One of the most important things you’ll ever learn as a freelancer is that you’re never unemployed, you’re self-employed. You provide a service which means you’re a business and you work for that business.
Like any business, you won’t get many customers if you don’t put yourself out there and make yourself known. That’s why you need to be proactive and look for clients, rather than waiting for them to come to you.
It’s not exactly going to be a piece of cake if you don’t already have an abundance of contacts on the backburner, but there are plenty of ways you can get out there and find work.
In the words of Shakespeare: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them”.
Freelancing is pretty similar: Some people go straight into self-employment, others consciously set out to do it after working for someone else, and some have freelancing thrust upon them - in other words, they have no other choice but to freelance.
Ideally, you’ll want to have a least a month to get everything in order before you start advertising yourself as a freelancer, so you’re not stuck with out any work when you do start. Finding yourself suddenly self-employed can set you back a little - but hopefully not too much if you act quickly.
Contact everyone you’ve worked for and with - past work experience, contacts and references. Your goal is to build a network which will act as a sort of safety net if you find yourself in need of work.
Make sure you maintain good relationships with these contacts because you may need to call in some favours if you’re struggling for gigs. Don’t contact these people too early before you officially go freelance - you don’t want to leave contacts hanging - but don’t leave it too late either as you could face a period without a steady income flow.
Perfect your brand
As we said earlier, you are the business. This means you will need an identifiable brand to sell yourself. Whether you’re a designer, a developer, a writer or a fire juggler. You need to (at the very least) set yourself up on all the key social media channels - that’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.
You can either set up fresh profiles specifically for your brand - which is a good idea if you’re operating under a company name that’s different to your actual name, plus this is also good if you don’t want to have to censor your personal opinions that may not reflect that of your brand - or you can use your existing personal accounts.
As well as setting up profiles on these sites, you should look for relevant groups and communities to join. Answer questions, ask your own questions, join discussions - engage and make yourself known as an expert within those communities.
Consider creating your own website. This is a step up from social media if you really want to look professional. Here you can showcase examples of your work, add testimonials from clients and of course it’s much more customisable than social media, so you can make your brand shine.
As well as making you look more professional, having a strong digital brand will make you easier to remember and easier to find, so get to work on this as soon as you decide to go freelance.
Websites and communities
Of course, maintaining and hosting a website isn’t cheap or simple (although there are free options out there, like Wordpress). If you don’t want to commit to running your own website, you could always use dedicated websites and communities for skilled professionals.
There are tons of different websites out there for people to hire skilled freelancers and for freelancers to advertise their services. These include both general sites with a variety of different areas of expertise and niche sites dedicated to individual professions.
Let’s look at a few...
This site is aimed at every kind of freelancer. Upwork offers both short and long-term projects, hourly or per-project work and expert-level and entry-level engagements. It also covers pretty much all kinds of creative professions, so you’ll likely find your area of expertise there.
Image: Upwork, showing a jobsearch for designers.
Are you competitive and confident in your skills? Then this is a great site to showcase your abilities and attract more clients with a fun twist: Freelancer allows you to compete with other freelancers in contests to prove your skills.
This platform focuses on freelancing for web projects. Peopleperhour is great if you’re a web developer, designer, SEO specialist, or anything else digital.
This is a more niche site aimed solely at freelance web designers and programmers. GetACoder offers millions of smaller-scale projects for coders to choose from, usually from small businesses that need to get a website idea off the ground - i.e great for collecting contacts who may need further work.
Freelance Writing Gigs is a site aimed at the self-employed wordsmiths of the world. So whether you’re a copywriter, blogger, editor, publisher or any combination of these, you should start here.
SimplyHired has a wider range of projects than the other sites listed here. This makes it a perfect hunting ground for everyone from construction workers to journalists. It also has a great blog, a company directory and location-based search.
In addition to these sites dedicated to employing skilled professionals, there are sites out there specifically for showcasing your work and connecting with other professionals.
These can also lead to employment as they act as a sort of catalogue for skills - that is, you showcase your talent on these sites and employers can use these sites to look for someone whose style fits their brand.
This creative industry network gives freelancers the opportunity to create a profile, showcase if they are available or working, upload their work, apply for jobs and broadcast their news. It's a great community of talent, from gradulate to top level. They also hold numerous events which provide a great platform to meet online connnections offline.
Is a similar site for content writers. You can create a profile and add “stories” to showcase your writing talents. It’s a little like a giant blog community, and it’s great for employers to filter “stories” by topic to find writers who specialise in their industry.
Image: Medium, showing articles on technology
is an online project hosting site for developers. It’s handy for collaborative workflows and projects and also for start-ups to hire skilled developers.
Work on your own projects
If you’re new to freelancing this is the best place to start working on something. Okay, you’re not going to earn anything from it directly, but it could lead to employment, especially if your work on these projects on the sites we mentioned earlier.
If you’re a designer, work on some personal designs; if you’re a copywriter, work on a blog; if you’re a web designer, create websites, and so on. This is great for showcasing your skills, especially if you choose to work on something that interests you.
If you’re working on a project that really speaks to you, your skills will really pop, and could attract employers from fields you’re passionate about. You could even land your dream gig.
Of course, if you’ve already got some jobs lined up you might not find time for your own projects, but working on these when you have spare time shows employers that you’re proactive and driven.
Attend events and meetups
While attending events are great for networking and finding potential employers, it can become expensive.
Try focusing on an area of interest and looking for local events that cater to that interest. Whether you’re passionate about technology, food or eCommerce there’s bound to be at least one event a year within travelling distance catering to that interest.
Here, you can meet people who work in that field. Chat to them - they could be employers, other freelancers, business owners and influencers. They’re all handy to talk to because they can either help you find jobs or have jobs of their own they could consider you for.
This is also where your personal brand comes in. Ideally, you would have your own website to direct contacts to and that website would be printed on the business cards you’d hand out.
Similar to networking events, you could look at meetup groups. These will be comprised of people who work in the same area of expertise as you. They can advise you not just on finding jobs, but on improving your professional skills.
Try Meetup.com for design meetups, developer meetups, marketing meetups - whatever kind you’re interested in - go along to at least one of these in your area, just to see what it’s like. You could end up learning a lot, and even gain valuable contacts for potential gigs.
Image: Meetup, showing the huge variety of groups
We hope this is enough to get you started - remember, you don’t want to take on too much work at one time. It’s important to be realistic about how many projects you can work on without compromising on quality.