If you dream of breaking free from the restrictions of having a full-time job, you’ll quickly find yourself part of an increasingly large global community of self-employed entrepreneurs who rely on the digital world as their primary source of income. Nonetheless, going from paid employment to being your own boss is no easy task, and far more fail than succeed.
Successful freelancers share a number of core characteristics that drives them to work for themselves without having to rely on someone else to guide and motivate them. A willingness to take risks and accept the uncertainty of being self-employed is critical, as is a passion for what you do and an ability to make a plan and stick to it without falling into the deadly trap that is procrastination.
Before you even think about quitting your day job, you’ll need to be confident that you have the necessary skills and the state of mind required to become your own boss. Contrary to the popular cliché, a successful Internet entrepreneur doesn’t work only when they feel like it, while sipping margaritas on a tropical beach with a laptop. The reality involves a lot of hard work and dedication.
1. Plan for Success, Prepare for Failure
More often than not, a freelance career starts off along a rocky road to success, during which there will be the inevitable downtimes when you find yourself questioning your abilities and worrying about your future financial stability. Almost no one finds themselves leaving full-time employment and stepping straight into a busy freelancing endeavor.
Successful entrepreneurs build up over time, not least because it takes a lot time and effort to build an online presence and become known among your target audience. Most importantly, you’ll want to make sure you have a generous financial buffer before you even consider quitting your job. You’ll also need a solid plan in place that involves establishing your online identity and marketing it to the masses.
2. Find Your Niche
Everyone has heard some of the numerous hyped-up success stories of digital entrepreneurs who claim to have gone from zero to a six-figure income practically overnight. If you’re one to believe these stories, then you probably don’t have the right state of mind to succeed as a self-employed online freelancer. In reality, much of the digital marketplace is heavily saturated and difficult to find a footing in.
Finding your niche is the most important step of all, and it usually starts with nothing more than a spark of an idea inspired by one of your favourite passions. You don’t necessarily need to be an expert, but you will need to have a genuine passion for the market you intend to work with, whether it’s freelance writing, Web design, photography, software development, affiliate marketing or anything else.
3. Create Your Office Space
It cannot be stressed enough that successful freelancing comes with more than a modicum of self-discipline. You’ll have to approach it like a real job and a serious career move to have even the slightest hope of success, and this means you must also have the right physical place to work as well. You’re not likely to get too far if you hope to lounge around in front of the TV with your laptop.
A home office should be treated as your personal business venue, free of distraction during working hours and optimized for comfort and productivity. If you have a spare room in your home, preferably one with plenty of space and natural light, then you already have a significant advantage. Nonetheless, feel free to get a little creative to build a home office space that perfectly suits your sense of style and ambition.
4. Establish Your Online Presence
Before you can start actively looking for clients, you’ll need to establish an online presence, and this is one of the most time-consuming steps of all. Firstly, you’ll most likely need your own website, depending on your industry. You’ll also need to establish a presence on social channels, such as Facebook and Twitter. You’ll need to become a master at networking to be able to seek out your clients.
Among the most popular places for digital entrepreneurs to get started are the online staffing platforms such as Elance, Freelancer and Guru. However, many of these platforms are awash with appallingly low-paid jobs outsourced by companies and other entrepreneurs hoping to get something for nothing. To truly succeed, you’re going to need to market yourself.
5. Determine Your Needs
When you don’t have anyone handing you a pay check every month, it can be difficult to determine what an acceptable rate of pay would be to compensate you for your efforts. Of course, everyone wants to earn as much as possible, but you’ll need to find a compromise between what you imagine to be a respectable income and staying competitive in the global online marketplace.
When determining your worth, you might be tempted to use your previous full-time salary as a starting point. However, you’ll also need to take into account that you’ll no longer have any paid holidays or other benefits associated with a permanent job. To get a better idea of how much you should charge for your services, consider browsing freelancer forums and seeing what others in your field are charging.
6. Set Activity Goals
One of the hardest lessons that you’ll learn as an aspiring digital entrepreneur is that the time and effort you put in doesn’t immediately translate into financial results. In fact, there are almost no guarantees at all until you have succeeded in making a name for yourself. While you’ll have your financial commitments just like anyone else, setting financial goals, particularly during the early stages, will likely lead to disappointment.
Instead of focussing on financial reward, you’ll be better equipped to find that much-needed motivation by setting activity goals. For example, a blogger might commit to writing a certain number of posts per week, while an affiliate marketer might dedicate a couple of hours every week to seeking out new affiliates. Set yourself realistic goals and stick to them and, eventually, you’ll be rewarded financially too.
7. Start at the Bottom
Almost any experienced online entrepreneur will tell you that the first few months on the road to success involved a great deal of work and commitment met with rather unimpressive financial compensation. In the beginning, it’s highly likely you’ll be offered work that might not be financially attractive, or the work might not be mentally rewarding or even particularly suitable for your set of skills.
Making your way into the highly competitive world of online business and marketing often involves hurting your pride during the early stages, but it is important that you start at the bottom and work your way up the ladder to success. While you’ll still need to set some ground rules, it is imperative you not be too demanding until you have become a known and respected authority in your field.
8. Get Started with Admin
It’s not likely that you’ll be able to afford the services of a personal assistant or accountant from day one, so you’ll need to be prepared to keep on top of any administration work straight from the outset. You’ll need to keep track of your work, your goals and your income from the moment you get started, maintaining a record of everything at all times.
Doing your own accounting and other administration work will save you a lot of time, and it will help to put you closer in touch with the rewards involved. You’ll also be better equipped to refine your business plan, rework your goals and keep track of clients who are in the habit of paying late. You’ll also need to keep track of your expenses for tax purposes.
9. Invest When You Need To
While your own passion, expertise and will to work hard are by far the most important elements of any successful freelancing career, you’ll still need to make sure you have the right tools at your disposal. Although making money online rarely requires a large up-front investment, there will inevitably be a few expenditures that you shouldn’t feel tempted to skimp on.
You’ll need to invest in a good computer, prioritising reliability and productivity above all. A large monitor, plenty of storage space and a reasonable level of performance will make your life as a digital entrepreneur much easier. You’ll also want to invest a bit of money in creating a comfortable, ergonomic and optimized home office space. On the bright side, all of these expenses will be tax-deductible.
10. Expand Your Business
Scoring your first high-paying client will be an enormously rewarding moment, but it certainly doesn’t stop there. Even if your financial ambitions are quite modest, you’ll still need to work on expanding your reach and building up your client base. Expanding your business is not just about increasing your income, however. It’s also about adding more strings to your bow for better financial security.
Another key factor about digital entrepreneurship you’ll learn quickly is that it’s unreliable by nature. Clients come and go, often without any warning. One month you might earn a five-figure income, only to earn a mere pittance the next month. However, the more clients you have and the more digital marketing channels you use, the less bothersome the inevitable downtimes will become.
No matter what anyone tells you, earning a full-time income online requires skill, time and effort. Finding your target audience and using the various social channels available to you to reach out to potential clients is easily half of the battle. However, through a consistent long-term effort, you’ll eventually have clients coming to you from a wide variety of different sources and spreading the word about your services.