You want an entry-level job, but you won’t be hired without experience. But you can’t get experience without being hired at an entry-level job.
This modern catch-22 is so frequently discussed and so often joked about that it feels clichéd to even bring up. Sadly, though, for many professions, this worn-out riddle actually rings true, and figuring out how to solve it can be a nightmare.
But not for freelancing.
Freelancing – no matter what area you actually freelance in – all comes down to selling yourself to your client. And, unique among professions, as a freelancer you can literally create the skillset, experience, and field of knowledge you’ll need to get your first gig from the comfort of your own home, even if you have no prior experience.
There are a few methods you can use to do this, and we’ve laid them out in detail for you below.
More often than not, clients will want to see prior work before hiring you, rather than a list of qualifications or experience. They’ll want to know that you can deliver the exact type of material they need for their particular project, whether that’s a blog post, a webpage, or a social media strategy. So how can you show them your prior work if you don’t actually have any?
Sample work – also called spec work – is a great place to start.
If you’re an aspiring freelance writer, write a couple of articles tailored toward the market you’re targeting. If you want to be a web or graphic designer, put together some webpage or design mock-ups. If you want to be a social media manager, create a document detailing a social media management strategy for a hypothetical campaign.
For all of these scenarios, regardless of your field, treat the spec work as if it’s an actual completed project you’ll be submitting to a client. Give them a sense of your style, unique approach, and professionalism – in other words, show them exactly why it’s worth their time (and money) to hire someone who’s new to the freelancing game.
Many aspiring freelancers skip this step, but in the end, putting some time and effort into sample work can help you avoid a long string of low-paying and potentially low-quality jobs as you start off and try to build a portfolio.
This website goes into great detail about spec/sample work, and it’s a great resource for freelancers of any specialty:
For further inspiration for your sample work, check out the examples of freelance work in our "Put a portfolio together" section below.
Pro bono work
If you’re hesitant to spend your time making work product that isn’t, well, actual work product, pro bono (i.e., free) work is another option.
Try contacting non-profits, people in your network, or local businesses that could use a little help from a freelancer in your field. You can even try pitching yourself for paid jobs posted on various freelance boards, and offer to work for free or only a small fee, on the condition that the project can be used as a portfolio piece. Many clients are open to this type of deal, as the only price they have to pay for the work is time, and they actually get a bit of free promotion if you include the piece on your portfolio site.
There are two benefits to trying pro bono work instead of creating sample pieces. The first is that pro bono work included in your portfolio is indeed real work that can be shown to future clients. The second is that, if you perform the job well, you can also ask the client for a testimonial to include on your page (something you should always do with clients who are particularly pleased with your work or with whom you’ve developed a strong working relationship).
A word of caution here, though. Many aspiring freelancers are wary of pro bono work, fearing that they’ll get caught in a long cycle of unpaid work. To avoid this potential pitfall, approach pro bono work with clear goals, and communicate those goals to your client. Don’t offer to perform a long series of free projects, and don’t accept any such offers. Your goal with pro bono work is to get a few – maybe two or three – strong portfolio pieces, then immediately move on to paying work. So, to put it simply, set clear limits for yourself, and stick to those limits.
The website we linked to in the previous section (http://www.dwuser.com/education/content/freelancer-files-avoiding-working-for-free-except-when-it-benefits-you/) also looks into the pros and cons of pro bono work, and provides a great success story of how pro bono work done in the right way can really help you launch your freelancing career.
If you’re still wary about pro bono work, check out the following website, which gives a list of five traps to avoid so that you can make sure you get the most out of any pro bono assignment:
Finally, the following site provides both a great story of how pro bono work can be leveraged to a freelancer’s advantage, and further advice about how to avoid being taken advantage of in the process:
Put a portfolio together
Once you’ve made a few spec pieces or done some pro bono gigs, it’s time to organize your work into a portfolio. This way, you can direct prospective clients directly to one well-organized site, rather than sending them previous work as a string of attachments.
The way to go about this depends on the field you’ve decided to freelance in. Let’s return to a few of our previous examples here.
If you’re a writer, you should consider making your own blog. This way, when you direct clients to your page, they can see that not only can you write well, but you do it frequently on your own time and are a master of additional skills like formatting and making effective headings. A blogging platform like WordPress (https://wordpress.com/com-vs-org/) would be a good place to start. If you’re hesitant to create a blog and would rather use a portfolio site to showcase your pieces, some good sites to look into are Pressfolio (https://pressfolios.com/), clippings.me (https://www.clippings.me/), and Contently (http://contently.net/). For examples of great freelance writing portfolios on these sites, check out the following links:
If you’re a social media manager, you should spruce up your LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/) profile, then leverage your other social media sites to drive traffic (and potential clients) to your page. Again, this will show clients your professionalism and at the same time allow you to continually improve the skills that are at the core of your freelancing business.
The link below provides examples of great social media manager profiles on LinkedIn:
As a graphic designer, you should have an attractive and easily navigable portfolio page for potential clients to review. As with our writing and social media management examples, this is both a reflection of your core skills and a chance to further refine them on your own. There are many great portfolio sites out there; just to mention three, Coroflot (http://www.coroflot.com/), Behance (https://www.behance.net/), and Carbonmade (https://carbonmade.com/) are all free and well regarded by the creatives who use them.
You can check out the following links to see some of the best examples of graphic designer profiles on each of the aforementioned sites:
Get pitching, and get paid
If you’ve followed all of the advice above, you’re now well positioned to land that first paid freelancing gig, and many more to come.
To land that first paid job, we recommend Bitwage’s Jobs and Wages services.
Our Job Feed (https://www.bitwage.jobs/feed) connects freelancers to employers and available jobs all around the world. We scan social media to find all the remote jobs and gigs posted every day. With the numerous options listed in your specialty, you won’t have any trouble finding jobs that fit your skillset and, with your newly-acquired portfolio, you’ll have proof of your experience to show clients when pitching for those first jobs.
When it comes time to get paid, you can use our invoicing service (https://www.bitwage.com/invoicing) to receive your hard-earned money for your freelancing work. No employer onboarding is required, and we’ve streamlined the payment process, reducing the time and fees associated with international wire transfers. We also provide competitive exchange rates, payment tracking, and payment options in nearly any currency, including Bitcoin. Altogether, it’s an ideal way for freelancers like you to invoice your clients and get paid quickly and reliably in a manner of your choosing.
With that said, you have all the information you need to launch your freelancing career. So get to work, get pitching, and get paid.