How to Start a Freelance Business:
A Comprehensive Guide for Digital Nomads
This page will educate you on how you can start a freelance business to support your digital nomad lifestyle.
You know the story all too well: the beach is calling your name, but the office is holding you back. You long to travel across the world, but the daily Zoom calls with your coworkers happen in an opposite time zone.
Many digital nomads, who combine work and travel into their daily lives, have found that the best way to work while on the go is to start a freelance business.
Although saying goodbye to your boss in favor of starting your own freelancing business may seem daunting, it is easier than it seems, and has proven to be a lucrative way to fund the digital nomad lifestyle.
What is a freelance business?
Freelance businesses are run by either a collective or an individual, referred to as “freelancers”. Freelancers make a profit by capitalizing on their own skills and talents, and find their own clients, rather than being paid by an employer. Freelancers find work both through long-term contracts and a day-to-day basis. Due to this flexibility, freelancers are able to embody the dream digital nomad lifestyle. Because freelancers serve as their own boss, they have the freedom to run their business as they see fit: setting their own hours, picking the perfect clients, and working for wages that they decide.
So you want to become a freelance digital nomad?
Especially for digital nomads, the thought of setting your own hours, determining your prices, and picking your own clients may sound pretty irresistible to you. No longer would you be bound by a strict, 9-5 schedule like the millions of other remote employees across the world. As a freelance digital nomad, you can be your own boss and call all the shots!
However, it is not always sunshine and daisies. As you learn how to start a freelance business, you may realize that not everyone is cut out for freelance work.
Before you start freelancing, it is important to take an unbiased look within yourself. Do you really have what it takes to become a freelance digital nomad?
To be a successful freelancer, there are a few important questions that you need to ask yourself:
What are my goals?
You cannot possibly expect to become successful in any industry, much less as a freelancer, if you do not set clear cut goals for yourself. If your goal is to become a billionaire, starting a freelance business, which could take years—if ever—to become profitable, may not be your best route.
What kind of lifestyle am I aiming to support?
This ties in with your goals. While freelancing can be lucrative, more often than not, it will simply be a means to pay your bills, especially when you are first starting out. If you are a freelance digital nomad who only has to financially support yourself or are living in a dual-income household, the money you make can be enough to support your lifestyle. However, if you have a family, multiple people you provide for or aim to live a lavish life, freelance work alone may not be enough.
Am I in the correct financial situation to start freelancing?
Don’t quit your day job just yet. Instead of solely focusing on the lifestyle you want, you need to seriously consider the lifestyle you have. Do you have enough money to start freelancing full-time? It is estimated that, for their first year, 31% of freelancers make less than $10 USD an hour—less than the minimum wage in many places—and work more than 40 hours a week. If you currently have a well-paying job, it may not be worth it for you to quit and become a full-time freelance digital nomad. At least, not yet.
Do I have the right work ethic to be a freelancer?
At the risk of sounding like nearly every job posting ever, if you want to become a freelance digital nomad, you need to be an organized self-starter with a strong work ethic who is dedicated to their job. When you are starting a freelance business, you will be your own boss, and you will not have anyone reminding you to follow up with that client, finish that project, or that deadlines are looming. If you are not prepared to work hard and work often (and enjoy doing so), your career as a freelance digital nomad will likely not be as successful or fulfilling as you may like.
Do I have a skill that is marketable?
The answer might be no, but that is not necessarily a dealbreaker. However, having a talent or skill that people want to buy will put you ahead of your competition—which will be steep—and since you are the sole proprietor in your business, the quality of your freelance work will be evident. However, that is not to say that you should not pick up a new skill.
This brings us to the last, and arguably most important question:
Am I prepared to be in the customer service business?
It can be easy to think that because you work behind a computer all day that you will not have to deal with people. Unfortunately, that is not true. As a freelance digital nomad, it is important to understand that no matter what service you offer, ultimately, you are the product. Plain and simple: if you are not a polite, effective communicator, clients will not want to work with you. Even if most of your communications occur over the internet, you will still have to be just as nice and accommodating as you did when you were a grocery store clerk in high school.
If you have honestly answered all of these questions and believe you are prepared, both mentally and financially, to become a freelance digital nomad, it is time to take action and start your own freelance business.
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How to Start a Freelance Business
Starting a freelance business far easier than you’d think. In a world where many workers are shifting online, the workforce is far more freelance-friendly than it used to be. With just a few easy steps, you will be on your way to becoming a freelance digital nomad.
Find your niche
Remember when you were asked if you had a marketable skill? Now is the time to hone in on your talent. What can you offer that clients are looking to buy?
