Step 1 to Becoming a Successful Online Freelancer: Get Business

Good News. Bad News.

If you have been living a 9-to-5 life until now, this step - Getting Business - will be the most painful step on your path to freelancer success. However, if you make it over to the next step, this will also be the most exhilarating.

Before I elaborate further, here are a couple of tips to keep in mind to make this process less painful:

  • Recognize early on that there are millions of freelancers online. This is an open market and people from all over the world compete for jobs that require the same set of skills that you have. Usually for prices much lower than you are willing to accept. Once you can mentally accept this as a fact-of-life (as opposed to an excuse-to-not-try-at-all) you are better prepared for your success.
  • Recognize early on that you are unique. Even in a world of a million+ freelancers, you have that special something that will make you stand out. You just haven't figured out what it is yet, but you will. I promise.

Coming from my own experience, getting business as a beginner freelancer requires three magic ingredients that I will reveal in the course of this post.

Magic Ingredient #1: Nerves of Steel

Quit your Job. (This is so much easier if you hate your job and if you have a friend/family member with an extra couch for you to sleep on). Then, follow the steps below:

Create a free account on the following freelancer platforms:,,,

I have used all the above websites at different stages of my freelancing career. Personally, (previously turned out to be my best source of income. For one of my competitors however, seems to be bringing in a lot of business. About 6 months into your freelancing, you will figure out which is the best platform for you.

Note how I used the word free above? All the platforms above offer varying levels of subscriptions with compelling reasons on how it will make you stand out. If you are tempted to sign up for the premium accounts - don't.

1st Golden Rule for Getting Business as a Freelancer:

Until you get your 1st job on a freelancing platform, do not sign up for the premium account.

You need to perfect a lot of things before you move on to premium.

Complete your profile on the above websites

There are three key pieces of your profile that buyers look at within the first 30 seconds:

(i) Title - Be specific and professional. There's no real need to be creative here because I can guarantee that some shameless freelancer will just copy it anyway.

(ii) Summary - Your chance to shine! Don't spend too much time talking about your work experience, your skills and education since the rest of your profile will have sections that will display that information. Instead, push yourself to write in a way that explains your personality through your writing. If you are a fun, laidback freelancer, communicate that you love to get on calls to discuss project scope! (Yes, include the exclamation for extra effect!) On the other hand, if you are a serious, highly experienced, don't-waste-my-time-with-unnecessary-phone-calls freelancer, make sure that you let people know you prefer a detailed scope of work to perform your best.

Don't worry about getting the summary perfect the first time. You will find out more about yourself as you continue to freelance and will find the need to change your summary as required. I tend to update my summary about once every 4-6 months.

(iii) Cover Letter - I used to hate writing cover letters and was part of the reason why I could never get myself to apply for a regular job.

Magic Ingredient #2: Discipline

The irony is that most freelance jobs require a cover letter. But here's how it feels different. Your cover letter can be a single paragraph and informal. There's no need to repeat everything that's in your profile already, just the key information pertaining to that specific job post.

2nd Golden Rule for Getting Business as a Freelancer:

Never copy-paste your cover letter.

Here's why. Along with selling services on these platforms, I have also purchased services as a buyer. There is nothing more annoying than seeing a copy-pasted response to my job posting. It shows that you were too lazy to write an original response and will therefore probably not give me the attention that my project requires once you have been hired.

Here's the good news though. Almost half of the applications to a job posting have a cover letter that was copy-pasted. This means that if you write an original cover letter (include questions you might have about the posting, etc) then you are already in the top 50% of applicants that stand out. Also, as you do this over time you will get quicker at responding and it will only take a few minutes to write an original cover letter!

Create a Portfolio Website

All the freelancing platforms offer the opportunity to upload samples of your work online, and you should. However, I encourage you to go a step further.

3rd Golden Rule for Getting Business as a Freelancer:

Create a professional portfolio on a third-party website.

(You can see mine here)

Even if you are not a designer, you can create a portfolio website about your work. Websites that you should consider include:,, (invite-only),,

Some of you may not have a lot of sample work to showcase yet, so get cracking! Try to get small gigs from your friends and family with the permission to showcase this work as part of your portfolio. Dig up old high-school/college project and assignments if you have to! The important thing is to fill up your portfolio with atleast a dozen pieces of your work. Remember that this is the virtual world - the buyer doesn't know you yet and will need both a compelling cover letter as well as samples of your work to create an impression about who you are!

Set up "Job Alerts" and apply for relevant jobs

With 1000s of jobs being posted everyday across the different freelancer platforms, the smartest way to find the jobs that you are interested in, is to come up with a list of "keywords" and set up Job Alerts. does a great job at this.

Once you set up email alerts, you can continue to focus on other aspects of your freelancing (such as improving your portfolio site, taking free tests to improve your skills, educating yourself by reading blog posts such as this one, and so on). When you receive an alert however, drop whatever you are doing, and go apply for that job.

Magic Ingredient #3: Patience

If you have done everything right, it'll take about 100 job applications to get that 1st paid job. Some freelancers get lucky and get there sooner. But as long as you continue to improve your game, focus on the relevant jobs, enhance your portfolio and follow the 3 Golden Rules for Getting Business as a Freelancer, you will see that your ratio of applications-to-hires will keep on improving! (*hint* Use this ratio as a metric to keep track of your performance over time.)

This post is the 1st of my "6-Steps to Becoming a Successful Freelancer" series. If you liked this article, please "Like" or "Share" it below with your friends and family. Please feel free to comment and reach out to me with any questions you might have so that I can continue to improve this post.