Welcome to this guide on how to get started as a freelancer.
If you're here, you may find the freelance path interesting but you may not be sure what the first steps to being a successful freelancer are.
Let me help you on this journey. I have 10 years of experience as a freelancer and what I can tell you is that it is very worthwhile. Plus, this guide is being built with the help of other, much more successful freelancers. In fact, it's a guide that's constantly being developed, so if you have something to contribute, it's very welcome. Just drop me a line.
Freedom to work at the time you want, being able to prioritize your tasks yourself and abundance of opportunities are common situations for those who have developed properly as freelancers; in addition to, of course, much higher than average financial returns within a company and security from the moment you have several clients contributing to your income and not just one employer.
In this guide I want to give you a general overview of what I consider necessary to start a life as a freelancer. Whether you are just starting out in the job market or already quite experienced, I believe there are elements here to help you.
I must emphasize first of all that this guide is not ideal if you are just looking for a side hustle here or there. Does it work for that? It does, but the examples and ways of dealing with work go far beyond that. I'm a professional freelancer and it's the way I like to deal with life.
A gig involves something temporary, without much commitment and the overall effort is low. Whereas as a professional freelancer, the idea is to build a brand. You as a one-person company. You earn more for your hour than any company would pay if you were a simple employee.
And to become that kind of professional, the effort in areas adjacent to the job – like marketing, design, technology, sales, etc – is substantially higher. It's the kind of thing that doesn't pay off in the short term, but rather after a few years when you don't even know what to do with so many opportunities anymore.
So if you're ready, let's get started!
How this guide is organized
The path to professional success as a freelancer is a bit complex. After all, our craft itself represents only a portion of the work we need to do.
If you take a look at the topics page of the website you will see that there are a number of important subjects that we should study to become good freelancers.
Marketing, sales, negotiation, pricing, after-sales, finance, legal issues, etc.
Each topic, therefore, needs a bit of attention and, at the same time, context of how it connects with the ‘whole'.
As such, I have numbered the subjects according to what I believe is the best way for them to be addressed and suggest you follow each topic in turn.
The topics follow the following structure:
- The importance of the topic
- Definition / Content
- Case studies and examples
- Suggested next topic
In this first article, however, I want to give you a broader view of what it means to be a freelancer or self-employed professional and what I consider as fundamental to start on this journey.
The pillars of autonomy
In 2017 I put together a course called Professional Autonomy with my wife. This course is now available for free on YouTube.
When structuring the knowledge about self-employment, many of which are present in this series here on the Blog, one of the first classifications we made was to determine the ways of thinking or pillars of autonomy.
There are five characteristics that I believe all professional freelancers need to have in order to achieve professional freedom through this path.
None of these ways of thinking depend on any prior knowledge or innate talent and we'll go through them all throughout the series as well.
Take responsibility for the change in your life and not delegate it to someone else. To think this way is to be responsible for the transformation in your life and around you.
The idea here is not to be absent in what we can do. It is to understand that the world happens without us and there are things beyond our control, but in what we can influence, we will not fail to act – always paying attention not to invade or disrespect the space of others.
For example, if you work in a company today and see that the coffee has not been made, instead of thinking “oh, it's not my job” or “how lazy, I'll leave it for the next one” you go there and make the coffee. It solves the problem.
Another situation could be in a car crash. The person hit the back of your car and, naturally, it is the other person's fault to fix your car. However, you don't have to keep waiting or depending on that other person to fix your problem as quickly as possible and then charge you. It may not be your fault, but the responsibility can be if you don't want to keep dragging problems around.
This mindset is super important for professional freedom because we are the only ones responsible for the success of our business. Other people can help us and all, but without our constant breakthroughs and problem solving (ours and others) there is no way to succeed.
Talking about fear is always easier than facing fears, so I don't speak lightly here. I understand the difficulties of fear and it is a big challenge.
However, I believe we can seek to understand fears better. Understand that fear usually comes from uncertainty and that it is something created in our head based on not knowing a situation.
