How I Became An Online Freelancer (& Why I Stopped)

Over the past decade I’ve dabbled in Freelance Writing & SEO as a means of making some extra money. But for various reasons I’ve decided to focus my time and energy elsewhere.

So allow me to explain what motivated me to become an online Freelancer in the first place, how I went about finding work, what approach worked best, and why I eventually concluded that Freelance wasn’t ever going to be the focal point of my online career.

Why I Decided To Freelance

I graduated from University and started various businesses — from sports analytics, to financial data services, to branded sports equipment, to affiliate marketing through niche sites (like this one). Not to mention countless other small (and failed) projects inbetween.

But none of those projects seamlessly merged into the next. There were periods where I couldn’t progress onto the following objective until something was completed. For example, in the case of an Amazon FBA business, I’d need to wait weeks for a product sample to arrive before buying a batch of units (let alone getting those units to the Amazon warehouse).

It was that lack of productivity during transitional periods that got me itching. I wanted to be more productive and utilise my time better. So I asked myself: what can I do to make some extra money?

That’s when I decided to combine my most valuable skills — web development (WordPress in particular), writing , SEO, and online marketing — to offer Freelance Services to other entrepreneurs.

Impostor Syndrome

It made sense that I’d focus on offering freelance writing/blogging/SEO services given my experience. After all, I was already well on my way to establishing Punter2Pro as one of Europe’s most popular sport betting blogs, and Fly-GA as one of the UK’s only aviation blogs. I’d developed a lot of websites, as well as launched multiple Amazon FBA brands. I knew how to sell physical and digital products.

Yet I still questioned whether I was worthy of charging people for my Freelance Services. So what was I worried about?

It was the idea that I wasn’t “officially” qualified.

I didn’t learn SEO at university, or through a course of any kind. I self-taught most my marketing skills through trial and error, as well as sharing ideas with other entrepreneurs. So my credentials didn’t fall into the mould of a traditional ‘qualification’. And somehow that didn’t feel real.

This was a sure case of impostor syndrome. I knew I had the skills to help other online businesses. I just had to take the plunge. So I did.

Finding Freelance Work

Where does one find freelance work?

I was aware of some popular Freelancing sites such as Upwork, Freelancer, and People Per Hour because I’d previously found programmers and graphic designers using them myself. However, I knew that if I signed up to these sites I’d have no ratings or previous clients’ as evidence of my capabilities. I was at a disadvantage.

So instead I decided to leverage from my reputation in circles I’d already built outside of those Freelance platforms.

My Strategy

  • Simple portfolio website. I created a type of ‘online CV’ showcasing my skills and work experience. It took me about two days to make.
  • Side widget adverts. I made small side widgets on a few of my existing sites/blogs in order to advertise my writing and SEO services. My theory was that if someone enjoys reading my site, then they might be interested in creating their own content to that standard/style.
  • Newsletters. When I sent out my usual blog newsletters, I briefly mentioned that I’m open to Freelance writing, should anyone be interested.
  • Social Media. I tweeted out to my followers letting them know that I’m available for Freelance writing/SEO work. I hoped that this would reach other sites in my niche looking for fresh content.
  • Self promotion blog post. I published an article on Punter2Pro about what I’d been up to, mentioning that I’m taking on Freelance work.
  • Update LinkedIn. I altered my profile to state that I’m a Freelancer (among other things, of course). This would alert my followers, and hopefully gain some enquiries.
  • Quora. I answered a lot of questions about blogging, SEO and online marketing in order to establish myself as an ‘expert’. I’d occasionally mention that I offer Freelance services, in hopes that a reader would reach out for more help.
  • Networking. I contacted the writers/bloggers I knew, and asked them to let me know if they (or anyone else they know) is seeking a content writer.

Leveraging from my existing projects was a successful approach.

I received several enquiries, and found a couple clients within a fortnight. This lead to repeat jobs and further referrals. My tasks mainly consisted of writing blog posts for Amazon FBA product brands, and detailed articles for tech startups.

Setting My Price

What’s the right price for my freelance services?

There is no ‘right’ price, as such. Personally, I always aim to earn a certain hourly rate for my time. And if I’m ever asked to quote a price upfront, then I carefully estimate how long the job would take to complete, in hours (based on my experience), and adjust the price accordingly.

My rate was easy to obtain whenever I found the work through my own means (using the strategy I’ve detailed above). But it was a lot harder to hold my price and get regular work through popular Freelance websites.

Was it even possible to charge the rate I wanted through Freelance sites?

Freelance Sites — My Experience

I did eventually decide to create profiles on Freelancing sites like Upwork. But as I’d expected, the competition was fierce.

On Freelance sites I was up against thousands of other specialists from around the globe, with tons of ratings. I had no entitlement to get consistent work there.

It really goes to show how much easier it is to diversify an established business into Freelancing, rather than starting over from scratch.

Increasing My Chances Of Getting Work

Many Freelancers start out by offering their services at a discounted rate, with a view to raise it as they build up a positive profile of feedback. This is a logical, albeit slow starting, approach that you might consider if you’re just entering the world of Freelancing.

However, as an experiment I decided to aim high from the outset. I tried to compete on value, rather than price. Here was my approach:

  • Pricing. I set my price relatively high compared to competitors, and held it. I wanted clients to perceive my services as being higher quality than the competition.
  • Targeting. I carefully targeted clients with jobs that played to my strengths. I stood a greater chance of success by looking for jobs involving similar work I’d carried out before. I gave a personalised pitch to maximise my chances of getting the job..
  • Self promotion. I knew I was disadvantaged without feedback. So in every discussion with a potential client I diverted attention towards examples of my work. My strength is that I run some successful projects myself — so I used those to underline that my skills were directly transferable to their project.
  • The numbers game. Given the relatively low success rate on Freelance sites, I had to make a lot pitches to potential clients.

