Launching Your Freelance Career – The First Steps to Creating a Side Income With WordPress

Posted on August 9, 2015 by in Tips & Tricks | 20 comments

Launching Your Freelance Career – The First Steps to Creating a Side Income With WordPress

Most of us are already familiar with the size of the WordPress landscape. Ripe with opportunity, it’s a freelancer’s dream. The variety of different ways in which you can earn an income are mind boggling and are only limited by your creativity.

It really doesn’t matter whether you looking to create a full-time freelancing career or just get started with a side-income. As long as you’re willing to put in the work, there’s a WordPress niche waiting for you to make your mark.

I don’t mean to make it sound easy, not by any stretch of the imagination. Simple yes, but not easy. You’ll probably work harder in your part-time business that you do in your full-time job. But if you’re passionate about it, you love every second. You might even find your part-time side-income turning into a full-time venture.

If you love WordPress, and you’re serious about getting started with the process of creating a side income, I have some good news. Launching a part-time freelance business is more of an internal process than anything else. The technical aspects are easy by comparison.

As long as you have a grasp of the technical aspects relevant to your niche, there is absolutely nothing stopping you from getting started except yourself.

In this post, I’d like to outline what I think are the most important steps to getting your part-time WordPress freelance career off the ground.

The Importance of Getting Started

Planning is important. There is no debating that a little bit of time spent planning will make the process of launching your business easier. Even writing about WordPress involves planning. Every post starts with an outline, just like new websites often begin with a wire-frame.

But even though planning is important, it’s not the same thing as starting your business. You shouldn’t make the error of mistaking planning for taking action – they’re not the same thing.

Most people who dream of earning a side income from freelancing never move past the planning phase. It becomes an endless loop in which you never actually launch your business.

One of the most important things you can do is to attach a deadline to the process.

Action Step:
Commit to actually starting your business by a specific date and time. Be prepared to follow through.

You Can Be Wrong and Still Have A Successful Business

There are many steps that occur along the path of launching a freelance WordPress business. Some of those steps might seem scarier than others. In my experience, one of the biggest stumbling blocks is the fear of being wrong. Fear has the flat out ability to stop you dead in your tracks.

You might be afraid of picking the wrong niche or you might be afraid that the plugin you’re creating won’t sell as planned. Sometimes, it’s a fear of never landing your first client or even that you won’t be able to keep up with the workload. Fears are different for everyone.

Most of the fears associated with starting your freelance business are irrational. They never come true and even if they do, the consequences aren’t as bad as you made them out to be in your mind.

If you end up being wrong, there is no shame in changing your plans. A willingness to be flexible means you’ll be able to look at what’s working in your business and pivot. But remember, you can’t actually see what’s working and what’s not working until you get started.

Have you ever heard of an app called Tote? Probably not. Tote started out as an app designed to simplify online shopping via your cell phone. It was an epic fail. But the founder, Ben Silbermann took note of what was working well with his current business model and made a change. The result was Pinterest. His willingness to accept that what he was doing wasn’t working resulted in a huge success.

Define Your Skills

If you’ve made it this far, hopefully, you’re close to moving past the mental blocks most associated with launching a new freelance business. So what’s next?

You can start by taking a closer look at your skills. But how do you decide what your skills are? It’s actually not as hard as you might think. Consider the following:

  • What skills have you received formal training for?
  • What are you good at?
  • What do you enjoy doing?
  • What are other people always asking you to help with?
  • What do other people say you’re good at?

When you’re writing out your list of personal skills, it’s common for your biases to creep into the process. Try to avoid letting that happen by just writing down everything that comes to mind. Nothing is written in stone here, you’re just trying to come up with a list of potential ideas.

When you’re done, you should have a list that encompasses everything you ever done related to WordPress. Even if at some point in time you built a single landing page for a friend’s business and really enjoyed the process, write it down.

Action Step:
Create an inventory list of all your skills. Even if you don’t think they qualify. Write down anything you are capable of doing or have done in the WordPress space.

Understand Your Clients and Their Needs

The next step is to think about who some of your clients might be. If your regular job involves working in the WordPress space, you might have an advantage here. If you’re already a full-time developer and are looking to land some extra freelance work, you got the advantage of knowing who might use your services.

