When going freelance, as a writer or otherwise, there are plenty of questions you’ll have, mistakes you might make, and hurdles to jump over. Ultimately, all of this is worth it because going freelance can be wonderful and life changing. And, by following these freelance tips for beginners, you can find answers to those early questions and jump those hurdles with ease.
If you have questions about how to go freelance for beginners, you’ll find the answers here. If you’re looking for advice and a bit of direction, consider these freelancer tips for beginners your compass.
1) Set up a Portfolio or Website (and get written testimonials)
Many eager new freelancers go straight for the pitches and the frantic emailing. But, before you get there, consider setting yourself up with an online writing portfolio or your own blog/site.
Consider this the freelancer equivalent of purchasing an office space before launching your new business. Editors will take you a lot more seriously as a freelancer if you have your own portfolio or website set up.
You can build your own portfolio with Journo Portfolio, and use it to advertise your skills. Add a headshot, links to your social media, links to any published writing, and a bio. If you have no published works yet, at least you have the rest. There are free options to a point and upgrades available.
Setting up your own blog is also a great freelancer tip for beginners; it shows that you’re organised and ambitious. It also works as a way to get your own work published because you’re the one publishing it.
If you’re a freelance photographer, editor, or filmmaker, lean on your YouTube channel or Instagram page as your portfolio. (Though we still recommend getting a proper personalised website with links to your photos and videos. It looks more professional).
2) Don’t Sweat the Quiet Weeks
Getting used to the unpredictability — the strange and turbulent ebb and flow — of freelance life can be very tough at first. The fear of losing work or having nothing coming in is an ongoing one. Eventually, you’ll get used to it and feel experienced enough to know that you’ll survive it, and that more work and money is on the horizon.
It’s ordinary and expected to have a week where nothing happens, where no work comes in, followed by a week where you’re working until midnight every day, including weekends.
Don’t sweat the workless weeks. In fact, try to simply unwind and enjoy the break or focus on smaller tasks that still eat up time like emailing, admin, or social media promotion.
Most experienced freelancers will tell you that there rarely seems to be a well-balanced week in the life of a freelancer. There will be weeks where you sit on your hands and others where you can’t keep up. Both are stressful in their own ways but that stress is far more exhilarating than most bland salaried jobs (in our opinion).
3) Rejection is Normal – Keep Going
Rejection is inevitable, ordinary, and par for the course when you’re freelance. It takes every freelancer a little bit of time to understand the simple fact that, when a pitch is met with silence from an editor, it doesn’t and shouldn’t diminish their worth as a writer (or photographer or editor or anything else).
When a pitch is ignored or rejected, don’t waste a beat. Don’t spend your time wallowing or doubting yourself. Editors get hundreds of emails every day and it isn’t practical to get back to everyone, as much as many of them would like to. Just pitch the same thing again to someone else. Maybe refine the piece or the email body first. Or discard that pitch and start work on a new one for the same editor or someone else.
A lot of what makes freelancing such a rollercoaster kind of work is this rolling-with-the-punches attitude. It’s exciting but undeniably disheartening.
Believe us when we say this: rejection comes no matter how experienced you are. It happens to all of us every single day. Think of it like falling from a height. Tuck in your knees, roll forward, and keep the momentum going. Don’t stop moving forward.
4) Build up Savings and Take Care of Your Finances
This is a universal truth about freelancing that isn’t all that pleasant to swallow, because it means having a little bit of privilege that is impossible for some budding freelancers, or at least frustrating and difficult. That harsh truth being that, when you first go freelance, you need a financial buffer.
The sad reality is that you have to build up a little stack of savings before you start freelancing. This is to account for how long it takes the average freelancer to get paid and start making regular money.
A good, if rough, freelancer tip for beginners is to have enough money to cover at least two months’ worth of rent, food, and bills before you start freelancing, to avoid getting in any trouble when the freelancer money you’re relying on doesn’t turn up as quickly as you’d hoped.
This stings because it might mean 1) staying in a job you hate for longer than you’d like. 2) finding a part-time job to fund your early days as a freelancer. 3) living with parents or on a friend’s sofa if there are no jobs and you have no savings etc.
This highlights the immovable fact that freelancing is something of a privileged job for many of us. It’s hard to build up savings for the vast majority of people who live paycheque to paycheque, and that means getting started with freelancing is next to impossible.
If you can find a way to stock up on two months’ worth of survival money before you begin, or if you can keep working part-time as you send out pitches and build your portfolio, then great. It is absolutely essential for beginners when they go freelance.
Think of this as a loophole in the system, and it is how we managed to get started with freelancing in the first place. Without going down this route, we wouldn’t be here writing this for you now.
If you have no savings and want to go freelance, consider housesitting. Signing up to a site like TrustedHousesitters means you get to live rent-free for weeks or months or years on end. This cuts down your outgoings by at least half.
When we started freelancing, we built a profile on TrustedHousesitters and moved around the world, living in houses from Denmark to New York, as we slowly built up our portfolios. We paid for travel and food and nothing else (flights are often a lot cheaper than rent).
There’s also nothing stopping you from continuing this nomadic house sitter life for as long as you want. We’ve been doing it for years.
