The SPI community has been asking about the world of freelancing a lot lately, so I thought I’d share some recent thoughts on freelancing to guide you in how to get started freelancing (and get your first client).
But first, I want to take you back to a post I shared in November 2017:
In that post, I explain that freelancing is one of the two quickest ways to generate online income (the other is affiliate marketing). Freelancing allows you to quickly get paid for a task that can actually help solve problems for people.
And when you’re first starting out, freelancing is the number one way to get started online. It’s not a passive stream of income, which is an important thing to understand. Freelancing is definitely not passive; it’s super active. If you don’t do the work, you’re not going to get paid. But if you are dedicated and put in the effort, freelancing is a great way to get your foot in the door of an industry or niche you’re interested in. It’s, quite simply, a great way to get started in business.
After all, think about this: You just need one client. One client to make a little money. One client to get the ball rolling. One client to make a difference. And then, as you’ll hear me talk more about later in this post, you can take what you learn working with clients, and turn it into something more passive—with tools, or even a team! But first, let’s figure out how to get that first client.
Let’s get started!
What Is Freelancing, and Why There’s Huge Opportunity in Freelancing
I think it’s important first to define what freelancing is. Freelancing is, at its core, offering a skill you have in exchange for payment. If you have a skill a particular client or brand or business needs to help them solve their problems, they will want to hire you to solve it. And you do so with your specialized skill.
The cool part about freelancing is that there are so many different types of freelancers out there, offering up a huge range of skills. Even if you don’t have that skill right this moment, who says you can’t learn it and eventually offer up that skill too?
Here’s just a sampling of some of the types of freelance skills out there:
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And that’s just a small portion of the types of freelance skills available on the market. That’s a huge benefit when it comes to starting out in freelancing. You probably have a few of those skills already. And even if you don’t, you know that there’s a big opportunity for you to build your base of skills for your future clients.
Another benefit of freelancing is that it empowers you to enter a particular business space, get to know the people in there, and learn the ins and outs of that specific business type or industry. You may be hired for a specific skill, but you (or them or both) soon realize that there are other opportunities that you see, other areas where you can benefit the business.
In SPI Podcast session 460, Jay Clouse joins me to talk through an easy way anyone can get starting freelancing. Listen to it here:
How to Get Your First Client (and Why You Just Need One Client!)
Once you have your own client, the road ahead gets a little easier. Don’t get caught up in thinking you need ten clients out of the gate. You just need an audience of one to start.
To help guide you through what that’s like, I had a chat with Charli Marie of CharliMarieTV.
In the video (embedded below), Charli, a successful freelance designer, shares essential tips for how to get your first freelance client, best practices for working with that client to make sure that it’s a great experience, and advice for making sure you get paid on time.
Once you have your first freelance client, how do you start making more money? In the second video in my freelance series, I continue my conversation with Charli Marie on the topic of:
5 Ways to Make More Money (As a Freelancer & Entrepreneur)
So, you have your first freelance client. Now what? How do you start making your freelance life fruitful? There are many ways you can start making more money as a freelancer and entrepreneur, but we’re going to focus on just five ways for now.
1. Start building a reputation
As Charli says, building up your brand and getting your voice out there allows you to be “known for your craft.” A few great mediums to make yourself known is a blog, YouTube channel, and podcast—all platforms I use to build and grow my brand and reputation. The more you put out there, the more useful and relevant content and information you share with people online, the more you’re going to look like an expert in your particular craft or skill.
2. Have a good process in place
Know your process, and know it well. A good process means that you have an organized system and way to work with your clients from the start, the middle, and the end. If your process is non-existent, it’s just a disorganized mess, the less likely your clients are going to want to continue working with you, and probably won’t recommend you to their friends.
3. Serve the clients you already have
It can be tempting to want to always go after new clients, or to land the next great client. But when you’re too focused on new clients, you’re often forgetting about the clients you are already serving. Focus on your existing clients and the ways you can improve your service to them.
4. Upsell in an authentic way
Upselling can be tricky, and in some cases has a bad reputation. But here’s how Charli does it for her freelance clients: a tier-based approach:
Tier 1: You do the basic work to meet the client’s stated need
Tier 2: You meet the basic needs of the client, but also provide additional value
Tier 3: You have a solution for the stated needs of the client, but then you also offer an additional service based on your review of the client’s situation and your experience
5. Increase your prices
Most freelancers undervalue or underprice themselves when they’re first starting out. It’s an easy thing to do because you’re just doing everything you can to get your foot in the door. But it doesn’t have to be that way—especially if you have your one client. Focus on what you do and your value.
