Note: This week I invited Emily McGee from My Adaptable Career to share her story and a quick start guide for those who want to start a freelancing career while moving around overseas. You can also read other freelancer’s stories after the Emily’s article. I hope these give you some ideas on how to add freelancing as part of your diversified income strategy. Enjoy!
How To Start Freelancing- Quick Start Guide
By Emily E. McGee
A freelancer is someone who is self-employed and hired by clients to do specific work. The work that freelancers do varies widely, and the clients who hire freelancers can range from individuals to small businesses to large corporations. The following quick start guide lists your first four steps for starting a freelance career. For more detailed information, visit My Adaptable Career.
Step 1: Set your goals
Why do you want to start freelancing? What do you hope to get out of it? Be as specific as possible and take as much time as you need with this step. Understanding your goals will help you focus on getting the right freelancing jobs from the beginning. Good goals are specific and answer the question “Why?”
Here’s an example: I want to earn $5,000 this year as a freelancer to save for my retirement.
Step 2: Make a Plan For Reaching Your Goals
List the skills that you could do on a freelance basis. If you want to make your list longer or see what kind of skills are in demand, create a free profile at Upwork and then browse through the freelance jobs posted there. Upwork is free, and I started freelancing by finding work there. I have no relationship with Upwork except being a happy customer. Don’t stress about your Upwork profile, just go straight to searching the jobs. You can search using keywords or browse the job postings for various categories.
Step 3: Look for Work
There are two places that I recommend new freelancers look for work: your personal network/previous employers and at the freelance platform Upwork. Brainstorm a list of the people or companies who might be able to use your services. Your goal is to match the skills that you identified in step 2 with potential clients. For example, if one of your best freelance skills is the ability to write engaging blog posts, you will only look for freelance work with companies that have a blog.
Step 4: Write a Pitch
A pitch is a brief description of your idea or the service you will offer. When you contact former employers or people in your network, you will be pitching them.
A great pitch should show that you know your client’s needs and can meet those needs. To see examples of pitches that got the job, check out this post.
You will not get every job that you pitch. That is normal. Keep pitching (I write 2-5 pitches a week). It can also take weeks or months to hear back from a potential client, so be patient. Pitching is really hard at first, but if you keep doing it, it will get easier and you will land work.
For more freelancing tips and an in-depth version of this quick start guide, visit My Adaptable Career.
Emily’s freelancing experience
Ever since I left my job as an English teacher, I have struggled to answer the question “So, what do you do?” Now I am embracing the struggle. I write about career, identity, and freelancing at My Adaptable Career with the goal of helping other accompanying spouses find web-based careers.
I do curriculum design and write assessment items (standardized test questions) for education companies. I used to telework for one company, but I prefer the flexibility of freelance work. My goal is to start a business helping other professionals find or create a web-based career. I’m in the very early stages of my business.
I used to complain a lot about being a trailing spouse and how it limited my career. Once I got out of my own way and started appreciating all of the benefits I have as a trailing spouse, it was so easy to see the opportunities in front of me. The fact that I can do whatever I want for work and not just work for a paycheck is such a privilege. Having the time and resources to start my own business is also amazing. I just needed to let go of my limiting beliefs about what a career should look like.
I’ve freelanced in the U.S. and overseas. One of the best things about freelancing is that I am in control of my schedule, so it doesn’t matter what time zone I’m in as long as I do great work for clients. Overseas life can be so chaotic, so freelancing has been the perfect way for me to continue working in my field on my own terms. During home leave, I can take a six week break without guilt. If we want to go away for a long weekend, I’m not stuck in the office on a Friday afternoon. As long as I have an Internet connection, I can work.
Logistically, I haven’t found location-independent freelancing to be complicated. Clients are happy to talk over Skype and email, so I don’t need a U.S. phone number. I’m honest with my clients about the fact that I live in Africa, and they are curious, but not put off by that. About once a week I will have a call outside of normal business hours, say at 8 pm, but I don’t find it disruptive. As long as you have a consistent Internet connection, you can freelance from anywhere.
Companies who hire freelancers just want one thing: results. If you can deliver those results, it doesn’t matter where you are.
Read below about how the other trailing spouses earn freelance income, and their thoughts on the following four areas of focus for your income strategy. This section will be updated as I receive new contributions.
