I’m writing this as per request. But first, a disclaimer: I’m reeaallly no expert at freelancing. Actually I’m no expert at anything at all. :-/
I’ve only been freelancing for (less than) a year, and I’m more into freelancing for lifestyle reasons rather than freelancing to build up or make a lot of money. I have freelancing colleagues who work really hard and make really good money. They are working all the time though, and that’s not something I prefer. I’m in the process of cutting back a lot and maybe even discontinuing freelancing altogether, or doing it very occassionally. My big priority and most important goal right now is to get fit and healthy, which at the moment, freelancing interferes with.
How I started freelancing
I was working as a full-time employee in a big company. My job was structured in a way that encouraged freelancing and I passed a lot of my work over to freelancers, many of whom were ex-employees. Most companies outsource a big portion of their work, so the trick is to find out what type of work that is and figure out how to get it.
I can’t really give much advice in this regard because I was lucky that I just fell into the situation. My former employer is very bureaucratic and they depend on people who know the company systems. A lot of my direct colleagues were also freelancers, so I could see what work they were doing, how much they charged, and I made friends with them so that when I became a freelancer myself, I could ask them very intimate questions about freelancing. Which brings me to…
Network while you’re still an employee
The reality is that some people will forget you and not even write you back when you’re no longer working in the same company. Everyone gets busy. Keep this in mind and start networking WHILE you’re still an employee. It’s much easier to get your ‘foot in the door’ when people still know your face and have to deal with you!
In my former company (turned biggest client), I had to network anyway because of the nature of my job. Even as an employee, if we didn’t network, our projects wouldn’t get done. So I worked across many different departments and had meetings upon meetings with lots of people. Most of my day was taken up by meetings. This put me in working relationships with a lot of people, I got exposure to how the company works, and got my name and face out-there, which is important for freelancing. It doesn’t hurt to do something similar if you’re interested in freelancing.
Build a pro-freelancing reputation
If you are interested in climbing the corporate ladder, you should rock the boat and cause some controversy to get attention, then come up with a genius solution that is hard to implement so that you need your own team to help you.
This was not my interest nor my personality. I was more the easy going, straight forward person who did my work and didn’t cause problems. I was very transparent in everything I did and was not sneaky. I didn’t care to ask any hard hitting questions either. I treated everyone the way I would want to be treated, and in turn was well liked (or liked enough). This may all sound incredibly boring, but in my experience, this is exactly the type of reputation that continues to get me freelancing work.
People want a freelancer who won’t isn’t annoyingly competitive and who won’t cause problems. They want to give (dump!) work onto someone who can get the job done, easily and stress-free. You need to be that person!
Competition from other freelancers
There is a lot of competition out-there. I do specialist work in a niche field, so I’ve cut out a lot of random freelancers as competition. But within the industry there are LOTS of very qualified, very good to work with freelancers who have the right PhDs and work experience. To be honest, I would trust these people more than me! BUT, I don’t have to say that to my clients when I’m pitching.
I understand that it’s not about getting THE BEST PERSON OF ALL TIME in X TOPIC to do the job. It’s about getting someone who is available and who can reasonably do the work. Like if you’re hiring a graphic designer to make a banner for your blog. You don’t need to hire the most amazing graphic designer who ever existed, you just need someone who can listen to what you want, who won’t get angry when you make changes along the way, and who has the time and interest and some skills to get it done.
Personally, I stay competitive against my peers by taking on less work (so that I can be extra attentive on their projects), and being available and keeping in touch on a personal level. This is easy for me because I basically work with my friends, which is my favourite part of freelancing. 🙂