The 3 Things You Need Before You Freelance

Image Credit: Thomas_Zsebok_Images/iStock/GettyImages

The economy is changing and the job market reflects how its evolving. Our workforce is increasingly made up of freelancers and contractors. In fact, nearly half of all workers will make a living as freelancers by 2020.

The shift away from traditional corporate careers and toward the dream of working for yourself comes with a lot of benefits. You enjoy more freedom and flexibility when you step out on your own. You set your own schedule, goals, and even pay.

Theoretically, your earning potential is unlimited when you work as a freelancer. There's no one above you setting your salary, and you can price your work according to your value. And although, yes, you miss out on that steady paycheck you get from an employer, you enjoy a new type of security. If you lose your job, you lose all your income.

As a freelancer, you likely work on multiple projects and with multiple clients at once. If you lose one gig, you only lose part of your income -- not all of it.

There are a lot of reasons to start a freelance career. Ready to give it a try for yourself? Before you make the leap and transition out of your current job, consider these 3 things you should have in place to help ensure the success of your new venture.

1. Hustle hard online

Take advantage of the power of the Internet and hang your virtual shingle by creating your own online platform. Increasingly, people use the web to find what they need, research options, and connect with others. And as a freelancer, especially if you're one that doesn't provide a physical product, an online presence is essential.

This doesn't need to be complicated. An online platform simply means something you fully own and control. This could be a website to showcase your work and expertise. You could include a homepage, about page, services page, and contact page so people know who you are and what you do.

Or you could start a blog (or add a blog to your website). Blogs are excellent tools for starting a freelance career, because they allow you to share what you know and demonstrate your authority. You blog can also help others find you online, if they search for something specific you wrote a post on.

Depending on the kind of work you do, another option for an online platform is a portfolio. If you're a visual artist or have some sort of tangible work product you can showcase, you can set up a portfolio to organize your past work and show it off.

You need your online platform in place before you start freelancing, because it serves as your hub or homebase. It makes it easier for people to find you or your services, connect with you, and refer you to other people because there's something to send people to.

2. Let your work be known

Having a platform is a good start. But it won't do you much good if no one knows its there. This is where creating and maintaining a digital reputation comes in.

This could come in the form of a social media following, membership in certain online communities or groups, or a listing on a professional organization or association website. Your reputation on the web serves a few purposes for you:

  • It builds credibility when people can see you already have connections and contacts. It's a form of social proof.

  • It gives you someone to vouch for you and your work. People approach resources found online with some amount of skepticism, so cultivating a good reputation helps you build trust.

  • It gives you a network to lean on when you need resources, advice, or potential leads.

You can start your freelance career from scratch, but that gives you an uphill battle to overcome. Word of mouth marketing is a powerful tool when you're getting started, and you can get many of your first clients or gigs through referrals in your network.

Much like the corporate world, success in freelancing can come down to not what you know -- but who (and who knows you!). Build a reputation and a network, and your transition to a freelance career will be much smoother.

3. Know your audience

You may know what kind of work you want to do as a freelancer. But do you know who you want to do it for? Before you jump out on your own, take some time to think about your ideal client or project.

A lot of freelancers get caught in the trap of wanting to work with everyone instead of being selective in the work they take on. The idea of turning down business, especially when you first start, is scary! But you will find more success if you can find a niche, or a specific market segment, and focus on serving their specific needs.

This allows you to get more concise in your messaging around what you do. When you can clearly communicate what you do and for who, it's easier for others to understand your work and your value. You also better understand your clients when you focus on a specific group to serve, and can provide better work for them as a result.

You Can Start Your Freelance Career Now

Yes, this is a lot to have in place before you start your freelance career. But here's the good news: you can start now! You don't need to quit your day job and start freelancing from scratch. Instead, start now while you're still employed in your current job.

Use some of your free time to do some business planning so you can start to identify the niche market you want to serve. Spend time building your website or adding to your portfolio. Start making connections online, with social media and by joining relevant communities.

With this slow and steady approach, you can gradually ramp up to a full-time freelance career that's successful and sustainable.