- How do you diversify your household income?
- How did you make trailing a positive and an opportunity?
- How did you build your brand? (What worked and what didn’t work?)
- How did you build your network? (What worked and what didn’t work?)
If you wish to contribute, please fill out this contact form, and let me know whether you wish to be attributed or stay anonymous. I am also happy to link back to your website or blog post if you have already written about similar topics.
Read the real income report for starting a business while trailing overseas.
“I am a freelance photographer, videographer, a story designer for nonprofit organizations. I teach photography and storytelling courses. In addition, I blog about storytelling for my website and an amazing site for nonprofit communicators called www.NGOStorytelling.com.
A few years ago my husband and I were posted back in D.C. I was ecstatic about the idea of finally being able to work. I was convinced that it would be easier stateside than it had been overseas. I immediately started working but I wasn’t really fulfilled, I was shooting weddings, managing a architectural photography business, and shooting events regularly for another photographer. I barely saw my husband and I was making a mediocre salary at best. I realized that running a photography business was tough no matter where you live.
When the next tour rolled around, I decided to give myself permission to do exactly the kind of work I was passionate about. I changed my online portfolio entirely and only showed nonprofit photography. Upon arrival at post, I tasked myself with a complete website redo and learning video. Four months into the tour, the nonprofit work started rolling in.
For years I just thought of myself as a photographer. I did what all photographers do. I made a website and put up my best work. I believed that my clients could decipher quality work from lesser quality work and would hire me based on what I produced. To anyone reading, that is the wrong assumption! Last year, I took Marie Forleo’s B-School and read an amazing book called Blue Ocean Strategies. The premise is that in a red ocean we do exactly what everyone else is doing and then we all fight it out in a bloody ocean for the same business. A blue ocean is when you provide so much additional value to your customers that they’d never want to use anyone else.
I started developing my brand in a way I hadn’t before. I take photos and videos for nonprofits. But more importantly, I help them find the best stories to tell. Then I help them use the media we create over a variety of channels in the most impactful way possible. It is the most fulfilling work I have ever done and I am excited every time a new gig comes my way.
In terms of networking, I try to meet as many people who are trying to make a business work overseas as possible. I co-moderate a Facebook group called Artists Abroad, which connects me with a lot of amazing, creative people! I love the news coming from the PROPS LinkedIn Group, Trailing Houses Facebook Group, and EFM’s Helping EFM’s Find Employment Facebook Group. Having a network of people getting out there and hustling helps me feel less alone in the process.
I also try to find spouses who previously worked in the countries that I am going to live in. As soon as I land, I take local creatives (both embassy and non-embassy) to lunch to pick their brains how business works. I highly recommend it as a way to make friends and learn about business..
Before coming to Nepal, I spent the four months in DC hitting the pavement. Through email, calls, and meetings I was added to about ten nonprofits photographer lists who are actively working in Nepal. I had four face to face meetings where I showed my portfolio. Now, I follow up on those soft leads by sending them my monthly newsletters that showcase the work I am doing and a couple of promotions a year.
The best advice I can give is that your attitude is everything. I spent several tours with a big chip on my shoulder and this idea that if I wasn’t in this life then I could do exactly what I wanted. I needed a real world kick in the butt to see this lifestyle clearly and realize all it has to offer. Nothing is perfect, but it really is what you make of it.”
#2: Kelly Bembry Midura, blogging at wellthatwasdifferent.com
“Since I quit my job last year, right now, my husband’s salary is the only real income. However, we do have real estate and retirement investments for the long term.
My goal has always been to work part-time and/or to have a flexible schedule. Trailing has been one way to make that possible, although I did freelance from home during our DC tours as well (a total of 11 years out of 27 in the Foreign Service to date).
My primary job for 16 years was telecommuting for a non-profit. However, I also had freelance webmastering and desktop publishing clients. I acquired most of them through word of mouth, though I did have a business website set up as a sort of online “brochure.” I developed a niche for myself as a person who could handle both writing/editing and print/web layout, and who was familiar with Foreign Service terminology. I worked for several small organizations within the Foreign Service community and a few expats with small businesses.
Again, I build my network primarily through word of mouth in the expat/FS community. If I had been interested in acquiring more clients, I could easily have done so through freelance clearinghouse websites, but I already had as much work as I was willing to handle with young children in the family.”