This is the first post in my series ‘Working For Yourself’. In it, I’ll be going through the steps needed to start working for yourself as a freelancer, from a laptop, with the option of working from anywhere in the world.
The series will be divided into 6 parts:
- How To Create Value for Other People (this post)
- Choosing a Skill to Learn – How you go about settling on a skill that you’ll turn into a career
- Developing a Skill and Getting Experience – How you will develop a new skill and start producing work for people
- Developing a Network and Reputation – How to develop a reputation as someone who produces high-quality work, and growing a network of happy clients
- Managing Money – Sending invoices and managing your finances
- Project Management – Making day-to-day work painless and organised
The content I write is career-agnostic; I work as a web designer, but I can can teach you how to turn a wide range of skills into a remote & freelance career. There are a few criteria that your chosen skill need to meet though:
- You need to be able to work from a laptop, with a minimum amount of other equipment; a voice actor might need a separate high quality microphone, a graphic designer a drawing tablet, a camera for a photographer, etc. You also need to consider if you want to be location independent or not; a graphic designer or web designer can do this as their work is all digital, whereas a photographer/videographer (unless they’re doing something for themselves like travel blogging) needs to be at a specific location to record content for their clients.
- Your skill needs to be in an industry that doesn’t require a degree, unless you’re willing to go to college for the first time, or again,. A graduate who has just finished something unrelated to web design can teach themselves the skill online, and get work based on their portfolio. But they cannot become a freelance accountant or engineer as these areas requires degrees. There are probably businesses who would hire you without one, but you’re severely limiting the amount of work you can get.
You can still get a lot of value out of this series if you want to pursue a freelance career that you can’t be location independent with, e.g. setting up a woodwork shop in your garage and selling products online, throughout the world.
Before we look more into how to choose a skill and become an expert in it, we’re going to look at how anyone, with any skill, earns money.
The answer is:
Take a moment to think about why any business owner – people who don’t spend a cent without good reason – would pay you for your services.
The answer is almost always that you are providing value to their business. Let’s take web design as an example. At the time of writing, my rate for designing and publishing a 4 to 6 page website for a business is €1,000. Any smart & experienced business owner (which is most of them, the ones who aren’t are out of business) is only going to pay me this sum of money if they think that they will earn more than this from the value that I provide to them. If they don’t know how I will do this, it’s my job to convince them that I can and will (later on in the series, we’ll talk about how your own business website will be designed to show business owners exactly how your service will provide value to them). If they do know how the website will provide greater value than my fee, the challenge is now selling them on why they should choose me over another web designer.
Most business owners do not have the skills, or the time needed to learn the skills, required to build their website, make their posters and leaflets, set up their Facebook ads, take professional photos of their products, etc. This is where you come in. Your role as a freelancer is to learn one (or more) of these skills, turning yourself into a value-producing system.
Talking about this process as a system is an abstract way of diving down into the core of what you’ll be doing.
At the beginning of your freelance career, you don’t have a system for producing value. By studying a skill that is of use to business owners, getting experience with it and building a portfolio of work, you slowly turn yourself into a system that a business owner can put X amount of money into, that then produces Y amount of value, where Y is greater than X.
A new website for €1,000 may bring in €4,000 worth of new business over 3 months, by giving the business a well-designed online presence with well-structured information that lets visitors quickly find the information they want, making them more likely to make a purchase. I am, in my role as a web designer, a value-producing system.
Over time, you increase the efficiency of this system, by getting better at focusing, managing projects, managing your own time, using better digital tools, etc. You can also increase Y, the value of your output, which lets you increase X, your hourly rate. This is the basis for how you begin to charge for your services, and slowly increase your hourly rate.
And that’s a summary of value creation. You learn a skill, that business owners do not have, that allows you to do hourly work which results in the creation of a product or service that adds value to the business you are selling to.
This is, of course, a simplification of it all – there’s a lot to be learned about teaching yourself, managing your time, invoicing clients, etc, but it’s a good overview of what you need to do;
- Choose a skill to learn
- Start learning it
- Create a portfolio of work (that you do for free, or mock-up ‘fake’ work for a dummy business) and get real-world experience
- Charge money for your ability to do work that adds value to other businesses
Your own running costs:
When thinking about what you’ll charge in return for adding value to a business, you need to consider the monthly costs that you must pay in order to provide your service.
