The first time you get paid for freelance work you do online

I remember the first time I got paid for work I did online as a freelancer. It was a few years ago. And I could have forgotten about it all, but it is still fresh in my mind.

I remember the details well. I got paid to write an article – in the WordPress niche – to write a review for an email lead generation plugin developed by Elegant Themes. And the blogger I wrote it for paid me fifty dollars for the article.

What I did before that first payment

I had to create a portfolio. Basically something (sample posts) I could show potential clients to help them gauge if they’d want to work with me or not.

In my case, I had a blog which I built myself from scratch on the WordPress platform – and then I had a few articles on the blog itself that could show somebody that I could write quality articles in the blogging / WordPress niche.

I went out looking for clients. At the time all I did was just email blogs I already knew about in the WordPress / blogging niche to see if someone would want to outsource some writing work to me.

In my emails, I mentioned how much I wanted (per word), talked about my experience (using WordPress and figuring ways to help beginners get up and running with their own WP sites) and just linked to a few posts I had published on my blog.

So, when starting out, I just offered a freelance service in a niche I knew a lot about.

How did I find the people to reach out to for my first freelance work online?

I was an email subscribers to some of the blogs I reached out. So, I just went to my inbox, found some of the emails they had sent me, hit reply and asked if they’d be interested in me writing blog posts for them.

I visited some of the blogs I emailed and checked their Contact pages. I emailed some directly from their contact pages. And some I just grabbed their email, switched to a tab on my browser with Gmail on before copy pasting that same email and clicking Send.

Once the emails started coming in (from the people saying no, the ones saying maybe, the ones interested and wanting to know more) it was just a matter of figuring what to do next.

So, with this client, they asked for a review, and gave a link to the product they wanted me to review. We agreed on a rate and I got to work.

I did the work in a cyber cafe in two days. I think I paid around KSh 100 the first day. And on the second day when I went to complete the article and send it over to the client, I paid slightly over one hundred Shillings to the cafe attendant.

Then I sent the work to the client. As an email attachment. The article was all written and formatted in a Microsoft Word document.

And then boom, a little later, I got paid. Money dropped on my PayPal account.

That is when I realized a few things.

What I realized from the first online job I did as a freelancer

People outsource tasks to freelancers mostly after figuring out two things: how to save their time and how to make money. And once you know this, you can come up with creative ways to align yourself more with your client’s needs (have less of yourself – caring about what they think of you) so you can do your best on every task outsourced to you.

Two, this information can also help you plan and work hard to become an employer too. For example, once you figure out the math that makes them outsource with confidence, you can slowly start implementing strategies that can help you diversify your income – for example if you make money from freelancing, you can double your efforts on your own blog – to increase how much you earn from display ads and affiliate programs.

And if you need motivation to help you take the risk to seriously start exploring other ways you can make money:

  • Think about how to grow a sustainable business. Learn about it. Read about it and implement what you learn.
  • Think about what someone outsourcing might be getting once they pay you. For example, the recurring payment one may be earning from affiliate links once they get the article back from you (e.g. 25% commission for every successful referral on a 50 dollar product – all from an article they probably paid you KSh 4000 – 6000 to write).

Other things I realized:

At the time I thought the market was saturated, that there was a lot of competition, that it would be an uphill battle if I wanted to make some money freelancing too. And you might be thinking this too right now. But then I realized that after putting some things in order (portfolio) I could just stop worrying about the competition and just take a leap (put the word out).

Then what would happen would happen. If it was rejection, there would be lessons I’d learn to help me make better attempts next time. If I got maybes, I would learn why and make the changes that would push me from maybes to yeses.

You don’t need much to get started. If someone can pay for your skill, all you need is to just create a portfolio (samples of your work), find a computer with internet connection and start looking for clients.

When your hard work starts paying off you become really motivated. Just make sure you do a good job. Don’t under-deliver. And if you have to over-deliver like some tell you to, be reasonable. You don’t want to dwell too much on one project. Do your best and get ready for the next thing.

Sometimes it is hard to replicate what the clients who hire freelancers do, even if you want to. And that is because most people are not willing to do the things (groundwork) some of these clients do.

For example, as a writer, I could create decent pieces of content but wasn’t actively pursuing activities such as link building that could help me quickly get to a position where I could make more recurring revenue / profits / commissions from affiliate programs to be able to outsource content creation too (like the client did).

You can learn a lot while you are in motion. Suddenly, you get to learn more about things when you start getting paid. Like how to verify a PayPal account, how to send invoices via PayPal, how to withdraw money from PayPal account to back then a PayPal to M-PESA withdrawal service run by individuals, or now (to a bank account in Kenya or directly to your Safaricom M-PESA mobile money wallet).

I also realized that once you get paid, you have to quickly figure out more of the right things to do to get paid a second time – by the same client or a different one. I more or less did the same things to get my second, third and fourth client.

You have to realize that you might not be doing this forever. So, you have to start thinking of ways to save more of the income you make – so you can invest it in your own ventures online and offline for a greater return later down the road.

There are so many ways to go about getting freelance clients. Cold pitching is just one way. Bidding for jobs, that is another. And it is popular with Kenyan freelancers working on freelance marketplaces like UpWork, Freelancer and PeoplePerHour.

Some use more than one strategy to find clients. You might want to try that as well. And as someone now running a freelance marketplace (connecting contractors in Kenya to potential clients and vice versa), I call on you to check the various categories on Entity.co.ke.

Find a category where you would likely deliver a good job to a client and place your own ad listing in there. Placing an ad on the site is free. If you were also once a freelancer but now you are in a position where you can outsource work, let the freelancers using Entity know. Create a listing for your job for free.

And if you have great stories of your own, on how you got started, I would like to hear them.

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