For an extended look at more ways you can make money as a freelancer, check out my video with Charli Marie below!
Now that you’ve started freelancing, what’s next?
Freelancing, THEN WHAT? Career & Biz Options for Freelancers
As a freelancer, you’ve probably felt the pull to do more in your career. It’s totally natural. And so in this final section of this post, I am going to share a few ways you can expand on your freelance career and business. (And don’t forget to watch the video below for the full deep dive into your many options—with Charli Marie and Caleb, my videographer!)
1. Freelancing can transform into a full-time job
In the video, Charli shares how she got her first full-time design job after doing some design work for a company. If you do good work for your clients, and you have a good relationship with them, that’s a potential opportunity if the client is looking for a more long-term, stable solution.
2. Your side hustle can transform into a full hustle
Caleb, my videographer, used to work at Fizzle doing video work. He loved that part of his full-time job so much that he set out doing videography as a side hustle. And that side hustle is now a full-time hustle! In the video below, Caleb shares how he prepared for that transition, and how he masterfully worked his way to a successful videography business owner.
3. If you want to scale, you have to hire people
I know this very well, as I tried to do everything myself for a while before realizing that I needed to bring in a team to free me up to do bigger and brighter things for Smart Passive Income. The same is true for Caleb’s business. He wanted to grow and push the limits, and he realized he couldn’t take that journey alone.
Brian returned in episode 314 to share how to turn your service-based business into a product, or into something that can be scaled and automated, so check that out, too. (Don’t forget to subscribe to the SPI Podcast!)
And don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel for instant access to my weekly videos!
Again, you can check out the full Freelance Video Series below:
Chelsea Guffy recently began a side hustle as a travel agent who specializes in Disney vacations.
“I thought to myself, ‘Okay, this could be something really cool,’ Guffy said when a friend she helped advise on a Disney vacation suggested she do it as a job.
This is Chelsea Guffy’s story, as told to writer Jamie Killin.
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This is an as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Chelsea Guffy, who recently began a side hustle as a travel agent who specializes in Disney vacations. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Last year, I noticed on social media that one of my sorority sisters had started working as a travel agent on a lot of Disney vacations and working for a travel agency called ET Family Travel.
I had a Disney vacation coming up that November, and I had already booked the whole thing but I had asked her if she could get me dining reservations, because those are the hardest thing to get at Disney World, and she agreed. She helped me get all the dining reservations that I wanted.
Then she said to me, “Chelsea, you know Disney in and out. You should come on as an agent.” So, I thought about it, and come the new year I thought to myself, “Okay, this could be something really cool.” I joined the team and I fell in love with it.
Travel is just in my blood, and I love booking vacations for my family, so it was a no-brainer.
I grew up in Florida about two hours away from Disney World and grew up going.
The first time I went, I was probably three weeks old. I’ve always had a love for travel – I studied abroad in college, and when I was growing up my family would take trips at least once a year to different places all over the country.
Travel is just in my blood, and I love booking vacations for my family, so it was a no-brainer that I’d like doing it for other people.
The agency I work for focuses on Disney and family-friendly trips, so most agents focus on theme park vacations. However, we do all kinds of travel. I mainly focused on Disney at first, but then I got requests from my friends, so I decided to branch out.
I did a United Kingdom trip for a friend of mine in June, and now I’m doing another UK trip as well as a New York trip. I’ve also helped with California trips and even staycations.
My clientele is primarily my friends and people in my network, but now I’ve had two clients who I did not know previously – one reached out to me through my social media, and another was a referral through the agency.
I’m able to help my clients save a lot of time. I have a lot of knowledge; while they might need months to plan a trip, I can do it for them in three weeks. Sometimes I also find lower prices for them.
I also make sure to tell my clients that this is my second job and that I have a full-time job. I try to give as much time to my clients as I can – but I make sure to set expectations.
I do also get benefits like free Disney tickets and discounts at hotels.
As a side hustle, it’s nice to have the extra cash. I am an independent contractor who makes money based on commissions from the theme parks and hotels. There can also be perks from vendors we work with, which is a benefit for a travel enthusiast like myself.
The amount of time I spend on the job varies, but I average 12 to 15 hours a week in addition to my full-time job. I start as soon as my son goes to bed, so 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. are my prime. It works because I’m a person that likes to be busy – we’re always go, go, go.
