How to become a freelancer as a side hustle – 7 pro tips

In September 2011, I was a university student looking for a side hustle. Tired of waiting tables, I wanted something a bit more profitable. Bonus points if it also improved my CV, even just a little bit. I didn’t have any skill, aside from speaking English and Italian. That’s how I decided to become a freelance translator.

In 6 years, I turned that side hustle into a six figure freelance business.

How did I do it? Was it easy? What did I learn? Would I be able to do it all again in 2023 and beyond?

Read on, because here are 7 pro tips to become a freelancer as a side hustle.

Before you even start

1. Don’t quit your job

Have you heard of that guy who quit his job and 2 weeks later was making $100k per day? Yeah. Me too.

DON’T BE AN IDIOT.

The real story of some one who quit their job too early
The story nobody’s telling you. Source: Indiehackers newsletter

Venturing into the freelance world takes time. You need to put together a portfolio, write a new CV, answer job posts, build a list of potential clients, actually reach out to them, and many more things. Chances are, for a few weeks or months you will spend a lot of time on tasks that’ll pay back down the line.

I hear you – you are tired of your boss, maybe you saved enough to survive for 1 or 2 months, and you start thinking… yes, you could speed things up considerably if you had more time. And yes, I agree, you can make it if you really believe in yourself. That doesn’t change the fact – you shouldn’t quit.

Stick with whatever makes you money right now. Reinvest what you are making to buy a course on freelancing or have your resume rewritten by a professional. Give yourself the gift of mental peace and work on becoming a freelancer without pressure.

2. Choose your niche (the cool guys say “find a marketable skill”)

I could easily write 99 pro tips to become a freelancer as a side hustle, but it all boils down to this:

Develop a service and learn how to sell it.

In an ideal world, your current job already proves you have a skill that you can sell as a freelancer. I’m thinking social media manager, web designer, content editor and similar. If that’s your case, your niche is clear enough and you should start there.

What do you do when you have no such skill, though?

In this interview with Ali Abdaal, my business idol Alex Hormozi gives a very interesting suggestion. If people frequently ask you to do something for free, you can probably monetize it.

Here are a few examples:

  • You speak two languages and people frequently ask you to translate stuff for them – freelance translator
  • When your friends meet someone, they always ask you for advice – freelance dating coach
  • You are still a student, but you are so good that other students ask you for advice with their exams – freelance tutor

“But I don’t have a marketable skill!”

I get it – your skillset isn’t a good fit for freelancing. Or maybe it is, but you are sick of doing what you do and the last thing you want is to dive right back into it.

Don’t lose hope – you can still succeed as a freelancer. It just means you’ll have to learn a new skill – possibly fast. And your current job can help you.

How? Reading my 9 pro tips to become a freelancer as a side hustle and other blog posts is a step in the right direction, but you could do even more. Money is your friend – spend it to learn a new skill or your ability to sell it.

There are plenty of online courses that can help you. Here are a couple that I recommend:

  • Proofread Anywhere by Caitlin Pike – If all your friends and family ask you for help when they have to send an email, deliver a paper or write anything in general, then proofreading might be just the right choice for you.
  • Fully Booked VA by Gina Horkey – If you are a natural-born multitasker, a time management freak, and good at a number of things an entrepreneur might want to avoid doing, that’s a great way to go
  • Not (yet?) a course, but my guide to become a translator as a side hustle is the perfect resource for you if you want to monetize your foreign language skills.

Haven’t got the money right now? Start from this free course to start freelancing on Coursera, or buy one of my favorite 10 books for freelancers.

Make your first $1 as a freelancer

3. Write great proposals on Upwork

Proposals are the bread and butter of every freelancer. If I could choose a single skill to develop to market your services as a freelancer, that would be writing proposals that win you jobs.

The key to a good proposal? The more personal you can make it, the higher the chance of winning that job. Your proposals are not about you, they are about the client. Anything you say should be highly relevant to their needs and goals.

