If you’ve ever asked, “Is freelancing the right business model for me?”, then this article is for you. You’ll see pros and cons from a successful freelancer, so stay tuned to hear how she decided to get started and advice to make it work.
Now, I’ll hand it over to April Quinones…
I run a content writing agency, and I started it all as a freelance writer almost 7 years ago. Has the journey been worth it? Quick answer: yes. Freelancing, for me, is a very viable starting point towards entrepreneurship.
Just to set things clear, freelancing and entrepreneurship are not the same. Seth Godin described the difference vividly:
“A freelancer is someone who gets paid for her work. She charges by the hour or perhaps by the project. Freelancers write, design, consult, advise, do taxes and hang wallpaper. Freelancing is the single easiest way to start a new business.”
“Entrepreneurs use money (preferably someone else’s money) to build a business bigger than themselves. They make money when they sleep. Entrepreneurs focus on growth and on scaling the systems that they build. The more, the better.”
Freelancer vs. Entrepreneur: What’s the Difference?
Here’s a table showing other stark differences between a freelancer and an entrepreneur.
|How do you spend your working time?||Spends a huge chunk of time being hands-on with projects||Spends most of the time managing others to get the job done|
|Are you working for someone else?||Freelancers are accountable for following requirements and meeting deadlines which makes them feel they are not their own boss||Entrepreneurs have people working for them to manage projects. Entrepreneurs set their own requirements, deadlines, tasks, and responsibilities|
|Do you make a living off of your skills or your ideas?||Freelancers make a living mainly on their knowledge, expertise, and skills||Entrepreneurs make money through their ideas and vision|
I started out as a freelancer working for clients, but now, I have project managers helping me manage projects and a team of writers and editors to process content writing orders. I, however, still take charge of whom to hire and how training should be done.
But overall, I can now consider myself more as an entrepreneur than a freelancer. I still write because I love writing, but I can now have the freedom to just write when I feel like it and choose the topics I get to tackle.
Why I Chose Freelancing as a Model
I actually tried working on a 9-5 job shortly after college graduation. Just 4-5 months after, I resigned and decided to devote my time and energy to building a business.
I and my then-boyfriend/now husband were in it. Together, we tried a whole lot of businesses, but all of them failed (or we quit before we made it).
We tried MLM, ventured into a pastry business, we attempted to form an ESL school, and heck, we started developing the first bitcoin trading platform in the Philippines. Our entrepreneurial drive was intact, but we just didn’t know what exactly would work out.
While trying out different things, of course we had to manage to eat and survive. I was accepting ESL teaching gigs part-time, and I told my husband to explore Freelancer.com.
A Life-Changing Facebook Ad
I came across it via a Facebook ad. It stood out because I had a cousin who hired and paid us per hour to do data entry jobs—just copy-pasting, dragging, and clicking here and there. I told my partner we could get clients just like how my cousin did and hire other people to do the easy jobs.
But the very first client my partner had required an article written. I used to be the editor-in-chief in High School and won some essay writing contests then as well, but I never imagined I would end up seizing a writing-related career or venture.
Our First Article Order
And so we processed our very first article writing order, and the client was happy. He ordered again and again, and we just did our best to take care of every client we encountered. We were paid $1 per article then.
Yes. I know that rate sounds insane, but we had to win the bidding war, and we chose to offer rock-bottom prices to build our profile and quickly generate reviews.
As soon as our profile looked strong and compelling enough, we raised our prices to $3 then $5 then $10 and so on. Now, our regular rate is at $30-$100 per article.
Did I know I Would be Successful?
I didn’t necessarily choose Freelancing because I know it will 100% work. All I knew was I had to do something, and the opportunity presented itself. When you’re still starting out, you don’t get to be picky. You engage, hustle, maximize opportunities, and earn your success.
