Online freelancing: How to get started?

by Valine

How can we afford to travel all around the world non-stop for this long? Did we save up money for years? Do I get welfare money from the Netherlands? Do our families support us?

Well…no….

I am simply working to make a living, just like most people. The only difference is that for my work I don’t have to go to an office every day. I can do my work from anywhere I want. And I agree, that is pretty amazing :)

Since about two years I have been earning my income completely by online freelancing. This gives me the freedom to travel all over the world. All I need to earn money is my laptop, an Internet connection and electricity.

And you know what? If you really want it, you can do the same. That is, if you have the right mindset, and know your way around on a computer.

This article is the first of a series of 3 in which I will explain you everything about online freelancing. In this article I will explain you what skills you need and I show you the first steps to get started. It’s a pretty long read, but if you are determined to start an online career too, I’m sure this information will help you!

online freelancing

One of my many outdoor offices in the past year. A bit diagonal this one..

Is online freelancing the way to go for you?

I am not going to lie. Not everyone is suitable to establish an online career. The good thing is: if you are motivated, you’ll get there. In my opinion there are only three things that are crucial to be successful as an online freelancer.

  • You need a basic understanding of working with computers.

Obviously, online freelance work happens via a computer. You don’t have to be an expert, but you will have to be comfortable working with e-mail, browsers, and some office programs. Even if your work itself is not digital, you could for example sell handmade items online, all your communication will happen online.

One important thing to remember: computer skills can be gained. So if you feel like your digital skills need an upgrade, this is step one! Don’t snooze, but start now! Here is a link to a website with lots of free online courses for every digital skill thinkable.

  • You should be willing to invest time.

When you want to get into online freelancing, and you start from zero, you have to invest a great deal of time to get things rolling. If you want to start as a freelancer, you’ll need time to make your profile, to build up a reputation and to find good clients.

In my case, my first few online jobs had a very low pay and in some cases I did not even get paid at all. But as I did more jobs, I received good reviews and was therefore offered more interesting and better paying jobs.

  • You have to be able to motivate yourself.

If you work online, you will mostly work alone. That means: no boss will check if you start your work on time. You will have to make sure that you work enough hours and that you deliver quality. This is purely and only your own responsibility.

Especially when you want to work and travel at the same time, you need a great deal of discipline to stay focused behind your laptop instead of going out to explore your new environment. I am still struggling with this sometimes!

desk-dark

Just try to stay focused when you can also run off into the Slovakian hills, play diabolo or crochet….catch my drift?

What types of freelance work can you do online?

In short: almost any skill or profession can be converted to an online job. Look at it like this: Nowadays the Internet is a world on its own. Almost everything that you find in the offline world, exists online as well. Online you can shop, follow classes, read the newspaper, get therapy, place bets, watch movies, etcetera. This means that a lot of skills that you practice in your ‘offline’ life, can be adapted to an online career.

I think that everyone has a skill that can somehow be used to make money online!

The most obvious examples of online jobs are programming, content writing or web designing. But apart from those things there are so many things you can do: You can sell products in an online store, create an online course, offer coaching or classes or even sell (digital) artwork. The possibilities are endless.

In this article though, I will purely focus on freelance jobs. With freelance jobs I mean work situations where you are trading your time for money. You do a job for a client, and he pays you either per hour or for the completed job.

Online freelancing is the kind of work I have experience with. But apart from that, I think it’s the easiest and fastest way to start earning money online. The reason for this is that you need a relatively small amount of preparation to get started with online freelance work. On the contrary, if you start your own project, like selling a digital product or an affiliate website, you are always taking a risk. You’ll have to invest a lot of time, and you are not sure that your project brings the income you hoped for.

Freelance work however, is more secure. You will get paid per hour or per project, so (if everything goes right) you can be sure about an income after you put in your hours of work. So if you are looking into different ways of making money online, I think that online freelancing is your safest bet!

online freelance work

This is what ‘home office’ looks like when you live in a van

But how to decide what jobs to pick?