When looking for freelance jobs online for beginners, you should realize that there is likely someone out there who is willing to purchase whatever you may have to sell. When you think of a freelance digital nomad, it is likely that graphic designers, writers, and programmers come to mind. While these are all solid, viable options for freelance work, these are not the only lucrative niches.
There are a plethora of options for freelance jobs, regardless of your skill set. For example, there are many freelance digital nomads who offer services like social media management, fashion styling, illustrations, voice-over work, and even astrology and tarot card readings. The best freelance job is not always the one that is the most obvious, rather, it is the one that you feel most drawn to and confident about.
If you do not have a particular niche or skill that you think would be a good freelance job, do not be discouraged! The best time to learn a new skill or develop a talent is right now. The world of online learning has expanded rapidly in recent years, which has proven to be a boon for freelance digital nomads and casual learners alike.
Online learning websites like Skillshare offer droves of classes on nearly every topic under the sun, and they are often taught by industry professionals. Online classes like these can help you refine an underdeveloped skill you may already possess or spark your interest in something entirely new, both of which can be turned into the best freelancing job based on your passions or abilities.
Keep in mind, while you may be genuinely good at and enjoy something, passion and work should not always mix. For example, if you like to write or draw as a hobby, doing these things as work could lead to burnout, and you may possibly lose interest in these activities. As you become a freelance digital nomad, you will have to find a balance between work and play.
Finding the best freelance website
It’s time to put the “digital” in “digital nomad”, so fire up your laptop and start researching.
While there are many avenues to find freelance work, some ways are much easier than others. This is why you should analyze and test online freelance platforms.
While the ultimate goal for many freelancers is for their business to be entirely self-sufficient, typically hosting their own website. This is a good way for freelance digital nomads who have established themselves and garnered a healthy pool of clientele (read: money) and no longer need the help of a freelance platform to connect them with clients.
While hosting your own website for your business may seem great on paper, it can prove to be extremely difficult for beginners. Not to judge, but if you are reading this article, it is unlikely that you already have a large client base who has commissioned you previously for freelance jobs. Additionally, when hosting your own freelance website, there are no safeguards in place to protect you from fraud.
As a fledgling freelancer, it is prudent to check out specific websites that offer freelance digital nomads a safe and easy way to find and connect with clients. The best freelance websites for beginners, namely, Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer.com, take the majority of the guesswork out of finding clients.
Additionally, these freelance platforms are optimal for beginners because they have safeguards in place to protect both you and your clients, such as round-the-clock customer service representatives, delayed fund clearing to prevent fraud (from the freelancer or the client), and the ability to block and report other users.
Each platform is different, and it is likely that you will prefer one over the others.
Upwork and Freelancer.com operate on a bid-based system, meaning that a potential client will post a proposal for a freelance job on a board with a description and their budget, and freelance digital nomads can respond. In their response, a freelancer will introduce themselves, give their credentials, and finally, submit an offer, or “bid”, of the fee they would charge for the job, if chosen by the client.
This system works well because it places the opportunity for freelance work directly in front of you, and you can choose which freelance job that you feel you would be best suited to. However, some freelance digital nomads can find it tiresome to submit bids to clients over and over again, often seeing little to no conversion rate or even a response. This method can certainly feel like a grind, but can also lead to meaningful contracts with long-term clients who are happy with your freelance work.
On the other hand, while a section of Fiverr’s website does offer bid-based work, the main way your clients will find you there is not dissimilar to a freelance search engine. Clients will search for a specific job they want fulfilled, for example, “video editing”, and a bevy of services, known as “gigs”, from freelance digital nomads will pop up. From there, the client can select the person that they would like to hire for the freelance job based on the seller’s rating (given to them by previous clients) and the price that the provider offers the service for.
All three of these websites offer a wonderful way for new freelancers to better understand the way the client-freelancer relationship works. Additionally, you can use them to research which freelance jobs are the most popular with clients and which of them have little demand or are oversaturated. This is a valuable thing to consider when finding your niche in the freelance world.
While Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer.com are considered the best freelance websites for beginners, they all operate on a ranking system. Freelance digital nomads who have been on the website longer and have accumulated positive reviews are seen as more appealing than newer accounts with little to no reviews, which can make it difficult for those just starting out to find their footing.
How much should you charge for freelance work?
Pricing your services, no matter your niche, is one of the most difficult things a beginner freelancer will do. There is no blanket answer to how much you should charge, as many components, such as your skill level, education, speed, and quality of work should factor into your prices.
