You’re currently reading Chapter 1 of The Ultimate Guide to Getting Your First (Or Next) Freelance Job
If you have something you love doing…something you read about on Saturday mornings while everyone else is sleeping in…something you could talk about for hours on end…
Then I have good news for you: You have a what it takes to be a successful freelancer.
YES, this is true even if…
- You don’t think you have any marketable skills. When I first started, I couldn’t get hired for a waitering job at Outback Steakhouse. But I’ll show you exactly how I overcame that hurdle, and never looked back.
- You’re busy with a full time job or family. I’ll show you how you can earn an extra $1,000 a month on the side in as little as 2 hours a week — and grow from there.
- You think you’re not an “expert” at anything. I’ll introduce you to REAL people who earn $50/hr, $75/hr, and even $125/hr or more without any formal training or credentials. Sound too good to be true? It shouldn’t — they worked hard for it! If you’re willing to put the effort in, I think you’ll be surprised by how far online freelancing can take you.
You don’t need to be an expert
One of the most common questions new freelancers have is: “Why would anyone pay me? I’m not an expert.”
This question is natural, but it misses the bigger picture — tons of freelancing jobs are ENTRY LEVEL gigs that anyone can do, even with little or no experience whatsoever.
My first freelance client paid me $15/hr to write short children’s stories — using a TEMPLATE! It was the writing equivalent of paint-by-numbers. A grade schooler could have done it.
So why did the client choose me?
I’ll show you the exact steps I took to land the job shortly. Meanwhile, suffice it to say most clients aren’t looking for world class experts. They just want someone who cares about doing the job right, and is willing to work hard to make that happen.
If you can show them you’re that person, you can succeed at online freelancing.
Meet Tsavo, the hobbyist who broke into freelancing with a dead-simple, 5-minute job
When Tsavo graduated college with a degree in history, he wasn’t sure what to do next. He loved creating WordPress sites for his friends, but he had no idea he could turn that passion into an income stream.
“I didn’t know working as a designer was even an option. I’m self taught. I didn’t go to school for it, I didn’t have work experience, and I didn’t have a portfolio. How would I even get an interview?”
Since getting a job as a designer didn’t seem possible, he decided to try freelancing instead.
“My first freelancing job was to install a simple WordPress plugin…it took me just 5 minutes to do.”
Since then, Tsavo has continued to move onto bigger and better projects. Today he charges anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 to design WordPress sites for his clients
As great as stories like this are, I know how easy it can be to get stuck thinking, “But Danny, I don’t have any skills that people would pay me for!”
After years of hearing this objection, I’ve discovered a way around it.
It’s something I call the Restaurant Menu Effect. It’s a simple framework anyone can use to uncover the hidden skills you already have, waiting to be turned into a freelancing business.
The Restaurant Menu Effect
Have you ever overheard a couple trying to figure out what to eat for dinner? It usually sounds like this:
“What do you want to eat?”
“I don’t know. What do YOU want to eat?”
“I don’t know either. Any ideas?”
“Not really. I can’t think of anything…”
Amazing — two people who’ve spent their entire lives eating multiple times each day suddenly have NO IDEA what to eat. Yet if we dropped them into a booth at Chili’s and handed them a menu, they’d figure it out in less than 5 MINUTES!
A “menu” of skills that clients will pay for
Finding a skill to turn into a freelancing service works the same way.
Someone asks you what you’re good at, and suddenly, after DECADES of being a productive human being, you suddenly have NO SKILLS WHATSOEVER.
But what happens if you start with a menu of options? Suddenly it becomes 1,000x easier to choose a skill.
This approach takes you from a mindset of “Do I have any skills?” to “Which of these skills could I potentially see myself doing?”
It’s a subtle but powerful mental reframe that forces your brain out of problem-mode and into solution-mode.
Below is one of my favorite “menus” to start with. It’s a list of work categories from Upwork, the world’s largest freelancing site:
From here, you can drill down into subcategories until you find something that sounds interesting.
Now I’m going to challenge you: If you’re honest with yourself — and assuming you haven’t just crawled out of a cave for the first time in your adult life — it’s virtually guaranteed you can find at least ONE area you can tackle as an online freelancer.
Here are a few to get your creative juices flowing:
- Writing simple product descriptions
- Creating Excel spreadsheets
- Posting Facebook or Twitter updates (yes, people pay for this)
- Creating Powerpoint presentations
- Writing simple blog posts (not much different from a high school essay, except more fun)
Remember, you don’t need to be a world class expert.
With that said, you can get an even bigger advantage by beefing up your skills. The fastest, cheapest, and most effective way to do that is by READING.
