Remember back in the early 2000s when people used to make outrageous statements like “Learn how I work from home and make a million dollars every week”? And because we weren’t all that familiar with the Internet yet we all bought into it? I know I’m not alone here.
I mean… becoming a millionaire while you work from home in your pyjamas? That’s every nap-lovers dream!
Unfortunately it was, and always will be, total BS. Unless you win the lottery or inherit your rich uncle’s private collection of valuable (and creepy) antique dolls, I’m afraid wealth doesn’t happen overnight.
And that’s fine by me, because what would be the fun in that? Having worked with my clients on 6-figure launch weeks as a freelancer I know the sense of accomplishment that comes along with the months of hard work leading up to that ‘overnight success’ moment. Which isn’t overnight at all in the end.
Having grown up in Eastern Europe, I have been groomed to be a realist with just a touch of skepticism.
So naturally, I thought starting a career where I would work from home was going to somehow lead to me selling my organs on the black market just to make ends meet. Before you ask – yes, my mind does think of the most extreme ‘what-could-go-wrong’ scenarios nearly every time.
But I think it’s my skepticism that in a weirdly wonderful way actually makes me the perfect person for the job. The job of teaching other skeptics in the world that you really can make a legitimate freedom business while you work from home, without losing a kidney!
I can pretty much guarantee you won’t become a millionaire overnight, it will take hard work and a lot of learning but once you actually put the wheels in motion you’ll be able to work less, earn more and spend your time on the things and people who matter most.
This post is split into two parts:
- What you will have to do in order to be successful working online, and
- What you certainly do not have to do.
There are a lot of people out there telling digital nomads and freelancers they need to invest a huge amount of time and money into setting up a business structure, a website, a portfolio etc. in order to then pitch to clients and get to work from home. This makes my skin crawl, because there really is such a quick and easy way to get set up, and this old-school approach just isn’t it. If anything, I think that the ‘old way’ has too many barriers which deter people from ultimately taking the leap into working online.
Before we dive in, I want to point out that there are a lot of ways someone can work from home, for example, you might consider opening up your own Etsy store if you’re particularly crafty. You might even think about teaching English remotely over Skype. Perhaps you’re already an expert at something and want to offer consulting services. You might even be a multipotentialite and want to magically combine all your skills into one super-career.
This post, however, is aimed at those of you who want to work from home and really do not know how to get started. It’s also for anyone that doesn’t know what skills to offer, or where to find his or her potential clients.
For those of you who fit into one or all of the above categories – I’ll be looking at some steps you need to take in order to become an online freelancer (which is what Nick and I do). This means you can finally find that sweet spot where your passions meet actual in-demand skills and you essentially will become a contractor that businesses will love outsourcing to.
They may send you work that they do not know how to do themselves, which could be anything from web design to setting up a Facebook page with the correct image dimensions. Or they might outsource the work they’d rather not spend their time on, like spending a few hours a day replying back to Instagram comments or removing fake accounts trying to gain access to their Facebook communities. Yeah, that’s a job I actually got hired to do for a client – at $40 USD an hour. Not a bad way to make a living right?
What you will have to do in order to work from home and become a success:
1) You will have to learn some new, in-demand skills
I say ‘in-demand’ because there are already way too many people offering data-entry or transcription services for extremely low rates (as low as $3 USD per hour). It’s safe to say that the supply has met the demand and it is now getting tougher and tougher to get these gigs.
The same goes for things like proofreading, article editing etc. People are catching on that working remotely is the best thing since sliced bread and therefore the competition is getting tougher.
The good news? This really isn’t the case for those with in-demand skills.
I’m not saying that you have to go and learn how to code a website from scratch or do someone’s taxes from your home office. All you need to do is find the point where your existing skills and passions meet and can be enhanced to suit the needs of clients. If you’re a creative extrovert like me, you might consider getting into helping clients manage and grow their social media accounts as a social media manager, for example.
If sales are more your thing then perhaps you could get into copywriting and provide the material to sell your client’s products or services to their ideal customers.
Short of being a heart surgeon you can pretty much do anything online while you work from home or on a beach in the Caribbean. From removing spam emails from someone’s mailbox through to providing remote legal services, you can do just about anything as long as you’re willing to learn the skills you need to get there.
2) You need to be willing to get out of your comfort zone.
You can be a good freelancer, charging average rates for your work from within your comfort zone. If you want to work from home and be great at what you do, however, you will need to expand your horizons and be willing to challenge yourself in order to succeed. For example, some people like working online because you rarely ever have to interview for jobs (within certain industries of course).
I have needed to have a phone or Skype interview with only a handful of clients in my online career. Everything moves so quickly in the online world so clients don’t always want to take the time out of their day to ask you tired questions like “What was a difficult situation you’ve faced in a workplace and how did you handle it?”
Mainly because it’s actually not an accurate indication of how you will perform as a freelancer for their business. This is great for introverts as they can often start working on a new project just with the exchange of a few emails and portfolio samples.
Unfortunately, the truly great clients who are willing to work with you long term and not on an ad hoc basis will often challenge your comfort zone. You might have to do a Skype interview at 3 am because that suits your client’s time zone. You may have to record yourself answering the client’s questions and post it on YouTube for them to see. You might be responsible for tasks you’ve never even heard of.
The trade-off for facing challenges head-on in the online world is you get to charge premium rates, work with the best clients out there and learn skills that they have 3-year university degrees for.
