March 16, 2016

A million ways to become a freelancer. Choose one.



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As I work towards launching Galilea3 the multilingual marketplace for freelancers, I am amazed by the number of people trying to get started as freelancers. The funny thing is that most of them have no idea what to do or how to start. The reason why I understand them is that when I started freelancing around 25 years ago, I had no clue what freelancing was. I just stumbled into it because a friend of mine was asked by her boss to find someone who spoke English who could help them translate some technical documents. Since I lived in a country where very few people spoke English, I was the first person who came to her mind. It wasn’t because she knew I was good at technical translations. Neither was it because I had experience. It was simply because I was probably the only person around she knew who spoke English well enough to get the job done. You know what they say about luck, right? Here is a reminder to those who don’t. Luck is what happens when opportunity comes and it finds you ready. All those years of learning English when I thought my teachers were torturing me just paid off. Wondering why I am telling you all this? Let me explain.


If you haven’t noticed, making the first step in anything is always the most difficult thing to do. As soon as you make that first step, things become easier. Imagine what would have happened if I had made a conscious plan that I wanted to become a freelancer. Probably I would have started looking for books on how to become a freelancer, spent lots of time debating with myself what to do first and probably would have ended up postponing the whole thing a few times while gathering the courage to start. As luck would have it, I didn’t have to make any decisions regarding how to get started. My friend, who I still think I haven’t thanked enough, made that decision much easier for me.


Anyway, I am the adventurous type so when my friend approached me with the idea to start translating, it didn’t take too long for me to make a decision. There could have been other reasons that made the process of deciding easier for me. Maybe I was broke? Maybe I had too much time on my hands? Or it could have just been that I didn’t want to disappoint my friend or was trying to help her make an impression on her boss. Many possibilities. Or could it have been that I was secretly in love and used the opportunity to get closer? To cut a long story short the decision was almost made for me. I didn’t have to spend a lot of time choosing the course of action. This is unlikely to happen to all those guys out there looking for a way to get started in the freelancing business. But the point is that to this very day I believe the best way to get started in anything is to just start doing it and learn as you go. Waiting to be perfect before starting is just a sign of the fear of failure or something else. This is why most people only dream about being their own bosses.  


Remember what I said about the increasing number of people who are trying become freelancers? Wondering how I know that? Well, not long ago we installed a live chat system on Galilea3 and also started running ads via Google Adwords. Ever since we made this change, people contact me every single day with questions about how to start freelancing. Here are some examples taken from our chat system.


How to become a freelancer. What is the Procedure.     08:17

Could you explain how it works?     04:57

I am totally new in this field. Can you give some info about it I will be thankful to you 14:59


Here is a screenshot from Google Trends showing searches for the keyword “how to become a freelancer”

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Research by Intuit also shows that by 2020 40% of American workers will be freelancers.


As the co-founder of a marketplace for freelancers, I have also talked to my fair share of freelancers regarding how they got started. This is why I decided to share the knowledge I have about how to become a freelancer.

  1. What Should I Do?

Since just falling into a niche like I did is unlikely, I am sorry but you will probably have to spend some time thinking about what you would like to do. A few words of advices here. Freelancing is usually a lonely lifestyle  so make sure you choose something that you enjoy doing. Spending hours doing something you hate is a shortcut to a miserable life. Don’t do it. When choosing between money and health, I believe your health should come first. Afterall, when you become a freelancer there will be no sick-leave unless you want to starve. Well, you could take a break from work, but as a freelancer no work means no pay. It’s good to know from the very beginning that the freedom that freelancing gives you has it’s limitations.


  1. Just Do It

Now that you have seriously considered what you know, what you enjoy doing and what is most likely to bring you money without risking your health, it’s time to take the plunge. By this I mean find a way to start as soon as possible before you change your mind and start thinking that you are not good enough. If you already have a job, don’t leave it just yet. Do your freelancing on the side. Test the waters. Check if this freelancing thing is for you.


  1. But Where Do I Start Freelancing?

I hear you saying that’s all good information, but you still don’t know where to start. No problem. This is where a platform like Galilea3 comes into play. There is no easier way to start than to just go to Galilea3 or similar platform, register an account, adding your services and starting right away. Those who are experienced are probably saying that’s a bad idea, but I say give it a try. I believe it’s still one of the best ways to start, especially for those who are shy to go out there and talk to people face-to-face and ask for work. I maybe biased for the reason you should know by now. Anyway, on Galilea3 there is no bidding. Freelancers set their prices depending how much they think their work is worth. There are a lot of other platforms out there. You can try them all and find what suits you.


If you do choose starting on a marketplace, do not forget to make sure that your profile information is properly written, i.e. without spelling and grammatical errors. When creating your gig, make it clear exactly what you do and show that you know what you are talking about otherwise no buyer will order from you. Of course, make sure you set a price for your gig that will allow you to make a living.