But now that we have a strong individual and agency profile on Upwork and Freelancer, and have set up our own website Articlemarket.io, I can say that everything really turned out exactly how it should. There were lots of hurdles along the way, but we managed to overcome them all. For me, freelancing is a great model to start with mainly because of the following:
The Benefits of Starting as a Freelancer
1. Little to no upfront capital
You probably already have the basic requirements for freelancing—computer, internet connection, and your time and skills. You don’t need huge upfront investments or deal with a crazy learning curve.
There are things to learn, but for me, with sites like Upwork, Freelancer, Fiverr, etc., you can get started and land your first freelancing gig the soonest—and it’s definitely not rocket science. All you need is the decision to start, and off you go.
2. You can earn almost right away
Especially if the projects are just small or short-term, clients release payments as soon as the project is done or as soon as they’re satisfied. There may be clients who pay kind of late or worse, not pay at all, but as long as you stick to the recommended protocols—not accept projects without contracts and milestones in escrow, you’ll most likely get paid.
As long as you do your best to get the job done well, clients are happy to pay and repurchase. Unlike other projects or ventures we had, like the bitcoin exchange platform we tried to make (whose development can take a long time and whose success is not really guaranteed), freelancing can be easy money. You don’t have to invest a lot initially and you don’t have to spend months creating a product that may take a few more months to market and sell.
3. Scaling is easy
When our client base started to grow, we hired other freelancers to help us out. We used Trello then, but now we have our own website for managing writers far and wide. Scaling is easy if you pull off the following:
- Hire the right people that care about quality as much as you do
- Repeatedly give clients what they want—projects done on time, on budget, and with high-quality, not to mention excellent responsiveness and customer support
- Have a system in place. Our Upwork profile alone has processed over 943 projects, and we couldn’t have done that without a solid system and workflow backing it all up.
4. Opportunities are everywhere
Besides Upwork, Freelancer, and Fiverr, there are a lot more job marketplaces. There even are different marketplaces specific to every skill.
Just do a quick Google search and you’re most likely to encounter many lists to explore. As long as you have the skill or you take the time to learn a relevant skill, opportunities will come to you as long as you’re willing to explore them.
The top freelance skills nowadays include video creation, virtual assistance, digital marketing, SEO, mobile app development, graphics design, content writing, and website development. Hone your skills and choose a niche that you love.
5. You can choose your projects and your clients
This is another boon of choosing freelancing as a business model. Technically, you can choose projects and clients. I rarely decline projects though because I do have a team that takes care of everything for me, but I do cut ties with clients who are rather unreasonable as to their expectations and revision requests.
It will also crumble your people’s morale if you keep clients who are unreasonably rude or unclear about what they want. It’s also important for me to keep project managers happy, so when they tell me that a client is impossible to deal with, I dig deep and understand where they are coming from.
If I can really tell that the client is not being clear enough with instructions and is not willing to collaborate or compromise, I have no other option but to let the client move on. I make sure to have existing projects completed though as not doing so will affect your profile and reputation, but I minimize booking new orders from unreasonable clients to avoid emotionally burdening the team.
Who Freelancing Isn’t For
Starting out as a freelancer isn’t super hard, but it also requires effort and dedication. Thus, it is not for people who are…
Freelancing entails hard work. Even if you decide to outsource the work, you still have to be hardworking enough to manage projects and meet deadlines. You need to care about the success of the project and avoid being sloppy to keep clients happy.
Time management is an important skill when freelancing. If you keep on waiting until the eleventh hour to complete projects, you’ll end up causing delays, pissing clients off, and losing opportunities for repeat sales. Remember, it’s harder and costlier to acquire more clients than to keep existing ones, so make sure you avoid procrastination and complete tasks on time every time.
Those who will experience success in freelancing are only those who are decided to win. Commitment is key, and you should be in it to win it. If not, you’ll be distracted, jumping from one thing to another and not fully in the game.
