If you’re a recovering workaholic trapped in the corporate grind, chances are you’re trying to figure out how to make money freelancing. It’s also tempting to spend time studying others’ success, but you still need more context on how to take action in your own business. Your problem isn’t feeling inspired by all of the location-independent women creating their own businesses out there; it’s how to translate your skills into a viable, successful service-based business.
I’ve been there. It’s not always a straightforward process stepping out on your own to sell yourself. “What if I fail?” is something we’ve all asked ourselves in the journey. Getting firmly into the mindset where we know we can offer value for others, and get paid for it, is surprisingly challenging.
Many women believe that making money freelancing requires expert skills that crush their competition. Others believe that an impressive corporate background will help secure the big clients and paydays they want. Or they’re convinced they need a massive email list and launch products and courses to earn six figures a year. If this is your case, you may have read one too many “girl boss” blogs that sell you on that idea.
Here’s how I went from corporate Googler to solopreneur marketing consultant and pulled down nearly $250k in my first year. And I did it without an email list or an incredibly unique idea.
Started with Zero Clients & Networked Like Crazy
If you’re trying to figure out how to make money freelancing online, the answer isn’t to have clients magically drop in your lap. Despite what your friends or online gurus tell you, building a thriving six-figure business with zero clients is possible. I started with no clients and no income in January 2015. One month later, I was making over $10k a month and eventually closed out the year with almost $250k in revenue.
How did I accomplish so much? I networked as much as possible and told everyone I knew that I was launching a digital marketing shop. However, I was at an advantage of living in New York City and pitched myself in person. This helped expand my presence and connections. When I eventually relocated to North Carolina, I took my business entirely online and started pitching clients remotely.
If you don’t have a robust network, you can leverage LinkedIn, cold email prospective clients, and even look for press opportunities to drum up interest whenever possible. Sites like HARO can connect you with reporters and journalists looking for sources. LinkedIn also offers a publisher platform that can create content that ultimately plugs the services you provide and links to your website.
Leveraged Social Proof
You don’t need coding and design skills to build your own website. You can invest in a platform like Squarespace and use their free tools and templates to quickly launch a website. Shopify can help build your eCommerce empire, and WordPress offers an intuitive platform that many bloggers and online pros use. Photographers love Showit for its drag and drop visual capabilities that show off your best work. If you need a hand getting your online presence up and running, sites like Upwork can also connect you with designers and developers that can help if you feel you need it.
You don’t need a fancy online presence to make money freelancing online. But I do think you need a website to give your business some legitimacy. I also know people who launched an online business without a website by leveraging freelancing platforms like Upwork and their profile builder. However, your options are limited to growing your business when you don’t have a website. And because everyone knows how easy and relatively inexpensive it is to get a website up and running, it could be a red flag to potential clients if you don’t have one.
Once your website is up and running, add testimonials, praise, and project samples that showcase your work. If you don’t have client testimonials, you can ask if a former colleague or boss would be willing to give you one based on your previous work. There are also options if you haven’t quit your day job yet. Dynamic pro bono or volunteer projects could look terrific on your website, and your supervisors should be happy to give you a testimonial and praise for a job well done (just be sure they don’t compete with your day job).
Add icons to your social media pages that highlight your connections and projects. The more people can see proof of what you do and the accolades you’ve earned, the easier it is to take a chance and book your services.
Skipped the Office Space
Office space is overrated and is a considerable business expense. I still don’t have traditional office space for my marketing business. Instead, I have a fabulous dedicated office space at home (though when I started, this was just a desk in the corner of my bedroom in Brooklyn), and use a combination of tools like Slack, Zoom, and ClickUp to keep in touch with my team and clients and stay organized.
You can also source temporary office space through companies like WeWork and other coworking spaces. Sure, you can work from home and save money. However, the social interaction and networking opportunities are invaluable. Many coworking spaces also offer professional meeting rooms if you ever need to meet with clients in person.
Focused on B2B Businesses
Depending on your niche, B2B sales may be the quickest option to make money freelancing. Their budgets are usually bigger and what you’ll learn is invaluable. When I got started, I white-labeled my services to start earning a significant income as a freelancer. It’s also a rewarding and relatively seamless way to transition out of the corporate world and into the freelance space.
White-labeling means your client owns whatever you produce and can use it as part of their pitches, work, and assets. When you white-label services to a digital marketing agency, they can use their work and present it as part of their own strategy. I used this technique when I got started and learned so much. I built-up hands-on experience about how the most prominent players in my niche operated. It’s a powerful way to fast-track your freelance career and learn more than you would otherwise. One of my clients even tried to buy out my little company to acquire me. But I declined and we continued working together.
Got Creative About Finding Clients
In addition to seeking out marketing B2B clients, I also got creative about drumming up business. I targeted PR agencies in New York City, where I had some contacts, which led to my first big contract. I covered maternity leave for another social media marketing strategist who worked at a startup PR agency. She was out for several months, and the ongoing project helped me gain my bearings as a freelancer and earn a consistent retainer while I developed new business.
I also sought out other freelancers who offered complementary services to snag bigger contracts. If I engaged the client first, my company handled the contract, and the other freelancer would white-label their services. And if my freelancing partner engaged the client first, the contract was theirs, and I would white-label.