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Startup business grants can help small businesses grow without debt. But if you want free money to start a company, your time may be better spent elsewhere. Competition for small-business grants is fierce, and many awards require time in business — often at least six months.
Some grants are open to newer businesses or true startups. And even if you don’t qualify now, it can pay to know where to look for future funding. Here are the best grants for small-business startups, plus alternative sources of startup funding to consider.
How Much Do You Need?
with Fundera by NerdWallet
Government startup business grants and resources
Some government programs offer direct funding to startups looking for business grants, but those that don’t may point you in the right direction or help with applications:
Grants.gov. Government agencies routinely post new grant opportunities on this centralized database. If you see an opportunity relevant to your business idea, you can check if startups are eligible. Many of these grants deal with scientific or pharmaceutical research, though, so they may not be relevant to Main Street businesses.
Local governments. Lots of federal grants award funding to other governments, like states or cities, or to nonprofit economic development organizations. Those entities then offer grants to local businesses. Plugging into your local startup ecosystem can help you stay on top of these opportunities.
Small Business Development Centers. These resource centers funded by the Small Business Administration offer business coaching, education, technical support and networking opportunities. They may also be able to help you apply for small-business grants, develop a business plan and level up your business in other ways.
Minority Business Development Agency Centers. The MBDA, which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, operates small-business support centers similar to SBDCs. The MBDA doesn’t give grants to businesses directly, but these centers can connect you with grant organizations, help you prepare applications and secure other types of business financing.
Local startup business grants
Some local business incubators or accelerators offer business grants or pitch competitions with cash prizes. To find these institutions near you, do an online search for “Your City business incubator.”
Even if you don’t see a grant program, sign up for their email newsletter or follow them on social media. Like SBDCs and MBDAs, business incubators often provide business coaching, courses and lectures that can help you develop your business idea.
Startup business grants from companies and nonprofits
Lots of corporations and large nonprofits, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, organize grant competitions. Some national opportunities include:
iFundWomen. iFundWomen partners with other corporations to administer business grants. You can fill out a universal application to receive automatic notifications when you’re eligible to apply for a grant.
Amber Grant for Women. WomensNet gives two $10,000 Amber Grants each month and two $25,000 grants annually. Filling out one application makes you eligible for all Amber Grants. To qualify, businesses must be at lesat 50% women-owned and based in the U.S. or Canada.
National Association for the Self-Employed. Join NASE, and you can apply for quarterly Growth Grant opportunities. There are no time-in-business requirements for these grants of up to $4,000, but you’ll need to provide details about how you plan to use the grant and how it will help your business grow.
FedEx Small Business Grant Contest. This annual competition awards grants to small-business owners in a variety of industries. You can sign up to receive an email when each application period opens. To be eligible, you’ll need to have been selling your product or service for at least six months. Be mindful, though, that each grant cycle receives thousands of applications.
Fast Break for Small Business. This grant program is funded by LegalZoom, the NBA, WNBA and NBA G League and administered by Accion Opportunity Fund. You can win a $10,000 business grant plus free LegalZoom services. Applications open during the NBA season, which runs from fall to early summer each year.
Alternative funding sources for startups
New businesses likely won’t be able to rely on startup business grants for working capital. The following financing sources may help accelerate your growth or get your startup off the ground:
SBA microloans offer up to $50,000 to help your business launch or expand. The average microloan is around $13,000, according to the SBA.
The SBA issues microloans through intermediary lenders, usually nonprofit financial institutions and economic development organizations, all of which have different requirements. You can use the SBA’s website to find a lender in your state.
Friends and family
Asking friends and family to invest in your business may seem daunting, but it’s very common. Make sure you define whether each person’s money is a loan and, if so, when and how you’ll pay it back. Put an agreement in writing if possible.
Business credit cards
Business credit cards can help you manage startup expenses while your cash flow is still unsteady. You can qualify for a business credit card with your personal credit score and some general information about your business, like your business name and industry.
You’ll probably need to sign a personal guarantee, though, which is a promise that you’ll pay back the debt if your business can’t.
If your business has a dedicated customer base, they can help fund you via crowdfunding. Usually businesses offer something in exchange, like debt notes, equity shares or access to an exclusive event.
There are lots of different crowdfunding platforms that offer different terms, so look around to find the model that works best for you.
