How to Be a Successful Freelancer and Build a Profitable Career

There are lots of concerns on how to be a successful freelancer.

“How secure is freelancing? I don’t want to leave my full-time job because it provides stable, steady work.”

“How can I pay for my government contributions when I become a freelancer? I prefer having the company’s HR handle that for me.”

These questions are more are valid points that prevent skeptics from embracing the freelance lifestyle.

However, and whether they like it or not, freelancing is becoming more and more popular by the year. From 2008 to 2016, the number of people turning to freelance work had risen to 43%.

The answer is really simple: working from wherever you like, whenever you like, and for whomever you like!

Granted, freelancing is not the perfect solution for your professional career with the concerns I raised earlier. However, the freelancing world is full of new opportunities, and pretty much any trade can now be turned into a freelancing opportunity.

As a freelance writer for over five years and counting, I have no regrets about leaving the corporate world. Freelancing indeed presents different challenges for me as a professional. I need to save for rainy days especially when clients drop you without rhyme or reason. I also need to develop a client acquisition strategy to help me replenish my customer list and keep the money rolling my way.

At the same time, I’ve really felt fully alive as a professional freelance writer. It allows me to push myself to the limit and make the most out of the opportunities presented to me. It forces me to go outside my comfort zones and network with like-minded people. More importantly, it stimulates me mentally to do my best and provide the life my family deserves.

I wouldn’t say that I know how to be a successful freelancer and writer. However, I do know what it takes in getting started as a freelance writer or as a freelancer in general. Building your career on solid foundations will help you carve a profitable career as a freelance from the start.

In this post, you will learn how to:

  • build the mindset necessary to succeed as a freelancer
  • set up shop with the help of a virtual address
  • find the right tools for your freelance career
  • network and find like-minded people to partner with to jumpstart your career
  • find and secure the best clients and projects in the market

The foundations on how to be a successful freelancer

Building the right mindset

One of the characteristics you’ll need to do as a freelancer is taking the initiative with tasks that you are given by clients. While some clients will have detailed specifications on what they want doing, others won’t give you much guidance. If you’re able to find inspiration and be creative with what you’re doing, you’ll go far in the freelancing world.

However, you can’t carry out this attitude consistently if you don’t have the right mindset in place.

Once you start your freelancing career, you need to curb your expectation. Not of your clients will be “home runs.” Some pay well and on time but don’t throw you a lot of work consistently. Others have lots of projects lined up for you, but you’ll have to keep chasing and reminding them to send the payment.

I had this experience before when working at online job marketplaces like Upwork. Since you bid with the “best” offer (i.e. lowest), it’s difficult to build a profitable career especially if you’re just starting out your freelancing career. This reason is I decided to ditch Upwork and took full control of my freelance writing business.

But let’s be real here – Upwork or not, a perfect client doesn’t exist. There will always be quirks with your clients that you don’t like. However, you have to take in the bad with the good. This experience rings true for freelancers without a body of work to show for. They will have to work their way up the totem pole before they can get better clients. Working and hustling your way to the top is an arduous but rewarding task.

Therefore, your mindset as a freelancer should be geared towards self-improvement and sustainability. You always need to find ways to innovate yourself as a freelancer and put yourself to the test.

As a writer, I always sought ways to improve not only my writing but also how I approach writing. It’s no longer enough to provide clients with well-written content that they can publish online. To get better jobs, I have to create additional value for the content I make. I made sure that all the articles I wrote are optimized for the best possible target keyword to increase its chances to rank on Google search. I also shared the published content on social media to amplify their reach.

Your mindset as a freelancer should be geared towards self-improvement and sustainability. You always need to find ways to innovate yourself as a freelancer and put yourself to the test.Click To Tweet

Once I did all these things and more, I saw an increase in the quality of clients that provide better work and pay more!

Therefore, if you stay the same as a freelancer, then the quality of the clients you will get remains the same.

A virtual address

Virtual address

While it’s likely that you will be spending a lot of time working from home, you don’t want to use your home address on your website and social media – for obvious reasons. Using a virtual address allows you to keep your privacy and also immediately make your freelancing career look more professional.

You will even get mail box forwarding with online access so that you can eliminate the need to store lots of paperwork around your home. It might be an idea to upgrade your storage online so that you don’t lose any important documents.

Another way to avoid using your home address for work is by working at a co-working space. Instead of frequenting coffee shops or staying at home where it’s difficult to separate your work from your personal life, a co-working space is like your office. You can go there are go about with your business. Most co-working spaces also offer free coffee and amenities to make you feel at home without being at home. You can also meet new people, some of whom are freelancers like yourself.

Speed

Something you’ll be expected to do is work with speed. At the beginning of your journey as a freelancer, you may feel rushed by how quickly your clients are expecting you to work. However, with a little experience and a few close calls, you will soon find that you’re able to complete tasks faster than ever, and with the same quality of work too.