  1. Reach Out To Friends and Family

Another good way to start is to ask friends and family if they don’t know someone who needs the services that you are planning to provide. The advantage of this method is that when you approach someone with a recommendation in hand, you stand a better chance of getting the work as you will be coming from someone they trust. So don’t be shy, go out there or just pick the phone and talk to anyone you think might have an idea where you could get some work. In the startup world they say if you want to get those first few customers that are difficult to come by, you have to leave the office. Very good advice, if you ask me. Or as Richard Parkes Cordock said, “New opportunities do not come from sitting at home watching TV - you need to get out and create lucky breaks.


  1. Use online paid advertisements.

Only paid advertisements could be a good way to start or test the waters and see if there is demand for the service you want to provide. If you target the right keywords you will not have to spend too much. So if you have a little money to spare, try paid ads. Just make sure you are paying less than you will be making and that the margin is enough to compensate you for the work you will be doing. Before I started using online ads, I thought it was difficult. Unnecessarily. It's doable. If you get the hang of it, it might just be a good freelance niche in itself as I believe online ads are the future. You get the possibility to target people who are searching for exactly what you are trying to sell. It doesn’t get better than that, does it?


  1. Build your network both online and offline.


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Get on Linkedin, Twitter, etc. Join Linkedin or Facebook groups where your target customers hang out. Reach out to those high school classmates you have been ignoring for so long. Tim Sanders was right when he said, “Your network is your net worth.” So reach out to anyone you think can help you achieve your goals and build relationships. While you are doing that, don’t be selfish. Don’t forget that the best way to get help is by helping others. A rising tide raises all boats. Help others to succeed and they will also help you.

  1. Provide complementary services

This is a continuation of the network building point above. The idea here is to find people who provide services that you could complement with yours. Let’s say you know someone who provides writing or translation services and you want to get into proofreading. This would be an ideal situation to build a mutual relationship that would benefit both sides. There are other opportunities like these. Discovering and making use of them comes with practise. You just need to be creative and practise seeing doors where others don’t see them.


  1. Build your portfolio (and personal brand) right from the start.

Joining freelance marketplaces, Facebook or LinkedIn groups is all good, but you need to build your base. You need to have a place that you can call your own where you try to bring people from all those other platforms. Working on other people’s platforms is like putting your life in other people’s hands. Just imagine what would happen if you wrote something inappropriate in a Facebook group that’s bringing you most of your work and you got banned. Don’t let that happen. Spread your sources of clients to multiple places while concentrating on building your own property. Always ask for reviews (positive ones :-)) from your customers as well as permission to post the work you have done for them in your portfolio where possible.


  1. Have a plan because if you fail to plan, then you are planning to fail.

Make a plan for everything possible. Who you are going to contact. What you have to learn. How you will build your network. What processes you will put in place to make sure you get a steady stream of work and customers. My advice on this one is to always do your best, make sure the customer is happy and deliver finished work on time. Build a reputation of being the best service provider in whatever you do. Making the customer happy is the only way to retain one. If you retain your customers, you are already on the road to success. It’s much easier to keep a customer you already have than to cold call and try to get a new customer. A happy customer is also more likely to recommend you to other people and nothing beats word of mouth. That’s how I ended up translating for a number of Civil Engineering companies in the city where I lived because they kept on recommending me to each other. Though I did a bit of advertising in newspapers (those were the days :-)) I got most of my work via word of mouth. So one more time. Have a plan for everything or you will be sorry.


  1. A million ways?

As the title suggests, there are a million ways to become a freelancer. There are probably as many ways to start as there are freelancers out there. Although I didn’t list all of them, I am sure they are there. I hope other freelancers will add more in the comments section below.


Where To Get The Skills You Need

Now that you have started freelancing, it’s time to think about a plan to get better at what you want to do. Enough of this fake it until you make it idea. Did I mention that you need a plan? Remember nothing beats practical, hands on work though. You need to get your hands dirty, if you want to learn any useful skill. Having said that, there are so many places to learn online depending on what you want learn. If you want to learn or improve your coding skills, try 45 of the best places to learn to code for free. Or you could just try one of the many MOOC out there. Here is an impressive 80+ Massive Open Online Course Providers List. To learn about freelancing, try Guerrilla Freelancing. Just do a search on Google and you will find whatever it is that you want to learn. Google knows everything.


Avoid the superhero syndrome:

Being a freelancer requires the knowledge of a lot of different things that you usually don’t have to worry about when you are on the 9-5 job. What with making sure the books are in order, promoting your services, keeping the tax man happy, looking for new customers, improving your knowledge, planning your work, talking to and making sure customers are happy, etc. There is really a lot of this stuff. You are now a businessman or woman. Your own boss. So be prepared to spend some time learning, or outsourcing some of the skills that you currently don’t have. Don’t let  this hold you back though. The only way to move forward is to start. Make baby steps, but start doing something. As Mark Twain said, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” So if you are planning to be a freelancer, go and take action right now. Just beware of the superhero syndrome. Do not try to do everything on your own or you will burn out. Good luck. 


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