So you are like many and you have found yourself in the position where your side hobby is now potentially turning into a side hustle.

You’ve produced many pieces of work. Whether it’s in design, photography, writing, public speaking – you name it. Friends and family are wowed by your devoted passion to your craft and you begin to hear people in your circle say things like “You know my cousin would totally hire you to do this” – and it hits you:

“Holy shit, I might actually be able to make money off this”

Your head gets flooded with possibilities.

Your dreams are actually, just, maybe beginning to form. You could begin to generate income off something you truly love and you think; okay well now what. Pricing, marketing, websites, networking, pitching…Your mind begins to spin and before you know it you are drowning in dollar signs and don’t know where to begin. And you want to know why?

Because you are focusing on the money first, rather than the growth of your work.

In order to grow your craft, it is essential that you forget about the money and focus on what is more important: That is doing meaningful work for meaningful clients. Because ultimately, that is what will lead you to the dollar signs. That’s right, your absolute focus when first starting out should be:

CLIENT NAME(S) + PORTFOLIO

Listen, you can’t expect many people to want to pay you for your work when you haven’t done anything for anyone yet. This is why for most freelancers a portfolio is not just something to have – It is everything when you first start.

So now you think: Okay well..

  • How do I get clients?
  • Am I supposed to work for free?

As you might suspect, to get clients you must first start small. Audit your network and see who may be the best prospects. Whether it’s painting a mural for your community centre or submitting an article to the local paper, there are always places where your work can be applied so long as you look hard enough and are willing to pursue them.

With that being said:

Expect to hear NO, NO, and more NO’s and keep pushing forward.

I am sorry, but if you’re not willing embrace rejection and frankly make yourself look stupid and naive time after time then this article and freelancing as a whole just may not be for you – sorry (not sorry).

However, eventually you will be surprised when people start coming around and become interested in working with you.

…That is if you don’t quit.

Tip: Make your portfolio as rich as you can with your own personal work and projects.

Now we have reached the touchy subject of working for free…which is inevitable

Some people swear by it, others shame it. I myself agree completely with Chase Jarvis’s famous take on working for free:

“Either work for free or full price – nothing in between”

And in the case of starting out as a freelancer, you may need to do just that. Don’t feel like you’ve somehow lost if you have to do some work for free at the beginning. Because like I said earlier, you are a nobody at this point and gaining a client that utilizes your work is worth 10x more than any potential money that comes with it. Working for your full rate or working for free prevents you from doing the worst, which is underselling yourself.

And you can’t undersell your work if there’s no transaction in the first place.

Again, don’t feel bad for having to do some work for free at first. Especially if it’s the work you’re good at. You will find you’re much more in control and there will be far less pressure, leading to happy clients. More happy clients leads to more experience working with clients and referrals as well. Which in itself is very valuable.

***REMINDER:

At this point I must remind you that before you hit the streets pursuing clients your craft must first be strong – I mean professional grade.

You cannot hope to be doing work for professional level clients if your own work itself isn’t professional. If you are unsure about whether or not your work is good enough then keep refining it. Got it? Good.

Let’s continue…

When prospective clients review your portfolio, what sells your work more than your work itself, is the client seeing whom you’ve already worked for. It’s really the same thing as anyone seeking a new employer with a resume. Seeing what you’ve done in the past, and for whom speaks loudly. This is why providing work for reputable and recognizable names should be your priority at first. Having names people know, whether they’re local or national makes your portfolio valuable and as a freelancer your portfolio is your greatest marketing asset.

This is why not just clients but client NAME is so important.

In order to drive this point home a little more let’s get metaphorical for a minute:

Let’s say two professional photographers in a city are aiming for the same opportunity with a DREAM CLIENT. They both have professional level work and the client reviews their portfolios.

Photographer #1 has a successful business shooting concerts, weddings, and events and has earned thousands of dollars doing so (the client does not know these earnings but that’s besides the point).

Photographer #2 has earned a fraction of what Photographer #1 has but once commissioned 3 images to Adidas, has photographs published in SURFER Magazine and contributed images to the city’s largest university. All of which, are on his portfolio of course.

Who do you think would get the job? #2 obviously.

Even though their work is at the same level, the clients Photographer #2 has behind his work will make his work seem better and more valuable.

Now you might be thinking: Yeah well Photographer #1 is the one who’s making money so what’s the big deal. The big deal is that there is a ceiling to photographer #1’s work by not having the client names that his competitor does. Not to mention the commissions rise exponentially once you get to the big name clients. And if you do reach that level you won’t be worried about the money or what you charge – it will be clockwork for the most part.

Remember this: Your client portfolio lasts forever, the commissions do not.

So going full circle, the dance we call freelance is just as hard as it is exciting. And as long as you’re passionate about your work and the process, time and persistence will be the best tools in your toolkit. The last thing you should do when starting out is focussing on how to make money. It’s a side hustle after all.

Create Meaningful Work, For Meaningful Clients and the Business will come

Signing off,

John