Freelancing as we know has become one of the most searched or used words since 2020. Starting a freelance business can be a daunting task especially if you are freelancing as a side hustle for additional income or full-time as a replacement for your 9-5 job. Whatever the case, I have created this guide for you reflecting on my personal experiences and real-life stories of other freelancers I’ve encountered, collaborated with, or learned from to help beginners break into the freelance markets with ease. This is specifically for Nigerians but it is also applicable in any country you find yourself in.
Disclaimer: I’m neither a writer nor a wordsmith but I’d try my best to make the expression of my thoughts readable.
What is freelancing all about?
You can simply define freelancing as the art of leveraging your skills and knowledge to provide services to individuals and brands. One perk that makes it so enticing is the freedom that comes with it; freedom of choice, time, pricing, and the ability to work from anywhere in the world.
Freelancing is a representation of what the “gig” economy looks like. Using Nigeria as a case study, given the large percentage of unemployed youths in Nigeria; there has been a gradual increase in the activity of youth scouring the internet looking for platforms where they can learn a skill or offer their skill as a service to business owners and entrepreneurs.
After school, freelancing was by no means a choice but a means of survival. It was either this or nothing, this has been my drive up till this moment.
The Benefits of Freelancing
One of the significant benefits of freelancing is the flexibility it provides. Freelancers have control over their schedule, which means they can work at any time of day, and from anywhere in the world, as long as they have an internet connection. This flexibility allows freelancers to balance their work and personal life effectively.
Moreover, freelancers can earn more money than they would in traditional employment. According to a survey conducted by Upwork, freelancers earn an average of $28 an hour, which is significantly higher than the U.S. minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Freelancers can also choose their clients and set their own rates, which can lead to higher earning potential.
Another advantage of freelancing is the opportunity to work on diverse projects with a range of clients. This variety of work allows freelancers to expand their skill set and gain experience in different industries, which can help them build a strong portfolio.
Is Freelancing Right for You?
While freelancing offers many benefits, it’s not for everyone. To determine whether freelancing is the right career path for you, consider the following:
Firstly, freelancers need to have strong time management and organizational skills. As a freelancer, you are responsible for managing your time, meeting deadlines, and communicating effectively with clients.
Secondly, freelancers need to be self-motivated and proactive. Freelancers don’t have a boss to provide direction or guidance, so they need to be able to work independently and take initiative.
Lastly, freelancers need to have a strong work ethic and be willing to put in the effort to build their business. Freelancing requires hard work and dedication, especially in the early stages of starting a freelance business.
freelancing is a career path that offers many benefits, including flexibility, higher earning potential, and diverse work opportunities. However, it’s essential to consider whether freelancing is the right fit for you based on your skills, personality, and work ethic.
Pick a profitable niche
When it comes to starting a freelance business, there are many different types of services that you can offer as a freelancer. Some examples of services that you can offer include:
Writing: This can include anything from blog posts and articles to web content and product descriptions.
Graphic design: This can include creating logos, designing websites, and creating marketing materials like brochures and business cards.
Programming: This can include web development, mobile app development, and software development.
Digital marketing: This can include search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing, and email marketing.
Translation: This can include translating written documents, websites, or audio recordings.
Voiceover: This can include providing voiceover services for videos, podcasts, or audio recordings.
Consulting: This can include providing advice or expertise on a specific topic, such as business strategy or marketing.
Photography: This can include taking photographs for websites, brochures, or social media posts.
Video Editing: This can include editing videos for YouTube, social media, or commercials.
These are just a few examples of the many services that freelancers can offer. The key is to identify your skills and expertise, and then find clients who need those services.
I’ve been freelancing for the past 5 years dabbling in graphics design, motion graphics, web design using WordPress, and photography. It took me a while to pick a niche and ever since I’ve been earning good money from designing websites for SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) in Nigeria, the United Kingdom, and Canada.
Pro Tip: While generalization or specialization isn’t really critical at this stage, it is important to narrow down and streamline the area you want to specialize in.
For Instance, I’m developing my agency’s support page and I need a writer to help me out with the content on it. I’m not just going to hire any writer I see, as you well know there are content writers, research writers, copywriters, etc. I’d be looking for a technical writer who can break complex stuff down, and make the content on the page understandable even to a 5-year-old child.
Learn a skill
Once you’ve chosen a niche and picked a skill, then comes the next aspect which is learning the skill. At the time of writing, there are a thousand and one resources where you can learn soft skills and entrepreneurial skills for free assuming you are not financially capable at the time to pay for courses or boot camps. These resources include Udacity, Udemy, Skillshare, and Youtube. Yeah! There are a lot of knowledge-based content or channels on Youtube, that specialize in educating anyone who wishes to learn about a particular skill/topic.
