What Is Freelancing?
Freelancing is a fancy word for doing jobs and gig work independently.
You have no boss, no set hours, no salary, no benefits. You simply work for yourself and it's up to you to find work.
A good example of professionals that often freelance are personal trainers, video editors, writers, caterers and photographers.
In this guide I am going to show you how to make your first $100 in freelancing income.
All you need is a laptop and an internet connection.
The most efficient way to find jobs as a freelancer is via freelancing sites.
This is where businesses advertise the tasks they need done.
For example, I may have a new business and want someone to design a logo for me.
I can simply post a request on a freelancing site saying "I have a new lawnmowing business and need a logo designed, budget $200" and freelancers from all around the world can apply to do this task for me.
If you're new to freelancing, here are some sites you can start with:
Understanding The Market
Once our account is set up we can start searching for jobs.
In this example, I've simply searched for "writing" jobs.
Here's how many jobs come up:
Now, before you start bidding for these jobs, you have to select carefully which ones to bid for.
And, the key to doing this is understanding the dynamics of this market.
As someone who has earned thousands of dollars on Upwork, and also spent thousands hiring workers on Upwork, I can confidently say I understand both sides of this market very well.
Let me break it down:
The reality of these freelance sites is they are dominated by Filipinos and Indians.
Generally these demographics are university educated, speak excellent English, work harder than you, and will probably do a better job than you for 90% less pay.
It's not uncommon for people in India and the Philippines to make a full time living on these sites doing jobs for $2 or $3 a pop.
If you've ever travelled to India or the Philippines, you'll understand why this is possible.
The cost of living there is much cheaper - living on $4 or $5 per day is common.
In fact, I was living in the Philippines when I first started freelancing, and was living (very well) on around $600/month.
Obviously, in New Zealand, working for these rates would make no sense. The minimum wage here is over $20/hr.
Instead of doing $2 jobs on Upwork, it would make more sense to get a job at McDonald's.
However, there are many higher paying freelancing jobs that can be worth your time.
The trick to finding these jobs is, once again, understanding the market.
One of the problems businesses have on these sites is quality control.
Sure, you can hire someone to do a job for you for $2 an hour, but what will the quality be like?
Again, as someone who has spent thousands hiring workers on these sites, I don't even bother reading proposals from people bidding $2 or $3 or $4 an hour. I already know there's a 90% chance the quality won't be up to par.
If there is a freelancer offering to do the job for $100, and a freelancer offering to do it for $10, I almost always go with the expensive option.
There's your first big tip - do not lowball your bids.
Always bid high. A high bid price says "quality".
Secondly, we are looking for a job where quality is important. These are jobs that:
- Require specialised knowledge
- Pay high rates
These are the jobs that will generally be partial to hiring someone from New Zealand versus other countries.
Here are some examples I've found on Upwork today (these are all jobs I would have applied for back when I was a freelance writer):
Write Your Proposals
Starting out as a freelancer is tough.
The main reason is - you have no portfolio.
Clients usually want to see your past work, which is kind of difficult if you don't have any!
Here's how I got around that problem when first starting out.
I had just left my job as an accountant, and was looking for ways to create some income while travelling. I found this job on Upwork:
I knew I could do this job with my eyes closed, but with no portfolio and no reviews on Upwork, my chance of getting the job was close to nil.
So, as my proposal, I just did the job for free.
Here's what I submitted:
The next important thing I did - I bid high.
I didn't bid $2 or $3 an article.
I asked for $25 per article.
Once again - this is buying psychology 101 - high prices give a perception of high quality.
And guess what happened?
I got the job.
It was my first client - I was officially a freelance writer!
A few weeks later, I had my first five star feedback on Upwork, which made it 100x easier to land even more jobs:
Make sure you get a 5 star feedback!
This is essential to helping you acquire more clients.
To ensure you get 5 stars, follow these steps:
- Do an insanely good job.
- Deliver before your deadline.
- Overdeliver (if they ask for 1,000 words, give them 1,200).
- Do as many revisions as required.
At the end of your job, make it clear you'd like to receive 5 stars:
I’m glad you liked the final article. If, for any reason, there’s still a part of it you’re not quite 100% happy with, please let me know and I’ll rewrite it until it’s exactly what you’re after.
If there’s no further work to be done, I’d really appreciate it if you could leave a 5 star feedback for me on Elance. This would be so helpful in me securing further work and continuing to write. If you feel any aspect of my work wasn’t to 5 star standard, please don’t hesitate to let me know and I’ll do everything I can to fix that.”
The strategy above should be more than enough to help you earn your first $100, but if you want to take it to the next level, read on.
My First Big Client
After I had been freelancing for about a month, I came across a gold mine of a job.
It was for writing Chartered Accountancy teaching notes, which is:
- A crap job that nobody wants to do
- Requires a very specific skillset
Those are two ingredients for a high paying gig.
As someone who had just passed the Chartered Accounting exam about a year earlier, I knew I was perfect for the job.
Here’s what the posting looked like:
What you can’t see in the screenshot is that the job budget was up to $5,000, so I knew he was willing to pay good money for the right candidate.
I spent most of the evening researching and putting together the sample notes requested in the posting, as I knew that would most likely be the deciding factor. I wanted to submit something exceptional.
The client emailed the next day saying how my proposal and sample notes had really stood out from the rest, and awarded me the job.
The first job was a trial, which involved writing a single chapter of notes for $230.
I did everything I could to make it the first set of interesting accounting notes in the history of mankind (I failed, it’s not possible), and he later offered me a full 10 chapters, for which I negotiated a price of $2,900.
Lesson – Don’t be afraid to spend time on your proposals – it’s like preparing for a job interview.
I’ve found that the clients who ask for specific samples in their listings are generally the ones that require writers with a very specific expertise, and if you can deliver on this the payday can be pretty good.
What If You're Not A Writer?
To be fair - I wasn't a writer either when I started.
I'd simply read about freelance writing online and decided to try.
However, I get your point - if you really don't know how to write and don't want to learn, then following the above advice might be difficult.
The good thing about freelancing is you can literally do anything.
This means everything from photo editing to translation to drawing to proofreading to data entry can be found. If you have a job in real life that uses a computer, chances are there's a freelance job out there that's exactly the same.
The other option you have is to use a site like Airtasker.
Airtasker is also a job for freelancers, but it's an Aus/NZ site and has many "hands-on" jobs as well.
For example, if someone has just renovated and needs help moving a whole lot of bricks, or someone needs help moving house, or someone needs help painting, you'll find those jobs on Airtasker.
In fact, as long as you're willing to get your hands dirty, I'd say it's easier to earn your first $100 on Airtasker than Upwork!
Other quick tips:
- Don't be too picky for your jobs at the start. Getting that first 5 star feedback is key, even if you don't earn a lot of money for it.
- When setting up your profile, look at other successful freelancers in your niche.
- Remember to focus on jobs that leverage your hobbies, education and expertise.
- Don't give up! It's very possible you'll send out 20 proposals and none will hit. That's okay and very normal - just keep grinding.