How to Leverage Freelance Work to Boost Your Career

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Freelance-homeIt seems all too often that young professionals get so focused on advancing their status that they forget to explore other, alternative career development options outside the traditional ladder.

Freelancing is one of these alternatives. When approached properly, it can yield benefits to your life such as expanded opportunities, diverse experience and extra income.

Here’s how to leverage freelance work to boost your career:

Pick a Focus

To get started, select a specific skill that you’re particularly passionate about and talented in. This will empower you to not only best serve your future clients, but to get those clients in the first place.

Focus on Your Portfolio Before Your Income

This process might not yield income when you’re first getting started. Unless you’re a tenured professional, you’ll have to get started by offering your services for free.

Sam Sanchez—a freelance designer that I work with on client projects—used this strategy to build his portfolio and reputation to the point where he could start charging for his services.

“At the time [the beginning], the main thing I was concerned with was building my portfolio, not making money,” says Sanchez.

This is also a great time to make some small mistakes that will help polish your delivery process before you start asking for compensation.

Don’t Screw Anybody Over

Since you’re not packaging yourself in someone else’s company, you’re personal brand is going to be exposed and vulnerable.

Make sure that you clearly understand the expectations of your clients before you start any work. Also be sure to put these thoughts into a formalized contract document that is signed—even if it’s pro-bono work.

That being said, do what you say you’re going to do. Put forth every ounce of your effort into completing your projects and making your clients happy. What you do in this independent context will ripple into every other aspect of your career. If you do it improperly, I promise that you will ruin your career.

Know When to Exchange Your Experiential Currency

As you continue building your portfolio and clientele, begin to look for ways to exchange your additional experiential for promotions and opportunities.

Sanchez leveraged his strong freelance background to score a communications assistant position at Vital VOICE Magazine—the third oldest LGBT publication in the nation—right out of college.

He didn’t stop utilizing his portfolio there though—he continued freelancing on the side and recently exchanged his extra experience for an exciting promotion and significant career boost that he can’t publicly announce as of now.

Use It to Better Understand Your Fit

By pursuing additional opportunities outside the norm of your nine-to-five job, you’ll learn a lot about yourself. Particularly what you may be especially interested in.

Freelancing allows you to explore a variety of work styles, organizations and practices. I’ve heard countless stories of young professionals discovering the industry, and ultimately, the job of their dreams from their independent pursuits.

Are you using freelancing to boost your career? How has it made a difference?


profile-benBen Butler is the founder and president of Top Hat IMC—an integrated marketing communications firm in Wexford and Pittsburgh, Pa. You can connect with him on LinkedIn and on Twitter @BenButlerPR.

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