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Become a freelancer: My experience on the way to self-employment
Become a freelancer? Start your own business? Start an online business? Isn't that all too complicated? Is it all worth it and does it actually make sense to work as a freelancer? Can you really make ends meet as a freelancer?
In this article I will show you the experiences of my start as an online freelancer and give you a few important tips on how you can generate sales as a freelancer within a few weeks and not only gain more flexibility in everyday life, but ultimately also more freedom and self-determination.
Become a freelancer: All important questions about freelancers will be answered
In the following I will answer all the important questions that you are likely to ask yourself when you are considering starting out as a freelancer. I will also give you important tips and tricks from my own time as a freelancer and describe problems and hurdles that I had to experience when I started as a freelancer.
Why should I become a freelancer at all?
First of all, we should deal with the question of why a career as a freelancer is even suitable. I am sure that everyone who is toying with the idea of becoming a freelancer has different reasons for motivation.
For me, for example, it was actually a kind of forced step back then. I had started my own business with affiliate projects and when I realized that they wouldn't bring me enough money in the foreseeable future, I had to look around for alternatives.
Since at that time I had mainly developed skills in the field of web design and search engine optimization (SEO), it was clear that I had to look out for customers in order to increase my monthly income as quickly as possible.
With you, this motivation can be very different. Maybe you already did small services for others as a teenager, maybe you just don't feel like doing your job as an employee or maybe you want to build up a location-independent business.
Whatever it is, you should know your “why” behind the start as a freelancer or self-employed person. You will face tough times full of self-doubt, which is why it is extremely important that you know your motivations.
For me, working as a freelancer offers some enormous advantages, which I would like to present to you below:
- Local and temporal independence
- Fast sales without a large initial investment are possible
- Practical experience and building a valuable network
- Learning a wide variety of skills, from customer communication and process management to accounting and taxes
For me, the freelancer business is the ideal entry point into self-employment. Why? I'll show you that later in this article.
Do I already have to be a professional to start as a freelancer?
Opinions on this question vary widely. I think it depends on what exactly you are up to and what your current situation is.
In principle, as you gain practical experience, you get better bit by bit and you can perfect your service as a freelancer. So if you want to start your own business in the field of web design, but you have only built two websites for yourself so far, then I see no other option than to start with the knowledge you have.
Of course, you can't go and have the customer pay $ 3,000 for a website if your skills are closer to a beginner's level. I even suggest that you offer your services to the first few customers at a very low or even free price.
Communicate that you are starting your own business and that you are not yet an absolute professional. Of course, it always depends a little on the potential customer. If it is an acquaintance, make sure to communicate that. If it is an "unknown" customer, then you should not speak negatively about your nonexistent experience.
It is better to communicate to him that you are not looking for a lot of money, but for references for the business you are currently building.
What jobs can I do as a freelancer?
During my travels and work in various coworking spaces, I have already met a wide variety of people who earn their money as freelancers. There are no limits to creativity and my impression is that more and more “conventional” jobs can be carried out as a freelancer.
As a rule, however, freelancers can be found in the more modern professions. The following list offers a selection:
- Social media freelancer
- Business consultant
- SEO freelancer
- Music / art
- Content marketing
- Editorial work
- Software development
I am firmly convinced that a kind of freelance job can be found for many professions today.
Which legal regulations apply to freelancers?
Of course, if you have a full-time job, there are a few more things you should keep in mind. To do this, you should first read your employment contract and see exactly what information about an ancillary business is included there. If there is nothing about a sideline, you can basically get started right away.
Personally, I think that you should discuss these things with your boss beforehand. If he doesn't understand your plans, you can always start on your own.
At the beginning, the so-called small business regulation according to Paragraph 19 is suitable. Small businesses are exempt from paying sales tax, but they cannot deduct input tax from the accounts of other businesses.
The small business regulation is in principle suitable for a sideline job or for the first financial year - if the sales are still quite low.
Do I have to register a business as a prospective freelancer?
In the next step, you should definitely register a business as soon as possible. By “as soon as possible” I don't mean from a tax point of view, but the registration should serve you as motivation. It was an incredible feeling for me when I registered my first trade.
Incidentally, with a secondary business you can make up to € 17,500 in sales in the first year without having to pay tax.
Depending on the job, you may also call yourself a freelancer. This is especially exciting for people who travel a lot in the artistic environment. Modern professions such as copywriters or Google AdWords consultants can certainly fit into the grid of a freelancer.
