Online Work Tips & Best Practices

By Katy Tynan, Author

As a group, freelancers tend to be experienced professionals. More than half are over the age of 35 and the largest cohort (more than 45 percent) are over the age of 45. It’s the result of the fact that many consultants go out on their own at the peak or towards the end of a successful career.

But those demographics are shifting. Today, the fastest growing segment of self-employed population is between 24 and 35. This group, which represents the millennial generation, has shown a strong interest in entrepreneurship and independent work, not as a career capstone but as an intentional lifelong earning practice.

A 2011 survey by Young Entrepreneur Council and Buzz Marketing Group found that 27 percent of millennials are self-employed. Because of the poor economic conditions that were in place when they graduated from college in 2007–2009, some opted out of the job market and started up their own businesses.

Moreover, even those who took jobs are continuing to pursue their own work on the side. Thirty-five percent of employed millennials are also running their own businesses when they are not at their day jobs.

While there are some great reasons to work for yourself early in your career, it does present a challenge. How do you land your first client if you don’t have 15 or 20 years of experience and expertise? Getting a first gig is different for every freelancer. Sometimes it’s a friend or colleague who has seen your work and knows its value. Occasionally it’s a total stranger who finds you through word of mouth. But however you do it, that first opportunity is critical to getting your free agent career off the ground.

Here are five great ways to build credibility and get clients when starting your freelance business

Mock it up

When Alexa Johnson wanted to grow her photography business by moving into wedding photos, she had to show that she was up to the job. Without a portfolio of wedding pictures, no one would hire her. So she and her friends staged a mock wedding using thrift store dresses. They picked a variety of sites and traded around being the bride so Alexa could end up with a portfolio of great shots.

Volunteer

As a tech guy, Mike Roberts wanted to make some money doing IT consulting after college. But without any clients, he couldn’t get a gig. He offered his services for free for a month to several local nonprofits to give them a technology tune-up. Not only did he help them out, but he got several referrals to paying work.

Bring your own business

Steve Jackson left his job as a marketing director at a creative firm to go solo. He had been managing a client that wasn’t a great fit for the firm. So as part of his transition plan out, he arranged to transfer that client to his business and pay 10 percent of the revenue back to his company for a year.

Partner up

Kelly Baker got her law degree and was starting off in her career as a human resources (HR) attorney. She worked at a big firm, but when she had her first child, she decided she wanted more flexibility than she could get in her job. Finding clients was tough until she partnered up with a friend who was providing outsourced accounting services to small businesses. Together they packaged a combined service offering for HR and bookkeeping and in just a few months Kelly had three paying clients.

Write all about it

Jennifer Miller wanted to get paid to be a writer. Whenever she saw an opportunity for a writing position, they would ask her for a sample. So she started using writing gig postings as prompts for her blog. Every day she would check out the new listings, write a post related to one or more of the topics, and then apply for the work using her blog as her portfolio.

There’s no doubt that getting your first client is one of the toughest parts of being a free agent. But there are plenty of ways to creatively demonstrate that you have what it takes. The most important part is knowing what you do best, and then finding the people who need your help!

Katy Tynan

Author

Katy Tynan is an expert on how work is changing. She is the author of the new book “Free Agent: The Independent Professional’s Guide to Self-Employment Success,” from Productivity Press. She is a founding partner of Liteskip Consulting Group and MindBridge Partners. Visit Katy’s Amazon page, her website, or connect with her on LinkedIn or @KatyTynan on Twitter.