You can make more money through partnerships because you can markup the other freelancer’s fees and make a small profit off of it, even if you’re not doing all the work. This is also the same philosophy that applies to outsourcing work after landing a project. You can charge the client what you want while still paying the other freelancer their standard fee.
Big-name companies rely on creative partnerships, too. Uber riders are offered the option to log into their Spotify account and listen to their tunes in the car. Uber provides a better customer experience, and Spotify ends up with a brand new market to advertise to.
Don’t worry about marking up the service; most freelancers are comfortable with this strategy because it’s a win-win for both. You’re the one who scored the project and is managing the project. You’re also offering a more comprehensive service to the client. The freelancer gets to work on a small portion of work they are good at and enjoy, gets paid, and skips the business development and client management responsibilities.
Took Big Projects Before I Was Ready
You can take on big projects before you’re ready; you just have to get your mind right. Don’t say ‘no’ to big opportunities just because you’re scared. And for the record, being scared is totally normal. You can overcome fear through mindset work and coaching that helps quell your fears and inspire you to take action.
You have to take risks if you want to make money freelancing. If I hadn’t said yes early and often, I wouldn’t have scaled my business to nearly $250k in the first year. One of the agencies I was freelancing for asked if I could help with a HUGE content project over just a few months. The pay was something like $40k and I wasn’t sure how I would pull it off. But I had faith I could ultimately handle it and build a talented team to accomplish the goal.
I ended up hiring a huge team of freelance writers and editors to pull it off and was able to solve a big problem for my client. Sure, there were some long nights and mistakes made along the way, but we were successful in the end. I personally learned a great deal about managing big projects like this and gained confidence that I could rise to the challenge. In turn, it was easier to say yes to other big projects that came up.
Completing a $40k project before I was ready was something I accomplished because I’ve always been the kind of person who approaches challenges with a “fake it til you make it” attitude. The approach has served me well, but if this doesn’t come naturally to you, it’s absolutely something we can work on together in coaching.
Some people also have mindset struggles around the idea of faking it until you make it. However, it’s not about overselling yourself or deceiving your clients. Be transparent with your clients, but also be confident about taking the skills you have and finding the right help and resources to complete your project. You need a little courage to start. But once you’ve completed your goal, you’ve gained the confidence to build on that experience to create something bigger.
Reinvested in My Business
Some freelancers think they need to start a cash pile before investing in their business. Although you absolutely need an emergency fund in case of a dry spell, you can invest in your business from the start. Focus on paying yourself and investing in your business when you make money as a freelancer. I would invest back in the business in areas that made the most significant impact on my success. That included hiring more help, including freelance Virtual Assistants, Writers, Developers, Designers, and more.
I was never afraid to spend more money to earn money. Despite a fearless attitude, I wasn’t careless. I’ve always kept a sharp eye on my books and reviewed my invoices, work, and what my team was doing daily.
Didn’t Waste Money on Non-Essentials
Despite aggressively investing in my own business, I didn’t waste money on things that weren’t truly necessary or weren’t aligned with the kind of lifestyle I wanted to lead. To keep costs down, I met clients at their offices in Manhattan. I also tried to coordinate as many meetings as possible on the same day. My approach helped me maximize my time and increase my efficiency and productivity. In between those meetings, I would work at the closest WeWork location to get more projects done. If you have no budget for coworking space, you can also bring noise-canceling headphones and work at a coffee shop or library with a free WiFi connection.
Of course, this approach won’t apply if your business is 100% remote. However, if you have some local clients or collaborators, organizing your calendar this way can be helpful for productivity and your cash flow.
Asked for Testimonials
There’s nothing wrong with asking clients for a testimonial or praise for your website. I was never shy about asking existing customers for testimonials or referrals once I was sure I was delighting them with the results they were looking for. Happy clients will oblige your request and even pass on your name as a referral.
Another option is to send a feedback form asking clients questions about what they liked about your service. Ask about what you could do better and what they might be looking for in the future. It can be scary to ask the first time, but it’s normal in the business world. You end up with a new testimonial, some feedback on how to refine your service, and insights on what they might be hiring for next. Just make sure to ask if you can post the testimonial on your website as a courtesy.
Leveraged My Existing Sales & Marketing Skills
Maximizing the skills you already have is integral to growing a business. I was already comfortable working with big companies and budgets and didn’t feel uncomfortable asking for the sale. Your zone of genius might involve writing and educating your audience. Consider guest posting, creating Instagram stories, or blogging on your website about businesses’ common problems and how you help solve them. The idea is to offer unbelievable content and value for potential clients and plug your services lightly and without a heavy hand.
It’s also common to feel like you don’t have any sales and marketing skills to make money freelancing. In reality, just listening thoughtfully and carefully to a client and helping them figure out how to make the most impact in their business is a skill. Use it correctly, and you’re marketing yourself as a freelancer who puts their clients at ease and understands their issues. Making clients’ lives easier by being super dependable is also a way to stand out and earn those referrals and repeat business you’re after.
Making real money freelancing online is not impossible and can even yield six figures in your first year alone. It’s not even that difficult to do if you have a strategy, persistence, and the willingness to learn. Set a financial goal that feels realistic to you, whether it’s $50k or $500k (or more!), and set out to make that dream a reality. Remember that taking action is crucial to your success and never giving up. If you keep trying, it’s impossible to fail.