The 80/20 of Getting Started as a Freelancer

If I started freelancing all over again from scratch, knowing everything I know today, what exactly would I do to get up and running as efficiently as possible?

In other words, what essential 20% must I focus on in order to achieve 80% of my results? This is a question I’ve been asked a thousand times, so I’ve laid out what I believe to be the crucial steps — the 20% — to help you start your freelancing journey.

Step 1: S.E.T. Your Goal

A great goal should be inspiring and encourage action. To create a great goal, use the S.E.T. format:

Sizeable: “Become a Full-Time Freelancer”
Explicit: “Earn $40,000”
Time-bound: “Within 12 months”

Therefore, a great goal would be “Become a Full-Time Freelancer and Earn $40,000 by Next Year”.

Now you have an exciting goal that you can reverse engineer into monthly achievable milestones and actionable weekly tasks.

For example, let’s break our goal down…

$40k in 12 months = $3,333 per month

Let’s give ourselves the first 2 months to get things up and running…

So let’s say $40k in 10 months = $4k / month

How can we achieve that number in a single month?

Well, let’s break it down into something we can action…

  • One $4k project = $4k
  • Two $2k projects = $4k
  • Four $1k projects = $4k

Since we’re just starting out, I’m going to aim for two $2k projects. Why? I don’t think I’m ready to book a $4k project, and I don’t know how to book and deliver a $1k project every single week.

Now, your goal isn’t $40k in one year, it’s book a $2,000 gig by next week.

…This is much more achievable, and something you can begin breaking down into DAILY tasks you can action immediately.

Creating your S.E.T. Goal doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy or happen automatically — you’ll need to work very hard — but at least you’ll have a roadmap to get you there.

If the idea of making $40k seems overwhelming, ask yourself this…

Is the thought of sending 2 emails, posting on Facebook and texting your work colleague overwhelming? Probably not.

Any goal can be broken down and reverse engineered into tiny, actionable tasks you can begin checking off today.

Time to get to work.

Step 2: Know Your WHY

Yeah, yeah, yeah — this whole “WHY” concept sounds cliché now ever since Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk went viral and every startup, online guru and blogger seems to be sharing it as if it were their original idea. What matters is that it works! Simon Sinek is the bomb. Check out the famous Ted Talk below if you haven’t seen it yet.

So, what is your WHY?

It’s really simple. Ask yourself, at the core of your being, WHY is it that you are doing what you do?

I like to break it down into two parts.

Self-driven why

For most people, it comes down to what I like to call the “Three Fs”:

1. Freedom
2. Finances
3. Family

Everyone deserves freedom. The freedom of time and choice when it comes to how and where they want to work.

Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does pay bills, put food on the table, and takes you on vacations. Having your finances in order makes life a little easier and that’s a big part of what makes us happy as humans.

At the end of life, people don’t think about how many clients they had, how much money they made, or how many things they filled their houses with.

They think about family. Friends. Relationships. Connection. Love.

Your self-driven WHY is so that you can have Freedom, more Financial control, and more time and connection with Family.

Self-less why

You’re not just doing this for yourself. You’re doing this to help people. To help your clients, solve problems for businesses you’re passionate about. To make a positive impact.

The less you make what you do about YOU, and the more you make it about OTHERS…

The more successful you’ll be.

Step 3: Find & Workshop a Niche

You hear it all the time…

“Niche down”
“Get laser focused on an audience”

But is really such a big deal to niche down?

Yes! 100%

If you’re serving everyone, you’re serving no one.

How are you supposed to stand out if you don’t know who you’re standing out for?

You’re basically offering anything to anyone, and simply hoping that your particular set of skills is attractive enough for clients to knock on your door.

The problem with this “strategy” is that there is so much competition in the “general freelancing services” market — with sites like UpWork & Fiverr — that there is only one way to compete…


And when price is the weapon of choice, who always wins?

The one with the lowest price.

Do you think you can earn $40k / year (and ideally more) by offering bottom-of-the-barrel commodity services?

If so, you’re reading the wrong blog.

It’s much better to be the “Big Fish in the small pond”, so that you can quickly become a “relative expert”.

You don’t have to be world class. You just have to be the best in your little niche. Or, in the very least, more of an expert than your clients within that niche.

Why niche down at all?

When work-shopping a niche, what you’re looking for is a particular group of people — an audience — whom you can offer your products or services in order to solve their major pain points.

The entire reason you want to “niche down” is so that you can weed out everyone except your particular audience. This helps you speak their language, outline the problems they experience so that when you offer a solution, they say… “Yes! This guy/gal gets me and my business. I need to get in touch!”

If you’re really good at building eCommerce sites, and you love the outdoors, why not reach out to some local outfitters, fishing guides, and camping groups, buy them some coffee (or beer) and learn what they struggle within business. Based on your conversations and understanding of their business, put together an offer than helps solve their particular problem.

