You don’t need to be an expert in digital marketing or hold a master’s degree in a tech field like computer science to get started and earn a decent income online.
But I know that it can all feel pretty daunting if you’ve never worked online in your life or you’re looking to pivot to a brand-new career.
This article that walks you through the exact steps you need to take to get started right here and now.
We’ll begin by looking at the (often surprising) things you need to get started, then break it down into the ten exact steps you can take to grow from zero to potentially thousands of dollars in income.
What you need to start freelancing
As with any other endeavor, you’re going to need to get your tools together before you get started. Turns out that you only need three to get started with an online business, perhaps four if you want to do it all properly. They are:
1. An in-demand skill set
With all the best will in the world, there’s no way you can ever have a successful freelance business if you don’t have skills that people are willing to pay good money for. That’s why it’s so important that you think long and hard about what you can offer before you do anything else.
Start by thinking about your passions. What do you love to do that you could potentially get paid for? Do you have a hobby that you could turn into a freelancing business? Were you passionate about something as a child that could potentially work?
Next consider your work experience. Do you have skills and experience in an industry that would welcome you as a freelancer with open arms? Did you work on any particular projects or specific tasks that sparked something inside? Or one that you could potentially turn into a freelancing career?
But don’t despair if you’re scratching your head at this point. There’s an abundance of freelance remote jobs that you can do even if you’re a complete beginner with zero experience. You can also take various online courses and self-teach to help you get up to speed with the basics so you can launch your freelance career more quickly.
2. A reliable internet connection
If you want to work online, you need to be certain that you can trust your internet connection. Because the last thing you want is to be on a video call with a big client, only to have your internet dropping out every second. It’s hardly going to impress. Besides, the frustration of trying to research, or write, or schedule social media posts is beyond frustrating when it feels like you’ve gone back 20 years to the age of dial up.
This might sound strange if you spend most of your time in Western Europe or North America because most of the time, in most places you’ll be fine. But if you plan to travel or you’re not sure how fast your internet will be, it’s worth looking into other options. Many cell phone providers offer great data packages that allow you to stay connected wherever you are, at home or abroad. (Tip: NEVER presume that the free WIFI in that tourist hostel will work. It likely won’t.)
3. A laptop
You’re going to need something to work on if you’re going to make money online, right? So now is the perfect time to invest in a laptop. This doesn’t need to break the bank. Provided that your laptop can handle the tasks you’ll be asking it to do, you’ll be set.
Although you could certainly use a desktop computer, laptops are a great choice for freelancers because they’re so compact and portable. You can slip them into your carry-on luggage if you’re travelling, move them around easily and they can fit into the smallest of places. This is perfect if you’re working from home and you don’t have a dedicated office space, or you want to live a digital nomad lifestyle.
4. A website (optional)
Technically speaking, you don’t absolutely need a website when you first get started freelancing online. Provided you can reach new clients and demonstrate that you are worth hiring, just a Facebook page or Upwork profile can be enough.
But, if you want to get ahead, attract better-paying clients, and build a solid reputation, you should make the effort to build one. It doesn’t need to cost much, it’s a perfect place to display your (growing) portfolio and it won’t need to take hours to put together.
Steps to making money as freelancer
Up until this point, you’ve given some thought to the raw ingredients you will use to start your freelancing career: your skills, internet, a laptop and perhaps a website.
Now it’s all about taking action. Just bring these raw ingredients together by following an effective, step-by-step plan and you can start earning money fast.
And you know what? We’ve created the perfect plan for you. Roll up your sleeves and dive on in.
#1: Figure out your product
At the start of this article, we took time to consider what skills and experience you could turn into a well-paying freelance career. Now it’s time to make a decision.
- What will you do?
- Is there a demand for your skills?
- Are clients ready to pay good money for your expertise and skills?
- How much competition will you be facing?
At this point, you should aim to be as specific as possible by niching down. Instead of deciding to be a general freelance copywriter, why not use your skills in the finance industry to become a finance copywriter? Or your teaching experience to become an education copywriter?
By niching down in this way, you’ll better stand out in a crowded online market, you’ll find it much easier to command higher paying jobs AND you’re much more likely to work on projects that you actually enjoy.
A word of warning here, though. Avoid choosing a freelance job or even a niche because that’s what everyone else appears to be doing. Just because it works for them, doesn’t mean it will work for you. Be true to yourself and follow your own path.
#2: Who will you sell to?
Many entrepreneurs and freelancers are so keen to launch their business that they skip one of the most important steps when it comes to launching a business; who they’ll be selling to aka their ideal customer.
Because unless you know who you’ll be selling to, you’re going to have a rough time finding paying clients and convincing them why they should hire you.
Think of it like this.
If you’re out there trying to make a living as a traditional-style butchers’ shop, there’s no point sending emails and flyers to vegans. You’ll just be wasting your time.
Unless you have the time or resources to do in-depth market research at this point, the best way to decide on your target audience is to ask yourself questions. This can include things like:
- What problems does this group have?
- How could I best solve these problems?
- Where do they hang out?
- How can I target them?
Don’t be afraid to ask people questions too. Perhaps some of your friends on Facebook have experience hiring VAs for their business and would love to help out. Ask and you shall receive
#3: Create your package
By this point, you should have decided what you’re going to sell and who you’re going to sell it to. Now comes the tricky bit. How much will you charge?
Many freelancers hate this part and end up either inventing a figure on the spot or comparing themselves against other remote workers and severely underpricing their services. Don’t do this!
A good rule of thumb to use is to first consider how much you want to make per year.
