Udacity Freelancer Toolkit and Roadmap

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Udacity Freelancer Toolkit and Roadmap

Whether you're looking to get your start in the tech industry or prefer jobs that allow the optimal work-life balance, freelancing has room for all job seekers.

Udacity Career Services, in partnership with Udacity Blitz, created this step by step guide to help you succeed as a freelancer.

Below, the guide details the steps from getting starting - both in looking for clients and ensuring you have proper tax documents - to project and client management to building your freelance brand over time.

Step 1: Why Should I Freelance?

Path to Full-Time Employment
If you are looking for a full-time job, freelancing is a fantastic way to get your foot in the door with your next company. Nanodegree graduate and Udacity engineer, Luis, used freelancing to become familiar with Udacity tools while building relationships with Udacity employees. Although there wasn't a need for a full-stack engineer when he joined as a freelancer, when there later was a need he was the perfect candidate for the job.

Build Your Portfolio
If you're breaking into a new industry and find it hard to talk about relevant industry experiences, create those experiences for yourself via freelancing. Nanodegree Plus graduate Heshuang used freelance work to build her portfolio. When she was interviewing for other roles, she could talk about her recent industry experiences working on freelance projects for employers.

Additional Income and Skill Growth Opportunity
If you’re looking for some extra cash or for a new challenge, freelancing offers a low risk but high reward towards your professional growth. 

Tips for Freelancers

Learn how to get started as a freelancer in web development, mobile, and data science.

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Contract vs Freelance vs Full-Time: Can You Tell the Difference?
Kathleen Mullaney, VP of Careers and People Ops

Especially in the tech industry, there are loads of remote, freelance and contract opportunities. Learn the differences between them.

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Step 2: Get Set Up

As a self-employed freelancer, you will have a few additional responsibilities normally handled by an employer, such as paying taxes and providing your own health insurance. You'll also be responsible for tracking and managing your own work - everything from project planning to invoicing.

Don't be put off by this - with the right tools and templates, completing these tasks will be easy.

To get started, read up on necessary freelancing tools below for taxes and insurance, project management, etc.

Must Do Tasks for Freelancers

Make sure to file your taxes and purchase health insurance. Get tips on how to do so from experts.

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Project Management Templates and Tools

Managing your work is important!  Use these tools to help guide your workflow so you can focus on what's most important.

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Bonus Resource:

How to Be Your Own Boss: Starting Your Freelance Career in Web & App Development

Udacity’s Career Resource Center’s guide to getting started as a freelancer

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Step 3: Distinguish Yourself

Personal Branding

Differentiating yourself as a freelancer is an important part of selling your services and skills. The ability to succinctly convey your passion, skills and professional story is invaluable to a successful freelance career.

How to differentiate yourself with a personal brand? We recommend starting off simple.

Storytelling, Personal Branding, and Getting Hired
Rachel Higgins, Career Advisor

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Your Pitch

Create an elevator pitch, “tagline”, or short one-liner about yourself that you can use when communicating with potential clients, either over email or in person. Your pitch should be a thoughtful but concise introduction to your business that can be used in a variety or ways - in meetings with clients, in job applications, on your website, or over email. A well-written pitch will save you time and help launch your business.

A quick guide to writing your elevator pitch

Broken down into four steps, Idealist teaches you to develop a concise elevator pitch.

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Focus on Passion Projects

A second and similarly simple way to build your personal brand is to work on projects that interest you. Especially if you are still gathering experience, build projects that excite you, that you personally find useful, or that you think other people could use. Your passion for your project will come through when you speak about it and people will associate your work with that enthusiasm. Once you get more experience, you can fine-tune the details of your brand.

The Importance of Your Passion
Alberto Varela, Ve Labs

Learn how to "replace lack of experience with love for what you do."

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Refine Your Personal Brand

There are two primary things to keep in mind when developing and ultimately communicating your brand - your brand name and logo.