How to Start an Agency After Successfully Freelancing
Now, I’m going to talk about how to transition from “doing it all” to “delegating it all”. This doesn’t mean you have nothing else to do. In fact, there a
re lots of effort you should be willing to put in upfront. Setting up a team is no easy feat, and here’s how you can slowly but surely form your own agency offering the services you have mastered as a freelancer.
1. Grow your client base.
Especially if you don’t have the capital and want to start lean, you can grow slowly but surely. Consistently look for projects by sending proposals, bidding, pitching, and doing digital marketing. At first, you can initially take care of the orders yourself. If you start to get swamped, proceed to the next step.
2. Start hiring skilled freelancers.
Take your time in choosing the best fit. Have a solid hiring process to test candidates’ suitability. To avoid having to spend lots of time in the training process, hire only the best, someone who can match or even surpass your skills.
3. Focus on training and quality assurance.
Once you have people processing orders for you, you shouldn’t just relax and make them do all the work. Focus on checking their work and making sure that the clients are satisfied. If they do a good job, you can offer employment opportunities.
I registered my business and offer employment benefits to the people who are qualified and have done a great job consistently. They work full-time, and this gave the business more predictability as sometimes, freelancers come and go. You can’t force freelancers to be with you every single day. That’s why it’s important to have full-time positions filled in.
4. Establish a sales strategy.
You already have people reporting for duty every day. In my case, they work Mondays to Fridays, and since they’re employees, their days are paid whether they have tasks or not. This has been an extra push factor to always expand our client base and take care of our existing clients.
Although it does seem safer to stick to freelancers and just reach out to them when you need them, I intended to do business the full-scale way, and so I played the numbers game. I have an assistant who bids for all projects we can manage, and I have a separate team who takes care of receiving inquiries and orders.
These are the project managers who then relay instructions to the writers, and I have a separate team of editors who proofread writers’ works before submission. We do have a website, but I haven’t implemented a full-blown SEO campaign yet.
We have clients on Articlemarket.io, but the majority of our clients come from Upwork and Freelancer. Whatever platform or marketing strategy you have, the key is consistency. Consistently look for clients, and they will naturally come.
5. Form a scaling strategy.
I send proposals every single day, and so whether or not the new clients from the last months order again, I always have a fresh stream of clients to take care of. Every month the number of clients goes up, and naturally, this means you have to add more people to the team.
For me, as long as you keep on looking for clients and you keep on meeting their needs, your business will naturally grow. Just make sure your employee hiring and onboarding process is smooth and established so that whenever you need more support for your agency, you can easily mobilize the natural scaling process.
6. Listen to clients’ complaints and formulate long-term solutions.
Write down every client complaint you receive and secure a day or a specific time to process and internalize them all. Personally, I have my “thinking hours” every day. It could be just 1-3 hours devoted to just looking for the most pressing business problems and devising long-term solutions for them.
You can’t figure it all out in a day, but tackling at least one big problem a day, can already go a long way. I have arranged a time and place for everything, from crucial admin tasks to consulting time with the project managers to painting the big picture for the business.
Understanding Clients (Even Unreasonable Ones!)
As for client complaints, even if some clients seem unreasonable, you need to understand that they don’t intend to personally attack you for no reason. Their complaint is an expression of their unmet needs, and if you want your business to thrive, you need to be good at the very thing your business is built to do—meet clients’ needs.
This is easier said than done, but as long as you consistently devote time and energy to making things better, everything is bound to fall into place. Don’t just do things right.
Instead, do the right things. Don’t just be ‘busy’. Make sure you’re tackling the things that have the biggest impact on your business’ success.
Overall, venturing into freelancing is virtually the best career decision I made. It did not only present a robust opportunity to earn, but it also exposed me to the business setting that I needed to be a better entrepreneur.
I did not have any business background, and I learned everything through experience. The best reward is me being able to make myself equipped, ready, and confident to take on any challenge I choose to conquer. If you wish to trail the same path, I wish it will also be as fun and rewarding for you as well. All the best!