In case of doubt, the tax office decides on the classification as a commercial activity or freelancer. Therefore, you should definitely inform yourself there - as I already had to find out, there are also massive differences between the individual trade offices and tax offices.
How should I start as a freelancer?
That depends a lot on the area in which you want to start your activities as a freelancer. As a freelancer, you usually have the problem that you are a one-man show - i.e. you acquire new customers, you are responsible for accounting and you also have to ensure that the work on the customer projects is carried out successfully.
There is no one way that you absolutely have to start in order to be successful. From other friends & colleagues, I have essentially found two approaches:
- Set up broadly and then specialize
- Start specialized and well positioned
Version 1: Set up broadly and specialize
With the first variant, at the beginning of your career as a freelancer you are not quite sure which service you want to offer exactly, where your strengths lie and what distinguishes you from other freelancers. That's what happened to me too.
In that case, in my opinion, it doesn't matter what your first project will be. Just try to get an order somehow - regardless of whether it fits your vision perfectly or not.
At the time, I actually wanted to start my own business in the field of search engine optimization. The first customer inquiries were all in the area of web design. Now, although I wasn't really a trained web designer, I had already set up a few projects for myself.
So I took these orders and even sold an order for an SEO service afterwards.
Version 2: Start specialized and well positioned
This variant is particularly suitable for people who come from a permanent position and the industry in which they want to become self-employed as a freelancer. Ideally, you have already gained a lot of experience in an area and know exactly how to position yourself and which people you have to reach in order to be able to sell your service.
As a specialized freelancer, it is much easier to position yourself in a targeted manner. It is also much easier to address the "right" customers. The more you specialize, the easier it is to define a suitable target group.
For example, instead of general “search engine optimization”, I could offer search engine optimization for companies with local services or even one level finer, search engine optimization only for lawyers.
As a freelancer today you have numerous advantages and freedoms. This includes flexibility in terms of location and time, for example. (Image source: 123rf.com / 55663764)
Is it worth working as a freelancer?
It is not really easy for me to give a general answer to this question. The salary or earnings of a freelancer usually depends on a large number of factors. In my experience, it takes most newly started freelancers around 1-2 years to surpass the salary of an average employee. Some succeed faster, others need a little more time.
Working as a freelancer naturally has other benefits in addition to earnings, which cannot necessarily be outweighed with money. Depending on which constellation or which profession you work, you can be (more) independent in terms of time and place.
Depending on which marketing strategy you choose or the more experience you gain as a freelancer, the more you will usually earn. But working as a freelancer also has the big disadvantage that you are still limited in time. Working more than 80-100 hours a week is simply not an option, i.e. you can only serve a certain number of customers.
That's why I recommend everyone to view the profession of freelancer only as a transition. In the long term, your goal should be to build your own team, which will relieve you of a large part of the work in the operational business. This is exactly where my expertise lies in teaching you that.
Are freelance platforms worthwhile?
Freelance platforms such as UpWork or Fiverr are now very common and clearly have their advantages. I myself use such portals for my agency work from time to time - including for text creation or programming.
The big problem with such platforms is that there is a very strong price war. Those who offer themselves at UpWork are automatically in competition with inexpensive freelancers from India, Bangladesh or Eastern Europe. In addition, the platform provider charges a fairly high commission - which is also deducted from your wages as a freelancer.
That's why I mostly stayed away from such a portal in the past. I believe that it can be worthwhile to offer your services on these platforms. However, if you want to go heavily into the B2B area, you don't necessarily have to recruit there.
Large or medium-sized companies have (luckily) often not yet found out that such platforms exist and are therefore not looking for workers there either.
Working as a freelancer from your home office?
I'm a big fan of a home office - that was one of the reasons why I started working as a location-independent freelancer.
Now that I have worked in the home office for a few years, I can say with great certainty that a home office does not only have advantages. I have worked in various places around the world, both from home and from a coworking space.
Overall, my productivity was highest when I sat in the same room with other people and not alone in front of my computer. Of course, there are still days when I just don't feel like leaving the house at all. Then of course it is perfect if you have the opportunity to work from home.
You can read more about working from home in my experience report.
Become a freelancer: My 5 golden tips to get you started
In the following I would like to give you 5 tips that will make your start as a freelancer a lot easier.
Tip # 1 - Shed Perfectionism
In the beginning, you will in all likelihood simply not get most of the things right. No matter if you forget the invoice number on an invoice or if you missed the first briefing with your customer and in the end more things are unclear than before - all of this is normal.
