Most people think that online freelancing is the easiest career one could ever start, because why not? All it takes is a laptop and WiFi connection, right?
Sorry to burst your bubble but it’s not exactly as simple as that.
Back when I was working for a TV network (read about why I left my producer job and became a freelancer in this post), I also used to think that freelancing is effortless and is a great backup job when I leave the newsroom.
I can travel for months as a digital nomad – beach bumming in the morning, partying at night, and writing whenever I find the time to squeeze it in. Boy, was I naive. Only when I started freelancing did I understand its complexity.
It took me these eight steps before I was able to establish myself as a freelancer and earn my first ever PayPal remittance. Check it out and see what steps could apply to you. Disclaimer: this list is based from my own experience and since we’re all built differently, what worked for me may not entirely work for everyone.
1. Decide and commit to be a freelancer.
There’a a huge difference between deciding to be a freelancer and committing to it. I first decided to be a freelance writer back when I was still employed in a TV network. I knew that being a freelancer 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 regular income).
I looked up oDesk (now Upwork after merging with Elance), made an account, and searched for jobs that I could do. I told myself that I would make time some other day to apply for those jobs… but I never did. I was caught up in the daily grind of my regular job. Every day after work, I was just too tired and didn’t have the energy to do more than reheat dinner and watch a Game of Thrones marathon.
It was only when I was formally resigned from work (in other words, officially a bum) that I fully commited to my goal of 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, my bank account, and my pride.
Now, I’m not saying that you should become a bum first to find it in yourself to commit to freelancing. What I’m saying is, you need to have a good reason to be committed to being a freelancer. Is it to have more time with your kids? Is it to have more time to pursue a passion project? Is it to avoid the daily commute that’s already taking a toll on your health? Think of your reason and commit. If you’re not yet 100% sure about pursuing a freelance career, read this post to avoid regret.
2. Update your resume, make a cover letter template and organize your portfolio.
Just like applying for any regular job, you should take online job application seriously and it all starts with a well-written resume. Be sure to update your CV and include skills or qualifications related to freelance positions you’re applying for.
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 related skills like being organized or being well-versed in Excel or Shopify. Just be sure that you’re honest with what you put in your resume.
Most likely, you’ll be applying for multiple job postings at a time. It’s a good idea to create a cover letter template or a generic proposal. But this doesn’t necessarily mean cutting and pasting every time – you have to tweak and tailor-fit your template for different job posts to increase your chances of getting hired.
3. Search for online freelancing platforms, register, and make 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 micro-business owners looking for just one or two freelance employees. Job postings on Onlinejobs.ph on the other hand, seemed to be involved with companies looking for multiple employees and were usually SEO-related.
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 employer sees a half-blank profile, you’re off their list in a snap – one opportunity wasted. Competition is fierce in online freelancing platforms and you have to come to battle prepared.
4. Create a PayPal account and take time to understand how it works.
Back when I started freelancing, PayPal was mostly the only way to receive payments from international clients. I still get paid through PayPal these days, but there are more platforms available now like Paymaya, Xoom, or remittance services (mostly for local employers). Some online freelancing platforms also send payment directly to bank accounts.
I know of many people who are hesitant to link their bank account to an online platform like PayPal for security reasons. One way to feel more secure about it is to link a bank account that you would only use for freelance payments. This way, your life savings isn’t compromised if anything goes wrong. Also, be sure to understand an online payment systems’ regulations, including fees and withdrawal process.
5. Bid or apply for jobs you are interested in.
When applying for jobs, you shouldn’t only look at the job description itself. You should also check out the profile and review of the employer who posted the vacancy. Does the employer pay on time? Is the employer overly demanding? Checking the name of an employer or a company in freelancing forums and groups is also a good way to be sure of its reputation and legitimacy. You wouldn’t want to be a victim of a scam.
6. Prepare for video call interviews.
When applying for a regular job, one prepares for an interview by picking out a good corporate outfit, reviewing answers to basic interview questions, and arriving on the venue on time. All these doesn’t change when you’re applying for an online job.
Based on my experience, Skype interviews can work three ways – 1.) basic chat, 2.) voice call, or 3.) video call. You can ask the hiring officer how the Skype interview will be conducted, but I advise aspiring freelancers to be ready in case the employer decides to do a video call.
First, be sure to look presentable and wear a decent top like a collared shirt. A freelance employer expects you to be at home and might be surprised to see you all suited up unless you were required to do so. Your background should be professional and simple – a plain wall will do. Lastly, boot your laptop, get your headphones ready and log in 30 minutes before your scheduled interview time. You should be able to reply right away the moment the interviewee sends you the first chat message.
7. Read articles and blogs 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, it would be helpful to read blogs, forums, and Facebook group posts.
8. Repeat steps 4, 5 and 6 until you find 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 the timeframe you set for yourself. However, it’s important to be aware that there are many elements involved in the hiring process.
Also, newbies have a tendency to get trigger happy when applying for online jobs just to be able to land their first project. But one must also consider other 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 consider if a job is “qualified” to be given your best asset – your time.
That’s it – eight steps I took to set up my online career. For current freelancers, did you have a journey similar to mine during the start of your online career? And for aspiring freelancers, what step are you currently in right now? Let us know on the comment section below!