5) Always Have Multiple Clients
You know the old adage: don’t put all your eggs in one basket. We mentioned in an above tip how being a freelancer means a week of no work followed by a week of too much work. Well, you need to secure plenty of the latter in order to survive the former.
Having multiple clients is stressful. It means juggling a lot of emailing, and following different style guides and restrictions etc. It means following up on invoices and making plenty of use of notepads and spreadsheets to track everything.
In the end, however, it’s all worth it to ensure that, when those quiet weeks suddenly hit, you are prepared to handle it because you just spent an exhausting few weeks earning good money from five different clients.
If those five clients all, at once, say that they don’t need any work from you for a month, you’ve just earned enough money to survive that month while you quietly search for new clients.
The likelihood is, however, that you won’t have a month’s worth of work from five clients and then nothing at all. Instead, you’ll have a week of work from one client, then a week from two others, then a week from one more, and around you go.
Spreading yourself out across multiple clients means that the work won’t dry up. If one contract ends or a client goes quiet, you’ve got work and money from the others and a little extra time to hunt, stress-free, for a replacement for the work you just lost. While it’s tempting to take a juicy offer of full-time work from one client, consider if it’s worth it if you can’t do anything else on the side. Don’t forget to prioritize your work-life balance when possible.
6) Set Aside Time for Admin
One of the first, and most important, skills to master as a fledgeling freelancer is admin management. Admin takes more time than you think. It’s also unpaid labour.
Make sure to properly allocate time for invoicing, chasing invoices, and keeping on top of your finances. One day down the line, you may be in the position to outsource some admin tasks to a VA (virtual assistant). But, for now, prioritise building your own skills in this area.
Do not underestimate the time it takes to do admin. It’s easy to spend a full workday on admin and nothing else. You may sometimes see jokes on Twitter about the mental strength it takes to send an email and, if you don’t connect with that joke right now, you soon will.
7) Get Your Rates Sorted
There are pros and cons to working for free when you first start out as a freelancers. Ethically and morally, it’s awful and should never be done. However, there are undeniable, if small, benefits to it. Wherever you come down on working for free, you will need to soon consider your rates.
When we start out, we rarely know our own worth as freelancers, and we are willing to work for very little. The feeling you get from being paid anything at all is a wonderful one. Soon enough, however, you’ll learn your own worth and start setting out hard rates.
Don’t be afraid of sharing your rates with editors and clients. If they say your rates are too high, it’s up to you whether or not you choose to negotiate. You may be willing to work for less if the publication is one you love and want to have your name in, for example.
There is no blanket rule when it comes to freelancer rates but, if there were, $100 USD per thousand words is a good one. When you get to be fairly prolific, however, you may be comfortable with asking for much, much more.
8) Don’t Forget Tax and Expenses
If you’re coming from a country where taxes are automatic so long as you’re employed (like the UK), start thinking about your own taxes from now on. You need to register yourself as self-employed. If you’re asked for a company name, just use your own.
Once you’ve registered as self-employed, start filing and keeping track of your receipts. Track every bit of money you get paid. Note down anything you pay for which could be covered by expenses when tax time rolls around (you’d be surprised what can be claimed as expenses).
9) Find Your Online Community
This is one of the most vital freelancer tips for beginners. In fact, not just for beginners. Having an online community is essential for freelancers of all sizes, from all backgrounds, and with ay number of years’ experience.
Using Facebook groups, Twitter communities, and forums, you can find an endless supply of freelancer advice, guidance, and general support. You’ll also meet editors, build a list of contacts, stay up-to-date with new opportunities, and commission other writers to work for you.
These groups are invaluable sources of practical and emotional support for freelancers, but they are also sources of actual work and money. You’re building personal and professional connections all the time. So, make yourself known and start reaching out. Don’t be shy when asking for help and advice.
10) Keep Learning
It’s surprising how much a workplace atmosphere — with all the rules, rituals, and routines that it comes with — helps us to focus and keep our momentum up day-to-day. Working from home as a freelancer, however, means learning to self-motivate.
When we say motivate, we don’t only mean with relation to general tasks, admin, and completing assigned jobs. We also mean in terms of learning and building your portfolio. You need to remain on top of the latest trends and learn to use new kinds of software and even new social media.
The best way to do this is by remaining active in online freelancer communities, following and subscribing to newsletters, visiting sites like this one, listening to podcasts, taking classes on a platform like Skillshare, and watching plenty of relevant and useful YouTube channels.
11) Adventure Out
This is a freelancer tip that might be reserved for a point a little further down the road. How far, however, depends on how organised you are, how comfortable you become, and how much success you have. This tip might not be applicable for five years. Or it might be in six months. We are all different.
So, you may eventually reach a point where writing (or photography or whatever your skill is) just isn’t enough anymore. It’s earning you stable money but your ambitions are growing. Good.
At this point, you may wish to explore other avenues of making money. There may come a time when you want to start your own podcast or YouTube channel. If you don’t have a blog, you may want to start one. If you have one, and it’s making money, maybe start a second blog. Maybe you’ll even want to try writing a book.
As a freelancer working from home, your time is yours to manage and do with as you will. When your income is good and your work is steady, consider using your free time to adventure off into other avenues. Pay for some online classes in whatever interests you and begin exploring new artistic and financial avenues.