When we explore fear further we can determine its origins more deeply, as well as whether they are fears with real foundations or assumptions.
If you are facing a lion, there is a real basis – a risk – for that fear. However, if you are about to give a business presentation, the fear is more about our assumption of how people will react than a real danger.
Something that helps is to always ask: “What's the worst that can happen?”
The answer could be something drastic, like death, or it could be something quieter like losing a client.
An important issue is also that some people think that people who seem fearless don't feel fear. They go out there and give their talks, parachute or expose themselves. But the reality is that all these people feel the fear. The difference is that they don't let the fear paralyze them. And then if they do something often enough, the fear can eventually go away or at least diminish.
I remember the first time I taught a class. I was shaking, even more so that my old teacher was looking at me and analyzing me. I came home after a class, which I considered bad, wanting to give up and never teach again.
However, I went once more…and another…and dozens more with a little fear still. Until that fear never appeared again.
Facing fears will be a constant in the life of professional freedom. After all, we will probably expose ourselves in one way or another. We will take risks. We will deal with uncertainties all the time.
Consistency and Constancy
These two words are directly related to our work. Producing work with a consistent quality level and at the same time at a high frequency is the key to any kind of work.
Overnight success only happens in movies or in rare cases of luck. It is not something we should consider and simply be grateful for if it shows up on our doorstep.
Success professionally, financially or in any other definition comes from good work being carried out over a long period of time.
In the realm of professional freedom, it is quite clear that we will not have dozens of clients knocking on our door a month after starting. But we should do our best from the beginning regardless of how many people we are impacting.
I can't tell you how many articles I've written or videos I've recorded that hardly anyone has seen. I wrote into ‘limbo' for years until a thousand, two thousand, twenty thousand people started seeing it every month. Today, thankfully, thousands of people end up in contact with some of my content every month. Did it come out of nowhere?
This pillar is a bit subjective, but I still consider it of great importance. Acting professionally, as I see it, is treating your freelance business as a company and in a much more precise and serious way. Look at yourself with the mindset of an entrepreneur.
Instead of doing things by ‘doing things the right way', the idea here is to follow the necessary and legal protocols to be seen as a serious professional by your clients, partners and others.
A basic example here is to issue invoices for the work you do. Just by being compliant with what the system asks for, you will be able to reach better clients.
Other examples might be making use of contracts, managing business finances separately from personal life, not missing appointments without notice and recognizing mistakes.
These are elements that, when added together, give the impression of professionalism and trust. Big and good clients are looking at these things to determine whether you are fit to be hired or whether it is better to choose someone else.
Self-motivation, besides being a commonplace in self-help books, is the simple ability to draw strength from within ourselves to motivate ourselves without external help.
Simple, but not easy.
There are also those who define it as having the ability to decide how to do something, to feel that you are developing in that skill and to connect the accomplishment of the work with a greater goal in life.
Regardless, the path to self-motivation is very varied and only depends on each person's introspection to understand what really works. There is no universal rule (as far as I understand), so my suggestion here – which is what I did and still do – is to read many books on the subject and test the proposed exercises without prejudice.
For example, something that motivates me a lot is the idea of contribution. Knowing that my work is impacting several people positively is a reminder to me that I can go a little further when I am discouraged.
The journey towards professional freedom is not easy and requires us at various times this ability to go beyond failures and discouragements so that we can remain consistent in our work.
Defining your contribution
As I mentioned above, contribution is something that excites and animates me. At the same time, I see this kind of feeling in entrepreneurs and other successful professionals.
Contribution is a force that calls for our efforts to be part of something bigger than ourselves and that is powerful.
I'm a big believer that the journey to autonomy or professional freedom is directly linked to our contribution. I even like to measure my success by the impact I have on the world. If today I can impact 10 people with my work and the next year 100 people, even if I am earning the same thing for me I am 10 times more successful.
Withthat in mind, I want to invite you to reflect on what is the impact you want to have through your work.
