Career Advice, Jobs

Between Jobs? Freelance to Earn Cash & Gain Experience

Mature woman using laptop in kitchen

“So how’s your job search going?”

Well-meaning friends, family members and distant acquaintances never fail to ask this dreaded question. And it stings, whether you’re in week one or month six of sending out resumes and hustling for interviews.

Sometimes the process of finding your dream job takes longer than you’d like. But that doesn’t mean you have to watch your bank balance disappear while you wait for full-time work. You already have what you need to start freelancing in your field right now. Freelance work helps you develop your skills, earn a living and gain valuable experience, so your time between jobs is anything but wasted.

Here are a few best practices to get you started.

See the Possibilities

The freelance labor force has grown steadily in recent years. “Freelancing in America: 2017“, a study from the Freelancers Union and Upwork, reports high growth for freelancing:

  • In 2017, 57.3 million Americans did freelance work (roughly 36 percent of the US workforce), contributing about $1.4 trillion annually to the economy (up almost 30% since 2016).
  • For millennials, 47 percent of the generation did freelance work (higher than any other generation).
  • If this growth rate continues, freelancers will make up the majority of the US workforce by 2027

These numbers show that freelance opportunities exist for you. Focus on the projects you want to do by identifying the types of clients you hope to work with in advance.

Treat Yourself Like a Business

If you’ve worked only for other people in the past, freelancing is a big transition. You are now responsible for convincing potential clients to hire you, selling them on your work and expertise. To do this, you must first see yourself as a qualified professional.

Be intentional about how you describe your work. Don’t use minimizing language like “I’m just a freelance writer” or “I’m doing some design gigs on the side.” Instead say, “I’m a self-employed writer who specializes in science and technology” or “I run my own design business, creating responsive websites and mobile apps.”

Define Why Someone Should Hire You

Clients typically hire a freelancer because they have a problem. Ask yourself how you can solve this problem? What do you offer that adds value to their business? Why should they hire you instead of someone else?

Make a list of your professional skills and strengths. Collect project examples, case studies and portfolio pieces that demonstrate your best work. Ask former colleagues and employers for testimonials. Use these pieces to develop a list of services you can provide freelance clients.

Create Your Online Presence

No matter what kind of freelance work you do, you need a website. Here you can showcase the work examples, testimonials and service descriptions you started to put together in the previous step. Your portfolio website is an important sales tool and a strong first impression to clients, demonstrating what you can do for them.

Fortunately, you don’t need to be a web developer to create an attractive and functional website. You can choose from many different platforms to display your portfolio that require no design or coding expertise.

Keep the content simple at first, but be sure to include information that highlights who you are and what you do: a brief bio, contact details and several strong work examples. If you don’t have many paid projects to include in your portfolio, create them now—  even if that means doing some pro bono work:

  • Write a well-researched article on a topic that interests you
  • Design a logo for a friend’s company (or a fictional brand)
  • Offer a free coaching session to a small business owner

Set Up Systems for Success

As the owner of your freelance business, you need to manage all the financial and operational details that come with that title. This role intimidates many new freelancers, but don’t be afraid. If you do your homework and establish structured systems in the beginning, you can run your business with minimal stress. Start with these steps:

  • Choose a business structure: For freelancers, this structure is usually a sole proprietorship or a limited liability company (LLC). Comply with any state requirements, register for an Employee Identification Number (EIN) and set up a schedule for self-employed tax payments
  • Test out project management systems: Successful freelance work depends on you staying organized and keeping track of what’s due and when
  • Invest in good bookkeeping tools: Choose an accounting software that makes it as easy as possible to send invoices, track payments, manage cash flow and prepare for taxes

Connect with Others

When you’re ready to take on freelance clients, spread the word. Reach out to your existing connections — friends, classmates, former colleagues — and let them know what kind of services you offer. Share your new website on your social media profiles, and invite your connections to share with others.

Finally, put yourself out there, both online and offline. Follow industry accounts and leaders on Twitter. Join professional associations, and seek out LinkedIn groups. Attend Meetups and networking events. You can even cold call and email businesses to pitch your services. When you snag your first freelance client, start building a pipeline of steady business right away.

Freelancing is an excellent way to pay the bills and move your career forward when you’re between full-time jobs. And who knows? You may decide freelance work is a good fit for you long term.

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