It takes absolutely zero effort to utter the words (out loud or in your head):
"I want to become a freelancer".
It's the same thing with: "I want to lose weight", "I want to eat healthy", "I want to start my own business". And one of personal favourites: "I want to start doing yoga". Zero effort while saying it. Zero effort in actually doing it.
Is getting started with freelancing the same for you?
Are you paying it lip service without really getting started?
If you are, my theory is that you probably have no idea where to start.
And exactly why I laid down some tips. The whole "how to get started as a freelancer on the internet". But I know that's not enough. You probably need more and that's exactly what I'm here to offer.
So, I want to tackle what I think is the hardest thing of all in the beginning stages.
Figuring out what to offer as a freelancer.
You can be ready to get started all you want - spirits high and motivational choirs singing in your head - but if you're still unsure about what to "sell", you'll be headed nowhere fast.
One thing I must say, though, is that I was a teensy bit lucky when I got started. All it took was one meeting with a friend to spark my interest and get me started. In the midst of all the catching up, she somehow got to telling me how she writes online. I was already dabbling in blogging and hoping to become a writer someday so I told myself I could certainly do what she was doing.
And the rest, well, is history.
Here's The Thinking Behind Figuring Out What to Offer
When trying to figure out the skills you should offer your freelance clients, I believe you should think in three ways:
- What do you know how to do well?
- What do you love doing?
- What do you want to learn how to do/ learn how to do better?
What you know how to do well might not be what you love doing. What you love doing might not be something you do well. What you want to learn how to do might not exactly be the ultimate thing you'll love. What you love doing might be something you need to learn more about. What you know how to do well might also be something you want to learn more about.
Ok, enough with that word play. You get the point.
I separate the three because for some people, all three mean several different skills. For others, it might just be one or two skills.
As a freelancer, it will be prudent to be known for one major thing. It's about branding and all that "what do you want to be known for" stuff.
But, there is nothing wrong with being able to do more than one thing well. We know Coca cola primarily for that one drink but they have lots of other drinks on offer. We know KFC primarily for the chicken but they have lots of other meals on offer. The world primarily knows Kenya for the Big Five and safaris, but the country has lots of other things to offer - including marathon champions (when Ethiopia is not kicking our ass), a celebrity US President and an Oscar award winning actress.
In my case, I'm primarily branding myself as a writer and in particular, a ghostwriter.
But, I also do social media strategy.
So this is me at the moment:
What do I know how to do well? Writing, social media strategy, administrative tasks
What do I love doing? Writing, social media strategy
What do I want to learn how to do/learn how to do better? non-fiction writing, copywriting, digital marketing, web design, software development, app development, blockchain everything
Notice the repeat offenders? See the foreign suspects?
Now I'll go over the three ideas one by one.
What do you know how to do well?
When thinking about this, write down the skills you currently do well or have been trained to do well. These could include things you are naturally good at, things you learnt from a course, a coach, an experience, any kind of "school" or even an employer.
Another way to think about it is: what skills do people generally associate you with? What skills does your employer think you're good at? What skills have received numerous compliments from friends and family?
Once you have those down, figure out which ones you actually enjoy doing or do not mind doing for someone else.
And for heaven's sake, do not get into freelancing a skill you are good at but it's one you hate doing. What this will lead to is you becoming a miserable human that'll spread misery wherever you go. And what will be the point of hustling for something you hate, anyway?
If you do not see yourself clocking hours happily over a listed skill, cross it out. Immediately.
Take another look at what's left on the list and think about each skill's "remote-worthy-ness".
Can any of them be done remotely? i.e. from your laptop at a different location without the need for endless physical meetings? Are any of them being done remotely by someone else?
These questions are important if location independence is a key factor for you.
Do your homework and find all that out. Take notes if you have to.
You'll need them later.
What do you love doing?
As I mentioned, this could be a totally different list for some people. For others, it could be the same as the previous list - you know, those lucky people who actually studied or worked at something they love and are passionate about.
Whatever the case, think about what you love doing.
What activities do you do that fill you up with joy or utter enjoyment? What things do you do that allow you to get lost in your own little world (something that has been called flow by famous psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)?
With this list, focus on the things that you are actually good at.
There are people who love singing - absolutely love it - but they are terrible at it. Loving something is not the same as being good at something.
Another question you might ask yourself is what activities you enjoyed doing as a kid. If you were not playing or watching television, is there something you loved doing?
Now - some of what you come up with might not feel or sound like a sellable skill per se. But hold on a little longer. I'll show you how they could lead you to the freelance skill of your dreams.
What do you want to learn how to do/ learn how to do better?
This last one is an important one as well.
Perhaps due to a faulty career trajectory, less-than-ideal advice from your parents, chasing the wrong things and people, or just being at the wrong school/city/country/place/time, you didn't get to learn a skill you are currently curious about and feel you would be good at.
Perhaps it's a skill that's complimentary to the ones you already have.
Perhaps it's a skill that will be a great addition (though unrelated) to the ones you currently have.
Perhaps it's a skill that you know will be needed in the world, in your part of the world, or in your area of expertise in years to come.
Write down anything you can think of that fits any of those descriptions.
What to do with these lists
Ok. You have lists written down. Maybe three, maybe two, maybe even just one.
I suggest you sit down and clean them up.
Convert any activities from the what you love doing list into skills or skills closely tied to them.
If the activity is drawing or painting, you might be looking at graphic design or web design skills. If the activity is doing math homework, you might be looking at data science or data analysis skills.
These are just examples. Speculations.
You or someone who knows you well enough will be better placed to know what a favourite activity in childhood might mean for you in your adult life.
Another key thing: take note of your repeat offenders. Be sure to notice their offspring or relatives too.
Remember my list?
I had writing in what I know how to do well. I had writing again in what I love doing. And I had non-fiction writing and copywriting in what I want to learn how to do/learn how to do better - one offspring and one close relative of "writing".
In your case, it could be that you have three major repeat offenders and some relatives.
Maybe you have two.
Or one umbrella one like I do.
Make those your priority.
In case you have no repeat offenders whatsoever, you may want to prioritize what you love doing. If what you know how to do well is more sellable for the freelance market, prioritize that.
Again, due diligence will give you a lot of insight.
Find out what skills are more marketable than others. Place what you find against your prioritized list and see if you have any intersections.
Again, test what you are left with for "remote-worthiness". Especially if you want to become location independent.
In some cases, you might want to focus on learning new skills that you are interested in so as to become a freelancer in high demand.
This is the sneaky reason why I want to learn web design and software development. I want to diversify the kind of clients I can get in future. And to become a sort of A-list freelancer.
I want to be able to design, code and write for any web-related project. That triple threat kind of stuff.
It's the same way some musicians delve into acting, then writing and maybe even directing. Case in point, Donald Glover a.k.a Childish Gambino.
But the same goes for you as a freelancer. There's no harm in wanting a Grammy, an Oscar and an Emmy and a Golden Globe in one lifetime. If you want to do what you love as well as delve into something else that you can excel in and that is sellable, by all means, go for it.
The point is to optimize your profile as you move along.
Remember, it is not a zero-sum game.
Once you know what you can offer, get out there to win.
Only to win.
Let me know if this process works for you or if you know of a better one.