Have this written down and easy to see, as it will be very useful both for your self-motivation and for your clinetes to realize that you are different and that the result you generate through your craft has a greater impact.
Fine words, but it's something I often get feedback on from clients.
Defining your identity
Another step that precedes doing the work itself, but that every strong professional has, is a well-defined identity.
If you like, a well-defined personal brand.
This brand and identity is how you are perceived by others. If you were asked today “people around you recognize you for…” what would it be?
Something that for a while I heard about myself was being entrepreneurial among close people and among clinetes I am often recognized for skills with technology and marketing. I make websites, but many of my clients validate me for a marketing skill because I'm always asking from a marketing perspective what they want to do with their websites. I don't deal with marketing directly, but because I study a lot about it I feel comfortable contributing to the success of the website I develop. And this site will only be successful if it has a good marketing strategy allied to it.
My quest now is to have a professional freedom identity. Someone who can holistically navigate multiple paths in an entrepreneurial and professional manner to make a positive impact on people and the world.
The suggestion here is, therefore, that you look internally for what defines you and what you would like to define you. Look with friends and close people how they recognize you.
And if you want to go a little further, I suggest following Juliana Saldanha, who is an excellent consultant on the subject.
Defining your journey
Still in planning, something that I think is nice to think about is how you would like your journey to be.
Understand the contrast between how your life is today and how you would like it to be from the moment you have professional freedom.
A nice idea is to do a visualization exercise of what an ideal day would be like.
Wake up without an alarm clock around 9 am, meditate, go for a run, study and organize things until noon, have lunch and start working. Work for about five hours, then go out with people or do some fun program until bedtime.
This, for example, is a bit of the routine I took while traveling the world as a digital nomad with my wife. Maybe just the order a bit different. Before, thinking about something like this was impossible, even ridiculous. But once you organize your life, this is just the beginning of what is possible.
It's not extravagant to think of something like this, so let your imagination envision the best.
From the moment you develop on this journey, it is always nice to adapt our routines to be a little more and more like this ideal.
If every month or year you make small adjustments to the routine, you will quickly be very close to the ideal, which in itself is already too cool. After all, if we enjoy each improvement, we will already have satisfaction with our choice quickly instead of waiting for an ideal that may take a long time to arrive.
Having this vision of how we want to experience our journey, however, does not stop only in our routines or on an ideal day. Defining our journey also involves understanding some milestones we would like to achieve.
Make X money, have X customers, impact X people, etc. This type of goal helps us to have a north and, mainly, validate our efforts from the moment we can measure progress.
This north does not need to be written in stone, that is, it does not need to have the pressure of being something definitive. As we move forward, we discover new things and we may change our minds about what success means to us, but I think it is good to reflect on this periodically and be clear about your next steps.
Defining your organization
Head aligned? So now there's only one step left to start getting your hands dirty: Defining your organization.
Organization means having a way to document and also having well-defined procedures so that non-core things don't become problems.
In my view, some of the things you need to have defined:
- Task and project management
- Financial management
- Client management
- Study management
- Time management
My suggestion is to use free and powerful apps that can give you all this. I even have a YouTube series on How to Organize Your Life with Notion.
In it, you will learn how to make a personal organization system and it can already help you with these things.
Other tools are also good and I recommend some here on the site.
Well done! If you found all this reflection interesting, I am happy and I tell you that it is really just the kickoff.
My tip for you is to go with an open heart for what is new. When I started on this path I had no idea what I would find, I just knew I couldn't stand spending hours in an office doing work for other people. I wanted something of my own and that I could be responsible for defining my journey.
My vision of what this self-employed life would look like was very different from what actually happened and I don't encourage taking my examples as the truth that will happen to you. Everyone is different and every journey is different.
But if we are humble and looking for a positive impact, doors will open.
Step one: The Attendance
If you have any questions, suggestions, criticisms or just want to share your moment, I would be very happy with your comment below.