How to Reinvent Yourself as a Freelancer

A recent study predicted that by 2020, 40% of Americans will be freelancers. If you’re planning to reinvent yourself by going freelance full-time – or even just earning money on the side part-time – here are some strategies I discuss in my new book from Harvard Business Review Press, Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future, that you may find helpful.

First, understand your real skills. Some skills are obvious – you’re a great chess player, or a search engine optimization guru. But others may lie just below the surface. Lisa Granik was a legal scholar who shifted into a new career as a wine expert. At first glance, they may appear to be completely unrelated fields. But Lisa soon realized the language skills she developed in the course of her studies – French, Spanish, Russian, and a little Italian – now served as a competitive advantage, because unlike most other wine experts, she was able to communicate directly with winegrowers, many of whom didn’t speak English. Think broadly about your skills and how they can be applied in new areas.

Next, create content. Your own website, plus a great profile on LinkedIn or a site like LiveNinja will be very helpful in drawing people to you and getting them interested in your work. But the rewards will be immense if you take the next step and start creating content. You want to make working with you an almost zero-risk proposition – a no-brainer – and the way to do that is to let potential clients “try before they buy.” Your articles, blog posts, videocasts, or even your Twitter stream can enable interested people to see how you think, what you talk about, what you’re good at, and how you might be able to help them. Many prospective clients may watch you online for quite a while before reaching out – but when they do, they’re ready to commit.

Finally, project self-confidence. Self-doubt is extremely common, even among the people you’d least expect. When Alisa Cohn started her executive coaching business at age 27, she was almost uncomfortable talking about it. “The first few times people asked what I did,” she recalls, “I said, ‘I’m a coach?’ in that uptalk way we do when we’re not so sure – asking permission, ‘Is it OK to be a coach?’” She found solace commiserating with a doctor friend who faced the same situation. As her friend advised her, “There’s a distinction between being a med student and as soon as you graduate, saying ‘I’m a doctor.’ But you start saying that and it’s an identity shift for you; at first you don’t believe it. But people begin to treat you like a doctor.” Projecting confidence in what you do will help others feel confident about your work, and it creates a virtuous cycle. More than a decade later, Cohn now has a thriving practice coaching high-level Fortune 500 executives.

Starting a freelance career can be exciting – and intimidating. Once you hang your shingle, how will people find you? But if you think broadly about your skills, create content that attracts the right clients to you, and project an aura of self-confidence (which puts clients at ease and becomes self-reinforcing), you’ll quickly build a solid client base.

This post originally appeared on the LiveNinja Blog on April 27, 2013.

Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.