How to become a successful freelancer?


Before I answer the how to become a successful freelancer question, I’ll need to give you a small introduction.

My story

I was fired in 2015, amid the full-blown recession in my country, at the time I was working as a civil engineer in a small firm. Last year, or two, the atmosphere was great if you are into constant salary reducing, the boss acting as a stress magnet, and pure out hatred towards going to that kind of work environment.

I didn’t like it. 

The recession lasted for years, so the prospect of finding a new job was non-existing.
When the boss finally did fire me, I felt a mixture of relief and worry. I worked there for eight years, and a small salary was way better than no salary. But at least the unbearable stress of that job was in the rearview mirror.
Anyway, I find myself with a lot of free time on my hands, and severance package that will last me for a few months.

My overall health was compromised at that time, and I welcomed the free time I had to heal myself.
Hence I was happily married, and my wife had a great job, I knew we were not going to be hungry.

I started going to long walks, meditation, books reading, and applied for countless jobs. That lead to more futile walks (job interviews), hey at least I was getting some exercise.

Did I mention the small fact that the wife was pregnant? Yup, I was soon to become a dad.

My skills

From formal education, I hold a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, but my interest was always in IT.
The first PC I bought was when I started working part-time jobs in high school. I build the PC-s myself, I knew them from the inside out, and PC gaming was one of my hobbies.

My knowledge of IT was less formal (learned AutoCAD in high school, polished it through college), but more of the DIY bookshelf.

After I lost a job, I signed up for some courses on Coursera/Udemy, to further develop my skills in IT. I was sick of construction, and I want to move away from it.
Some courses were boring, but others I enjoyed as much as I could with a newborn around. After a while, besides AutoCAD, I had some knowledge of CSS, HTML, javascript, and java.
Not great, not terrible.

Wife had gone back to work, and I was a full-time stay at home dad.

All of this influenced my decision on how to become a successful freelancer.

Freelance websites to start with

Now the time has come to hit some freelance websites and earn some cash.
It was a real challenge organizing a little spare time I had, with a toddler around, especially when we opted for – my needs come last uprising.
Lack of sleep, a little free time, but a strong will to do something useful. Something intellectually challenging, to move away from mind-numbing daily routine.
Dady needed some grownups time.
Opened my account on Freelancer, Upwork, Guru, to name the few, and parallel continued educating myself. (You can find my full list of the best freelance websites here).
This time I tried on WordPress for size. It fitted me well, I liked speed optimization, and SEO as well.

To no avail, my freelance career was not profitable at that point. Couldn’t get any job.
Not for lack of trying, I sent out countless proposals, but in return, I didn’t get any constructive replies. Might as well send them to a black hole, the result would be the same.
How should a beginner, with no track record, and without reviews, compete in a crowded market?!

The need to change my approach was in order. I started to read more about how to get a job.

How to become a successful freelancer, take two

Covid-19 challenges even the freelancers

Someone mentioned to me that I should be careful with grammar. As the English language is not my native language, I’m far from being flawless with it. And I always thought that grammar is not of much importance, to drew someone a house on AutoCAD, or program some code, wright?

Wrong! The grammar is crucial to an employer, if you even want to be considered for a job! Those with grammar error or two will not fare well besides the other thirty job applications without it.

Step 1

As soon as I realized that, I find out which grammar tool fitted my needs the best, which one was free to use, and I opted for Grammarly.
(I even did a review on Grammarly here).

Furthermore, I went over all my profiles/portfolios on freelance websites and screened them for grammar errors, corrected them, and started to recheck every message I sent out to potential employers.

Step 2

I focused my available time only on Upwork, as I got the impression that there’s the lowest amount of scams and the biggest chance of landing a decent job.
Upwork is far from being ideal, but one can potentially earn a fair amount there IF one develops a few constant clients.
And how to get there?

Ironically, to achieve that, I had to practically work for free. I offered my work for a minimum price.
It was not my intent to compete with folks from India, Pakistan, or any other country where a few bucks is a big thing.
But, to be considered for bigger, better-paying jobs, I had to start from the bottom.
Remember, I had no track record, not a single review in my showcase.

Step 3

Soon I landed the first job, then the second followed, third and so on.
They were all small jobs, a day work max.
Nevertheless, I treated them as they were a 10k jobs. I needed the employers to give me positive reviews. I worked hard, rechecked everything twice, and I was very patient with even some unreasonable demands from the employers.
Afterward, I did not earn much cash. What I did get was a 100% job success score. That did matter a lot.
Now I could compete for something more meaningful. Bigger whales were out there to catch and to fry.

Step 4

With an excellent job score and positive reviews under my belt, I started filtering the jobs I applied for. No more 10$ jobs for a few hours work for me. And no soup for cheap employers.
It was a time for me to find a niche where I can submit fewer proposals, but gain more contracts from it.
I did found it in SEO and speed optimization for WordPress. Competition is still fierce. At least this way I could minimize its impact.
One way to win more contracts was the fact that I started applying for job contracts as soon as they where posted.
That little solution increased my hiring chances. However, that approach took a significant amount of my time. Hence, I use that tactic only when I need a job fast.

Another positive thing that came out of my “work for free” period was the fact that some of those clients contacted me to do more work from them.
As I’m no longer interested in working for such low rates, I politely explained that to them.

Most of those clients didn’t hire me again, but one did. He’s my constant client now.
Whenever he needs something done, he contacts me first, and I still work hard on keeping him happy. The big difference is he pays me well now.
It seems that my adventure on how to become a successful freelancer is going well.

Now I need to make more of those constant clients, and I’m all set.

Closing words on how to become a successful freelancer

Finally, I’m aware of the fact that I’m nearly where I want to be at this point in my career.
My freelancing skills are still a work in progress.
There are lots of areas to improve in, lots of things to learn, and I’m always willing to educate myself.

I do love working from home, and I can’t think about getting back to a “regular” position. Even before all this crap with Covid-19 broke loose, I was more than happy with freelancing.
Now, there’s an imperative to work from home, and I hope we, as a society, will manage this transition. Hopefully, the scientist will find a way to cure this Corona outbreak, sooner than later, and we all can go back to our normal lives.

To me, that means being a stay at home dad, and a freelancer! For me, the positive sides of being a freelancer outweigh the negative ones.

I hope that I have answered some of the questions about how to become a successful freelancer.

If you are ready to take on freelancing, check out the big list of best freelance websites.

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