How to become a freelancer, even if you’re starting from zero?

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Few years ago, on my Romanian blog, one of my readers asked me a great question:

How can someone who has no clue about computers and online work in general learn how to do what you guys do as freelancers? Not really just for the money, but simply because she really finds this work fascinating?

This was the question, let’s see what answer we could give if anyone else would want to know how to become a freelancer, starting from zero.

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What does this ‘online work’ mean?

If you’ll visit sites as freelancer.com, elance.com, guru.com or odesk.com to give just few examples, you’ll notice there are many projects listed there. Some of them require the professional to create a database or an entire site that relies on it, to create a platform for a site, maybe just a new theme for a blog/forum, to translate from one language to another, to write articles about various topics, to create SEO campaigns and strategies, to write a children’s book or to work as a virtual assistant.

I have no intention of giving you a headache with all this long list, the idea is that not all freelancers are working as programmers or web designers. Everybody there has a SKILL and probably something he/she likes doing. So, the good news is that, whatever you can learn how to do should do the trick and you’ll eventually earn some money from it.

Let’s start with the beginning: learn how to properly use your computer

While not all freelancers are computer savvy, all of them know how to run a text editor, an image editor etc. If you’re gonna do data entry, learning how to work in Excel is mandatory, if you’re a designer, Photoshop and Illustrator (or other similar programs) are vital for your success. Same with running web sites (an FTP client is needed to upload the files on a site, plus few other programs to code and handle the rest of the work).

In this matter there’s no excuse. You cannot be successful as a freelancer and really handle your small business properly, if you need constant support to open a file or move a folder from one partition to another. Fortunately computers are not too hard to handle and with some help and patience you’ll be able to really work nicely on your chosen devices.

Start looking around for a specialty

As already mentioned, there is a wide range of services you can provide as a freelancer who’s working online. From data entry and virtual assistant work to legal support or SEO there are literally tens of thousands of jobs and at least few of them should fit your profile.

Not yet sure what to do? Just take a look at some of the jobs listed there. WHAT CAN YOU DO NO? Chances are that, if you’re not a web designer, programmer or SEO consultant, you can still write, translate or copy-paste some data in a table.

You can start from here and then slowly move to something that pays better or makes your heart sing. Most of us are not specialized in one ‘topic’ only. I personally work as a web designer. This means I can do graphic design and also create designs for sites (whether they’re blogs, forums or e-commerce projects). Working on my own network of sites for more than 10 years has taught me a lot when it comes to site installation and administration, plus SEO. I can also write content and work as a data entry clerk.

Of course I choose to work mainly as a web designer and also as a content writer (from time to time). I dislike SEO and am staying away from these jobs, even if I do work to optimize my clients’ sites and also provide them with the much needed support. This is a bonus I give my web design clients, not a singural job I’d accept.

So the trick is to start providing SOME service that comes handy to you NOW. You can wait to learn web design (which should take months at least to become more skilled) or you could start earning some money now with jobs that you can currently handle. There’s nothing keeping you on a specialty, if you’d like to move on to programming or legal support you can do it, as soon as your skills are up to par.

No matter what you choose to do, there’s gonna be a constant learning job ahead of you. Most specialties come with a lot of knowledge and skills that need to be had, not to mention trends are always evolving. What we used to do in web design back in 2002 is no longer OK now, in 2013. So we’re constantly re-learning stuff, finding about new trends and specializing as soon as possible, so that we can still provide our clients with a top service. Don’t get scared about this, all this learning experience will help you keep in shape and work even better. This will mean more satisfied clients and more money for you.

So, dear reader, who’s willing to try freelancing even from zero, there’s a long road ahead of you, but it’s worth each and every moment. Start slow, choose a specialty you’re more inclined to and learn the ropes. Freelancing is not only work, it means handling clients, being nice to them, marketing your skills etc. All these take time. You need years to mature as a freelancer, so do start from now. Little by little you’ll be drawn to new specialties, while already having a nice portfolio and a lot of client experience. Or, maybe you’ll stick to your initial pick and not bother with anything else. You’ll become excellent in your specialty and build a nice lucrative small business. It all depends on you.

6 COMMENTS

  1. I have a technical degree and I agree with you. There are many things that need to be done that do not require technical skills. Adding technical sills will surely help, but is it not required. I would argue that it is more important to have some of the other skills (writing, etc) rather than the technical side of things in order to be the most successful.

    • Yeah, knowing how to operate the PC can be more than enough for most freelancers, especially those who are not doing design/programming jobs (this require something more, you need to have a deeper understanding of how some programs work, how a web site functions etc.)

      I do believe that everybody HAS a skill, they just need to understand what that skill is and try to monetize it 😉

  2. I recently read this book called 100 dollar startup and I loved it. It was such a useful book because it helped me explore some of what I like to do and provided me with a business construct to make money.

    I am a programmer though by trade so I have a different strategy than you.

  3. […] Even if you’re starting from zero, there’s a lot of things you can do as a freelancer. You don’t have to be a web designer (if you don’t like it, have no skills/talent). You can write articles, do virtual assisting, create excellent PR campaigns for your client etc. Ah, you’re not that passionate about working online? If you’re a good baker, you know what to do. Maybe you are skilled as a carpenter or could really create a good baby-sitting business. FIND YOUR CALLING (everyone has a talent – usually more) and prepare to turn it into a lucrative business. […]

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