Check out the story below to see how Steven, a college dropout, taught himself advanced SEO techniques — and became a high-paid freelance SEO specialist — just by reading free articles online:
Steven becomes a high paid SEO consultant with zero formal training
A few years ago, Steven was a college dropout earning minimum wage. But when he started teaching himself marketing and SEO (Search Engine Optimization), everything changed.
“I learned a ton about SEO just by reading 3 sites: MOZ, Backlinko, and Quick Sprout. Pretty soon I had all this knowledge companies are happy to pay for.”
Since then, Steven has built up a thriving freelancing business. Incredibly, his clients are happy to pay him over $400/hr to help with their SEO strategy.
“Keep in mind I never needed to have a ton of crazy technical knowledge. Most of what I do is help clients strategize — it’s fun and doesn’t suck up my energy like my old job did.”
Still stuck or not sure where to start? Try my favorite skill: Copywriting (or, skip to the next chapter)
Copywriting may sound like a big word, but it’s just a fancy way of saying “writing for businesses.” It’s what I’m doing right now, as I write this guide.
There are countless more examples of different forms of copywriting businesses need every single day, all of which you can learn how to do with minimal time and effort:
- Simple email promotions (any marketing email you get from a company was written by a copywriter)
- Short blog posts (again, think of company blogs — all written by copywriters)
- Short product descriptions
- Web pages (home pages, about us pages, etc)
- And much, much more
“This sounds like something for someone with an English degree / writing experience / grammar expertise…”
I didn’t have any of these when I first started copywriting — and I still don’t have them today. Neither do most of the professional copywriters I know.
Don’t worry, grammar and other “rules” may apply to more formal types of writing (e.g. writing academic essays), but they have nothing to do with copywriting. I’ve violated untold numbers of grammar principles in the past 5 years, and I haven’t been struck by lightning yet…
“But Danny, this sounds too good to be true!”
YES! Thank you. I think about that every day as I — a college dropout who “should” be waiting on tables — get paid to write copy instead. When you think about it, the entire internet is too good to be true. Who cares? Stop worrying about that and start ENJOYING it.
Meet Daniel, the engineer who found his true calling as a copywriter
If you knew Daniel 2 years ago, you’d never expect him to take up freelance copywriting. He’d spent the previous 5 years studying to be (and then working as) an electrical engineer.
Though electrical engineering paid well, it required some lifestyle tradeoffs Daniel wasn’t happy with: Lots of time away from his wife, long 12-hour shifts, and work he didn’t enjoy.
What Daniel did love was the idea of making money as a writer, and being in control of his own schedule. So he decided to try his hand at freelance copywriting.
Daniel had never trained to be a writer. In fact, as an electrical engineer, he barely knew that copywriting was an actual job!
Yet even with all these disadvantages, Daniel was able to build a successful freelance copywriting side business in between his 12-hour engineering shifts.
Today, just 1 year later, Daniel is earning more as a full-time freelance copywriter than he did as an engineer. And best of all, he gets to do work he loves — while getting to spend plenty of time with his wife — every single day.
Why copywriting is one of my favorite ways to break into freelancing:
Quick start. You can learn the basics in just a few hours. It took me all of 2 days to get my first copywriting job on Upwork — and I barely knew what copywriting was at the time.
High pay. Copywriting is a skill that clients are happy to pay well for. Peter Bowerman, author of the book The Well-Fed Writer, started out charging $50/hr on his first day as a freelance copywriter, and never looked back.
HUGE demand. Every day, millions of companies across the world hire copywriters to write everything from their website’s About Us page, to brochures, Facebook updates, slogans, product descriptions, blog posts, press releases, and much, much more.
You already have experience. When you think about it, we’ve all been writing since grade school. If you can write a simple email, you might have what it takes to be a successful freelance copywriter.
Easy to work from anywhere. Companies love hiring copywriters online because you can do it from anywhere in the world. There’s no need to show up at an office… You just complete your assignment and email it to them.
How to learn copywriting: Next steps
There’s an enormous amount of copywriting information out there — so much that it’s easy to get lost if you don’t know where to start.
I’m happy to point you in the direction of some of the people I personally learned from:
- The Copywriter’s Handbook by Bob Bly
- The Well-Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman
- Neville Medhora’s blog
- Copy Hackers
Reading about copywriting is great, but seeing someone do it step by step is even better. Enter your email below to download my free PDF, “Watch me do a copywriting job from start to finish”.
Alright. We’ve covered a lot of ground here. But now that you’ve got a freelancing idea and know people will pay you for it, it’s time to go out and get your first client.
In the next chapter, I’ll show you how.
Go to Chapter 2: Creating an irresistible Upwork profile