But if you’re truly starting from scratch, you’re going to have to put a little more effort into the process. Looking at your list of skills, who do you think might be benefit from them?

It’s easier to look for an existing market than it is to create a new one. Think about which companies are currently paying for the services you want to  offer?

For example, if you’re a graphic designer, you might find it easy to approach developers who are interested in working together. Approaching companies who have never given any consideration to contracting out their WordPress design work might be more difficult. Likewise, you should consider approaching existing WordPress design firms. You never know when they might be overloaded with work and in need of some freelance help.

Action Step:
Write out a list of both potential client types, and specific companies you might consider working with.

What Value Will You Provide to Your Clients?

Having mapped out a list of potential services you could offer as well as a list of prospective clients, it’s time to start figuring out how the two might be tied together. You could sell web design services to any business, but that doesn’t necessarily mean every business is a good prospect.

Looking through your two lists, think about which clients will receive the most value from which services. If you specialize in creating beautiful, high-converting landing pages with Divi, and then integrating a sales funnel using email marketing, which type of client on your list will get the most value from that service?

Just because you have experience in the retail apparel industry, does not necessarily make that a good target market. How much value can you really provide when you’re dealing with low ticket items for example?

But what about a personal injury law firm? If you can create a landing page in WordPress and a corresponding sales funnel that generate 3-4 new clients each month, what is that worth to your client? As you can imagine, if an average client for the law firm is worth $8000, your expertise will be providing significant value.

What do you think you might be able to charge the retailer who benefits from a few hundred dollars in sales as a result of your expertise? Not much right? How much do you think you could charge the law firm?

This is why it’s so important to match up your skills with the ideal client type. Working with one new law firm could provide a nice side-income each month, with relatively little hassle. You’d probably need 5-10 small retailers to generate the same amount of revenue. Which would you prefer?

Action Step:
Estimate and write down the value that you might be able to bring to each prospective client type across your list of potential services. Which combination appears to offer the greatest ROI for your efforts?

What Do You Want to Achieve?

Some people might argue that the process of launching a freelance business should begin with this step. But I disagree. I think figuring out your goals and objectives becomes much easier once you have a clearer picture of how all the individual pieces might fit together.

Although you’re interested in freelancing as a means to generate a side income, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll want to stay in the part-time space forever. As your business grows you might decide to increase your level of commitment, eventually going full-time.

Or, maybe your goal is to simply generate a stable side-income that will help to pay for family vacations?

As a freelancer, you can take on as much or as little work as you desire. If your services are in high demand, you can raise your rates. If you dislike working with a particular client, you can terminate the relationship.

Action step:
Write out a list of both long and short term goals while thinking about the following questions:

  • What are your monthly revenue goals?
  • What are your annual revenue goals?
  • How many clients are you willing to work with at once?
  • Do you want to rely on subcontractors to help grow your business?
  • Are you willing to work outside your defined scope?
  • How many hours do you want to work per week?

Finding Your First Clients

Approaching and landing your first clients can be a major stumbling block for many freelancers. Usually, you’ll find yourself in one of two scenarios:

  1. You are planning to freelance in a field in which you already have experience. Maybe your current employer has a few developers on staff and also hires freelancers as needed. Could they agree to provide you with some work on the side? Or, maybe you’re approached by a client of your current employer to do some freelancing (getting your employer’s approval is always a good idea). Nothing beats having your first client before you even start your side business.
  2. You’re entering a new field and you’ll need to start prospecting right out of the gate. This is obviously the more challenging path, but it’s not as difficult as it sounds.

If you find yourself starting out with no clients, don’t despair. The nice thing about starting a WordPress business on the side is that you already have a steady source of income – your regular job. This removes the sense of urgency that often comes with starting a new business and realizing you need clients right away.

Urgency can result in taking on clients that you wouldn’t have otherwise considered.

One of the easiest ways to begin looking for new clients is by talking to your existing connections but skip the hard sell. Instead, your approach should be one of introducing yourself and letting people know about your new venture. If you’re approaching the right people, I think you’ll be surprised to find that personal connections and referrals can actually be a consistent and reliable source for finding new clients.

It always feels like it would be easier to sit back and wait for clients to approach you but don’t make that mistake. You could find yourself waiting for a long time.