These ones will be common to most types of freelancer:
- Email Hosting: I use and recommend GSuite by Google, it’s €6 a month per user.
- Website Hosting: Hosting your own website, or using a website builder like Squarespace or Weebly, usually works out at around €5 to €10 a month.
- Office 365: Not an essential but handy to have, €10 a month
Other than those, you need a laptop that’s capable of performing the work you’ll be doing without lagging/slowing down, and you’ll need to have somewhere to work from that has internet; this can be almost anywhere if you have a good 4G internet package on your phone and can hotspot/tether your laptop to it.
You can utilise a lot of free online tools & services for other abilities you need to work for yourself, so it’s possible to start off your career with a monthly cost of €21 to €26 a month!
A lot of digital professionals will want access to the Adobe Suite, particularly photographers, videographers, and graphic designers, this ranges from €12.29 a month for Photoshop and Lightroom, to €24.59 a month for access to a single app from their range, such as Premier Pro for video editing, to €61.40 a month for their entire suite of apps – available for €19.99 a month for students and teachers.
You can add other online services to this list, that save you time or make you more productive, as your career and monthly income grow. When making a decision to buy or subscribe to some new, flashy piece of software, always ask yourself ‘will this tool/service help me to make more money than it costs?’. If the answer is yes, it might be worth getting. If it’s no, it’s probably not.
Do I Want to Work For Myself?
You now have a rough idea of the path that lies ahead of you, if you wish to work for yourself. To give you further insight into this path, you can begin to research what people’s experience of this path are; read blogs online, watch YouTube videos, find someone in your community who will meet you for coffee and answer your questions about working for yourself.
You can check out my blog post on The Pros and Cons of Working for Yourself to learn more about this.
In your mind, there’s a certain amount of knowledge that you need to have to make a decision. The more real-world facts you can gather, experiences you can listen to, and mentors you can ask questions of, the more equipped you will be to make this decision. Again, we can think of this as a system. Right now, you can ask a question of yourself – Do I want to work for myself – and put this through the decision making part of your brain. The more facts, experiences, questions, and other forms of information that you add to this system and put at its disposal, the more accurate your decision will be. It’s hard to quantify this, but let’s say you have a 40% chance of making the right decision for yourself right now. A total of five hours work gathering new information might bring this up to an 80% chance of making the right decision.
In the end, only you can come up with the answer to this question. Consider that you likely won’t be able to answer with 100% confidence; you only need to know enough to decide if you want to take the leap and start working for yourself. The worst thing that can happen is you give it a go and decide it’s not for you; you’ll still have learned new things, and learned more about yourself, which will help you to make better life decisions in many areas.
- The Information Age has also given us the ability to work remotely from laptops as self-employed freelancers (as well as having the lowest amount of famine, war and plague than any other time in our species history. Neat!).
- In order to earn money as a freelancer, you need to turn yourself into a value-producing system that can allow business owners to earn more money from you than they pay you. You do this by learning skills that the business owner either doesn’t want to learn or doesn’t have the time to learn, and that can add value to their business, such as web design, graphic design, videography & photography, content creation, copywriting, etc.
- Many freelance careers have a low monthly cost to run; anywhere from €20 to €80 a month, plus the cost of your equipment and internet.
- You must learn more about what is involved in working for yourself, and make a decision on whether or not it’s the right path for you. If you’re still unsure after a few days, consider giving it a go – at the least you’ll learn some new things!
What’s up next:
In Part 2: Choosing a Skill to Learn, you’ll learn a very important lesson:
There are no ways to easily make money, get rich quick, or ‘get to the top’ without hard work.
The only way most of us will put in hard work, is if we’re doing something that we’re passionate about.
The next chapter will help you to narrow down all the possible skills you could learn, and choose the one that you’re most passionate about, as this passion is what will sustain you through the tough work of learning a new skill and turning it into a career.
Thanks for reading!
Comment below with questions or comments on this post, or with suggestions for other material that you would like to see covered on my blog!