First, you need to learn how to organize your projects and prioritize the most important ones. As a writer, I rely on my ability to develop outlines for each of the posts I have to write soon. Having the skeleton of the post makes it easier for me to fill out the meat in all the parts as opposed to having no outline for the post before starting.

I’ve actually detailed my process of writing outlines in this post if you’re interested.

Also, if you want to excel at the beginning of your career, why not take a touch typing course so that you’re ahead of the game before you’ve even started?

The right tools

This might seem like we’re teaching you to suck eggs, but in the world of freelancing, there are no cutting corners. Before you even consider going down that route, make sure that you’ve got the right equipment so that you’re not left disappointed when clients turn you down.

As a freelance writer, I’m obsessed with tools. The goal is to find apps and tools that will help me unburden writing quality content for and clients. Granted, there aren’t a lot of tools that writers can sink their teeth into, but the ones I use are responsible for my success (or what resembles success) as a freelance writer.

Below are some of the tools that I use as a freelance writer and that I highly recommend:

  • Grammarly Premium (affiliate link) – My favorite writing tool of all time. It helps clean up errors in my writing that I didn’t get to check post-edit. It also helps improve the language I use to eliminate repetitive words and diversify the content. It has a free Chrome extension to help you check fundamental errors. However, I use the Premium version that corrects the article for 250 grammatical and contextual errors.  I wrote a review about why you should purchase a copy of Grammarly Premium if you’re serious with your freelance writing career. Click here to read it.
  • Webtexttool – Since I strive in providing clients with SEO-friendly content, I make sure to write all of my articles on Webtexttool. It’s like a web-based Yoast SEO that tracks content based on different SEO factors. The tool computes how optimized your content is for your target keywords using an aggregated score. It also measures the content score based on its readability and for its intended audience.
  • Keyword Revealer  (affiliate link)- Finding the right keyword for your content is made easy using Keyword Revealer. Enter the seed keyword to brainstorm for keyword ideas. Filter the results according to the monthly search volume, the minimum number of words, and more. You can also analyze the keyword difficulty of each to help you find low-hanging fruit keywords to rank for with your content.
  • Trello – Organizing your projects and progress can be a pain without the right tool in place. With Trello, you can separate projects according to boards and break each into tasks using cards. You can collaborate with other writers or your virtual assistants to help you process the projects accordingly.
  • Serpstat  (affiliate link) – While this tool is primarily a full-suite SEO software in the vein of SEMrush, Serpstat helps me analyze the competitors of the website I will be writing for. It helps me find missing keywords that competitors are ranking for and the site isn’t. From here, I field the potential keywords I can write about and choose one to help the website rank for it. For my full review about Serpstat, click here.
  • CoSchedule Headline Analyzer – Come up with the best possible title for the post I’m planning to write. The tool measures the title’s effectiveness based on different factors and provides an aggregate score. The higher the score, the better the headline.
  • Buzzsumo – This tool lets you search content with the most shares for your chosen keyword. You can then leverage the most shared content by creating a better version of all posts combined. If you want to learn how to use Buzzsumo to its fullest effect (social media outreach, link building, keyword monitoring), click here to read the guide on how I use Buzzsumo.

Network, network, network!

Finally, the one thing you will need before launching as a freelancer is some contacts to help you out with connecting you to the right clients. Many freelancers have often started out as bloggers and obtained contacts that way. Consider going down a route such as this to build up your clientele so that you’re not stuck without work when you’ve launched.

In the digital age, nothing beats having to meet people in the flesh, eye to eye, and make connections from there. You’d think online chat and messenger apps would supplant the power of personal touch. However, the latter remains the best way to build relationships that can help you grow your freelancing career.

If you want to meet people in your area, head on to Meetup and find groups related to freelance writing or whichever your niche is.

Meetup

Find the ones that are active and holds meetups on a regular basis. Find time to attend the events and go out of your way to strike a conversation with people and learn more about it.

If you’re not very sociable, then you might feel intimidated by attending these meetups. And I agree – as a person who’d rather keep to himself, I’d rather not attend meetups, if I were to be totally honest. However, you have to understand the value of networking with people. Not only can you find people whom to strike new freelancing projects with but you’ll also potentially find partners in your freelance journey.

I’ll be straight with you – freelancing can be a very lonely world. You just sit in front of your desktop working your ass off for clients day in and out. There will come a time when you simply want to relax and unwind with people who understand what you’re going through.  Therefore, the people you connect and network in these meetups might be the people who will stick out with you ’til the bitter end.

You'd think online chat and messenger apps would supplant the power of personal touch. However, the latter remains the best way to build relationships that can help you grow your freelancing career.Click To Tweet

Shameless plug: If you’re located in Metro Manila, Philippines, I have a Meetup group of my own – Freelance Writing 2 Success.  My goal is to eventually share tips and advice on how to establish a freelance writing career that you can happily and proudly call your own. Right now, however, I’m still ironing the kinks on how to properly pull this off on a consistent basis, so there won’t be any meetups until then. Still, you are free to join and receive updates as they happen.