Then it’s much easier to put together a proposal that speaks the language of that audience, outlines the problem, and presents the solution… YOUR solution.

Compare that with, “Hey everyone. I’m pretty good at Vue.js, CSS grids, and the latest version of Angular. Need a website?”

How do you workshop your niche?

Ask yourself, what are your primary interests? What are you passionate about?

Kids’ Health?
The outdoors?

Guess what, there’s a niche for that.

Keep in mind, however, it is possible to have too small a niche. If your niche is too specific, it may not be profitable.

Workshop a few niche ideas based on your interests and passions.

Once you come up with a couple niche ideas, you’ll need to determine their primary pain point in their business and some common roadblocks. If you have no idea what their primary pain point is, the great part is you don’t have to guess.

You can Google it. Or better, ask a real person.

Keep all of this in mind. We’re coming back to it.

Step 4: You Need a Skill (and be really good at it)

I see this all the time with new freelancers and new developers…

They believe they need to be world class (or somewhere close to that) before they feel they’re worthy of being paid to do it.

They’ll keep learning, and learning, and learning until they feel they’re ready.


Good enough.

Want to know what happens with those people?

They never start their freelance businesses.

Because, here’s the secret…

There will always be more to learn. And you will never know everything. The reason you are telling yourself that you have to “learn more” before you start your business is because you are afraid to fail.

Let’s use the 80/20 rule again… Instead of spending all of your time learning…

Spend 20% of your time learning and consuming… and 80% of your time actioning and producing.

Building on your current skills

What skills do you currently have? What are you already really good at?

What about the skills you could improve upon… Are they truly necessary? Use the 80/20 analysis here: of the skills you’re trying to improve, what 20% of that particular skill yield 80% of the results.

For example, I’m pretty good at Photoshop, but I’m nowhere near full competency. I don’t care to know 100% of Photoshop, because the 20% of the software I understand is what gets me 80% of the way. And if I need to do something I cannot currently do, I’ll figure it out as quickly as possible.

List out those skills. Spend some time workshopping what you’re amazing at, what you’re good at, and what you’re not so good at.

Don’t just list out your technical skills. Spend time listing out your soft skills like communication, critical thinking, establishing relationships, being funny, etc.

Okay, now that we have our list, hold onto it; we’re going to need it to come up with the next piece of the puzzle…

Step 5: Build Your Offer

Now that you know your Why, Niche and Skills, what product or service — based on your skillset — can you offer to your niche in order to solve their problems?

  • Is it a turn key service?
  • Is it a digital product? An online course?
  • Is it consulting?
  • Is it software?

Spend a few minutes workshopping your ideas. Then, determine how you’ll price your solution.

  • Project based?
  • Monthly fee?
  • One size fits all?
  • Hourly?
  • Multi-packaged solution?

If you think your offer is “I build websites”, then you need to start right back at the top of this blog post.

Spend time with this! Hash it out. Write it down. This is actually a really fun exercise. Remember, you’re a business, and every business solves a problem by offering a solution to their customers. It’s time you figure yours out.

Step 6: Get Your Offer in Front of Your Niche

This is also known as Marketing. Yep, you’re a business now, so you’ve gotta market yourself.

But how do you get your offer in front of the people who need it the most? (i.e. your niche)

Well, there are hundreds of ways, but we’ve gotta focus on the 20% here, right?

So, where do the first clients almost always come from?

Immediate connections.

These are your friends, family, colleagues, and friends of friends.

They’re the people you interact with daily. You trust them, they trust you.

They’re the low hanging fruit, and they’re sometimes the biggest supporters of your new business venture.

Here’s what you do…

  1. Write everyone you know down in a list
  2. Make a note of anyone who owns a business, manages a business, knows a business owner, etc.
  3. Contact every single one of them. Send an email, call them, text them, Facebook them, speak to them in person. Just get in touch somehow.
  4. Don’t be sleazy, salesy or weird. Just be you.
  5. Then simply say, “I’m starting up a new business and offering X to Y. Would you happen to know of anyone who might benefit from this? Could you put me in touch with them?”
  6. Maybe you could even say you’re offering a startup promo and your first 3 clients get my services for 50% off… or even free.

One other method I’ve seen work well is when you post on Facebook that you’re starting a business and looking for your first 3 clients, then request that people “tag a friend who might be interested.” It’s surprising how many people actually tag a friend.

So go ahead, get started. Like today!

I didn’t say this was going to be easy. But you’re reading this because you’re ready for a change. You want freedom like you’ve never experienced before.

Well, it’s up to you now.

Stop procrastinating. I’ve listed the 20% to help you get started. Now it’s your turn to put it into action.