If the client is a laundromat in Denver interested in local SEO services to rank #1 on Google for “Laundromat in Denver”, tell them about that job you did last year for a laundromat in Seattle that got the client exactly what they want.

Unless you are talking to an expert (like the client’s SEO manager), don’t use complicated jargon. They don’t care that you know the technical details. They care about how you can help THEM achieve what THEY want.

‘Who should I send these proposals to?’ you ask? Start from Upwork!

Are you afraid of rejections?

Don’t be. If you are going to try this seriously, rejections will become your bread and butter. Keep that in mind!

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4. Harness the power of LinkedIn for networking

As a freelancer, your LinkedIn profile can be an amazing tool to get new clients.

LinkedIn themselves define an all-star profile as one which has 100% profile completion rate, meaning you filled out all fields. To me, that is the bare minimum. At the very least you also want to have:

  • A profile picture that works. No selfies, no graduation day pics, nothing that looks amateur-ish. Investing $50 in a professional photographer, even if they’re just a beginner, is a good idea.
  • A strong headline which includes your main keywords, eg ‘B2B Copywriter for the Financial Industry, 16 yrs Experience’
  • A summary section that focuses on the results you can get for the client, not the technical process you’ll go through to get them. Make this professional yet friendly, and format it in short paragraphs that are easy to read.

The idea of networking usually sounds intimidating for beginners, but it doesn’t have to be. Start by doing the easiest possible thing – look at other freelancers’ profiles, and see what you like about each one. Try to model your profile after theirs.

Pro tip 5 to start freelancing as a side hustle – handling finances

5. Learn how to price your services

“Dom, but how can I do all this when I don’t even know how much to charge?!”

As you start a side hustle, time is not your friend. Full-time freelancers can dedicate 8 working hours to their client, Monday to Friday. You rarely have more than 4 per day. This, however, gives you a key element to leverage:

A full time freelancer can only count on their freelance income. If you didn’t quit your job, you are already making ends meet – this is extra money. While you learn how to become a freelancer as a side hustle, you can afford to earn a bit less for a little while.

The good - cheap fast triangle for beginner freelancers

This is where you should be in the infamous good – cheap – fast triangle. How good are you really? That’s hard to tell. Good is not a universal metric. Rather, it’s closely related to your hourly rate. You may be good at $20/hour, decent at $30/hour and bad at $40/hour.

That’s why you have to become better and better as you go. Deliver quality work, impress your clients, then raise your rates as soon as possible. Your first clients are giving you an opportunity to refine your skills while paying you for it. Don’t expect them to pay much for the priviledge.

Model your prices based on the competition

Whether you choose to compete in a global or local market (more on that later), your first task is simple – you have to know your competition inside out.

If you are playing the local game, try to look for your competitors as if you were a client. If you offer digital marketing services in New York, try to google ‘Digital marketing agencies New York’ and see what services they offer and how much they charge. But don’t stop there.

Try to look on social media as well, through word of mouth, everywhere you can think of. By the time you launch your freelance business, you’ll have to know the competition as if you were a veteran of the industry.

If you are competing in a global marketplace, this step is probably much easier. Start by giving a look at Upwork and see what your competitors are charging. The ones who are starting out, as well as those who have 10+ years of experience.

This should give you a rough idea of how much to charge.

Graph with the average monthly income of side hustlers in the United States
Average monthly income of side hustlers in the US. Source: Jobera.
TIP

In some niches, the freelance market is truly global. Think app development – whether you are in London or Delhi, you are competing for a global clientele, and price is a big factor for some clients.

If you live in a low cost of living area, market globally – chances are local clients wouldn’t pay much, and you’re better off working with clients who are far away from you.

If you live in a high cost of living area, market locally – local businesses still need all kinds of services, and they won’t budge when you quote a price that’s in line with their expectations.

Mindset is everything

In the last 10 years, literally hundreds of people asked me for help to start their own freelance business.

How many succeded? 3 or 4. Were they bad at what they did? No. Were they not smart enough? No.

