Freelancing From Scratch: How to Start with No Experience

How do you build a freelance career when you have no experience, no clients, and no skills?

You have to start somewhere—even if it’s right at the bottom of the ladder. Don’t fret! It’s actually quite easy to get started. Since my expertise is web design and development, I’m going to focus on what’s required to gain momentum in this field.

Start by learning HTML and CSS

HTML and CSS are the most common languages used to build websites. If you want to start a freelance career as a web designer or developer, you must know these languages inside out.

If you want to teach English overseas, you must know English speaking and instruction techniques. If you want to be a web developer, you must know HTML and CSS.

Thankfully, these website languages are dead simple to learn. And lucky for you, I’m disgustingly passionate about teaching them! I run an online school called Code College. With a small investment of $24, you can get a full month’s access to every single one of my courses. With about twelve hours of focused effort, you can gain a working knowledge of HTML and CSS. Plus, you’ll be able to code a website like this one!

Once you’re comfortable with HTML and CSS, you can start diving deeper and learn some more advanced languages such as: jQuery, PHP. Eventually, you’ll be able to learn to develop WordPress websites. Keep it simple at first. Master HTML and CSS.

Build a portfolio

When you’re starting out, you won’t have much (if anything at all) to build a portfolio website. However, you can easily get something up and running in a short amount of time. When I started, I added the websites I built for school projects to my portfolio. However, I do not recommend doing this (at least not for very long). While school projects are good for building your coding chops, or your eye for design, they’re not good portfolio pieces. You get hired by showcasing real world work—not by showing you can complete a school project. This is the chicken or the egg paradox:

How do you get real world experience if you’ve never had real world experience?

Free work!

If you are looking at gaining more experience, building connections, and adding some work to your portfolio, then working for free is the way to start.

However, there’s a catch! If you work for free for too long, you’re sending the wrong message. Basically, it won’t be long before you start getting taken advantage of. You might have a hard time getting out of that rut.

At first, do a “favour” project for free, for a friend, colleague, or a network connection in exchange for something: a raving testimonial, a recommendation on LinkedIn, displaying your business cards at the front desk of their office, or a service trade…

This way, there’s an actual transaction of some sort going on between the two parties. You’ll be providing value to each other. This will help you avoid being taken advantage of for free work in the future. Furthermore, if both parties are satisfied with the agreement, you can continue trading services.

When I needed to highlight “real” client work, but I wasn’t in a position to actually charge money, I traded services with businesses. In one case, I built a website and offered ongoing maintenance in exchange for free chiropractic care. In another case, I built and maintained a website in exchange for free massage therapy. Win-win. Right?

These websites were for real businesses. This allowed me to highlight real client work in my portfolio.

Build connections and acquire testimonials

I cannot stress this point enough! In my experience, and for many freelancers before me, word-of-mouth referrals get the most business. When you build a connection with a client, and you add value to their business, you earn their trust. Word-of-mouth is so powerful because a potential client is more likely to trust the opinion of a friend who had a good experience with you rather than a generic Facebook Ad, or Google Search.

Add value to your clients. Earn their trust. Over deliver on your promises. You’re guaranteed to get referrals in the future.

The other important thing is to ask for a testimonial from your client once you’ve completed a project. Happy clients can provide testimonials in an email for you to showcase in your portfolio. My favourite method referral is a LinkedIn Recommendation. This way, the testimonial is verified through a real LinkedIn profile.

Put yourself out there

You can’t rely solely on word-of-mouth for business. It’s important to take consistent action. Put the success of your business in your own hands. Once you’ve built a decent portfolio, established a healthy reputation, and acquired some shining testimonials, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there!

This means pitching to potential clients through advertising, cold-calling, emailing, knocking on doors, and approaching businesses.

Obviously, you won’t be able to get everyone you pitch to. However, if you do this consistently, you’ll get a bite eventually.

Freelancing isn’t just a game of luck. It takes hard work, persistence, and perpetual learning in order to truly cultivate a successful freelance career.


This is the first entry in a ten-part series called “Hacking a Freelance Web Design Career”. In the coming weeks, we’ll be diving into some common questions and concerns regarding freelancing, and how you can build a sustainable and successful freelance career. Are you ready to start building your freelance career? Join 3,500 aspiring freelancers who are building their careers right now. Enroll in my free sixty-day email course: “Cultivate a Successful Freelance Career”.

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  • David

    Hi Brad!

    Thanks for the great article. I have no knowledge of coding at all, but a willingness to learn and work as a freelancer. I was just wondering how long you would say it would take to go from complete beginner to doing freelance web design earning roughly $40k/year? I’m in a position where I could commit to learning code almost full time, and continue that to build up clientele. What do you think? Also, with learning HTML and CSS, would you be designing websites? Is that the main use for learning those languages?

