfortunatly where i live, i dont have the oportunity to share what im learning beacuase there is to much competition… graphics and web designers are to competitive that they dont share there knowledges. Im looking for something like that, and thats the reason why im always reading smashing magazine… is like my local newspaper!

  17. says

    This post reminds me too well of how I began freelancing: no idea of what I’m getting into but determined to become financially independent. Though my journey didn’t start with my desire to do something I love, the passion grew out of the many writing projects I did for the first few months of freelancing. :)

    As for my back-up plan, I guess that’s where my personal projects come in.

  18. says

    “Get to know your field and other freelancers in it.” – great advice! I agree with the word competitors, I prefer peers/colleagues. It’s amazing how much we can learn from others in our field if we are in tune with them and open networking.

    Great article. Thanks for sharing.

  19. says

    The article surely had some great insights but what was truly interesting was the conversations going on in the comments section.

    I too started working as a freelancer simply because for the love that I had for writing. The risk of starting as a freelancer involved getting away from the financial security that my previous job offered. But then as i always say, one has gotta choose between working for the love of it or for the heck of it! :) I obviously chose the former!

    When starting as a freelancer it does take time to settle in but then if you love your field then what the heck! :)

    I too have written a similar post on tips on how can newbies with no prior experience start working and build their portfolio. The link for the same is : http://niharedhu.blogspot.com/2010/03/realistic-blueprint-for-freshers-to.html .

    I have tried to incorporate here what what all i have personally experienced and learnt since the time i started out as a freelancer.

  20. sama says

    Hello
    thanks for the useful article
    I have a question:
    how can the designer improve his speed to do good work in short time?

  21. says

    @sama As a web Designer is very important to have a kind of “rutina”. First of all, you need to know how do you do Your work and how fast can you do it. You can practice this by making personal projects. Second, you need to know Your tools and how to improve the functionality of each one of those. Example: if you use grids wich one works for you the best. Finally i think, define Your “estilo”, if you use div tags you need to remember the name of this tags so you can used in other projects. Well, this is my advice, i dont have to much experience as a freelance but this is what is working for me to do my Job faster.

  22. Ross says

    One of the best phrases Ive learned to believe in is this…(learned it the hard way) “what works for one freelancer wont necessarily work for another..etc.. ” Although there are principles we can follow , there is no exact blueprint… The reality is this, a lot of freelancers simply give within a couple of months… why? because its tough!! … My advice is this is when you’re just starting out, have a plan B (to put it bluntly , a financial backup) … Then jump in as the ultimate optimist and fearless warrior that you are…

    You will have a lot of detractors advising you not to do it because you have no experience… But passion is a powerful thing… If you like to built websites, have an eye for design or simply love to write.. then the skills will come..

  23. says

    Great post, Brian. I would add to your comments that it’s important to analyze ALL your experience and background – even things that might seem peripheral to your chosen field. If (like me) you have a crazy patchwork of experience but have made each career choice based on heartfelt commitment and desire to do that particular thing at that particular time, then you just might find (like me) that they all surprisingly lead into the next step on your path.

    I started down the freelance path as a speechwriter and presentation coach after our kids all became school-aged. I have a background in marketing, advertising, editorial writing and management and theatrical writing, direction and performance. All that blends together so well into speechwriting and presentation coaching, which is what I do as a freelancer. When you know that your “wild and crazy” background actually gives you cred in your field, it is somehow easier to go out and pitch new clients knowing that you really do have something to offer them – even if it’s unorthodox. It’s a great conversation starter, if nothing else!

    So take all your life experience and throw it in the blender – then drink up and toast to your future! As long as you’re following your passions, I think you’re on the right track. Define your own success – create your own dreams.

  24. says

    I love the part about having a backup plan and also your thoughts on this. While it is good to have a backup plan at the same time if you don’t – it really makes you work that much harder to provide for your family (at least for me). It’s scary and thrilling at the same time lol! No guts no glory!

  25. says

    Thanks for this great article. I am currently employed as a technical writer and have been trying to go freelance for several months now. I have a website, business cards and a junk mail letter I like to send out. I had this brilliant idea to target local businesses who are currently hiring technical writers since they obviously have an immediate need for my services. So I called a bunch of businesses, but in every case they pointed me to their HR department, where I was told to apply for the job like anyone else. But I don’t want a job, and I made that very clear every time!

    I’m wondering, in general, who to ask for when making cold calls? How do you avoid being shoved into HR, where you will only receive a canned response? Does anyone have any advice?

  26. says

    @Jenny My advice for this DAILY BREAD is that you need to create your own strategy. You are actually doing good, but maybe you need to upgrade your methods. As a writter, there is a whole bunch of services that you can offer as a plus for what you are doing: Run their blogs, update social Medias, Integrate twitter and facebooks accounts, etc.

    Now, when talking about COLD CALLS:

    1. Getting Prepair for COLD CALLINGS: To defeat fear when making a cold call, you need to be comfortable with your enviroment. You really need to put your flip-flops and then make the call (From your happy place or your Office.)

    2. TIME FOR CALLING!: Dont play game with your almost new boss. If you want to call him, you need to do it early in the morning, when they are fresh and happy… and actually there!.

    3. VOICEMAILS: Doesnt matter, leave the message… no one can fight with the intrigue of what that message could possible said. Maybe is the job that they need to fill.

    4. KEEP DOING IT: As simple as that!

    Well i know that is not too much, and is not so good advices but sometimes we have the answer in front of us, we just need to be push.

  27. says

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience in freelancing! I read your article on how you started also…Both are very inspiring!

    I am just starting my career as a graphic designer and also starting to look for any freelance project. Your posts really become one source of inspiration for me. Thanks once again ! :D

  28. Liz says

    One of the things most freelancers get shocked about at the beginning is the amount of operational paper work to support a business. This includes setting up the business, maintaining all the government forms, and the worse of it all – the accounting aspects. I undermined the amount of accounting paper work involved – keeping track of clients who pay, tracking expenses, creating invoices, etc. I would rather focus on work that I enjoy, not the paper work.

    I have been using Sage Software’s Billing Boss (http://www.billingboss.com) to minimize time spent on accounting stuff. I use it to create invoices and track cash flow. One of the better features is that my bookkeeper has access to all the invoices I create so I don’t have to worry about submitting my tax refunds late (yes, i have a bookkeeper, and I highly recommend that you have one. Don’t waste time on non-money making tasks).

    Also, when I email invoices to clients, I give them an option to pay me online right away. That has helped out HUGELY as I have been getting paid faster than when I just send them an invoice with cheque options.

    I run a jewelry design company, and Sage asked me to share my experiences with Billing Boss with others. So here I am. Please note: This author has been compensated by Sage.

  29. says

    Hello! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any problems with hackers? My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing months of hard work due to no data backup. Do you have any methods to protect against hackers?

  30. says

    The Zune concentrates on being a Portable Media Player. Not a web browser. Not a game machine. Maybe in the future it’ll do even better in those areas, but for now it’s a fantastic way to organize and listen to your music and videos, and is without peer in that regard. The iPod’s strengths are its web browsing and apps. If those sound more compelling, perhaps it is your best choice.

  31. says

    I haven been training in journalism with CTJT and now have gone Freelance this will involve Investigative Journalism as I have also had the training with CTJT.
    My main aim is to write about Medical and to Investigate in the Medical world for any new stories relating to Medical.
    Medical has always been a strong subject for me and to get involved more in Medical Writing.

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