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Most freelance jobs are looking to hire freelancers who have experience. But how the heck are you supposed to gain experience in the first place?
This is actually the number one question I get from my freelance coaching clients, and it’s a tough catch 22 my friends.
But I want you to know that you’re not alone! Seriously, I’ve been a freelance writer for the past 6+ years and I’ve learned exactly what it takes to get started when you have zero experience.
These are proven ways to find the best freelance jobs — even when you have little-to-no experience. It just takes a bit of out-of-the-box thinking!
So let’s get into it! Here’s how to get started with the best freelance jobs (and ones that actually pay!) even when you’re starting from scratch.
Lean on past experience or certifications
Most of the freelancers that I coach have a degree or certification that is actually very valuable. You can lean on this past degree as a way to quickly establish a good reputation for yourself — even if your past experience isn’t necessarily in the same field of work.
I call this making a lateral transition. A lateral transition is essentially moving laterally from one career field to another while using the same skills, but in a different way.
I did this with my accounting certification as a Certified Bookkeeper. But instead of doing the daily bookkeeping for small business owners I decided to help write financial content for websites and startups. Same experience/skills needed but presented in a different way.
A business admin degree can be leaned on for various services. For example, you could become a virtual assistant who specializes in processes or organization. Or if you were an ad print designer and now want to do web design for clients.
You still understand the mechanics of how business admin or design works, but you can start your online business offering slightly different services.
See? You’re not starting out with zero experience after all!
Create your own samples
In the beginning a lot of clients will ask to see samples of your work. They still ask to see samples when you have more experience, but then you can direct them to your portfolio.
If you don’t have any samples, there are actually two ways you can start creating them (I talk about the second way later on in this post).
First, start by opening up a Google Drive doc, or Microsoft Word. Create 2-3 samples of work, project outlines, social media strategies, etc., related to the niche you’re hoping to work in.
The best kinds of samples are list posts (see example below): How to’s or any other kind of educational-post that has takeaways and valuable information for this potential client’s reader.
Include subheadings, formatting, bolding and links within your sample content. Make it just like you would if you were submitting this as an assignment to a paying client.
Oh, and make sure you read your client’s blog, editorial guidelines and other content before submitted a sample. Nothing will end your chances of getting the freelance job than ignoring their instructions or submitting content off-topic.
Source testimonials from past employers
In the event you don’t have any accolades or degrees from your day job, reach out to past employers and ask for a testimonial. Request that they be as specific as possible, naming any special awards you won or employee-of-the-month type recognition.
When I was leaving my full-time bookkeeping job I asked one of my small business owner clients to share a 1-2 paragraph testimonial that I could use for my website. Since I didn’t burn any bridges on the way out of quitting my job, they were happy to share some nice words.
This made it a lot easier to of a transition when I starting looking for online clients, since they could see that I had SOME experience and a good reputation already built up.
Merge your personal blog & portfolio site
Yeah, yeah, I know that having a personal blog is advice that’s overdone. But that’s because it actually works. You need a home base online, a place to showcase your skills, work ethic, opinions and portfolio of work.
I highly recommend getting your name.com if it’s available. (The reason I use a branded website, like Careful Cents, is because Carrie Smith dot everything was taken.)
Or if you already have a portfolio site with a separate blog, it may be a good idea to merge the two so it’s easier to promote yourself to potential clients. It’s less confusing to clients if you show them one website that houses your portfolio, Hire Me page, blog and contact form.
Plus, it’s less of a hassle for you to maintain.
Start establishing yourself as a freelancer who consistently pushes out valuable content, shares insightful comments on social media and has a reputable name in the media. The only way to do that is to promote yourself and your site everywhere.
Offer to do work for free
Even though you’re not getting paid, there are major benefits of doing free work until you build up enough experience, or a few samples in your portfolio, that you’re ready to start charging for your work.
That’s what I did in the beginning of my career; I didn’t start with job boards but instead reached out a local bank that I did business with and started writing blog posts for free. After about 3 months I asked for a testimonial and to use the samples in my portfolio, then moved onto paying gigs.
Just remember to put a timeline on how long you work for free, so you’re not stuck working for no pay too long. On your way out, ask this client for a testimonial and even a recommendation or connection to your next (paying!) client.
Run a guest post blogging campaign
This is the second way to create samples when you’re starting out at ground zero. Start by doing a guest blogging challenge where you reach out and pitch small blogs and big sites alike.
This is how other freelancers are able to showcase their “As Seen In” sections of their websites. They start by guest blogging and sometimes those blogs have relationships with bigger outlets where your post gets syndicated. BOOM! Instant recognition, not to mention more traffic for your own blog.
One of the easiest ways to get media mentions is to become a Huffington Post blogger. They recently rolled out their new Blogger Platform that allows you to publish content without going through an editor’s approval. Otherwise you can follow the instructions in this post to get your content published, and a link to your site, within 24 hours.
Sign up for non-traditional job boards
Obviously I’m not going to tell you to sign up for sites like Guru, Upwork or Fiverr as I have a #nomorejobboards series and mission that I’m on. But I do have some highly recommended job board alternatives that you should check out.
Here are my favorite non-traditional job board sites (in no particular order):
- LinkedIn Jobs
- Craigslist (gigs section)
- ProBlogger job board
- Facebook careers
Most of these unconventional job boards give you the control by connecting you to well-established clients directly, so no more applying for dozens of gigs only to hear nothing back. You also get to establish what your minimum rate will be as well as work with clients who want a long-term relationship with you.
Instead of waiting for experience to sell your services, these sites are already well-known and have a good reputation of working with excellent freelancers. In essence you’re already vouched for when finding freelance jobs via these networks.
No more headaches or hassles!
Go to in-person meetups
Face to face is always so much more effective at helping you land the gig. Whenever possible, attend local events, meetups and conferences — armed with your business card of course. I can’t tell you the number of freelance jobs I’ve landed, even recently, where I met someone at an event or meetup here locally.
Check your local newspaper for events, or your city’s website, bulletin boards in coffee shops, or sites like Meetup.com. Or the Freelancers Union Spark events in your local area. I’m a member of the Denver one here in Colorado.
There are even Facebook groups for local freelancers and related missions that you can request to join.
I recently went to an art friends coloring book launch party and met multiple female business owners who wanted to know more about what I do. So I kicked up a conversation with them about money and business, and we’ve since connected about doing some work together.
But don’t make my mistake and forget your business cards. They may seem a bit outdated but people still ask for them. Ha!
Get freelance jobs with no experience
Even if you have zero experience as a freelancer there are ways you can lean on your past accomplishments and skills to put yourself in a qualified light. Potential clients view “experience” in many different forms so as long as you go in with confidence, and 2-3 samples of work, that’s really all you need to get the gig!
If you’re someone with a reasonable skill set who’s dedicated to creating a quality freelance reputation, there is no reason why you can’t succeed in the world of freelancing — even if you have no experience.
Because, let’s face it. We all start with zero experience!