You don't learn these things in school, only through application. Perfectionism prevents you from starting more than anything, so you should definitely put it off and just start.
I know that you've probably heard that saying somewhere. But I also fell into this trap and I believe that you are also affected by it.
It doesn't matter at all if you mess up your first sales calls and the customer doesn't buy from you. It doesn't matter if your first customer no longer wants to work with you because of sheer dissatisfaction. It could also be that the customer just doesn't suit you or doesn't appreciate your work.
It is important that you build a system from the beginning. This system should be designed to help you learn from your mistakes as quickly as possible and not make the same mistake twice. Therefore, review each of your actions and consider what you can do differently the next time you try. There is no faster way than learning by this principle.
Tip # 2 - Full focus on selling
In the first few months or even years, your biggest bottleneck will most likely be the acquisition of new customers. Therefore, when you start your career as a freelancer, you should put your full focus on sales.
It helped me a lot to establish a system. Be it just investing 30 minutes or an hour every day attracting new customers - it will get you the fastest in the long run.
I will go into more detail on the subject of sales in separate articles and in my newsletter. In principle, as a freelancer, you should be as creative as possible in order to draw the attention of potential (desired) customers to you.
In very few cases, new customers will come to you on their own. You can only sell if you become active yourself.
Unfortunately, I made this mistake for far too long in my early days. I was hoping that new customers would come to my door at some point and ask myself: “Hey Jannik, we heard you are great at online marketing. What do we have to pay you to work with you? ”.
Unfortunately, that will rarely happen - especially not at the beginning. Today I am even firmly convinced that sales can only be particularly successful if you are firstly creative and secondly a little "bold".
Tip # 3 - Exchange with like-minded people
Right from the start, you should spend a lot of time exchanging ideas with like-minded people. The best opportunities as a freelancer arose for me through my network, which I built up over time.
Even if you are more of an introvert and would like to sit in front of your computer all day - believe me, networking can be fun. The conversation is even more fun when you are passionate about your work and others do the same.
Tip # 4 - What prices should you ask for?
In principle, I can only give you one important tip that I know is not that easy to implement. This reads:
As a freelancer, you must never make your price dependent on the competition. Adjust your price to the added value that you deliver as a freelancer.
Especially at the beginning, as a freelancer, you naturally tend to set the prices as low as possible. That is absolutely okay, I had written several times about the fact that you shouldn't be particularly picky at the beginning and should provide added value first.
However, once you have collected your first references and assignments, you should pay much more attention to which customers you accept as a freelancer. My experience is that the higher you set your price, the more satisfied you and the customer are. I explain this:
At the beginning, of course, you believe that you can convince every potential customer with a low price and thus retain them.But if you have then sold the web design of a complete website for 500 euros, for example, you finally notice that these 500 euros are not really enough and you try to get further orders on the side.
Ultimately, only the quality of this one website suffers as you don't really stand behind the customer project and you can't invest 100% of your time there. I am therefore a clear advocate of the high-price strategy.
Most of the time, wrong beliefs prevent us from asking more for our service. But if you think about it a little longer, it becomes clear that only those customers are valuable in the long term who also want to pay a certain price for the services.
It's just not fun to work with customers who try to cut the bill by 100 or 200 euros at the end of each month.
Tip # 5 - Build a Portfolio Website
Some time ago it took some effort to make the decision to invest at least 1-2 hours a day in my own site (the one you are currently on). At the time I thought that I could somehow win customers without my own website - and yes, that worked.
However, I have come to realize that my website is like a digital business card. It simply makes more than sense if you, as an agency owner and online freelancer, have your own, well-kept website.
In my opinion, your freelancer portfolio website should have the following characteristics:
- It shows off your uniqueness and references
- Contact information
- Personal insights into your life and your attitude
- Shows customer ratings & opinions from business partners
- Is up-to-date, maybe you even add a podcast or blog
In the meantime, I am even convinced that your own website combined with online marketing & SEO is a very, very powerful tool to attract new customers almost automatically in the long term. The possibilities with a well-kept and up-to-date website are enormous.
That's why I invest at least an hour every day in producing content for my own site and keep thinking about new concepts on how I would like to market myself even better and more clearly on my site.
Becoming a freelancer - in my opinion one of the best ways to start your own business at a young age. In the long term, being a freelancer offers enormous opportunities to get jobs from well-known companies or entrepreneurs. The freelancer business can be started with almost no prior knowledge and with little capital.
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