Take advantage of websites like Fiverr, Upwork, and Freelancer.com to compare your services with the ones offered by other freelance digital nomads. What are they charging? Is it too much? Too little? Does the price correspond to the seller’s rating?
On these freelance websites, the ratings you will receive from your clients is king. The number of high ratings you accumulate directly correlates to how likely a potential client is to book your services. For this reason, if you are starting your business on a freelance website, you may need to start with introductory low prices in order to entice clients into purchasing until you build up your ratings.
That being said, you should always charge a reasonable wage. Your client may be happy if you charge five dollars for ten hours of work, but you won’t be.
Don’t sell yourself short.
Budget, budget, budget!
The single most important thing to understand when learning how to start a freelance business is to budget everything.
Depending on what country you live in and how much money you make, there is a possibility that you will have to pay taxes on the money you earn from your freelance jobs. Begin with the end in mind and start saving from the get-go. After all, it’s far better for a digital nomad to have too much money saved, rather than too little, provided you are still keeping enough of your profits to keep your belly and gas tank full.
Just as you should be keeping an eye on your finances, it is just as paramount to budget your time. Starting a freelance business and being your own boss means that there will be no one other than yourself to hold you accountable for project deadlines and the like. A calendar, whether in the form of a physical agenda or an in-depth app like Notion, will prove to be your best friend by helping you keep track of your schedule.
Additionally, you should budget your time in the sense that you give yourself a break from freelance work. In the beginning, it can be tempting to overwork yourself in hopes of a good rating or payment from a client. Working too much is not sustainable, especially if you are freelancing while on the road, and you will end up in a state of burnout. Don’t be afraid to take a break, because you will surely need it
How to Get Freelance Work
With a large part of the workforce either out of a traditional job or working remotely, millions of people have turned to freelance work in order to pay the bills. Many of the best freelance websites, such as Fiverr, Upwork, or Freelancer.com, have become overrun with subpar services that are being offered to potential buyers at astronomically low prices.
When the supply of freelancers greatly outnumbers the demand from clients, as is the current situation, it becomes more important than ever to make sure you and your blossoming freelance business stand out.
Don’t let this discourage your dream of becoming a freelance digital nomad, though.
Here are a few tips on how to distinguish yourself from the competition and how to get freelance work.
Practice good customer service
As a freelancer, you are the face of your business. No matter how brilliant the quality of your work is, if you do not practice good customer service with your clients, they will not want to hire you again for freelance work. Even worse, if you are especially sour, clients can potentially tell others not to use your services, either by word of mouth or giving you a bad rating on a freelance platform, resulting in a detrimental loss for your business.
It’s simple, really. Be kind and courteous to your customers. Keep them updated on their projects, answer any questions they may have, and always say thank you. Kindness goes a long way. If you are respectful and considerate, your clients will appreciate this and be more likely to hire you again.
That being said, be aware that some “clients” may try to scam you, so do not be afraid to politely—but firmly—stand your ground if you think you are being taken advantage of. One of the best things about being a freelance digital nomad is the fact that you choose your customers as much as they choose you. If a client is rude or unpleasant to work with, you never have to work with them again.
Use networking to your advantage
You know people, who know people, who know people. In fact, the success of many freelance digital nomads can often be attributed to their connections, rather than based solely on the quality of their work.
Hopefully you have not been burning bridges, because now will be the time for you to reach out to former coworkers, classmates, and even your family. If you cast a wide net, someone is sure to have a job they would be willing to have a freelancer work on.
Another extremely important network is that of social media. While it is a great way to connect with the aforementioned people, social media websites offer a variety of benefits, such as: offering you exposure to potential clients who may not have seen your work; giving you a direct line of communication with potential clients; and creating a fresh way for you to display your portfolio. Which brings us to the next point. . .
Build a brand through your portfolio
As a freelance digital nomad, your previous work becomes your resume. You should take the time to log and display your portfolio on your social media accounts, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, GitHub, Stack Overflow, or Dribble.
Your portfolio of freelance work gives potential clients an idea of who you are and what you do—the essence of your personal brand.
By keeping your portfolio updated on your social media profiles, this garners your work more exposure, and with it, more clients.
Think outside the box
While starting your business on a designated freelance platform is typically the safest and easiest route to take, it is not the only path available to you. Aside from social media, many freelancers have managed to find great success through methods that seem non-conventional nowadays.
You can advertise your freelance work or respond to ads on classified websites like Craigslist. You can pitch article ideas or works of art to journals and magazines. You can even cold-call local businesses who you have researched and think they may be in need of your services.
The possibilities are endless, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to try.