Since 2014, I’ve traveled to over 20 countries — all while building a freelance marketing company through which I earn six figures a year.
Don’t be fooled, though. It hasn’t always been like this. I started my freelancing career as a side gig. I worked full-time, and although I had ambitions of having my own company, setting my own schedule and working from anywhere, making those goals a reality seemed a long way off.
Initially, my freelance income provided spending money my first few years out of college, when I was saving up for a move to Europe while paying my student loans. When I finally moved to London a few years after graduation to start my PhD, it seemed like the perfect time to take the leap and go freelance full-time.
It took a while, but I was able to build up that freelance side gig to full-time work, making six figures and having the ability to work from anywhere in the world. Here are my tips on how to grow your side hustle salary, whether you want to keep it in addition to a full-time job or develop it into something bigger.
Never say no
From the get-go, I took on every freelance job that was offered to me. From ghostwriting to social media posting to digital strategy, I took on every job that I could find, and made sure I over delivered, every time. There were weekends when I worked rather than played, evenings where I would sit down at the computer only to look up at sunrise and many, many missed invites to fun events — but I made sure that I did my best at every job that came my way.
You have to spend money to make money
I was hesitant at first to make a website for myself, take classes to build my skill set, or travel on my own dime to meet with clients. But the old adage is true (with a caveat): sometimes, you have to spend money to make money. After a while, having a portfolio online was super helpful when speaking with prospective clients who had heard about me through word of mouth.
Name dropping training courses and even client meetings is important, even if sometimes it feels a little show-offish. Discern what you spend your money on, of course, but be aware that a few well-planned events, training, and professional development tactics can really build your profile, skill set, and career.
Networking – no matter how painful – really works
Most of my clients now come from word of mouth—but of course, you have to start somewhere to get to that place. And it’s never guaranteed that you’ll continue to get clients through word of mouth. I am, by nature, not a very outgoing person with strangers — but I try to join groups or go to events where I know people are interested in the same things, so there’s at least one common topic of interest.
Whether you attend charity events, professional development sessions or even a coffee or drinks to catch up, they’re all great opportunities to meet new people, hone your communications skills and of course — talk about your trade. You never know where those conversations will lead. I also interview for full-time jobs semi-regularly. I like to keep my interview skills fresh. Staying up to date on how people in my industry chat with one another helps to keep my options open.
Develop a portfolio
Everyone should have a “calling card” of sorts that show prospective clients that you can walk the walk, not just talk the talk. As you build your client base, you can start to use past client work as examples, but in the meantime, use work projects (confirm you can use them with HR), or develop your own projects that you do in your free time to showcase your skills. Some trades are more difficult than others to showcase, so even gathering testimonials and recommendations is a great place to start.
Hustle hard, but take time to rest
Everyone talks about how busy they are, and in our society, we wear this like a badge of honor. But. Make sure you take the time to enjoy life, pursue a hobby, stay healthy and maintain your personal relationships. I sacrificed a lot in my early freelancing years, including a great relationship, to build my career. I wish I had spent a little more time on myself, because I would have burned out less, which would have made me more efficient and effective in the long run. Even a few hours a week for self-care is a great start.
Offer multiple proficiencies
I started out as a writer, and ended up as a marketing consultant — it’s funny how one’s career can morph and take different paths. As a freelancer, you already have to be your own salesperson, marketer, accountant, and bookkeeper, but you’ll likely also have to help clients with multiple things that are related to your industry. For example, many of my clients require someone who is both strategic and tactical. I often find myself making strategies and then implementing them — which is a great way to keep my skills fresh. My advice is to always go into projects with an open mind, and be aware that you may do things that span your ability set.
Hopefully, you’ll find these tips helpful as you develop your freelance careers. And as always, the most important thing is to listen to your gut, be true to yourself, and be passionate about what you’re doing – that will never fail you.