An Actionable Guide to Start Freelancing in 2021

“I want to make a living at my own pace, away from the corporate rat race.” 

I was on a call with a professional who wanted to earn money and have a career but didn’t want to leave his parents behind, just to get a job in Delhi. 

I totally get him, it’s not easy to switch cities, just for a job when you have responsibilities behind. 

And still, more than half of the young, graduate population flog to metro cities after every ‘result season’ in the hope to find a job because of the ‘opportunities’ available there.

Getting a full-time job isn’t the only way to earn money. 

I get it when you say that there aren’t many opportunities around or you need capital for business. But who said to start big? 

You can start something small and scale up, on the way. 

I already covered how you can start a dropshipping store with limited capital, and I also covered freelancing briefly in another blog

I know, I know. You’d say freelancing isn’t for everyone. But what if I say it is and today, I’ll guide you on how to make freelancing work for you step by step, in this blog. 

Freelancing is Successful (When You Act on It) 

Before I begin, I need a promise from you. 

Promise me, you will actually work on all that I say and not just read it out. If you want to be successful as a freelancer, you need to start acting. Because your action will take you places, for sure. 

If you promise me that, I promise, you will learn, grow and earn at the same time, without any guilt of leaving a ‘corporate opportunity’ just for freelancing full-time. 

Freelancing isn’t a ‘get-rich-quick’ scheme or a ‘earn money online’ scam. If you feel like it is, I suggest you skip this entire blog. 

Real professionals earn a living by delivering results and delight through freelancing. They achieve their life goals while living a life of freedom. 

Here are the thoughts of a few successful professionals who have been freelancing full-time instead of getting a job to inspire you:

Rebecca Broad, England – 

I’ve been freelancing full-time for two and a half years in writing and organic social media management. There are so many benefits that I experience: choosing the clients I work with, taking days off when I want to, attending medical and personal appointments in standard working hours, choosing where I work and how – and I still earn a similar to (or more than) what I would get in a full-time employed job. Contrary to what many people assume, I think freelancing provides more stability than a full-time job.  If I was employed and my job ended, all of my income would disappear, whereas with freelancing, if a project comes to an end, it’s okay because I have other clients. I also enjoy the wide range of challenges of running a business that I wouldn’t be facing with in a job. I have to think ahead to manage tax, investing in products, outsourcing… no one day is the same, and I love that!” 

Naved Peerzada, India – 

“Having made the switch to full-time freelancing has been a blessing for me for two reasons: the chance to fuel my desire to travel anytime I want, and of course, the learning and growth that comes with it. Today, I no longer have to worry about taking a leave from work for any reason whatsoever. I can work on the weekends (because I love to), wrap up my work by afternoon, and even begin my trip to any location on a Monday. Yes, it is this flexibility that I love the most. Next, I have learned so much in just over a year in my freelancing career that I can never imagine it would have been possible in a full-time job.” 

Kushlani De Silva, Sri Lanka – 

Consulting clients independently (freelancing) has allowed me to work with some great people. Applying my experiences to help various marketing challenges is very fulfilling. When compared to a full-time job, consulting has expanded my scope of learning and thinking. Working with clients who have all sorts of budgets, requirements, and vision is a large contributor to this new way of thinking.”

Juhil Mendpara, India – 

“What’s appealing about freelancing, you ask? Let me borrow a couple of lines from William Ernest Henley’s Invictus to explain it in a sentence: When you are a freelancer, you are the master of your fate; you are the captain of your soul.”

Abhijeet Kumar, India –   

“The “free” in freelancing stands for FREEDOM. Freedom not from work, but from a ‘set schedule’ to live by. Instead, you can build your routine and you can live, SUCCESSFULLY, being a freelancer. I feel at my best during the early hours of the morning. And I try to eat the ugliest frog during those hours. I admit I have also worked on projects during ungodly hours. But for the most part of the day, I WORK on my personal projects, LEARN a new skill, or just READ to my heart’s content. And I’ve no intention to take up a regular job anytime soon.”

Step-by-Step Guide to Start Freelancing in India from Scratch 

Okay, enough with the preface. Let’s begin with the actual process that will help you start your journey. Start with these basic steps and then you can improvise and create your own way, as you go. 