The Result?

I have mixed feelings about how successful my “aim high, hold firm” approach was.

To be truthful, it’s somewhat idealistic — at least on some sites — to assume that by valuing your services high means that you’ll elevate your status above the crowd and therefore attract more of the clients you want.

As I held firm on my hourly rate, I became increasingly aware of competitors’ prices. Frankly, if I were in the clients’ shoes, I would’ve invariably risked a Freelancer that I perceived as as 7/10 for $100 over an 8/10 for $350. In other words, I probably wouldn’t have chosen me.

If I was set on becoming a full time Freelancer, I might have been disheartened by that. However, given that I only saw Freelancing as source of extra income, it was great to pick up even a handful clients that trusted my advice. A huge confidence booster.

It’s worth baring in mind that on many Freelance sites you’re competing against specialists from multiple regions of the world, where local earnings vary so drastically. The fact is, some talented people will be willing to work for less than you.

So if you want to hold your price on some of the popular Freelance sites, you need maximise your perceived value, target highly specialised clients to reduce competition — and then consistently deliver an exceptional service whenever you get a gig. Otherwise, join the pack and compete on price.

Why I Cut Back On Freelancing

I’ve touched on some of the reasons why I decided to reduce the amount of Freelance work I sought.

Here’s my full list of reasons:

  • I didn’t want to compete on price. To get a significant amount of gigs I needed to use Freelance sites, where it’s often difficult to target high-budget clients from the outset. As detailed in this post, I opted not to reduce my prices as a strategy.
  • Freelance only earns from time worked. There’s a limited number of hours I can devote to Freelancing, and a ceiling on its potential upside. So I chose to use that time to work towards new projects where my earnings are not a direct function of hours worked. For example, affiliate marketing (blogging essentially) or an Amazon FBA business.
  • Amendments take up additional time. When you commit to doing a Freelance job, you need to make the client happy. Unfortunately clients rarely provide accurate requirements for the job. Naturally a lot of edits and amendments take place — and many go unbilled.
  • I felt as if I was neglecting my own businesses. While I successfully helped other companies to re-structure their websites and get their content to prominent position in Google search results, I felt guilt about undervaluing the potential of my own projects.

In a nut shell, Freelancing wasn’t a step towards achieving my bigger goal — building scalable businesses.

Want to Become A Freelancer?

Just because Freelancing hasn’t become a focal point of my online career doesn’t mean it shouldn’t for you.

Here’s 5 steps for becoming a Freelancer.

1. Identify A Niche

You already know what you’re good at — whether it’s writing, marketing, graphic design, or programming. Play to your strengths.

Take the time to find a profitable niche within your skillet. For example, if you’re a strong programmer you might focus on developing database systems. Or drill down further by specialising in database systems for a specific type of company (e.g. tech startups).

Always try to seek out an industry and type of client that values quality. When you’re in a space that competes on quality, you’ll be competing on value, not price.

2. Find Work

I’ve explained how I found Freelance work through my existing businesses — but my strategy might not work for you.

As a starting point, here’s a list of reputable Freelance sites at your disposal:

There’s also LinkedIn, which offers a smart feature called LinkedIn ProFinder. This helps businesses find qualified people to work for them. ProFinder also sends project leads your way via email, giving you the chance to write a proposal and bid.

In addition, LinkedIn job posts are useful for finding employment of all types.

3. Set Your Price

Know what your hourly rate needs to be in order to meet your income goals and expense levels.

It’s wise to be aware of the rates charged by your direct competitors — but aim to price yourself based on the value you deliver, not based on what your competitors are charging.

Counter intuitively, the more you charge, the less your clients are likely to complain. Clients with big budgets tend to value Freelance services higher, and can more comfortably invest without feeling the need to “squeeze” more for their money.

Low budget clients, on the other hand, are often less able to sustain expenses that cannot guarantee a quick return on investment. At times the onus falls onto the Freelancer to deliver more bang for their buck than is realistic, or fair.

4. Value Your Clients

As a Freelancer you only earn the right to value yourself if you value your clients.

It’s vital that you deliver high quality results that reflect the price you’ve charged. This means completing the work to the exact specification given, in the time frame you agreed to do it in.

Remember that Freelance is feedback-driven: if you make make your clients happy & successful, they will effectively become your sales force. On the flip side, failing to gain positive feedback on your account (or referrals from clients), means asking companies to take a risk on you — which the best clients won’t do.

5. Build A Portfolio

The purpose of setting up a portfolio website is to create an impression of you, your style, your work, and the past clients (or companies) you’ve worked with.

Through your portfolio, you must sell yourself to clients and underline why you’re the best person in this line of work.

Your freelance portfolio must do the following in order to be truly effective:

  • Communicate your speciality
  • Show examples of your work
  • Highlight your relevant skills and accomplishments (including your education).
  • Display testimonials (even if they’re from coworkers when you’re just getting started…).
  • List your contact information.
  • Feature updates that show your evolution as a Freelancer (e.g. new clients/projects, and updated samples of work)

That’s just about everything you need to know about getting started in Freelance. While I haven’t pursued becoming a full-time Freelancer myself, there’s certainly potential for many of you to make a successful career (or part-time income) from selling specialist services online.

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