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?
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”.