    Thanks,
    David

  • Hardik Parsania

    Hello Brad,
    I have just completed my B.E.(I.T.). Now I want to start my career as freelance web developer.
    I haven’t any real world experience but your blog solved my all questions like from where and how to start without any experience. I have knowledge of HTML,CSS ,Javascript and core PHP. Please suggest me which technology should I choose further,

    1) Server side like php and its frameworks or
    2) Front end like jQuery, Angular js, Backbon js and after some experience also Node.js for server side.

    Please give me advice which is better in terms of number of jobs on freelancing sites and also future scope.
    Thank You ! 🙂

    • Hi Hardik! Both are very good to know, but they both offer different job options. There are plenty of Front-End dev jobs out there, as these new frameworks are becoming very popular, but back-end work is tried and true (and possibly will pay more).

      Hope this helps in some way :p

  • Deepika

    Hi Brad,

    Your post is very nice and inspiring. But I have a question. I have learned a few languages such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript and Php. I can make a working website using these. In fact, I have already made a few already. However, I still don’t understand how can I publish my own website. I do not have any registered or free domain name since I never got to understand this part of making a real live website. Can you please give me some advice about the same?

  • Hey! This Also motivates me but the problem is that i had am a totally beginner and i almost Bought many courses of HTML and CSS and i am too confused in it and can’t get the actual HTML And CSS. Tried Too Many Time But Can’t! This make me feel that i cant do webdesign. Your All Post motivates me to do it. But I can’t Understand that from where to begin from totally Start? cuz in some courses the teachers miss to tell Some points..

    • Hey there, have you tried my courses yet? I have total beginner courses and you can start with absolutely no experience. Check them out at http://www.codecollege.ca. Thanks for reading 🙂

  • Great. I need this at this point. Was feeling bit depressed of thinking I am way behind in the race. Would take months to get somewhere. But your post has given some motivation.
    Thanks
    Have a great Day

    • It’s never too late to start, and there’s nothing wrong with starting from the beginning! Remember, I started with no experience, clients or skills 🙂

  • Tarique

    Brad I’m enrolled in the free 60 days amazing email course. As said by you in almost all of your lessons, “HIT REPLY IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS”,
    I think I sent a couple of questions but wasn’t answered. I think I’m missing something cuz you always answer my queries. But earlier I used to contact you directly through your website or through comments in blogs like these.

    • Hey Tarique, thanks for your support! I get about 100 emails every couple days, so I apologize if there’s a delay in my response. Cheers!

  • Christophe

    Thanks Brad for this post. I learn actually HTML5/CSS3 and more stuff about print (photoshop, indesign and more) to begin a career of freelance. Thanks for your good advices 🙂

  • Abeer

    Hi Brad,

    This is Abeer, I am following your posts and also subscribed to your newsletter for “How to start freelancing”. Thanks for awesome post, once again you hit the core of the topic, its a hard transition from one job to another, and you are providing the root factors that can effect a web developers career. Thanks again.

    I have a quick question for you, I had done html/css and have created a few websites with bootstrap just for fun but none of them got published 🙁 though I have 3-4 domains and a hosting available, I trying to get the hang of android development, actually I had worked on a couple of android projects, but I want to do it now as a freelancer, do you have any reliable resources you can recommend for android development tutorials? If yes, I would love to consider take those classes and start working as an freelance android developer.

    Thanks
    Abeer

    • Thanks for your support, Abeer. I don’t currently have any Android tutorials, however, it’s a great suggestion and I’ll consider adding it to the Code College library in the future.

  • Tom

    I like this post man, it gives me a good idea of what I need to be doing from the start. I plan on making the leap over the next few weeks/couple months and needed this reinforcement! Thanks!

    • Thanks for reading, Tom! Best of luck in the coming weeks 🙂

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Join my free 7 day freelancing course!

START A FREELANCING BUSINESS. GET MORE CLIENTS. BUILD A LIFE ON YOUR OWN TERMS.

  • Daily actionable lessons
  • Define your freelance niche
  • How to start from scratch
  • How to charge higer rates
  • Where to find your first 3 paying clients
  • Tools & resources for freelancers
Want more freelance clients? Enter your name & email below to get started.
I respect your privacy. No spam. No fluff. Just quality content. Unsubscribe anytime.
By providing your email you consent to receive messages and newsletters from Brad Hussey containing news, updates and promotions. You also understand you may also receive messages from Brad containing information on third parties and you can withdraw your consent at any time. Please contact Brad for more details or use the "Unsubscribe" link found within each email message.