Hi, my name is Laurel, and I have been working online for the last three years. At different points during that time, I have supported myself solely on that income. So, how did I do it? How did I get to a point where my side gig could become my full-time gig? How did I get to the point when working in my pajamas is completely acceptable? Here are a few tips to help you build your business and start working online and online only.
When I started out in spring of 2016, I was serving in the mission field. My only income was a small stipend from those who wanted to support me. And by small, I do mean small. When you are living on other people’s money, you feel like every cent spent must be accounted for, that vacations are no longer possible or economical, and that you can’t spend any money on yourself. Needless to say, I felt the need to earn some of “my own” money, money that I could spend however I wanted and even splurge for a coffee every once in a while. But living in a foreign country where my grip on the language was more or less pathetic, I only had so many options.
I began searching for online jobs, things I could do from outside the United States. The only money I had earned online before was a $50 gift card from one of those survey companies. And that had taken hours upon hours of mindless question-answering. I’ve always loved writing, so I looked into freelancing. I hadn’t heard the term before April of 2016, but freelancing is what changed my life. It was very important later that I could rely on this online income, as you will find out. So, how did I go from zero clients to as many as I could handle?
Upwork was the first website I began working on, but I was a nameless, almost empty profile, against other profiles that had years of experience and longer resumes. Piles of five star reviews didn’t help either. How could I measure up? Why would someone want to take a chance hiring a completely new freelancer when they could have someone more experienced?
Tip #1- Offer rock-bottom prices. You may not want to work at $6 an hour for the rest of your life. Who does? But a prospective client will be more likely to take a chance on a $6-an-hour freelancer than a newbie who wants $30 an hour. In their place, would you rather lose $18 if the freelancer doesn’t work out or $90? Then again, if the work is good, then you got a great price. All you need is that first positive review to help you jumpstart a great career in working online.
I began by offering my services for writing fiction or non-fiction, short pieces or long pieces at $8 an hour. I was willing to accept pretty much any type of work as long as they would accept me. Beggars can’t be choosers. After I had two great reviews under my belt, I confidently bumped my price up to $10. Since then, I have continued to bump it up as I get more experience, charging by the project rather than by the hour. If I had not been willing to start low, then I wouldn’t have gotten that first customer.
Tip #2- Don’t expect to start full-time right away. When you work online, you are self-employed (generally). Nobody is obligated to provide you with work, so you must plan to start with a slow period. If you know that you need to be full-time by October, start working online a few hours a week in August. That way, you have time to build up your portfolio as well as reviews.
In April of 2016, I had approximately 8-10 hours available every week. Some weeks, I worked 15 hours. Other weeks, I would only have one short job. But that’s okay; anything I made was an extra income, not something I needed. I was able to convert to full-time employment in August, just in time too.
Tip #3- Set your own goal. Maybe your goal is not a certain number of hours but a certain weekly amount to pay off a debt. You need to know what you are working toward. Once you have set your goal, be that a number of jobs, number of hours, or number of dollar bills entering your account, you are ready to really begin.
My goal was to be able to support my husband and myself. Our situation was a bit unique. He is not an American citizen, so I needed to submit a VISA application for him to come to the United States. We then had 90 days to get married. After we got married, he could apply for a work visa, which could take three to six months for approval. So, there was a transition period from the country where I had been living to his country to deal with the visa application. Then, we transitioned again to the United States, living first with my parents then on our own. I needed to have a way to bring in enough income that we would be able to pay all our bills. No way would I live with my parents after I was married! The income I needed was different at different points, because cost of living in the United States is much higher than some other countries. However, knowing my goal each month prepared me for the hours I needed to work.
Whatever goal you set can be fluid. I also suggest setting a target goal and an outrageous goal. The target goal is what you need to hit in order to make that house payment or student loan payment. The outrageous goal is a goal that will keep you motivated to work harder and earn more. It will also give you something to constantly reach toward.
Tip #4- Set up a killer profile. When you are first starting, your profile appears bare. There is a lack of reviews and “past jobs.” It’s hard to compete when you only have your bio and profile picture to work with. Here’s a suggestion. Browse other profiles.
When I was first creating my profile, I didn’t know what I wanted it to look like. I didn’t know what would be appealing to people. So, I created a “client” account and began browsing the profiles of those who might be competing for similar jobs as me. Different positive aspects from different profiles jumped out at me. After mixing them together and adding my own twist, I had a profile that was appealing.
Here’s a question to ask yourself. If you were hiring someone to do x job, who would you select? Why? Make sure that your profile has similar elements if you want to catch their eye.
Now comes the slow trudge toward reaching your goal. It can be tedious, because it may seem like no matter what you do, you can’t get enough clients. I had several undesirable positions at the beginning. One picky client insisted that each title be exactly seventy characters. But, I can talk about my worst client experiences later (I’m sure you would have some to add).
Tip #5- Dedicate time to job finding. It may seem like you are losing a lot of time just applying to jobs or searching for what is available. It may seem like wasted time or effort, but you will be paid back ten times in the end.
