7 Proven Steps to Kickstart Your Freelancing Career

Published: August 1, 2021 at 7:02 am

Last Updated on February 12, 2022 at 6:26 pm

This is the final part of the 2-Part series on how to make remote working work for you. Vishal Kataria takes a deep dive into how you can kickstart and sustain a career in remote working — particularly freelancing. Vishal has more than seven years of experience as a remote worker and has taken the trouble to interview friends with the same lifestyle to get their insights.

The idea for this article came to him after seeing several discussions on remote working and freelancing on the Facebook group Asan Ideas for Wealth (AIFW). He feels many struggles to make sense of remote work, and many misconceptions are associated with it. When he offered to hold an AMA (ask me anything) at AIFW, group admin Ashal Jauhari suggested that he first write about it at freefincal.

About the author: Vishal Kataria is a senior editor at Sportskeeda. He also blogs about productivity, creativity, remote working, and more on his own website, Vishipedia, and hosts a podcast named The Vishipedia Show.

In the previous post, I outlined what remote working is, which sectors offer the most potential for the concept, and its pros and cons. You can read Part 1 here: Remote Work: How to Make It Work for You.

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The internet and remote collaboration tools have made it possible to make money doing what you’re passionate about. But merely turning what you enjoy into a service doesn’t mean the money will follow automatically.

How to Start Working As A Freelancer

Of all ways to earn money — employment, freelancing, entrepreneurship — freelancing is the toughest. Your time is split between:

  1. Acquiring clients — Building a credible personal brand, making cold calls, sending proposals, negotiating, and following up to close deals.
  2. Working — Doing the work, following up with clients for inputs and approvals, holding review meetings, and completing ad hoc requests.
  3. Getting paid — Sending invoices and following up. (Not all clients pay on time.)

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to overwhelm or frighten you. These activities are part of every freelancer’s life. What sets the good ones apart is their ability to execute them faster and better than the rest. They can distinguish themselves in a crowd, charge a premium for their services, and keep reinventing themselves.

The below DIY steps will help you do the same within six months. This is not clickbait to keep you reading, but a promise based on what people who’ve thrived in remote working have applied and witnessed results from.

Done consistently, these steps are all you’ll need to build a thriving career in the freelancing world and eventually foray into entrepreneurship. You can also apply them to land yourself a remote working job.

[Disclaimer: The rest of this post might feel dense if you try to absorb all of it at once. And to be fair, it is. It’s a result of 7 years of my learning and the experience of others. It contains examples, DIY guides, concepts from books, and more. In the beginning, you’d be better off skimming through the post, picking up two points, and working on them. Just bear in mind that points 1, 4, and 7 are essential.]

1 Discover your niche

Before you start your freelancing journey, it’s essential to know what you want to do and whether customers will pay for it. The only way to know this is through proof of concept: evidence, often from an experiment or pilot project, demonstrating that your concept, business idea, or product is viable.

Startups that jump into a field just because it’s trending or make products just because they’re cool often go belly-up. Likewise, if you fixate on an idea just because it’s cool, even if no one pays for it, you’ll land in a soup real quick.

A better approach is to try side projects while you’re at your job. Figure out how your skills intersect to form a unique strength. For instance, if you’re a digital marketer in a large healthcare organization, don’t offer digital marketing services. Freelance as a digital marketer for healthcare businesses in the SME sector.

Content Sutra was a profitable startup I pulled the shutters on last year. It established business leaders as thought leaders and was born during my stint as a management consultant. I am a fairly good writer who keeps publishing online. As a consultant, I learned the ins and outs of how businesses work and the way CEOs think.

The intersection of these skills — good writing, the ability to extract CXOs’ thoughts, and a partnership with a PR firm — led to the business of ghostwriting for leaders who struggle to build an online presence.

Another example is how my friend Riju Dasgupta landed a gig at Sportskeeda. He would passionately discuss the pro-wrestling sport WWE on a Facebook group when he had a copywriting job. A member from Sportskeeda found the group and promptly offered him a remote writing job. Riju’s writing skills and deep knowledge of WWE created a niche for him.

Try many things and dive deeper into the ones that show promise. Experiment in silence so that you can pull yourself up by the bootlaces when you fall without worrying about others’ judgment. When you get paying customers, you know you’re on the right path.

But you might ask, “How can I find what I really love doing? How can I know whether people will pay me for it?”

Fair question. And the answer lies in intelligent network building.

2 Network with intelligent people

Most people would rather walk on hot coal than network with others. That’s how I felt for a long time too, … until I discovered the difference between networking and building an intelligent network.

In networking, executives shove their visiting cards into other people’s hands and forget about it. In intelligent network building, people engage in meaningful discussions with those who can help them improve.

Interactions with acquaintances outside your close circle of family and friends people you don’t know well expose you to new ideas, broaden your mind, and enlighten you about opportunities you otherwise wouldn’t get to know of. This is known as the Theory of Weak Ties (ToWT).

Many of Content Sutra’s clients came from my interactions with weak ties. One was a Chief Product Officer who exercised at the same gym as me. Another was a SaaS business owner for whom I had written a few short PR pieces. My guest lectures at TISS, NMIMS, and ASCENT Foundation also translated into work.

My friend Payal is another example. She was a WFH recruiter at an Indian unicorn startup. Then a weak tie informed her on the growing potential of the Learning and Development (L&D) field. When an internal job posting for L&D came up, she switched to the division. Now she’s a remote manager in the same startup and keeps learning on the job each day.

Seminars are good networking platforms. But instead of telling people about yourself, ask them, “What’s your current professional challenge?” You could discover unaddressed pain points that you can fulfil, some of which could turn into your niche. [h/t Reid Hoffman’s book The Start-up of You.]