I’m happy there is this sensitization going on right now, making people understand the importance of gaining a skill. Irrespective of the degree you have, there is no job security. So all you need is your laptop and internet access to get started.
Define what your ideal client looks like
Now you’ve got a skill you will need to understand who your services are best suited for. My people, always you cannot serve or please everyone, you’re not jollof rice. As I mentioned earlier, back then I pictured my clients would be small and medium enterprises. Of course, I chose this because I wanted people who’ve got deep pockets or a good budget.
It is important to note that you might get it right on your first try so in order to help you figure out who your ideal client is (and how to start finding them), Here are questions you need to go over:
What type of business has problems I can solve with my skills?
Can the business I want to work with afford my services?
What demography should I target? Think about the: age, gender, geographic location, websites they frequent, social media, and personal interests.
This is a difficult decision to make at first, because it means turning away a lot of business. However, the process of narrowing in on your target clients that you work best with, will help you achieve much better results in the long run. Once you have a few clients who are willing to advocate for you, the momentum will really pick up.
I’ve been able to work with several brands in Port Harcourt which is the city I’m currently based in Nigeria. The international gigs came as a result of referrals by my clients because of the value I provided. So it’s possible to start from your current vicinity.
Determine your pricing
This aspect is very important and would be a lot easier once you’ve been able to figure out who your ideal client is. In reality, there is no perfect formula for setting pricing for your freelance services as there are many factors that can impact the amount that clients will be willing to pay such as:
- Your Experience
- Client’s Industry
- Project Scope
- Project complexity
- Client’s geographic location
Don’t charge too far above your value, but don’t ever undervalue what you’re doing for your clients. – Ryan Robinson
Pro Tip: if you intend to work with international clients you need to have a baseline for your prices; fixed and hourly rates.
Create examples of what you offer
This aspect is often overlooked by beginners. No client is going to hire you without going through things you’ve done in the past. I encountered and kept struggling with this aspect when I started and a lot of potential clients I came in contact with at the time turned me down.
Since I offer website design & development services using WordPress I decided to create and host different websites. This helped me a lot and whenever a client requests for a past job or example I had all links ready to be forwarded to them.
The same goes for other kinds of skills, as a writer you can guest blog or have a journal of medium or Blogspot. As a software developer, you can develop simple programs or apps and host them on Herokapp or GitHub.
Create a high-quality portfolio site
The next step for you would be to create a site that would house all the examples you’ve created and jobs you’ve done. Think of the site as your CV, whenever a brand or client seeks you out they’d also ask to see your portfolio. So doing this at an early stage saves you the hassle of trying to create one in a hurry.
Beyond that, you need to sell yourself on why you’re the best person for this type of work – for the clients you want to work with. According to Ryan, Here is a list of must-haves for your portfolio website;
- Communicate your specialty & display examples of your work.
- List your contact information & show off your personality.
- Highlight your relevant skills, education, and accomplishments.
- Display testimonials (even if they’re from coworkers or former bosses when you’re just getting started).
- Have regular updates that show your evolution, new clients, and updated sample work.
My personal preference would be to create a portfolio website with a custom domain in your name such as emmanueleluwa.com. However, if you don’t have the capabilities to create such for yourself there are many free alternatives you can use such as Behance, Dribble, and Disha.
Build your credibility
This is simply all about making yourself trustable (If there’s any word like that) in the way your potential client perceives you. The secret to building your credibility is in providing VALUE to clients and potential clients. To effectively build your credibility you can;
- Creating high-quality blog content.
- Collaborate with notable influencers in your industry.
- Line up speaking engagements to start increasing your visibility within your niche.
- Get testimonials you can use as social proof.
I can say focusing a little bit on my online presence (social media specifically) in the past has helped me land different gigs. Even though I don’t post frequently on my personal accounts right now, I still get people to check out my page and reach out because they love the content there.
Improve your marketing and sales tactics
Landing new clients isn’t just a matter of having your portfolio website up and running, you’d also need to refine your sales strategy. I am an introvert and I have issues associating with people however in this line of work, you would need to break out of your ‘shell’.
You’d need to have strategies for how you would source for clients, you’d also have to make the decision if you are going to make use of ads campaigns, cold emails, or cold calling to generate leads for your business.
Other areas of concentration would be;
- How you pitch yourself to potential clients.
- Your client onboarding process.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news but learning doesn’t stop for you. It is a continual process. That you completed a certificate course doesn’t actually make you an expert or authority in that regard.
I’d admit that these gigs do not come frequently which is why I use these off-peak periods to develop myself in different areas. This year alone I’ve taken up to 20 courses on Linkedin such as:
Finally, I leave you with my final thoughts. Freelancing is the future and there’s no better time to start a freelance business than now!