Freelancing is not easy. It takes time, patience and effort to kick-start a freelance career, particularly if you’re starting out with no clients, contacts or jobs. Freelancing gets easier with time, as one client leads to another and your reputation and portfolio grow, but how can you survive that crucial first year?

Try everything

Be bold. If you didn’t fall into freelancing with jobs lined up, you’ll have to go a-hunting. And fortune favours the freelancer who takes chances, gets noticed and makes the most of every opportunity.

Leap ahead of other eager freelancers by being more visible, more persistent and more professional than everyone else. Get business cards (but use them discretely), create a website (and blog furiously) and start networking. Email the businesses that are likely to hire you, and then call them to ask if you can help with anything. Use social media to build links to your peers and potential clients and to learn more about your industry (this really means: follow people on Twitter, listen to them, and help when you can).

Build your portfolio with a few charitable donations of your time, or set up a side-project (like a meet-up group, specialist blog or a podcast series) that helps you explore your niche and demonstrate your knowledge.

Be persistent

Looking for freelance jobs can be demoralising and dispiriting. It can feel as though every other freelancer is dripping with well-paid work, while you fight with far-flung students for $5 jobs on elance. If you can carry on striving, even when things look bleak, you will succeed. You’ll make mistakes, worry about money and consider throwing in the towel, but if you keep ploughing on, maintain a professional image and demonstrate your abilities, you will succeed.

Do great work

If you do great work, your clients will recommend you. It’s often worth putting extra effort into projects and doing whatever it takes to help your clients because the value of recommendations is so great. That said; don’t let clients take the piss!

Adapt

Be prepared to change directions. As you explore freelancing and win your first few jobs, respond to the work that is available and consider how to serve the clients you can find, rather than obsessing over the clients you can’t find.

In case of emergency…

When my freelance career was slow to take off, I took on a bit of temp work. I didn’t enjoy doing filing for a government agency, but it provided a little extra income when times were tough. Other freelancers take on part-time jobs so they have a financial base from which to pursue freelancing.

Are you in your first year – or just finding freelancing a struggle? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!

Photo by Max Wolfe