Discover a Marketable Craft/Skill 

Well, this goes without saying that you need to have something to offer when you want to start freelancing. I have covered this aspect in this blog on freelancing

Now, the problem is: people try to learn a new skill before starting to freelance based on online trends. That’s where they start limiting their potential. 

Well, every individual has a craft – some like to write, some like to draw, some like to click pictures, some dancing, or even cooking. That’s within their nature or personality.   

When looking for a marketable skill, think of something you are good at, and the world needs the skill, i.e. there are takers for the work you like to do. 

The closer your skill is to your natural personality, the better the chances of growing as a freelancer. 

For example, I used to write, even before I started freelancing and when I started looking for projects, I knew I had to work in the content industry. 

If you love to draw, you can explore opportunities as an illustrator or graphic designer, if you’re into coding, you can think of web development. There’s a lot of work around that the world needs to get done. You just need to first understand if you’ve got the caliber to perform. 

Research Your Target Audience 

Okay, let’s say you already know your craft or marketable skill. 

Now, just like you can’t just shout out loud in the middle of a crowded market (you technically can, but it won’t make a difference) and expect buyers to come to you, you can’t start spamming forums and social media, directly. 

If you do this, you’ll never be regarded as a serious professional and best clients would ignore you. Also, there’s no point in applying to every single job opening (remote) on LinkedIn threads or Facebook groups. You rarely will get any good clients (who will pay enough for you to even afford a decent meal) if you do this. 

Instead, ignore the chatter around and rather start your journey by focusing on your ideal customer – the one you want to work with. 

Well, you must have dreamed of something right? That you want to work with startups, or healthcare companies or tech companies. 

Whatever, it is, you need to be a bit specific. 

Instead of sharing marketing jargon (target personas), let me clear this through a basic example. 

Our economy works on the principle of demand and supply – the things that are high in demand attract a better price, and vice versa. 

As a freelancer, you’re a seller (or a service). So, if your service isn’t in high demand, you’ll never get good rates for your work (well, not easily, at least). 

My point is, you need to structure your craft and skill in a way that it becomes appealing and valuable to the market. 

Let’s say you’re a content writer. If you’ll keep saying you write content, you’ll only attract low-paying brokers or agencies who sub-let the work. You would never see an entrepreneur or a serious lead landing in your inbox directly.


Because you’re not talking about their pain points or their problems. You’re just talking about yourself – you’ll do this, or you can do this. And the world in 2021 doesn’t like people who are self-centered.   

When you’re starting as a freelancer, you need to build a solution-based approach towards your craft. Your skill must offer a solution for a problem (or pain point) that your ideal customer faces every day. And you must talk about your audience’s pain points instead of talking about yourself. 

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For example, a content writer doesn’t just write content. He/she helps a business to strengthen their digital footprint (or stay active online, or make their customers aware of the products, etc.). 

When you solve a pain point through your craft (and communicate it through your online persona), the right guys (your ideal customer) will relate to it and approach you. 

So, always focus on the market demand and a ‘problem-challenge-solution’ approach. If you’re a writer, be specific on what kind of writer and why that writer is essential to their business. 

Solve a problem for a business and they’ll come looking for you. (Because there are a million problems while running a business and an entrepreneur can’t handle everything on their own) 

Package your craft as a solution that solves a particular problem. That way you’ll be able to position yourself better and stand out as a freelancer. 

Also Check: Beyond ABC – The Guide to Standing Out as a Freelancer 

Build a Target Persona and an Aligned Online Persona for Yourself 

How will you know what the business needs? Well, you need to research your target audience. (your ideal customer) 

Based on whatever you gather about the market, your ideal customer and the problem they face, you need to build a target persona. 

A target persona is an imaginary representation of a person you’re trying to target for buying your service. 

Read More: How to Research and Document Your Target Audience? 

Be as elaborate as possible – you can add name, what they do, what they see, how they look, what they read online, how they see the world and a lot more. 

I shouldn’t be telling you this, but this is really important if you want to grow and earn real money from freelancing (and not just spare cash). 

So, get working at finding your audience, and building target personas accordingly. 

You don’t have to create a single target audience persona. You can start with a broad one first, then narrow it down to 2-3 completely different ones, gradually. 

Example of Target Persona for a Freelancer 

Once you know exactly who you want to work for, now the road gets easier from here. 

