Ready to Start Freelancing? Here’s How to Build Your Freelance Resume

A man does freelance work outside.
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The employment landscape shifted drastically over just a few short years. The pandemic showed us that most of today’s non-blue-collar jobs can be done remotely and the subsequent economic turmoil showed how fragile relying on traditional employment is. These and a few other factors combine to demonstrate to many Americans that:

  1. You don’t have to work under a conventional corporate structure.
  2. You don’t necessarily need to be a stereotypical small business owner with a storefront or eCommerce site.
  3. You can get paid while working anywhere in the world if you have in-demand skills.

The natural outflow from this series of realizations is the power of freelancing. Freelancers can harness skillsets from education or past work experience, effectively market those skills to clients, and maintain a steady income while working from home or traveling. It’s a surprisingly practical reality for many Americans — believe me, I know.

Post-pandemic, I was dissatisfied with my job and career trajectory. I had an advanced degree in finance, but my talents were underused. At the same time, I worked under a series of bosses of questionable intellect and ability. So, I pulled the trigger and left my job. I had enough cash on hand to float. At the same time, I looked for a full-time remote position before I realized: “I’m skilled and credentialed — why should I look for another salaried position where I’m dependent on the whims of others?”

So, I broke into freelancing.

It wasn’t easy initially, but I learned many valuable lessons about getting started and building a freelance resume. These first few weeks (or months, for some) are the most difficult, but I can attest that once you build momentum, it’s unstoppable. After grinding for a brief period, I found myself awash in high-paying, high-quality clients to the point of turning some away.

Here are a few notes I took during that process.

How to Build a Freelance Resume

  1. Find a niche.
  2. Generate samples.
  3. Professionally format and host your portfolio.
  4. Sell benefits based on skills.

Find a Niche

Finding a niche is the first and most crucial step in building a freelance resume. Many markets are saturated with generalists with minimal experience or specific skill sets. I freelance in content writing, and this field is particularly fraught with this type of aspiring freelancer.

Don’t do this. Don’t have an Upwork or other profile advertising every possibility under the sun. I often see writing profiles advertising writing expertise in real estate, engineering, medicine, travel, business, and social media copywriting. There’s no way someone is proficient in all of these fields, and chances are they’re churning out low-quality plagiarized content.

Set yourself apart and find a niche. Looking into your academic and work history is the best way to find your expertise. Did you do anything specific that’s marketable to clients? For example, you may have done graphic design work for small used car dealers, social media copywriting for eCommerce companies, or studied architecture in college. These specific and niche roles help connect you directly to clients who know what they need and set you apart from the rabble.

If you don’t have a background, don’t worry – but it’ll take some extra work. Think about your passion and get to work learning it. You might have gotten really into epidemiology during the pandemic, for example. You don’t need a degree in the field, but some self-study can make you an expert medical writer for device companies or insurance firms.

But first, you’ll need a portfolio.

Generate Samples in a Portfolio

Many new freelancers struggle to land the first few jobs because they’re unproven and thus unable to get momentum to achieve the snowball effect of compounding work. The way to get around this is to build a portfolio. If you previously worked in the field, you can use old work samples for marketing your expertise.

If you have less experience, you’ll need to build a portfolio from scratch. This is invaluable because it’s a tool to land jobs and hone your burgeoning craft. Even if it’s as simple as a well-written blog post in your niche, you should be working tirelessly to build a bench of work to show clients to convince them you’re the right pick.

Much like the jobs themselves, portfolios compound over time. As you work on more projects, you will have more samples to pick from and be able to better target your past work to prospective clients.

Professionally Format and Host your Portfolio

The polish of your portfolio can depend on your freelancing platform, but don’t let it. In addition to your profiles on the many freelancing platforms, you should also have your own digital space. A simple landing page with your skill overview, portfolio, and contact information can set you apart from other freelancers with similar skills. Having that custom domain and discrete space protects you from unpredictable platform politics and demonstrates professionalism.

Sell Benefits to Clients Based on Skill

This should be a no-brainer, but it isn’t. Many freelancers cold contact potential clients with a list of things about the freelancer.

I’m an expert at….

I’m really good at…

I’ve done a lot of work in…

Don’t do this. It’s a fine line to walk, but you should first sell the benefit to the client, then sell your skill. For example, if a private equity fund was looking for a content writer to discuss a specific investment they were marketing, I might say:

I’ve worked on projects that packaged and sold a similar product and achieved a reach of 100,000 in the target demographic in less than a week. The firm had a 14% conversion to sale within a month and also built a contact lead list that generated over $1M in revenue over the next year. I was able to do this because of my finance degree.

Yes, I did mention myself at the beginning but only in the context of how I’ve benefited past clients and could do the same again. I sold this benefit before talking about myself exclusively. As I said, it’s a fine line, but an important one to follow. Clients don’t care about you (sorry, it’s true); they care about what you can deliver.

The Last Word

As you continue your freelancing journey after building a resume, you will experience that snowball effect. Job prospects compound as you gain experience in your niche and in managing freelancing activities overall. Make sure to set yourself and your resume apart from the endless sea of inexperienced acolytes thinking the field is easy money. Find a niche, develop it, and show how you can add value to your clients’ lives and businesses.

New York-based contributor Kiara Taylor specializes in financial literacy and financial technology subjects. She is a corporate financial analyst.