  • Brand Name - Many freelancers simply use their full name as their brand name. However, if you are considering expanding into a larger business, it may be worth considering an official company name. There are benefits to either option, depending on your long-term goals with freelancing and how you hope to be perceived by clients.
  • Logo (Recommended) - After you select your brand name, you should create a logo to compliments it. A well designed logo can reinforce your brand, aid recognition and help build customer loyalty. It also makes it easy to personalize your invoices, business cards, and other professional materials. 

Step 4: Create a Portfolio Website

An online portfolio is one of the best ways to showcase your ability. Whether you are just starting your career or starting your own business, an online catalog of your work is essential to creating credibility with clients. There are several approaches to creating your portfolio, from building your own to using an application. 

What to Include in Your Portfolio

  • About section - include your elevator pitch!
  • Contact information and/or contact form
  • A few select projects with descriptions of your process
  • Testimonials (if available)
  • Easy to use UX/UI
  • Visuals that reflect your branding
  • Your own unique domain name

Do-It-Yourself Portfolio Websites

How To Build A Data Analysis Portfolio That Will Get You Hired
Mat Leonard, Deep Learning Nanodegree Lead

Make sure your work attracts employers - create a stellar data analysis portfolio.

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10 Stunning Web Design Portfolios
Creative Bloq

Get inspired by developers' and designers' portfolio websites.

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Step 5: Calculate Your Rate

Knowing how much to charge as a freelancer can feel like one of the largest hurdles, especially as you get started. Luckily, Udacity is here to help dissect some of the ambiguity around payment options.

We link to a guide below to walk you through some payment options. Three things to stick by are:

  • Be honest about the pay rate you need. If you're able to pay the bills and take on small-scale projects to build your portfolio, that's a great way to make you a better candidate for bigger projects in the future. However, a work experience can be soiled if you're stressed about finances or feel like you're being underpaid.
  • Ask for advice! Many people are very open about what they charge or expect to be charged. This will give you a sense of what's realistic.
  • Aim high and negotiate. Like with all salary negotation, both sides enter knowing they will compromise. If the employer cannot meet your pay rate, they'll let you know and ask if you can do a smaller rate. This is normal in contract negotiations, so don't be afraid to ask for more!
Freelancer's Guide to Calculating Pay Rate

From researching average pay rates to invoicing, find out how to get paid as a freelancer.

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Step 6: Find Your Market

There are a number of ways to find freelance work including building personal projects, checking your local area and on online freelancing platforms.

Build Something Useful to Others

Many Udacity Alumni have shared that building personal projects not only built their portfolio, but it helped to create job opportunities. 

“What got me really noticed were my personal projects. For example, I wrote an application that scraped player data from my World of Warcraft server. I eventually got it working across all servers. Looking back at it now, if I were to rewrite it today I would do it completely differently. But that ended up probably being one of my biggest portfolio pieces.” - Mike Wales, Director of Content Development, Udacity

Local Networks and Businesses

Many alumni also note that looking for needs within their own local community was pivotal to building their freelance career. Use Craigslist, or look at local businesses (restaurants, family businesses, doctors' offices) that may need services.

“Once a month, I created a spreadsheet of potential leads. I searched through Craigslist for projects that piqued my interest, saving their name, email, phone number, date, and a short description of the post. As I learned new skills, I would reach out to them asking if they had any work they needed to get done. Many did not answer, others politely told me, no, or they would keep me in mind for future projects, and a few said yes. Now, I have 3 clients that I keep in contact with who send me the most random jobs—it’s quite nice.” - Nick Tromboukis, Udacity Alumni

“The internet is a great resource for leads, and it’s easy to forget that you’re not the only one interested in a project. I was competing with hundreds of people who had a better portfolio or required a lower salary. So I found more success in meeting people locally and spreading my work through word of mouth. If my portfolio didn’t impress them, my passion and enthusiasm to build their project did.” - Nick Tromboukis, Udacity Alumni

Freelance Job Boards

You generally can find freelancing roles on any job board. Udacity has compiled selected freelance, remote and contract job boards.

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Step 7: Develop a Sales Process

As a freelancer, you will manage your own sales, marketing, customer service, HR and accounting.

