5 Must-Know Freelancing Lessons for Newbies
Everyone should do some sort of freelancing.
Quick reasons why:
- Makes good revenue. Can turn into a business.
- Polishes your skillsets.
- A way to provide value to other people.
- Test product-market-fit.
It's easy to get into freelancing.
Identify a skill you're good at – then find a market need.
Maybe you're good at designing graphics or creating social media content. Find a business who needs graphics for their social media.
Also, freelancing does not mean 'free'.
Freelancers are creative professionals who do the work they love. They are not a mini business. A freelancer scales differently from businesses. To generate more revenue, they focus on acquiring better clients.
How to start freelancing in Malaysia.
If you're new to freelancing, you'll make mistakes. That's OK.
As you start experiencing wins and setbacks – you'll eventually get better.
The easiest way to start freelancing is to look for a need in the market. Let's say you're good at shooting food photos. Identify a few cafes/restaurants you frequent – and hit them up with a pitch.
It's that simple.
If you are new to freelancing, you might want to do it for free. This helps you to quickly build up a portfolio.
Here's a sample outreach script taken from the Freelance Profit program, that you can use to send businesses.
Hi [name], I've been looking through your website, and needless to say, the branding is really good.
However, as a copywriter – I feel like there's a missed opportunity to get more leads to convert, and I like to share it with you. Have you considered rewriting the copy on your landing page?
I've taken the time to write a sample of how you could improve your landing page here: [link]
If you're interested to talk about it more, I'll be happy to discuss it. Just reply to me here. Thanks, Reuben
What about freelancing platforms?
As a freelancer – I'm not a big fan of freelance platforms. Platforms like Upwork or Fiver, are marketplaces.
Marketplaces tend to have one feature that is disadvantageous for freelancers.
"Sort by price"
It's common for businesses to get tens of proposals from freelancers when they post a job. And what happens when every proposal (freelancers) seems the same?
They sort by price and choose the lowest bidder.
Standing out in the sea of freelancers on platforms like Upwork is not impossible. But tough.
That said, recently I spoke to Kenny Lee, a content writer who has been freelancing on Upwork successfully for the past 8+ years. Here are 5 takeaway lessons from the interview.
#1 - Take advantage of geo-arbitrage.
Geographic arbitrage is earning in a strong currency and spending in a weaker currency.
Kenny lives in Malaysia, but most of his clients are from countries like the US, Canada, and Europe. Rather than serving clients paying in the same currency in Malaysia, he chose to work with clients who pay on Upwork with a stronger currency.
Instead of working hard, Kenny is working smart with this strategy. And as a result, also enjoys having more time to focus on pursuing other businesses.
#2 - Focus on building a portfolio first.
A mistake many freelancers make is that they go into a platform like Upwork, hoping to make big money, instantly.
Because of the enormous competition you'll face on the platform, it's tough to get noticed if you don't have a portfolio. Imagine competing with hundreds of other freelancers for a job.
On Upwork, you'll earn a Top Rated badge after a proven history of success with multiple clients and getting great ratings. Here's a strategy to become top-rated, according to Kenny:
Use the search filter on Upwork...
- Choose Job Category - All Writing
- Select Jobs with fewer than 5 proposals.
- Select Jobs with a low budget.
- Select Jobs with 2-4 Connects.
Your goal is to win as many jobs as possible in the shortest time. Getting high-paying jobs will eventually become easier with time.
#3 - Choose to charge project-rate pricing.
It's not common for freelancers in Malaysia to charge an hourly rate. On Upwork, you can choose to work on projects that pay hourly-based or project-based fees.
Kenny advises taking project-based fee pricing every time.
Freelancing at an hourly rate is the easiest way to get started. Charge USD50 per hour to do X. Simple, right? However, there are many drawbacks to charging hourly rates:
- You're limiting your earning potential. As you get better, you will begin to be able to complete tasks faster. Eventually, you're penalizing yourself for being able to work faster.
- With a time tracker watching your every move, it can be stressful working on an hourly pay basis.
- If you end up spending more time on a task, you have to deal with the hassle of justifying the reason to your client.
It might be hard to put a price on a project, especially if you just started and don't have experience. But with time and experience, you'll get better at estimating a fair project price.
#4 - Freelancing is about your client, not you.
Sure, you want to get into freelancing for yourself.
But don't forget. As a freelancer, you're providing a service for someone else. All a business wants when they hire a freelancer, is someone who can help them solve their problems.
The mistake many freelancers make, when bidding on jobs, is that they make their pitch all about themselves!
I'm a top-rated freelancer.
I have 10+ years in content writing.
I've worked for companies like X, Y and Z. Hire me!
Don't talk about your achievements or what you did. Remember. Clients are always looking for what's in it for them.
Here's a strategy Kenny shared:
Before pitching for a job, take 3 minutes to scroll through the client's website and understand their business. Why are they posting a job on Upwork? Why are they looking for a freelancer? What is the problem they are looking to solve?
Then add a short sentence about what you can do for the client. Tell them what success would look like. Focus your pitch on the client – how you can help them reach their goals, rather than focusing on yourself.
#5 - Find better clients.
For a freelancer to scale – you have to find better clients.
Find clients who value your work, pay you what you deserve, and challenge you to do better.
Better clients will spread the word. They will tell other people about you. They will pay on time. They respect your time.
Everything will get better if you focus on getting better clients.
How to find better clients.
The problem is, better clients will not come to you automatically – even if you deserved it. You have to put in the work of building a presence and visible portfolio.
The one thing you can do now – is to niche down.
For example, if you're a tattoo artist, do you do EVERY type of tattoo in the world? Or do you niche down towards a certain market?
Take a look at an example below:
When niching down, you might start to experience the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).
What if I lose out on potential business because I was too niched?
But the counter-intuitive thing about niching down is that you'll get better customers, as a result of being so focused. In fact, most successful businesses you see today started out by niching down.
- Facebook started as an online site for Harvard students
- Amazon sold books.
- LUSH spoke to advocates of ethical buying and the purity of handmade products.
Watch the full interview with Kenny
Deep dive into the interview. You'll learn how Kenny started as a freelancer and became top-rated on Upwork.