A persona will solve at least 50 questions every freelancer who is starting has in their mind, including: 

  • What platforms should I use? 
  • Where should I spend most of my time – on LinkedIn, on Freelancing platform, or elsewhere? 
  • What content should I create to be visible and get leads? 
  • How should I choose the content topics to create for myself? 

You just need to align your own online persona (your website, social profiles, activity, etc.) according to your audience. 

Start using the platforms where they hang out, create resources that they find valuable (or funny), interact with people who are closest to your ideal persona. 

It’s just like your mother cooking food for you. She knows what you love and what you hate. So, when she cooks a dish specially for you, you’ll definitely like it. You are the mother and your ideal persona is the child here. 

Start Working on a Portfolio & Share, Share, Share!  

The #1 mistake every freelancer (or at least aspiring freelancer) does is the thought process they carry – ‘I will (or can) only work when the client (who pays money) will come to me.’

Well, I am sorry to break it to you, but freelancing isn’t a straight road. (not at least in 2021). 

You can’t just open a shop and think the customers would come themselves. 

Just like shops (or showrooms) do product demos, arrange events and do promotions, you need to do something too to grab the attention of your ideal customers. And you don’t need money to do all that. 

Thankfully, there are many ways to attract attention and bring people your way – the first being your portfolio. 

When I say portfolio, what comes to your mind? 

A blog, a folder, a website? 

Well, the best thing about current times? Portfolio is no longer a stale or obsolete piece of information. The best portfolio is one that’s regularly updated. And how will you create a portfolio with no projects on your hand? 

As I said, that’s the #1 mistake. 

Let me bust a myth today: 

A portfolio is the representation of your caliber and skills, not essentially to be confused with your project showcase. 

You must have seen how struggling actors carry their portfolios around while trying to find a role in Bollywood. 

What do you think is in their portfolio when they’re still to be cast somewhere?  

Well, they pay photographers/videographers to capture them while they pose as imaginary roles/characters. That’s what they show in their portfolio. 

Similarly, when you are starting to freelancer, you don’t have anything, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start working on a portfolio. 

If you’re a copywriter, start with creating your version of popular Facebook ads, or landing pages of famous software companies. If you’re a graphic designer/UI guy, start creating posters/ads of the companies you admire. If you’re a coder, build a product using your skills. 

Start sharing your portfolio on your social media profiles first of all. Engage in communities, share your opinions and slowly when you’re doing this, people will start taking notice of your skill. 

Do you remember this viral Signal ad? 

a close up of text on a white background

Well, it was created by Ramkumar G who just felt like creating ‘his version’ after the whole signal-Whatsapp controversy. 

He got viral overnight. Well, he didn’t wait for Signal app to come to him so that he can work. 

According to an article by afaqs, he got several mentions, brand collab offers and more by people who saw his ad. 

I’ve been receiving a lot of messages on LinkedIn. Suddenly, I’ve got 500-700 connection requests and yesterday (Sunday, January 17), my post reach around was 78,583. Also, I’ve received many offers and collaboration requests, and some from huge brands too.

Then there’s Twitter. 

Creators (& freelancers) share their portfolio by building in public (#BuildInPublic). 

They share daily updates on their side projects, or things they’re working on, to get support from the community (and even job offers) 

ThisisKP got an offer in public from BeOnDeck after building in public for years. 

He didn’t wait for someone to assign him something. He started building something for others to see, and when an ideal client/taker (BeOnDeck) saw that, they offered him a role. 

That’s how you should leverage social media if you’re trying to get work as a freelancer – by sharing something you create using your skillsets. (Not by sharing random stuff or gyaan every day) 

Well, if you are still confused about this portfolio thing, this piece might help. It talks of how you can use your personality as your portfolio to promote yourself online and get some inbound leads. 

Build a Platform for Yourself (And Use Other Platforms to Get Leads) 

I already mentioned about social media usage and covered how to choose where to stay active and how much. In this point, let me add to the discussion. 

Well, if you’re thinking of freelancing seriously, you need to own a platform. It can be anything – a blog, website, newsletter, podcast, etc. 

Well, keep social media and freelance profiles out of this for now, as you don’t own them. You’re bound by their terms of service when you use them. 

When you own a platform (like a website), you can experiment, enjoy ownership and showcase your skills more, efficiently. 

Whatever you do elsewhere – like on social media (LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter) that I shared in the last point, should direct a reader/viewer back to your platform (website). 

Your website or blog should be structured in a way that tells a visitor exactly how you can help them. 

