Most people think online freelancing is the easiest career to start. After all, all it takes is a laptop and WiFi connection, and cash would come flowing in. Right? Well, not really.
Before I left my TV-producing job and became a freelancer, I thought freelance writing was a walk in the park and a great backup job once I left the newsroom.
I imagined traveling for months as a digital nomad – beach-bumming in the morning, partying at night. I’ll write whenever I find pockets of time to squeeze it in, and I’ll do so in an Instagrammable setup of a laptop and a glass of iced latte on a wooden cafe table with clear skies and a white-sand beach in the background.
Boy, was I naive!
Only when I started my freelance career did I understand how complex and challenging it really was.
It took me these eight steps before I could establish myself as a freelancer and earn my first-ever PayPal remittance.
Disclaimer: This list is based on my own experience, and since we’re all built differently, what worked for me may not entirely work for everyone.
1. I decided and committed to establishing a career.
There’s a huge difference between deciding to be a freelancer and committing to it. I first decided to be a freelance writer while still employed in a TV network. I knew it would eventually give me the freedom I longed for, so I thought of jump-starting my online career while I still had regular work (and income).
I got on oDesk (now Upwork), made an account, and searched for jobs I could do. I promised myself I would make the time some other day to apply for those jobs… but I never did because I was always caught up in the daily grind of my regular job. Every day after work, I was already too tired and had just enough energy to reheat dinner and watch a Game of Thrones marathon.
It was only when I formally resigned from work (in other words, when I was officially a bum) that I fully committed to becoming a freelance writer. I guess the push to commit was brought by the pressure of being unemployed and not having a steady flow of income. I didn’t commit to freelancing the first time I tried because nothing was at stake. The second time around, a lot depended on it – my career status, bank account, and pride.
Now, I’m not saying that you should become a bum first to find it in yourself to commit to freelancing. I’m saying you need to have a good reason to be committed to freelancing. Is it to have more time to pursue a passion project? Is it to avoid the daily commute already taking a toll on your health? Is it to achieve your financial goals? Think of your “why” and commit.
2. I updated my resume and organized my portfolio.
Just like applying for any regular job, you should take online job applications seriously, and it all starts with a well-written resume. Be sure to update your CV and include skills or qualifications related to the freelance positions you’re applying for.
For instance, if you’re applying to be a freelance writer, highlight your writing experience or awards. If you‘re applying to be a virtual assistant, mention skills like being organized or well-versed in Google Suite, Shopify, or other relevant systems. Just be sure that you’re honest with what you put in your resume.
3. I registered on online freelancing platforms and made a credible profile.
Aside from oDesk, I made accounts in Elance, Freelancer, and Onlinejobs.ph. I also regularly checked postings on Craigslist to increase my chances of finding jobs and clients.
Based on my experience back then, I had an impression that most employers on Elance were small business owners looking for just one or two freelance employees. Job postings on Onlinejobs.ph, on the other hand, seemed to be companies looking for multiple employees for SEO-related tasks.
Whatever online freelancing platform you choose, always remember this: make a credible profile ASAP and never apply for a job if you haven’t completed your profile yet. If you apply for a job and the prospective client sees a half-blank profile, you’re instantly off their list – one opportunity wasted. Competition in online freelancing platforms is fierce, and you must come to battle prepared.
4. I set up a payment gateway.
Back when I started freelancing, PayPal was mostly the only way to receive payments from international clients. Some of my clients still opt to use PayPal these days, but there are more platforms and remittance services available now. Whatever payment platform you’re using, be sure to understand the systems’ regulations, including fees, processing time, and withdrawal process.
5. I applied for jobs I was interested in.
When applying for jobs, make sure to look beyond the job description. Take the time to check out the client’s profile and reviews. Does the client pay on time? Are they overly demanding? Checking the name of an employer or a company in freelancing forums and groups is also a good way to ensure its reputation and legitimacy. You wouldn’t want to be a victim of a scam.
6. I prepared for video call interviews.
When applying for a face-to-face job, one prepares for an interview by picking out a good corporate outfit, reviewing answers to basic interview questions, and arriving at the venue on time. All these don’t change when you’re applying for an online job.
Based on my experience, online interviews can work in three ways: 1.) a text chat, 2.) a voice call, or 3.) a video call. You can ask the hiring officer how the interview will be conducted. Still, I advise aspiring freelancers to be ready if the employer decides to do a video call, which is becoming the most common interview format.
First, look presentable and wear a decent top like a collared shirt. A client already expects you to be at home so you don’t really need to get all suited up unless it’s required. Your background should be professional and simple – a plain wall will do. Lastly, boot your laptop, get your headphones ready, and log in before your scheduled interview time. You should be able to reply immediately when the interviewee sends you the first chat message.
7. I read articles and forums about freelancing while waiting for projects.
If you’ve been interviewed for a job and haven’t heard from the client for a week, don’t fret. Chances are, the employer could be screening other applicants for the post, or the management could still be deliberating on who to hire.
Instead of refreshing your email inbox every five minutes, distract yourself from the waiting game by learning more about the online freelancing industry. Business websites like Forbes and Entrepreneur have excellent articles on international freelancing. Or if you want feedback from local freelancers, reading blogs, forums, and Facebook group posts would be helpful.
8. I repeated steps 4, 5, and 6 until I found the perfect fit.
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t get a call back after your first few online job applications. As mentioned earlier, competition can be fierce in online freelancing platforms, and starting as a newbie is not exactly a walk in the park.
It’s easy to doubt your qualifications if you don’t get an online job within your set timeframe. However, many moving elements are involved in the hiring process, and a lot of them are out of your control.
In addition, newbies tend to get trigger-happy when applying for online jobs in an attempt to land their first project. But one must also consider crucial factors before hitting that “Apply” button.
Does the job pay enough? Is the employer easy to communicate with? Does the job challenge you mentally and contribute to your growth? In short, you should also weigh if a job is worthy of your most valuable asset – your time.
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