In my experience, I spent hours scanning newly posted jobs, refreshing the website and applying for the next available position. But after I had been working online for six to seven months, I started receiving invitations to interview for different positions. Instead of me having to search out positions, they were coming to me. I had enough work that I could pick and choose what I really liked doing, instead of writing about the three ways you can clean a waste bin.
Tip #6- Get out of your comfort zone. You have to expand your comfort zone if you’re going to work online full-time. Maybe you can find one position that fits your skill set, and that position is full-time. If not, you will need to piece together different positions. Think about all the people who graduate from college but can’t find a job. It’s not that there are not jobs, but all the jobs that fit their skill set need more experience. If you stretch your comfort zone, you might find that you can do something you didn’t think you could.
Before beginning my journey of working online, I wrote 99% fiction. I enjoyed writing stories of all lengths, creating characters, and fabricating plot lines. But, many of the jobs available were not for fiction. I tried out writing blogs for a website. My articles needed to tie back to food packaging, which was something I was not familiar with, but I learned about it. I have found that doing something I normally wouldn’t consider has actually caused me to learn a lot.
Tip #7- Put your eggs in different baskets. If you drop a basket will all of your eggs in it, you won’t be having any breakfast. Same thing with a job. You may have found a great position that promises to be full time for ever and ever. Take a small time side position with another company or another client. If a company goes under, you have a safety net.
After working as a freelancer for a year, I found an interesting online gig as an English teacher to children in China. It promised to be steady pay (once you get students who love you and always sign up for your classes), and I jumped right into it. Just like any other online business, it took me some time to build up my student base. Basically, students could book me for 25 minute slots from two weeks in advance to an hour in advance. I loved teaching their smiling faces (well, other than that Daisy). But, I still wasn’t filling all of my open slots. I started with another company, and between the two, I was able to fill every slot I opened each week. Happy ending, right?
Well, not exactly. After four to five months of working for both companies, I decided I would try transferring all my eggs over to the second company I worked with. They were offering more per hour. Why wouldn’t I like that? Money is a great reason to transfer. Just as I was slowly closing slots at one company to work full-time at the other company, things started exploding. Literally! Angry teachers on Facebook can be frightening.
The second company was having issues calculating pay incorrectly or sending pay late. That’s. . . um, not a little problem. While I never experienced the issues myself, hearing others’ experiences was enough to scare me into keeping all my baskets open. And boy was I glad I did! I’ve been able to balance both well and continue meeting my monthly income goal.
The End Goal
Hopefully, by the end of hours spent researching positions and talking to different potential clients, you have built up your portfolio. You are able to work when you need, how much you need, and in your favorite areas. However, as you get to the top of that mountain and you’re no longer wondering if you will be able to find work or not, you may hit a few other barriers.
Tip #8- Don’t let yourself reach burn out. It’s too easy to take on massive amounts of work, assuring yourself that you’re an expert now, you can do it more quickly than before. You HAVE to take breaks. You HAVE to go on vacation without bringing your laptop. I know it’s a big sacrifice, but if you don’t do it, then you will stop producing your best work. Clients will leave negative reviews, and well, that’s not generally beneficial.
Teaching online requires me to get up at 4:30 a.m. I’m a morning person, but 4:30 a.m. is not the morning. It’s that awkward predawn period where everyone should be sleeping. Some people in the company work every day. Because the children are in China, you can’t work a nine to fiver every day. Their hours are drastically different. I could not get up at that hour every day to work, and knowing my limits, I shouldn’t push them. Maybe you are a stronger person than I am.
With most people, they don’t have the choice of working on vacation. But those of us who work online do have that choice, that tempting choice. Because there is no PTO, it can be very difficult to choose not to work on vacation. It reminds me of a movie I saw where the man is trying to finish some piece of work on a road trip with his family. He goes to a men’s bathroom at the gas station to get a few minutes to finish it up. His wife calls him. He runs out, stashing the laptop behind the toilet, planning to be right back. But when he comes back, there is no laptop there anymore. Point is, leave your work at home and enjoy your vacation.
Tip #9- See the world. Take this opportunity with a totally flexible work schedule to see a bit of the world. Go live in a different country for a month or two. Really get a sense of the people and culture but earn more than you spend.
I have absolutely loved the flexibility of working online. I lived in several different countries while doing so. As long as I had a strong internet connection at least part of the time, I could do my work. Later in life, you may be tied into a more regular job. You won’t be able to take the time to travel. So really, now’s the best time!
Have you already traveled somewhere while working online? Where did you go? And how did your traveling fit into your work life?
Tip #10- Find a community. Working online is a completely different environment than going to an office every day. We are missing that little thing called co-workers. At first, you won’t notice it, especially if you’re an introvert like me. But then, you’ll begin to miss the interaction, the common complaining about things everyone is dealing with, like how the boss is always late. But just because you work in the house all by yourself doesn’t mean that you can’t have co-workers.
I have connected with other work-from-home individuals in many different ways. Even though we don’t all have the same job, expectations, hours, or location, we still have a few things in common. Having somewhere I can complain about a finicky client or share my good news (finally got that $1000 contract!!!) makes me feel like I’m not so alone. That’s why I’m excited to see theonlineworker.com launched.
How have you been able to meet other freelancers?