Then divide that by the number of weeks you’ve willing to work each year (remember, you will want to take vacation time too!). Finally, divide that by the number of hours per week you want to work, and voila! Your hourly rate.
Of course, you can also work on a per-project rate, provided that you factor in the time you’ll need to work on the project including research, communication with your client, the creative element, post work tweaking and so on.
Whichever you choose, make sure you take your time before you come to a decision.
If you’re feeling stuck, Ramit Sethi has some excellent tips to help you find and increase your freelance rates.
#4: Create your website
If you’ve decided to create your website (highly recommended), this is the time to do it.
Create something that looks as slick and professional as you can, but don’t feel like you have to spend hours working on it or create a huge detailed website. Start with the essentials- your portfolio and your contact details and you’ll be good to go.
When you keep it simple like this, you’ll also avoid getting stuck in that horrible procrastination stage and launch your freelance business much more quickly.
Remember- you can always tweak and expand your website as you do. You don’t need to create the perfect finished product immediately!
#5: Find clients
Ready? Get set? Go! Now is when the magic really happens. It’s the time to find clients and to make your dream of working online a reality. All it takes is a bit of hustling and you’ll achieve great things.
There are several different approaches you can take at this stage. You can grasp the reins of your business marketing and find your ideal clients yourself. You can sign up for one of the many gig-economy websites like Upwork. Or you can take the most sensible approach and do a combination of the two.
Start by reaching out to friends, family, previous employers, colleagues and even clients to find opportunities that can help you kickstart your new career.
Social media is also a great tool to use at this stage: use it to share your exciting news and also look up the various freelancing groups that are on sites like Facebook. If you can, it’s a good idea to set up a LinkedIn profile too if you can so you can give your services more credibility.
However, don’t spend too long creating a killer profile at this stage. Keep it simple, to the point and useful. Again, this saves time and helps you break free from the procrastination stage.
#6: Apply for jobs
Now that you’ve done all of the behind-the-scenes work, you can start applying for jobs.
If you’re working on a gig-economy website, this means you’ll need to set aside some time to look through the job listings and select the most promising of these.
Look for those with a longer, more detailed job description that offer a higher rate to find clients who are more willing to pay. In the beginning, it’s worth looking for smaller jobs that can help build your portfolio and increase your visibility as a freelancer.
You could also consider researching which businesses or organizations are most likely to need your freelance services and reach out to them directly. This is known as ‘cold-emailing’ or ‘cold calling’ and can be intimidating when you first start. But it can be a great way to build your freelance business and get your foot in the door to better, higher paying jobs.
Whether you’ve applied for a job directly, cold emailed a potential client or someone has asked for your help, there will come a time when you need to hold a meeting or consultation.
This usually takes the form of a phone call or a Skype or Zoom meeting and can strike fear into the bravest of freelancers. However, it’s well worth taking a deep breath and going ahead with the call.
You’ll stand a better chance of landing better paying niche clients and it will be much easier to build a relationship with these clients and land ongoing work. If you really can’t bear to have a video call, switch to a regular voice call, and prepare notes to prompt you about what you need to stay.
Like anything, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. So be brave! Your future self will be so thankful.
#8: Send the contact
Before you start working on that project, make sure that there is some kind of contact between you. Freelance sites like Upwork include this as part of the package. But if you’re working independently for a client, you’ll need to provide your own.
Don’t be tempted to skip this part. It helps to protect your interests by helping to make sure you get paid for your work and there aren’t any disputes further down the line. It also provides reassurance for the client that you will complete the work that you are being paid to do.
The contact itself doesn’t need to be anything stuffy, formal, or full of jargon. You can find many free, straightforward templates online that you can adjust to your needs.
This is the part when you start working with your new client.
Depending on your freelance niche, you might need to share information like passwords, branding information, keyword research, business documents or even creative briefs before you get started. It’s also a great time to ask any initial questions about the project and make sure you have all the information you need to get started.
#10: After the work has been done
Once you’ve completed the work and you’re sure that the client doesn’t need any further revisions, you have a great opportunity to grow your business.
Ask your client if they’d mind leaving you a short review or testimonial that can help you grow your business. It’s also worth asking if you can use the work (or a short sample) in your portfolio so you can showcase your skills and attract further clients.
If all has gone well, you might even be asked to complete future projects. Give yourself a big pat on the back!
List of beginner-friendly freelancer jobs
If you’re still not sure about what online jobs you can do as a freelancer, you might like to check out the list below:
- Remote customer service
- Virtual assistant (VA)
- Data entry
- Content moderation
- Content writing
- SEO writing
- Teaching online
- Web & app development
- SEO specialist jobs
- PPC & Facebook ad consultant jobs
- Social media management
- Graphic design
For more information on entry-level jobs like these or for more info on how to get started, check out this post.
Frequently asked questions about freelancing
How much money can you make as a freelancer? How much you earn as a freelancer really depends on the projects you’re working on, your skill level and demand. This can range from just a few dollars to a six-figure income.
Do freelancers make good money? They can if they harness their skills and turn them into money-making opportunities. Many can make up to $250 per hour.
How much can a beginner freelancer earn? Experience doesn’t always make a huge difference in the freelancing world. Provided you can demonstrate your expertise, you can earn anywhere from a few thousand dollars up.
How do I start freelancing? Easy! You find a niche, get clear on who you’re selling to and then start doing the work. Provided you’ve done this right, you’ll start making money quickly.
See? Making money online as a freelancer can be easy when you know how.
Provided that you’re willing to take time to think careful about your skills, the potential market, and your niche, you can quickly build a strong foundation and potentially grow a thriving new career.
So, what are you waiting for? Get started today!