I’m not suggesting that you should forgo strategies like inbound marketing or using social media. It just means that those strategies take longer to produce results. By being more proactive, at least initially, you’ll be able to get a head-start on generating some revenue.

Action Step:
Write out a list of all your personal and business-related connections. Anyone you think you might be able to approach no matter how insignificant you might think they are.

Be Flexible, Measure and Improve

When you first start your freelance business you’ll have spent a decent amount of time thinking about and planning your business. Hopefully, I’ve emphasized enough, the importance of not over planning.

It’s great to have a general sense of direction, but don’t become so attached to your plan that you are no longer willing to be flexible. As you work to grow your freelance business, you’re going to find that some things work well and some things don’t. Be flexible enough that you’re willing to drop what isn’t working and double up your efforts on what is.

Along the way, make sure the decisions you’re making are based upon actual results, not speculation. Sometimes, as a freelancer it can feel like you are making all the right choices. But your feelings are biased – numbers aren’t.

Finally, always be looking for ways to improve your business. Greater efficiency, improved profitability and better customer service are all things you should be working towards.

Action Step:
Consider creating a spreadsheet that you can use to track key information or metrics. How many prospective clients have you approached this week? How many people have you told about your new freelance business? Track your efforts and the activities that are responsible for helping to grow your business.

Wrap Up

Wikipedia describes a perfect storm as (I’m paraphrasing here):

A series of events that just so happen to occur in such as way that they result in a singular event or opportunity of unusual magnitude.

If creating a side income as a freelancer in the WordPress space is something you aspire to do, I don’t think you could ask for a storm that is more perfect:

  • The ease of launching a business.
  • The ability to market your business to clients around the globe.
  • The incredible popularity of the WordPress platform.
  • The rapid rise in popularity of hiring and working with freelancers.

All these scenarios combined provide an opportunity that has never before been available.

If you’re serious about launching your freelance career, there is absolutely nothing holding you back other than just getting started.

If you’ve recently launched a part-time freelance business and would like to share your experience, please do so in the comments below. Or if you’ve not yet launched, what is holding you back?

Article thumbnail image by ratch / shutterstock.com

20 Comments

  1. I find some of the biggest struggles to be time management. It’s difficult to devote sufficient time to a side business when there are other parts of your life that take a priority and are already putting bread on the table. But these are some great tips! Thanks!

    • I good point Jimmy it really is about writing down every day and planning.

  2. Very useful post…
    Who understand all the advantages of working with WordPress, will soon turn its freelance carreer into a small Web Agency.
    As you said, the limit is just our immagination, and the possibilities are limitless.

  3. This is a very well though out article Joe, thank you. I have been working as a web designer with WordPress since 2008 and I think the best advice you shared here was to be flexible! Each client is a little different and the tools (WordPress and themes) are always changing! I have this blog post which I think is a nice accompainment to your post: What You Need to Know Beyond WordPress to have a Web Design Business http://www.eileenlonergan.com/what-you-need-to-know-beyond-how-to-use-wordpress-if-you-want-web-design-projects

  4. I’m sorry but the proofreader in me poked his ugly head out and noticed you use ripe instead of rife in your second sentence. “Ripe with opportunity…” should read “Rife with opportunity…”

    To get back on track I lost my last “real” job about five years ago, looked for a job and decided to start my own business. The biggest boost to my business is when I was asked to help moderate a forum for a very popular theme at the time. To get that gig I just started answering questions often. From that I got several clients which led to more and more. Along with that I just let friends and family know what I was dong and the rest is history.

    I happen to love solving problems and am in front of either my desktop computer or when I am watching TV I often have my laptop open. I am also frequently following blog posts, testing plugins, and trying out new WordPress technology. In other words I am constantly learning.

    Too many think they can install WordPress, pick a theme and voila they have a site. I thought that at the beginning but found I needed to know CSS and some HTML. PHP doesn’t hurt either.

    Bottom line is just keep at it.

    • Actually, Larry, my dictionary says “ripe” is also a possible term for the sentence:

      [ predic. ] (ripe for) arrived at the fitting stage or time for (a particular action or purpose): “land ripe for development.”

      I think it’s one of those “six of one, half dozen of another” situations where you could use either. 🙂

      Just my two cents!

