If you're working a 9-to-5 job, the idea of a freelance career may seem quite appealing. While it's certainly true that the freelance life offers an incredible amount of freedom, the significant drawback is that income is far from secure. This downside is particularly evident in the early stages when a freelancer has yet to establish a strong base of repeat clients. Indeed, attracting any customers at all can be a problem when you first set out. How can you land gigs if you have no experience or track record? Here are four ideas.
Take On Piecemeal Work
In many areas of freelance work, you can take on small, one-off jobs that pay relatively little. These piecemeal gigs may not do much for you financially, but they let you build up valuable experience of dealing with clients and can also open the door to longer-term, more lucrative relationships if you deliver the goods. Don't let these projects distract you too much from pursuing more rewarding gigs, but if you're otherwise underemployed, almost any income-generating work is better than none.
Build a Strong Example Portfolio
Even if you have no actual work history that you can show to potential clients, there's no reason you can't put together a compelling portfolio of work that adequately demonstrates your skills. Pick your area of greatest expertise, and produce a piece of work to the best of your ability; it may not generate immediate income, but it's certainly an investment in your future and will show potential employers what you're capable of.
Consider Charity Work
Depending on your field, you may be able to work with charitable organizations to your mutual benefit. You will gain experience and strengthen your portfolio, while the charity will benefit from your services without the fees. However, be extremely wary of taking on no-fee work for commercial clients. They may try and sell this to you as a way of gaining prestige, but in reality, the bargain rarely stacks up in the freelancer's favor.
If you're interested in going this route, read our article: Tips on Making Unpaid Work Pay Off (from Moms Who Have Been There)
Cut Your Rates - For Now
Although your rates should be realistic and appropriately compensate you for your work, in the early days you probably won't be able to charge the same as more experienced rivals. Competing purely on price is not a good long-term strategy, but if it helps you gain your first few clients, then be prepared to bid low. However, be clear from the outset that this is a discount rate: you can't afford to lock yourself into too many low-value contracts as your career develops.
Few freelancers hit the ground running, and it takes time to build a successful career. It's important not to be discouraged, however; once you get a foot in the door and start to expand your experience and client roster, talent and dedication will lead to success.