If you’re considering looking for your first freelance job, you’ve picked a great time to do so. More than 75% of companies recognize that freelancers are a great resource for the skills they seek. You just need to connect with these businesses that want to hire freelancers and show them why you’re a pro.
It sounds daunting, but it’s doable. You’ll get that first job, and then a second, and a third, and before you know it you’ll be several years into a successful freelance career. I know because I’ve done it—and I want to help you do the same.
Table of contents
- Know your value proposition
- Prepare your portfolio
- Set (and stick to) your rate
- Search for freelance opportunities
- Send personalized, custom proposals (no templates!)
- Don’t be afraid to say no to jobs that aren’t the right fit
- Connect with other freelancers in your industry
- My top tip for freelance job seekers
7 steps to start freelancing with no experience
Whether you want to use Upwork on the side as a part-time hustle or be like me and freelance as your full-time job, here’s what you need to do to get that first freelance work opportunity.
You don’t have to be in the same industry as me, either. These tips will work no matter what you do—web design, project management, software development, copywriting, data entry, graphic design, digital marketing, administrative work or something else.
1. Know your value proposition
The trick is to be confident in your value proposition from the very beginning. Think about what benefits your clients will get by working with you. It might be more time back in their day, increased revenue while working less, professional branding that closes more deals, and the like.
That—the thing you establish as the main benefit of your service—is its value proposition. This is something you’re going to want to communicate clearly in your Upwork proposals–but more on that in just a bit.
2. Prepare your portfolio
Having a portfolio of work is really helpful when it comes to getting your first job. I know that sounds a bit backwards—and if you’re saying “Ross, how can you have a portfolio when you haven’t yet had a freelance client?” I get it.
The thing is, your portfolio doesn’t actually have to be a gallery of work you’ve completed for paid clients. It can be a mix of:
- Testimonials from past colleagues
- Examples of test projects you’ve made
- Hypothetical case studies you’ve put together as an example of how you work
- Work you’ve done at a previous job (if you have the rights to use it this way)
- Work completed as part of a volunteer assignment
- Your resume or work history
If you’re using Upwork, this step is really simple. Just create an account, fill out your profile, and upload examples of your work, if you have any to share.
3. Set (and stick to) your rate
When you’re first starting out, it’s often easiest to use an hourly rate. Upwork will always display your hourly rate on your profile, even if you eventually do some fixed-price contracts, so you’ll need to figure this out early on. (Hourly billing on Upwork can also ensure you get paid for freelance work.)
If you aren’t sure how to price your services, start by using the Upwork Rate Calculator that considers both your monthly expenses and your available work hours. After you’ve calculated a rate, go and browse through the profiles of other Upwork users to see what people with comparable skill sets and experience are charging.
You don’t need to lower your rates to get your first job on Upwork, either. There are clients out there who will be willing to pay your rates for high-quality work. Finding these clients may take some patience in the short-term, but you’ll see higher profits and better financial growth in the long-term.
4. Search for freelance opportunities
Before you begin searching for freelance job opportunities, you’ll need to decide what kinds of potential clients you want to work with. You can ask yourself questions like:
- What kinds of projects am I interested in?
- Do I want to work with small businesses or big companies?
- What kinds of values do I want my clients to have and demonstrate?
- Are there certain industries I really want to be a part of?
- Are there industries I prefer not to work in?
- Do I prefer to work on fixed-price or hourly contracts?
- What is the minimum length of time I want to work with one client?
- What is the maximum length of time I want to work with one client?
- Do I want to have multiple clients at a time?
- What is the minimum budget my client needs to have?
Once you have jotted down that criteria, you can begin using Upwork’s search filters to find just the right gigs.
Just start by typing a term into the job search bar. When the job listings results page loads, you’ll be able to filter the list down based on the criteria you’ve identified for my dream clients and jobs.
I’m searching for search engine optimization (SEO) jobs in this example, as that’s one of the services I offer. The process is the same, though, whether you’re looking for social media work, WordPress development jobs, logo design opportunities, writing gigs, or something else.
5. Send personalized, custom proposals (no templates!)
Always personalize your proposals to prospective clients. Starting your proposal with a customized message is much more eye-catching than a generic “Dear Sir or Madam.”
Here’s why. When an Upwork client receives proposals for a job, they show up as a list of previews. The client can scroll down the list and see everyone’s name, title, photo, JSS, and the first two lines of your proposal. This is what it looks like:
You can personalize your proposals by looking at the client’s page and seeing what other people have called them—then address your proposal to this name. From there, you can reference a specific need or pain point in the job posting and quickly state how you’ll help.
Don’t bother listing your credentials at the top of your proposal. If your message to the client starts with really personalized information, it’s more likely to catch their attention, and then they can click through to see all of your experience and details for further vetting.
6. Don’t be afraid to say no to jobs that aren’t the right fit
I remember all too well the temptation to take a first freelance job—any job—even if it wasn’t quite the right fit. Looking back, though, I really recommend holding out for a job that is a good fit for you.
This means waiting for the right freelance job and the right freelance client. If you can’t wait, though, and need to take the first job that’s offered to you, just remember to follow Upwork’s guidelines for identifying potential scams. The platform does a great job of filtering out bad actors, but just in case one slips through—you want to be aware.
7. Connect with other freelancers in your industry
In addition to sending proposals every day, you can also begin to build connections with other self-employed people using Upwork.
There are so many great people on Upwork who are willing to share their tips for getting your first freelance gig. The Upwork Community is a really good spot to begin creating these connections.
My top tip for freelance job seekers
The very best thing you can do to get your first freelance job is simply be ready to invest in the process. This means taking the time (and potentially a little money in the form of Connects—but you can also earn free Connects) to apply for jobs every day.
I recommend starting by sending at least a dozen proposals daily. Starting with a high volume like this increases the chance you’ll hit the right match and get hired for your first freelance job.
And when you do get that first job, don’t stop applying. Continuing to send proposals every day, even if the volume decreases, is essential for getting new clients and freelance work. I still do this today! It’s an investment I’ll always make in my freelance business.
Searching for jobs on Upwork is much more targeted than if you were to try and pick out freelance jobs from full-time in-office and remote work listings on LinkedIn or a standard job site. So when it feels like getting your first freelance job is a challenge, know that it’s a challenge you’re ready to tackle. Your first client is here—and you’re going to find them.
More resources for getting your first freelance job with no experience
Doing just the steps above will absolutely help you get your first freelance job. If you want to know even more, though, there’s loads of helpful information available on Upwork.com (including what to do after you get your first client).
One of my favorite resources for any new freelancer is the Upwork Academy. It’s a really brilliant set of courses on everything you need to know to get started on the platform and find your first job, right from the folks at Upwork themselves. Start with the New to Upwork 101 course for beginners or pick another from the list—they’re all totally free, and can help you find your first freelance job even faster!