  5. Joe, your advice in this blog post is excellent.

    Sixteen years ago, I left a full-time job to start a free-lancing/consulting/etc. business. I was able to do so because I was free-lancing on the side for several years. The free-lancing experience taught me how to set rates, invoice and manage the money.

    An important reminder for anyone just starting out. Talk to your accountant for advice on managing your financial affairs correctly from Day One. Most important: keep track of all business-related expenses (even if, at the beginning, your expenses seem trivial).

  6. This article comes at a really good time, to give me the proverbial kick in the pants. I have a good contract job, which I love, but I’d also love to make some extra money as a freelancer on the side. I put together a website for that goal, but when the new Divi theme came out, I loved Kenny’s gorgeous designs so much that I felt like my own website was lacking and that I should push myself to make a more beautiful site.

    That’s a good thing, to push myself to further develop my skills, but at the same time there’s no reason why I couldn’t put my current website live online in the meantime. I can always keep tweaking my website and making it the best it can be, but if the site isn’t live at all, it’s not doing me any good. Especially when I give someone my business card! They need to be able to check out my work, not see a “coming soon” sign.

    So this is a good reminder to me to quit stalling with the never-ending perfectionism and — as you say so well — the endless loop of planning, and instead just get started already!

    Thanks for the push.

  7. In fact nothing new in this article. But the great thing in this article is it made me to make an action plan and act on it. In other words it motivated me to move further. Great article.

  8. Thanks for this post, very helpful.

  9. As of now, I am learning WordPress.. Digging into several sites, What I think is that: We may get succeed only we satisfy our clients. Because it’s much competitive field and hard to get new clients. I’m also trying to survive my freelancing career with WordPress development and WordPress based tweaks. Glad to read such a nice post by team Elegantthemes. Thanks

  10. Hi Joe,
    Excellent article. Thank you.

  11. This is a great article you have wrote I am very impressed to say the most. I have been an entrepreneur in barter sales for almost 15 years of sales I liked the money hated the sales. Although I did hate the aspect of barter sales a billion dollar industry I had so many down times and inconsistency’s it was not funny at all. I never gave up even though my second aspect of processes failed I that was called newenglandtrade.org.
    This was online trading a platform built by another company I wrote the contract laws for New England Trade. The downfall to my success was one major problem my partner would not listen to me. As a team you have to work together the skill to event something that will work’s successfully is hard for me because I don’t consider myself a PHP programmer its out of my skill I have wrote some script although not word press just yet.
    The idea I have would be so great to see come to life it would make millions I just have not found the funds or programmer to help with this project.
    Dose it work well BNI barter network INC traded 5.6 billion dollars and made 12.5% of that so anything yes its possible. So I would say use Divi AND KEEP ON GOING.

  12. Won’t change the benefits of freelancing to anything. I just need the internet to work and I can work wherever and whenever I want.

    One advice though, quit your job asap, don’t wait until you start to create a comfortable income. Don’t do this for side income. If you wait for some kind of a miracle to happen to take that leap of faith, it would never happen. When you take the step forward, you’ll start to observe the miracles.

  13. Great article indeed

    One of the biggest challenge, also a dilemma I often face is learning the fact that WordPress is so damn easy, anyone can do it. Even clients themselves would pick it up quite easily, so what’s the point of diving into a dying industry and make a living of it? Is this too negative? I’ve been working with wp for over 5 years now, I see clients adapt with web technology alot faster, which often devalues the profession. Has anyone experience this?

  14. Hi JOe, thanks for your advice. I have founder an Online Marketing Agency in Argentina because in order to work in a freelance way, in this country all related to Internet is not as advanced as for instance US or Europe, but I think it will come soon so for this moment I will be ready to explote the online market!
    I wrote a post related to WordPress and its advantages in order to spread it. Personally I use WP for build my customers websites. It is fantastic!
    I share my post with you: http://www.spotcontenidos.com/por-que-hacer-tu-sitio-web-con-wordpress/. It is in spanish.
    Thanks!
    Laura

  15. defining skill is very important, there are lot’s of confused online freelancers who are suffers just because they can’t find their specialty and target right audience for getting work and income.

  16. Very detailed information provided by you. It can be used as a blue print to start our freelance website.

  17. I think with the release of Divi 2.5 becoming a freelance WordPress Web designer has just become much easier! 😉

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