How to survive your first year as a freelancer

Getting a Job, Training

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!


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

  • Michelle Chapman

    Be patient. I’ve been freelancing for 18 months, but blogged for 3 years before that. I found my biggest client via my blog – he’d been following my blog (and commenting) for 3 years too!

  • Jon Norris

    I’d also add “ditch your preconceptions” – you’ll almost definitely end up doing stuff you’d never considered before!

  • AlisonScammell

    This article is spot on and strikes the right positive note. I just wish there were more part time temporary jobs though, to supplement the lean times. They seem like gold dust!

  • Pete

    I am just about to take the plunge and leave full time employment and become 100% freelance. I’ve got a base of clients already but its still a little unnerving not knowing where your next project is coming from. I would say be patient but persitient and never give up! If you put as much effort into the not so fun projects as you do into the amazingly creative projects you will be create a reputation. :)

    • MyHirely

      I agree with you Pete, do you have twitter or a fb account. I would love to see your work. We have a website that allows freelancers to post up their service gigs online. Our goal is to help out freelancers such as yourself. The website is fairly new , but we are doing what you said in your post, “persistence and patience”.

  • John Sankey Job

    That’s an awesome article and am searching for one like this for last few months.Thanks

  • Lois

    Great, positive article. I went full time freelance in September and I think this is bang on. I work 8 hours a week in a dull job, but it helps to have a little bit of guaranteed income. I’d add to this ‘work your arse off’ and reiterate the bit about networking. Freelancing can be lonely, and meeting people doing the same is invaluable.


    I really can identify with article, especially #1. I did all those, it feltcrazy at times, but 18 months later, I am seeing the benefits. Going to send this to some clients.

  • Mark Phillips

    Great bit of reading, I have just started out as a freelancer and I only have a few clients to work with at the moment but it feels encouraging for me to hear that everyone else is in the same boat when it comes to worrying about the next project and money worries too. I’m sure I can succeed if I just keep on going and give it my all :)