The 8 most important steps to take during your first 3 months of freelancing

Emma Levin

The beginning of your freelance journey can be one of the most exciting and liberating times of your life. That said, the first three months can hold many highs and lows for the newly-solo. The harsh reality of a potential pay cut, inconsistent paydays, and unpaid invoices can scare off even the most pragmatic of newbie freelancers. Creating a roadmap for your freelance journey can make all the difference when it comes to building resilience for the challenges up ahead. So if you want to avoid begging your boss for your old job back, be sure to take these 8 important steps during your first three months of freelancing.

1. Don't quit your day job (just yet)

Becoming your own boss is arguably the biggest selling point for choosing to go solo. Every disgruntled employee has fantasized about saying "See you never!", putting in their notice, and gracefully swan-diving into a successful career as a solo. 

But before you leave that steady paycheck behind, be sure to cover your bases. That means creating a freelance portfolio to show to potential clients and securing some leads before leaving your job. If you absolutely can't take it anymore, then it's wise to have at least three to six months of living expenses saved. Limiting overhead costs like rent, and keeping your cost of living low will make all the difference during tight financial times.

Related: How to show your freelancer financials who's boss!

2. Find your sweet spot (otherwise known as your niche) 

Do you know what services you’re going to offer? Is it website redesign? Content writing? Social media management? After you've found your industry, pick a niche you can excel in. A niche is defined as a specialized but profitable corner of the market. Your niche could be reviewing the latest technology products or designing websites for music venues, but regardless, find a niche and master it. If you develop in a certain area of expertise, you will become more attractive to high-profile clients. Nevertheless, don’t limit yourself on your freelance journey. Keep a growth mindset and stay curious about expanding your skills. The ability to pivot and adapt is indicative of a successful freelancer.

Related: a compelling argument why new solos shouldn't niche down (just yet!) 

3. Have your portfolio ready to dazzle potential clients

Imagine you’re about to land your first freelance client, but when they ask to see your portfolio, you have nothing to show for it. Let’s do our best to avoid this potentially embarrassing situation. There are plenty of websites you can use to showcase your skills: Journo Portfolio, Squarespace, Behance, Dribble, to name a few, and many of them have free options! Once you’re satisfied with your portfolio, share it on every platform. Place the link in your email signature, at the top of your LinkedIn page, and even in your Instagram bio! If you’re feeling embarrassed because your portfolio is light on work, then get creative. Finish some short-term passion projects, offer to work for friends, or even create some speculative or "spec" work that you make up yourself — but make certain your portfolio is ready to go!

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4. Discover which freelance websites work best for you

There are plenty of job sites to search for gigs like Freelancer, Guru, or Working Not Working. However, the sheer volume of them can be quite overwhelming. In your first three months of freelancing, spend some time exploring each of them before concentrating your efforts. You might enjoy the personalization of LinkedIn over the uncertainty of Fiverr, but you might land the most work on Upwork. After you’ve decided which websites work best for you, dedicate time toward applying for jobs and emailing new clients. Even if you don’t hear back right away, you might get a response weeks later. Stranger things have happened!

Related: 5 vital things to know before joining a freelance platform

5. Don't underestimate your personal network

You may land only a few measly gigs during your first three months of freelancing, so be creative with your job hunt. Post all over your social media that you’re available for hire. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your friends and family, email your mom’s book club, or post your services in the local neighborhood Facebook group. You never know which friend of a friend needs a video editor, web developer, or blogger and can bridge the gap to your next client. After spending all day searching job sites, it’s an incredible feeling to have your personal network connect you to your next gig.

6. Invest in yourself by upskilling

When you’re new to freelancing, your portfolio and your experience will undoubtedly be slim. You must find ways to make yourself stand out and appear more desirable to potential clients. The start of your freelance journey is the perfect time to invest in yourself. Sign up for online classes or get certifications to increase your chances of being hired. If a potential client is on the fence about you, a Google UX Design Certificate may make or break their decision. If you can’t spend the extra money, there are plenty of websites that offer free trials. Carve out some free time, and then take classes on LinkedIn, Skillshare, or Udemy. Your educational knowledge can make all the difference on your freelance journey!  

7. Get clear on why you're freelancing

Get down to the nitty-gritty of it. Why do you want to freelance? Learning what drives you will help push you through nights of doubt and uncertainty. Do you want to be your own boss? Do you want flexible working hours? Have you always wanted to travel and work from anywhere? Now is the time to be brutally honest with yourself. Once you know your limits, you can then set financial goals, which will help frame your journey and keep you on a steady path.

8. Finally, don't forget to bet on yourself

Freelancing is a tough and tiring endeavor, but it can potentially be one of life's most rewarding experiences.  Working as a solo opens so many doors and allows you to live life on your terms. Don't forget, there’s a reason you chose this path and there’s a reason you’re reading this article right now. There are an estimated 1.2 billion people freelancing full-time across the world. Who says you can’t be one of them?

About Emma

Emma is a freelance content writer living a nomadic life. She enjoys writing about spirituality, her travel mishaps, and women who rule the world. When she's not sitting behind a computer, she's chugging coffee, falling off her skateboard, or cuddling her 17-year-old cat, Nala. She uses Xolo Go to invoice her clients in the EU.