5 Steps To Building a Freelance Career or Business

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5 Steps To Building a Freelance Career or Business
Image Credit: Ralph Zuranski / Flickr
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Could I be honest with you for a moment? I’m not great at following the rules or obeying authority. I prefer doing things my way. I like being the boss. (Yes, I’m an only child. How did you guess?)

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think these are necessarily stellar qualities. For better or worse, I prefer working on my own and calling the shots — which meant I wasn’t happy as an employee in someone else’s business.

It was always a dream of mine to be able to work for myself. I longed to be a professional writer, a freelancer who wasn’t tied down to a single company or gig or line of work, but struggled to figure out how to get paid for what I loved to do.

Eventually, my desire to work for myself and my dislike of the full-time office job I was stuck in came to a head. Last year, I decided I had to do something to make a career change. I was finally going to take action and create my own career.

It was a lot of hard work (read: 80- and 90-hour work weeks) and a lot of trial and error (read: plenty of mistakes to learn from), but I did succeed at building not only a career, but my own business that I now run full-time and absolutely love. As an added bonus, working for myself has allowed me to more than double the income I was making as an employee in someone else’s business.

I took action to succeed at my goal of becoming a solopreneur — and if you have dreams of building a freelance career or one-person business, you can, too. Get started with these 5 steps:

Step 1: Build Your Own Platform

Since you’re looking to create your own career or build your own business, you should start by building your own platform from which to work. Another way of putting this is to establish your own personal brand.

The best way to do this? Launch a simple website with a blog (or, to get started, just blog!). This is your online platform for spreading the good word to potential clients, connections, and collaborators — and you’ll need all three to succeed.

Your blog (and/or website) serves as your online home base. It’s where people can find you, learn more about you, and purchase your services or products.

More importantly, it’s how you can build a following around your personal brand and your work. A blog serves as the foundation of your online platform from which you can build your status as an expert in your field. And when it comes to online, authority is everything.

So blog about your industry and your work. Use it to show people that you know what you’re talking about and that you’re excellent at what you do.

And don’t be afraid to dive down into a specific niche. Far from being limiting, this makes it easier for you to become known as the go-to source within your chosen niche.

Step 2: Get Social

Your blog won’t help you if you’re using it to shout into a void. You need to develop an active and engaged following, one that actually reads and cares about what you have to say.

Even if your writing is incredible and you’re sharing really fantastic content, it won’t matter if no one knows where it is, who you are, or how to find you.

Solve this problem with step 2 and get social! Social media networks are your best friend if you’re trying to establish your own career or business.

They provide you with instant (and free) access to the world, and allow you to introduce yourself to both influencers who can help you spread the word about your work and people that may be interested in hiring you.

Think about social media as a conversation, not as another platform for talking about yourself — that’s what your website and blog are for! Just because Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, G+, and Pinterest are all online and you view interactions through a screen doesn’t mean you can get away with ignoring others.

They’re called social networks for a reason. Join the conversation. Ask questions, or provide answers to someone else’s questions. Share content that’s valuable to your followers, and help promote others.

Step 3: Work for Free

This seems completely counterintuitive, but doing some work for free is a great way to gain leverage in creating your own career. The key is to identify what work is worth volunteering your time and effort for, and what doesn’t deserve such generosity on your part.

Here are some great ways to spend your time doing some work for free when you’re trying to build your own freelancing career or business:

  •  Write guest posts for high-authority sites
  •  Respond to reporter queries to get quoted on big media outlets
  •  Volunteer to help industry influencers with a project or problem they’re having
  •  Ask if you can help out another freelancer who you admire (sort of like an informal internship; you’ll gain valuable connections and experience)
  •  Be willing to participate in interviews and events
  •  Seek out unpaid speaking gigs
  •  Create a valuable product, like an informational ebook, and give it away to your audience for free

All of the above actions may not result in immediate financial compensation, but all the work you do for free should provide some sort of return for you. For example:

  •  Guest posting, giving interviews, and participating in industry events builds authority and helps introduce you to audiences who don’t know about you yet
  •  Dedicating time to answering reporter queries and getting quoted allows you to build social proof and your status as an expert (it means something when you can say you’ve been quoted on Forbes!)
  •  Volunteering and helping others in your industry who are already successful and who you admire can pay off in the form of a high-authority recommendation or testimonial for your work or a word-of-mouth referral
  •  Giving away something valuable helps make it easy for others to promote you to their audiences, and builds your authority

Keep in mind that you shouldn’t do all work for free, and you shouldn’t do it indefinitely. These are all opportunities that you can generate, as well. Be wary when approached by others who try to convince you to provide a product or service in exchange for “exposure.”

Step 4: Knock Their Socks Off

Once you do get your foot in the door with someone, whether it’s paid work or on a volunteer basis, knock that person’s socks off with what you deliver. You want to blow them away with what you do or provide for them.

In other words, underpromise and overdeliver.

Why? Because people who have their expectations exceeded get excited about their experience.

They’ll likely talk to other people about it, and tell others about the awesome work you did. They’ll remember you six months down the road when a colleague of theirs asks, “Hey, do you know who I can go to for X?”

Remember the idea of getting into a niche from step 1? Here’s where and why it matters. I’ll give you my personal example: I provide content marketing management services to financial planners who serve younger clients.

That’s really specific — and it’s a good thing, because professional financial services is a rather tight-knit industry. When one of my clients appreciates what I do and is excited about the result, my name is the one that comes up when another planner approaches them and says, “Gosh, how do you keep your social media presence so strong?”

Word-of-mouth marketing is a powerful thing. Take advantage by being known from something specific and knocking the socks off anyone you work for so they just can’t help but tell other people about how awesome you are.

Step 5: Keep Learning

Steps 1 through 4 can lead you to success. It won’t happen overnight, and it will take a lot of dedication, effort, and work. But if you’re tenacious and stick with it, you can succeed in building a freelance career or business.

Step 5 is to make sure your efforts are sustainable. The online world makes it easier than ever to create your own career or launch a one-person business, but it’s a world that’s constantly changing. The Internet didn’t even exist a few decades ago; there’s no telling what work in the digital economy will look like in ten, twenty, or thirty more years.

The only thing that seems certain is that it won’t look like it does today. That’s why it’s important to keep learning with free online courses, keep adding to your abilities, keep diversifying your skillset.

Building your own freelancing career will provide you with a wealth of valuable experiences, but don’t stop challenging yourself once you meet your goal. Find ways to scale up. Offer new services or try a new venture. Do something different and keep learning.

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