Only the difference is that you get to learn these while getting paid, and in a matter of months, not years.
Getting out of your comfort zone and being willing to learn in-demand skills are definitely necessities if you want to achieve the ‘work from home’ nomadic life. Now, lets cover some rookie mistakes that freelancers make far too often that you can now avoid on your path to success.
What you do not have to do in order to be successful and work from home:
1) You shouldn’t undervalue yourself or your skills by offering your services for free.
I’m all about gaining experience when you first start to work from home. However, I’ve often found that there are real issues with offering your services for free for the sake of gaining experience or a client testimonial.
PS. A testimonial is essentially a client reviewing your services either on your website, LinkedIn or another professional platform. It acts as a permanent and public reference.
I’ve seen a lot of online course teachers telling their students to do this and I’ve also seen it backfire time and time again. The reasoning behind it is sound as it allows you to gain hands-on experience when you’re first starting out.
The execution, however, has several problems. The first issue is with the types of clients that will ask for free services. They’re usually not the types of clients who will provide you with a raving review or even be willing to transition into offering you a paid contract at a reasonable rate at the end.
The same goes for the type of work you’re able to do for these types of clients. If they’re not willing to pay you, they’re probably not able to put any sort of budget behind things like Facebook ads, licensed templates or files, and any other materials you may require to do your job.
You might also find these types of clients to be difficult to communicate with and hard to get a clear idea on exactly what they want from their business or from you. They might be the most grateful clients, but at the end of the day, the fact that you’re working for free will mean that they don’t value your time and therefore do not value their own.
It sounds harsh, but having had the experience of working with a client for free, vs. $20 an hour vs. $50+ an hour, I know first hand that the higher you set your rates, the higher quality clients you can expect to work with. People that pay for your time will always value it higher than people who get given it for free.
2) You don’t need previous clients to have a portfolio
This ties in with my previous point but it’s a total myth that you need to work with actual clients in order to have samples of your work to show off. This does, of course, depend on the industry. For example, if you’re offering web design services and you can’t send a sample of sites you have personally created, then that might be an issue. It is a heck of a lot of work to make a website purely for demonstration purposes given how much work is involved. However, there are a lot of jobs that will allow you to get away with a bit of ‘creative’ portfolio building.
Some clients, of course, will require proof of numbers. For example, as a social media manager I often have clients ask me to provide specific details on how I’ve improved a previous client’s social presence and the results that I got for their business. These are high-end clients paying premium rates for my services so they want to know that their investment (in me) will pay off.
When you’re first starting out, however, you certainly don’t need to put together an hour-long presentation on exactly how you plan on improving the client’s business, and what proof you have of success with specific techniques with previous clients.
When I started, I put together a few graphics in Canva, and wrote a few sample blog posts and emails to send as samples to clients. I signed up for free trials of different email software and any tools that I wanted to demonstrate my knowledge of and made up fake business names to create personalized samples.
When clients then wanted to know what I can do and how my writing style will fit within their business – I had something to send them.
Keep in mind that this is advice is given under the assumption that you’re looking to get started with a freelancing platform like Upwork.com and not setting your services up through your own website.
Which brings me to my next point…
3) You do NOT need a website in order to start working online
This seems shocking to most people. My biggest frustration is seeing people waste time and resources on things they don’t need – like websites. People will go on to spend big money on things like getting a theme, a domain, a hosting service and maybe even help from a developer before actually getting any experience and figuring out if they actually like working online.
I was this person.
I was told that this is what I needed in order to kick start my dream of getting to work from home.
The problem with this approach is that it puts you in a negative profit margin from the beginning and puts even more pressure on you to be successful online. It also then puts people in the position of cold pitching their services to businesses through emails or even phone calls. You might as well be walking around town with a paper resume in a hideous A4 display folder. *Shudders*
Having worked in recruitment and spent several days perfecting my phone sales pitch I can honestly say this is my worst nightmare. There are some people out there doing this well of course, but it is not the recommended road ahead.
If you’re a natural sales-savant then kudos to you my friend. If, however, you’re like me and just want clients to chase you instead of the other way around then please – read on!
After getting frustrated with designing my website and realizing what it would take to actually get it in front of the right clients, I started looking for alternatives. I set up a profile on Upwork.com and got my first job within hours of being on the platform. It was a simple gig, I was only doing 3 hours per week for the client and mostly just posting relevant industry articles on their Facebook account.
Within just a few days of that, I got an invitation to interview for another client. That’s right, the client found me and invited me to interview for them. I had a quick 10-minute phone chat with them the next day and began my 20 hours/week contract with them the day after that.
Within 3 months of working online, I promoted myself from $20 USD an hour to $40 USD an hour. After doing this I kept receiving approximately 6-10 invitations per week from business owners wanting to work with me.
Now, I teach students how to set themselves up online, and so I know it doesn’t work this way for everyone. Everyone has a different experience and I know I have been extremely fortunate to have found amazing clients, many of whom I now consider friends.
There is a lot of noise in the online world and it’s hard to know which clients will enhance your work from home experience and teach you new skills, and which ones will be a pain in the rear. It comes with time but just know that there certainly are alternatives to going through the hair-pulling pain of setting up a website because you think you need it in order to work from home.
There are many more steps to your dream of getting to work from home. If you’re a hard-worker and you’re excited by the possibility of becoming a digital nomad and having the freedom to travel, or you just want to ditch the morning commute and spend more time with your family… you’re in the right place.