Let’s first take a look at what kind of online freelance work is available. What are the possibilities? I made a list of online freelance jobs that exist. Of course this list is not complete, but these are the most common jobs out there.

  • Translation – Translate websites, brochures, instruction manuals and much more from any language you understand into your own language.
  • Transcription – Convert audio into written words by listening to spoken text (for example an interview, speech or podcast) and creating a text document of what you hear.
  • Web research – Do online research on different topics, assigned by for example law firms or market research companies.
  • Content writing – Write texts for websites, using topics and keywords that the company assigns to you.
  • Programming – Use your programming skills to create websites, apps and software on demand.
  • Design – Create designs for websites, apps, flyers, brochures, et cetera.
  • Customer Service – Answer e-mails from your clients’ customers, or provide customer service by chat or phone.
  • Virtual Assistant – Be someone’s personal assistant, but from a distance. Help out with answering emails, making reservations and anything you can do online
  • Data entry – These are usually relatively easy jobs that require a lot of accuracy: for example copy/paste text from PFD-files, enter Amazon listings or add information into spreadsheets.
  • Social media – Manage the social media accounts of companies. Build an online community or fan base for your employer

So… how to choose your field of work?

When deciding what kind of online jobs to aim for, the best way to start is to look at your current or previous job. Is there a way that you can convert your current work to an online activity?

That method was actually my first step into online freelancing and this is how I did it:

Before I started working online I was working as a customer service agent in a call center in Berlin. I have to admit, I was pretty good at my job 😉 When I quit my job to travel, the company was very sad to see me go. After 6 months of traveling however, I ran out of money. I was in Brazil at the time and not at all planning to go back to Germany. Then I decided to do something crazy. I sent my former boss an email. I explained him the situation and asked if I could come back to the company as a freelancer. But, then I would only work from home. (Not including the little detail that my ‘home’ at that time was on the other side of the globe). To my surprise my ex-boss really liked the idea. The company was just starting with customer service by online chat. And they wanted to experiment with freelancers. Man, was I glad that I asked this crazy question! So, a week later I started working as a freelance customer service employee while sitting in the Brazilian sun. Boiling and sweating, but that’s a different story…

Now try to convert this to your own situation. Are there components of your current job that you could also do from home as a freelancer? Then this could be a way to start.

Of course you don’t have to base your online career on you current job. Maybe you have other skills that you can use to earn money online. Are you a good writer? Then you could for example look into content writing or translation jobs. Are you good with Excel, then you could consider data entry. Are you a good organizer? What about being a virtual assistant?

So let’s get practical here… What are the first steps to take?

The easiest way to start online freelancing is through one of the many job platforms, like Upwork.com, Guru.com or Freelancer.com. These platforms are market places for online freelance jobs. Any person or company can post a job, small or big, that needs to be done. And anyone can create a profile and apply to these jobs.

freelance work platform

The homepage of Upwork.com

I started my online career on the platform Upwork.com. Upwork is the biggest of the online job platforms, with at this point over 160.000 online freelance jobs listed.  On Upwork you can find jobs from clients all over the world. The jobs range from low-level data entry gigs for beginning freelancers, to project management and coaching jobs for experts and everything in between. I have to admit: the competition can get fierce here, because there are a lot of people searching for jobs. But if you are persistent, and you take time to build a good profile and reputation, you can find really great opportunities here!

Of course Upwork is not the only job platform out there. But because it’s the biggest one, and the one I have experience with I am focusing on this one. Do you want to check out the other platforms for online freelance work, then you can take a look at this list of freelance job websites.

If you are totally new to the world of online freelancing, the first step you can take is to just go to the website Upwork and browse a little bit. You can even do this without creating a profile. (However, after creating a profile you will see more job listings) Just click ‘Browse’ in the header menu and then ‘Browse Jobs’ and ‘View all categories’. You can take a look at the categories of jobs, and a closer look at the specific job offers you see there. You can also try the search function to see what specific jobs there are for your skills.