LinkedIn is another excellent networking platform to connect with people who are doing what you want to do. Speaking of which…

3 Build a good LinkedIn profile

LinkedIn has turned into a cringe-fest with the content that goes “viral” today. But in this chaos lies an opportunity.

A well-crafted LinkedIn profile creates a positive impression of you in others’ minds. This includes a good headline and summary, your work experience well-explained, and remaining active on the platform.

To design a good profile, you can check out this short course by LinkedIn on the subject. (If it’s your first course, it might even be free for 24 hours.)

To highlight your achievements and experience in a way that stands out from the crowd, you can adopt Lazlo Bock’s (former SVP of People’s Operations at Google) formula:

Accomplished [X] as measured by [Y] by doing [Z] 

where X is the accomplishment, Y is the number that substantiates your accomplishment, and Z is the action through which the deed was fulfilled. 

If you can’t make your experience as specific as he suggests, use a watered-down version of the formula to make your work-ex appear more impactful. [Work-ex is your work experience, not your ex at work ;)]

Finally, be active by posting content that creates value for your target audience and by leaving thoughtful comments on status updates of people you want to connect with.

Most of my posts don’t get a lot of likes on LinkedIn. But many of them get decent engagement and have brought leads for the management consulting firm where I worked, and later for Content Sutra.

Warm leads through LinkedIn
Warm leads through LinkedIn

I’ve also connected with Venture Capitalists, design experts, entrepreneurs, and prolific business coaches by engaging meaningfully with their content on LinkedIn.

The myth that you cannot network when you work remotely is just that, a myth. You can handcraft an intelligent network that pushes your imagination to new levels.

4 Don’t be afraid to make the sales call.

The fear of sales is a major reason why people quit freelancing and return to the boring corporate world. But if there’s one thing this pandemic has taught us, it’s that like governments, we can no longer rely on organizations to take care of us.

“We need to take onus for our careers. We need to define productivity more broadly, which includes collaboration, learning, and well-being.” — Satya Nadella

Making sales calls are integral to taking onus for your career and your learning. They push you beyond your comfort zone, help you overcome the fear of hearing no, and make you better at communicating with people. Each yes brings you money too.

The best part? You don’t have to make 100 cold calls daily like a telemarketer. You can use LinkedIn to identify your target audience and take conversations forward.

Check out this stepwise DIY video to identify, engage with, and convert cold leads through LinkedIn. Applying it improved my conversion rate by investing just an hour each day.

5 Live below your means in the beginning

It’s well-known advice that you should have a corpus of 6-12 months when you foray into freelancing or entrepreneurship. This holds true even if you have paying clients before you leave your job. Things can get tricky if a client unexpectedly ends a contract, so don’t get caught unprepared.

Also, reduce vacations, eating out, watching movies in theatres, and buying the latest gadgets until you find a consistent source of income that at least matches—if not exceeds—your last salary.

During my earlier freelancing days, I used eating outside and watching movies as rewards for achieving milestones like bagging new clients or a successful client campaign.

6 Keep sharpening your axe

The biggest blunder a freelancer can commit is to get so involved in work that s/he doesn’t take out any time to skill up.

The world is evolving faster than we can afford to keep up. What feels novel today will become redundant five years hence. If you don’t keep sharpening your axe, you’ll struggle to find wood to chop later on. Cheaper woodcutters, or those with better axes, will beat you to it.

Improve at your core skill and at skills that hold promise in the future, or explore complementary skills that let you leverage your expertise. For instance, a Business Development Executive could learn people management, social media, and leadership along with the details of CRM software and marketing automation.

Along with writing, I learned SEO, social media management, and setting up goal-based systems and processes. Such skills combined to help Content Sutra thrive, and they still help me at Sportskeeda and my podcast. Check out this report of jobs on the rise in India in 2021. They could give you an idea of skills you might want to learn or sharpen.

7 When it comes to your home setup, have backups

At the office, we can get away with not working if our devices act up. But there’s no such let-up in the WFH scenario.

If the internet stops working, you may not always be able to visit Starbucks (especially in the current scenario). If your laptop stops working, a week of no work is the equivalent of a month in a freelancer’s or remote employee’s life.

That’s why it’s helpful to have a robust home office set up, one where you have backups of what you need. Along with your WiFi, have two 4G mobile internet connections. A backup of your laptop as well as chargers (for your mobile phone and laptop) is useful too. Better safe than sorry.

Summing Up

Remote working is one of the best things to happen to people who crave more than just a paycheck. The perspective shifts from looking busy to contributing in meaningful ways to your organization or clients. In the process, you add value to your own self.

Even if you don’t make a ton of money as other freelancers claim to have made (most of them are fake anyway), you’ll enjoy better peace of mind, get higher returns for your investments, and discover more about yourself.

Follow the above steps and you’ll improve as a person each year. The discovery and pursuit of what makes you happy is one of the best journeys you can embark on in your life.

Books to read

Mindset by Carol Dweck

The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker

The Startup of You by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Give and Take by Adam Grant

One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way by Robert Maurer PhD.

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Pattabiraman editor freefincalDr M. Pattabiraman(PhD) is the founder, managing editor and primary author of freefincal. He is an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. He has over ten years of experience publishing news analysis, research and financial product development. Connect with him via Twitter(X), Linkedin, or YouTube. Pattabiraman has co-authored three print books: (1) You can be rich too with goal-based investing (CNBC TV18) for DIY investors. (2) Gamechanger for young earners. (3) Chinchu Gets a Superpower! for kids. He has also written seven other free e-books on various money management topics. He is a patron and co-founder of “Fee-only India,” an organisation promoting unbiased, commission-free investment advice.
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