Even when you’re thinking of using a platform like Fiverr or Upwork to start working as a freelancer, you shouldn’t skip this part. Because, Fiverr & Upwork’s credentials remain just on that platform. 

You’d still need something to showcase to other clients that come to you for work.  Also, never build your entire freelance business on a single website (or platform that you don’t own). 

What will you do, if someday it vanishes, or simply kicks you out of the platform? 

Discover: The Horrors of Getting Locked Out of Your Profile on Other Platforms (FreelanceBytes Edition- Winter is Here)

So, create a simple funnel for your everyday distribution/engagement process and your website for everything you do: 

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When you do this (in addition to building in public), people will slowly start coming to your website and even approach you with paid gigs. I am keeping the detail for now for a separate blog. 

Gather Your Freelance Stack, Build Processes and Convert Leads 

Okay! If you act on the five steps, you will start an engine – people would start seeing you regularly on social media. 

And you would be sharing relevant information (and solutions) for your ideal audience. So, naturally, you’ll start attracting some prospects. 

Now, things get interesting from here. 

Let’s say you’re just browsing Twitter and post a tweet sharing your latest blog about using blogs to get inbound leads. 

Someone DMs you and asks the price for executing the strategy for their business.  

What will you do? 

Well, I’ve heard that many freelancers panic when this happens. 

Everyone’s so obsessed these days to get work that they forget the next and the most important step – to get work done. 

You can’t just stay in a dream world where you’d get on a call, the client will ask you to work on something and you’ll get paid in return. 

That doesn’t happen in the real world. 

Most often, the person who DMs you won’t be even looking to get work done. But it’s your processes and approach that will help you convert this enquiry into a paying client. 

Not everyone who asks for price (or the solution) would buy for you but you still need to address the query. 

How will you do it? 

By having a process flow to address incoming queries and leads. 

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If you see the process, you’ll realize you need a lot of things even before you start working – a proposal, a verbal pitch for the call, quotation format, contract, SLA, etc. And let’s not talk about work management and the invoicing part.  

Well, to manage all of this, you need to have some basic tools, formats and internal processes – something I call the Freelance Stack. 

Get everything you need to build this process here

Now, this is just when someone asks you directly – an inbound inquiry. But most of the time, people won’t. 

You can also adopt the outbound approach too as a freelancer – which involves reaching out to your target audience directly. I’ll share the outbound process and how to work around it in the coming blogs. 

The Showtime – Work N Deliver 

If you get here, well, first of all, congratulations on a paying client, finally. 

But it’s not the time to celebrate, yet. You still have a lot to do, i.e. the real work for which the client has hired you. 

I won’t tell you how to do that because you’re an expert at your craft. Just keep the following things in mind while working: 

  • Share the work as per pre-decided timelines 
  • Work as per feedback/review 
  • Finalize and share the final deliverables with the client
  • Work only for the approved milestones and get paid for your work 

Build Social Currency by Getting Reviews 

Well, I am putting it at the end, but it’s the most important part – getting reviews from your clients. Well, if you do this right, you’ll be able to start another cycle of inbound leads – other prospects would see the reviews on your profiles/social media/website and they’ll approach you. 

So, make sure to have a process to capture reviews automatically. 

You can just ask them via email, have a google form to capture their reviews, or use a feedback management tool to get all the reviews in a single place. Some freelancers also use social media (like endorsements and recommendations on LinkedIn) or inbuilt mechanisms (if you work on Upwork/Fiverr) to capture reviews. 

The tool isn’t important. It’s important that you capture reviews some way or the other. When you get any review, don’t forget to share it on your website, portfolio, social profiles or professional freelancing profiles. 

And keep in mind, clients are always busy (they have a business to run), so sometimes, they’ll miss out on reviews (more than sometimes). 

It’s good to take a follow-up but leave them alone if they don’t give it to you after a couple of reminders. 

Now, Get Started and All the Best! 

Okay, Okay! 

I know freelancing isn’t just a simple 8-step process. I know there’s a lot more to it (as a freelancer myself). 

But I have covered all the basics you need for a head start. Now, these eight steps should be really solid in your mind and conscience. These would make or break your chances. So, keep these as a base and create your own ‘freelance mix’ to work and earn as a freelancer In India. 

Enough of my gyaan. Now get to work. All the best! 

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