I started my Upwork career by only applying for jobs in my native language Dutch. I knew these jobs would have less competition from other freelancers. (Because who speaks Dutch, right?). This worked very well for me. If you have another native language than English, you can try the same. If you search for example for jobs with the keyword ‘Turkish’, you will get over 150 recent job postings for mainly customer service and translation jobs for Turkish speakers.

screenshot-www.upwork.com 2016-04-10 21-04-38

Tadaaa! Over 160 freelance jobs for Turkish speakers

 

online freelancing pinterest

For Pinterest lovers…

When you come across jobs that could be suitable for you, great! You can now totally dive into it. Now you can create a free account and start building your profile.

It’s important that before you start applying for jobs, your put a lot of effort in your profile. In online freelancing, your profile is your application letter and job interview at once. In your profile you have to show your work experience, your personality and your professionalism. I created an extra post with tips on creating a perfect profile on Upwork!

And are you not sure if you can handle the challenges of online freelancing? Than this post is for you!

I hope that this post has given you a good first impression of doing freelance work online. If you are interested in doing this yourself, please stay tuned for my other posts on this topic. And if you need some support or tips now, don’t hesitate to send me a message. I’m happy to help you out!

9 comments

  1. Comment by MiKa

    MiKa Reply 24 April 2016 at 06:52

    Thanks for thi cool article! Some facts about insurence, tax … were nice.
    Br, MiKa

    • Comment by Valine

      Valine Reply 24 April 2016 at 18:13

      Hey MiKa, insurance and tax are indeed things that you have to think about when you start doing this kind of work. I will address these things in a future article!

  2. Comment by Dean

    Dean Reply 15 May 2016 at 22:06

    This article pushed me to set up an upwork profile and subsequently landed me my first freelance admin job! Not earning big bucks but it’s a step closer to complete location independence :) THANKS

    • Comment by Valine

      Valine Reply 16 May 2016 at 12:52

      Wow, that is so great to hear! Thanks for letting me know the good news and best of luck with your online career!

  3. Comment by Fayez

    Fayez Reply 21 July 2016 at 13:49

    j ai parcouru beaucoup de site pour apprendre comment devenir un pige en ligne et je trouve que le tien est le meilleur parce qu il est le plus simple maintenant j ai une question a vous poser ma langue mere est l Arabe et je parle tres bien Francais et assez bien Anglais et Italien je suis agent commercial et administratif a votre avis quel activite je dois choisir merci

    • Comment by Valine

      Valine Reply 22 July 2016 at 12:01

      Hi Fayez, thanks for your message. Unfortunately my French is not so good, but I think I read in your message that you know English well. I’d love to help you, but can we do it in English? (Tip 1 for applying to jobs online: write in the language that is required for the job ;))

      You write that you have experience with commercial and administrative work. Then you could look into online marketing (telemarketing/telesales), admin support, data entry or virtual assistant jobs. You can find all those on Upwork. You would have the best chance if you try to find jobs in Arabic, as this is your mother language.

      Just write to me if you need more tips!

  4. Comment by Karin

    Karin Reply 6 August 2016 at 07:55

    I have made my upwork profile some time ago, but without any success – but your article gave me some more hope and encouragement! i will try again and hopefully get further than the last time :)

  5. Comment by Francesco Brownlee

    Francesco Brownlee Reply 11 October 2017 at 14:53

    Hello Valine,
    This article really inspired me to start with upwork first. I’m doing lots of things online like digital marketing stuff. But after reading this article I’m going to create my upwork profile now.
    Thanks for powerful article,
    Francesco Brownlee.

  6. Comment by Francesco Brownlee

    Francesco Brownlee Reply 11 October 2017 at 15:21

    Hello Valine,
    I’m Francesco Brownlee. I really motivated by this powerful article. I’m going to create my upwork profile right now.
    Thanks,
    Francesco.

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