To keep your business running strong, create a process for finding clients, building relationships, pitching your services, and developing a relationship with them.

How to create a sales process?

  • Identify your ideal clients - individuals or organizations who need your skills. 
  • After you identify several potential clients, reach out to them. 
  • When reaching out, give your “elevator pitch”. This means communicating your value as it relates to their needs, or simply how you can help fix a problem the business has.  Use an example of how you did it for another client, or provide an idea of how you would solve their business need. Overall, communicate concrete solutions, your proven successes, and passion for your work and solving their problems.
  • Although there are guidelines, sales processes can be flexible and it's up to you to figure out what works for you. Some people will find most of their clients at networking events and cold emails, and some people will find most of their clients picking up projects from places like Upwork.
  • The Sales Process includes the initial sales pitch or outreach, and will conclude after you sign a contract. Refer back to earlier steps on calculating pay and time estimates to help you work out the details of a proposed project before your seal the deal!

Advice from Udacity Alumni

“Programmers don't always have the best people skills but you have to remember as a freelancer you are not just a programmer. You are the sales team, accounting team, marketing team, you have to be a jack of all trades. If you think you're going to get clients by not being able to communicate well—then you are mistaken. I've taken on very difficult projects because I was able to sell myself to the client.” - Nick Tromboukis, Udacity Alumni

Advice from Udacity Blitz Technical Project Manager

“Take care of your clients. Check in on them after projects. Following up helps nurture the relationship, gets you additional projects and referrals, and gives you the opportunity to get some feedback on the impact of your work, which is great for quantifying your success on your career profiles and marketing documents.” - Udacity Blitz Technical Project Manager

An introduction to sales and closing for freelancers
CloudPeeps Team

CloudPeeps discusses how to talk about your work and market it to potential clients.

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Balancing Act: How to Manage Time When You Have Multiple Clients

Get tips from freelancers on how they manage their portfolio of clients.

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Step 8: Develop a Routine

Becoming a freelancer offers freedom, but also requires good habits. One Udacity student shared that time management was a challenge, noting  “after I quit my job and began freelancing, time management was a problem for me. I never thought this will be difficult, but after few unproductive months, I realized I needed to take it seriously. I took a few online courses about time management and now my productivity is OK. I still think it could be better, but there is always a room for improvement.”

Productive routines can come in many forms, but at the core is a series of good habits and organized workflow. Whether you block off time for your coding and other hours for email and client management, intentionality is key.

“Be realistic about your situation and set milestone goals. Have an additional income source available if needed to carry you through slow periods. Downtime is also an excellent opportunity to freshen and update your skills!” - Udacity Blitz Technical Project Manager

Step 9: Keep It Up! Continue the Cycle

Keep Learning, Building, Sharing Your Projects

One of the most important steps on the freelancing roadmap is to continue to develop new skills by building and sharing your projects. In doing so, you will increase your skill set, build your portfolio, and in turn have more opportunities for work.

“The cycle for success is 1. Learn something 2. Showcase cool projects  3. Get contract work 4. Repeat from 1. Work on increasingly complex projects for better growth. It is easy to get trapped doing mundane things after awhile. Building a free module for a framework, worked for me too back then. You want the community to regard you as an expert, so focus on a couple of things you are most interested in.” - Udacity Alumnus

“You should always be updating your portfolio and learning new skills. Staying active in the community can be tough but will prove to be beneficial if you do it. I think it's important to always evaluate what you know and to be critical of yourself. You are the one who should be pushing yourself further. Taking a day here and there to better your skills will not set you back too much.” - Nick Tromboukis, Udacity Alumnus

“Consider becoming a Udacity Mentor and/or Code reviewer.” - Udacity Blitz Technical Project Manager

“Request LinkedIn recommendations. It's better to have a really great recommendation from someone lower on the totem pole than a lukewarm one from someone higher up.” - Udacity Blitz Technical Project Manager

“Be prepared to provide references. These could be from your former clients, and/or former employers.” - Udacity Blitz Technical Project Manager