Startups looking to make it easier for people to rent apartments on a flexible, shorter-term basis are gaining momentum thanks in part to the rise of remote work. Last week, Dealbook reported that a flexible living startup, Flow, founded by WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann, has locked down $350 million from Andreessen Horowitz. Earlier today, TechCrunch reported that an online rental marketplace, Zumper, just raised $30 million in a Series D1 round of funding led by Kleiner Perkins to help it better serve people looking for short-term rental options.
Now, Landing, a startup that is making it possible for its customers to rent a fully furnished apartment on its platform for as short a period as one month, says it, too, has secured fresh funding: $75 million in equity funding and another $50 million in debt.
Delta-v Capital led the equity piece, joined by new and earlier investors, including Greycroft and Foundry. Landing has now raised $237 million in venture funding and $230 million in debt since its launch in 2019.
We told you a bit last week about Landing’s founder Bill Smith, a serial entrepreneur who we dubbed the “anti-Adam Neumann,” given that he’s decidedly understated, he’s conservative when it comes to raising venture funding, and his two past companies have only made investors money. Neumann, in comparison, is a forceful personality, and not everyone came out ahead, famously, on WeWork’s path to becoming a publicly traded company last year.
Smith’s company works like so: Using gobs of data on pricing and demand around the country, it zeroes in on multifamily buildings around the U.S. Through performance marketing and referrals, it then finds tenants for these apartments, itself signing one-year leases, then quickly moving in everything from furniture to utensils for the tenant. Landing has all of these furnishings made in Vietnam and shipped to warehouses in Austin, Phoenix and Alabama, where it is based.
Tenants, who sign on as Landing “members” for a $199 yearly fee, commit to renting from Landing for a minimum of six months, though they’re allowed to move freely to other Landing-operated apartments during that period, provided they give the company two weeks’ notice. Smith says that currently, on average, they stay in one spot six months.
Right now, Landing — which is not profitable — makes money by marking up what it pays in rent by upwards of 40%. Eventually, Smith told us last week, Landing intends to sell its software directly to the multifamily property owners. “Over time, we’ll partner with owners to bring this product to their building, and it really won’t be a ‘Landing’ lease product,” he said. “They’ll just join the Landing platform. They’ll operate using our technology and our standards. And, and it won’t be this model of, you know, Landing leases it and is committed to that lease.”
It sounds very much like what Flow is building, based on a “inside” story about Flow in the real estate outlet The Real Deal this week. According to the outlet’s sources, Flow is effectively a service that landlords employ to make their properties more attractive to people who want to bounce around yet also experience a branded, consistent experience.
As with Landing, shorter lease terms and furnished apartments will likely allow Flow to command higher rents, notes The Real Deal.
Unlike Landing, Flow will itself own at least some of the multifamily units into which its members move. Indeed, with his ample WeWork proceeds, Neumann has already snapped up more than 3,000 apartment units in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta and Nashville, per Dealbook. It could give the outfit an additional advantage. As The Real Deal notes, Flow’s buildings will “also be able to tap into cheaper financing . . . because banks can lend to the properties at the same leverage point offered to apartment projects, or up to 80 percent. Those are more favorable terms than the roughly 55 percent typically offered to hotel developments, essentially creating a high-yield business with lower costs.”
Flow, Landing and Zumper aren’t alone in spying opportunity in flexible living. Last fall, Zeus Living, which is focused on giving people “flexible living” options, raised $55 million in a round led by SIG. Blueground, a pre-furnished apartment rental startup focused on short-term and long-term rental, meanwhile raised $180 million in equity and debt funding last September. Another tech-enabled platform, Placemakr, separately raised $90 million from investors back in March.
Another flexible-living company is Sentral, whose 3,000-plus properties are owned by Iconiq Capital, the San Francisco-based investment firm whose investors include Mark Zuckerberg and Reid Hoffman; Iconiq is also a major investor in Sentral, the WSJ reported last year.
Expect more players backed by more capital, despite the uneven performance of some companies in the space, including Sonder, a short-term rental startup that went public last year via a SPAC merger and that last month cut one-fifth of its staff as part of a restructuring designed to shave $85 million in annual expenses. (On the customer-review platform Trustpilot, Sonder receives 1.3 out of five stars, with complaints about everything from a lack of hot water in its branded units to blood-stained linens.)
While the short-term rental business is complicated given its many moving parts, more individuals are adopting a nomadic existence owing to the pandemic’s ripple effects, and VCs like nothing more than an industry in flux.
“Our view,” Placemakr’s CEO tells The Real Deal, is that the “more the merrier. The institutionalization of an asset class doesn’t happen by a single group.”