Acquire leads

There are people whom you want to connect with but is impossible at the moment because they are from the other side of the world. However, this is where digital tools flourish to help you get in touch with them.

For bloggers, you may want to approach these people with a little bit of discretion. You can’t just hot that person up on Facebook and expect a reply in a matter of minutes. You need to give him or her a reason to talk to you especially online where anonymity rules supreme.

To help ease your way into a conversation and eventually a professional relationship with these people, you need to learn how to do blogger outreach.

Blogger Outreach Basics: How to Grow Your Readership 1

This method is used to tap into influencers and break bread with them even if you are a nobody in your industry. It helps you hack your growth by leverage the power of influencers to help you increase your site traffic, grow your followers, and others.

However, for the purpose of growing your freelance writing career, you may want to use blogger outreach to find leads and potential clients for your business!

A tool that can help you find the best prospects and send them an email is Ninja Outreach (affiliate link).

Upon signing up for an account, go to Search > Find Leads and type the industry or niche you want to write for. For example, if you’re comfortable writing about real estate, then enter “real estate” on the search bar.

Ninja Outreach find leads

Click on each of the leads and check their blog section. If they publish posts regularly, then you may want to skip them for now. Target sites that don’t publish blog posts often enough because you can propose your writing services and provide content to them on a regular basis.

To add a lead in a list, click on the profile with a plus sign button on the upper right part to add to your list. If you haven’t created one yet, you can do so once the slide in window appears.

Ninja Outreach add leads to list

Once you’re done with your list of leads (ideally at least 100 sites – the more sites to send emails to, the more chances of winning!), go to Outreach > Templates to type one out that you can send to people.

At this point, you are essentially sending out cold emails to your leads. You don’t have any established relationships with them yet, so there’s a huge chance that your email will be ignored. However, you need to pull out all the stops so your leads will take notice of your email.

Below are the keys to an effective cold email template:

  • Short – not more than five sentences
  • Straight to the point – mention your offer and why they should take it
  • End the email with a question – encourages lead to take action
  • Create a signature – aside from your name, social media handles, and website URL, showcase links to your best works

ninja outreach template

The screenshot above is just an exam[ple of how your cold email should read. You can write a better one that speaks about the issues in your industry to help you make a more compelling case for your leads.

Once you’ve developed your template, it’s time to send them to your list. Ninja Outreach spaces out how you send them so you don’t send all emails at once.

This blogger outreach method is one of many ways that you can grow your freelance business. You don’t even have to be a writer to use this tool – as long as you’re in need of clients, then Ninja Outreach can help you find potential clients to help build your career.

BONUS: Build a kick-ass website

I’m a big proponent of establishing a freelance career outside of online job marketplaces like Upwork. This is not a knock against the platform since I am aware that there are hundreds of freelancers making a living from these sites. However, if you want to take home 100% of the salary without a commission to the middlemen, then you need to take full ownership of your freelancing career.

If you downloaded the e-book above, I listed down building a blog as a top priority. My blog and website is the biggest reason why I was able to learn my first $1,000 in 2014 as a freelance writer. It is also the reason why I am able to sustain a steady income despite the peril of freelancing clients that come and go at a moment’s notice.

The best thing about having a blog or a website for your freelance services is that everything your clients need to know about your business is on your site. All your potential clients need to do is visit your site for details about your services and sample works they can browse. You don’t have to create individual proposals for each lead every time!

Also, your website is searchable on Google if you correctly optimize your site pages for your target keywords. In my website, I have created individual pages for each of my writing services with their corresponding target keywords. Doing so makes it easier for me to target search phrases related to my writing services that people are searching for. This process has helped me acquire leads and clients without actively searching for and reaching out to them!

If you want to learn how to create a website or blog to take your freelancing career to the next level, below is an infographic that breaks down the process of creating a blog for your site.

Your Guide to Building a Winning Blog in 2017 (1)

To help you create a winning website or blog, click here.

Do you now know what it takes on how to be a successful freelancer?

Whew, that was a lengthy post!

I think I’ve covered all the bases when it comes to launching a freelance writing career or a freelancing career in general.

However, as long as the post is, I think there are still tips and advice that you will have to learn yourself.

That said, freelancing never gets easier. As you undergo different clients and rake in the income you truly deserve, the pressure increases for you to perform at optimum levels. You will also experience hardships that will make you doubt your decision of going the freelance route instead of the safe one.

However, if there’s one thing that you should remember from this post, it’s that you have to remain steadfast in your journey and never go astray. It’s easy to lose your way after a streak of terrible clients or having to wait for your payment for months, but the harder road to take always offers the most glory. Freelancing is not for everyone – it’s only for people who want the best out of their careers and lives.

Therefore, are you built to succeed as a freelancer?

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Christopher Jan Benitez

Content marketer during the day. Heavy sleeper at night. Dreams of non-existent brass rings. Writer by trade. Pro wrestling fan by choice (It's still real to me, damnit!). Family man all the time. Hire me to write your content!
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