The truth is, they could have done great, even if they didn’t have a single client yet, and even if they couldn’t dedicate that much time to their freelancing business. But they didn’t have the right mindset.

6. Do the work, even when you don’t feel like it

If you never tried to start some kind of business, you never experienced true delayed gratification. Imagine working 40 hours per week and then 20 more – without getting paid a single extra dollar. Imagine sending dozens of emails without receiving a single answer. Imagine all of this and more.

Ask any fellow freelancers, and they will tell you that this is what being your own boss looks like for the first few weeks.

If you are expecting doors to open wide, clients to start messaging you the moment they receive your email, and money to start piling up in your bank account in a matter of days… good luck. You’d probably be the first new freelancer ever to experience that.

It’s not all bad news, though. Nothing worth working for has ever been built in a day, and your freelance career will make no exception. If you manage to resist and you keep going no matter what, the light is waiting for you at the end of the tunnel. Do you have the mental fortitude to keep going even when nobody seems interested in your services?

Note

Ok, it doesn’t have to be like this. But if you got discouraged and you’re thinking of giving up after reading a paragraph, then freelancing might not be for you. If you are ready to start, keep reading!

7. Manage your time effectively to avoid burnout

At first, it seems easy – you are motivated to make your side hustle successful, and you dedicate 4 hours per day to your new venture. Then they become 3 hours (damn you, Instagram). Then 2. Then life gets in the way and you have to drop it for a couple of weeks. You resume your efforts one month later, but quickly lose traction again.

Before you realize it, your freelance side hustle has become just a distant fantasy.

How to avoid all of this? Clear goals, effective time management and dedication.

Starting a freelance business is not a sprint – it’s a marathon. Once you have chosen a strategy to get clients you want to use, see how long it takes to implement it at a minimum viable level.

Tip

When you are starting out, it’s hard to tell how much time your marketing initiatives really take you. If that’s your situation, here are a few time tracking apps for freelancers that can help.

If you want to leave comments on Facebook groups, find out how long it takes to find a suitable post and write an insightful reply to it. 40 minutes? Then you know that in 2 hours you can answer 3 posts. Sending a proposal on Fiverr takes 20 minutes? Take note of that as well.

Choose a time of the day to block for your marketing activities, then stick to it. Sure, the more time you can dedicate to this, the quicker you’ll start to see results. But if you create a schedule that is unsustainable, you’ll quit before your freelance side hustle makes its first dollar.

Chart with the reasons to start a side hustle
Reasons to start a side hustle. Source: SideHustleNation.

Whether it’s earning extra cash, doing more meaningful work or simply monetizing your hobby, keep in mind your why, and don’t worry about going too slow. You’ll get there.

How to become a freelancer as a side hustle pro tips – FAQs

Get answers to the most Frequently Asked Questions about becoming a freelancer as a side hustle.

To become a successful freelancer, you need a combination of technical skills related to your field (e.g., coding, graphic design) and and the ability to sell them. Marketing and networking skills can help you attract clients and grow your freelance business.

If you have a 9 to 5, you are going to work on your side hustle from 5 to 9. AM or PM, that’s your choice. What does that mean? That you have to keep motivation high, or you will abandon the project after a few weeks or months.

One simple reason – Client acquisition. When you are just starting out as a freelancer, nobody knows you. How do you solve this? With a plan, and the conviction needed to execute it.

$100 per week is not much as a freelancer – to get there, you’ll only need one good client, possibly on a retainer. A good Upwork profile can also easily generate $100 per week of extra income.

You can freelance in plenty of niches. I chose translation, but I know of extremely successful freelancers in every area of expertise you can think of. Whatever the type of work you can do, just start marketing yourself and delivering your best work. You’ll figure it out as you go.

There are three ways to escape your 9 to 5:

  • Collecting passive income from investments: the S&P 500, real estate, investments in other businesses
  • Freelancing: take a skill you are good at, start selling it to clients, make money
  • Opening a business: starting a business and growing it, or buying one and managing it are both good options

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