This post hasn't been updated in over 2 years.
I often hear from new graduates, new freelancers, and new business people that they have a bunch of great ideas and they have things passions they love to do (writing, designing, etc), but they have no actual experience.
This is often a huge stumbling block when it comes to applying for jobs or selling yourself to your very first clients.
Here’s how to overcome this problem and become a rock star in your field:
- Do not wait for permission to do the work you love. Do not wait for that coveted degree, do not wait until you have the right credentials, and do not wait until the “powers that be” (whoever that is) say you are ready to become a (fill in the blank with your chosen profession). Starting today, you are that professional, unless of course, a degree or certification is legally required. Fortunately, for most freelance professionals this isn’t the case.
- Read, study, and learn about your chosen profession. With so many learning opportunities available, there is no reason that you can’t pick up a book, watch a video, or take a class online to garner more knowledge and skills that will help you in your chosen profession.
You don’t need a professor telling you that you need to learn X on this day or read chapter five by tomorrow. Take the initiative to learn something every day in order to improve your skills.
- You should be doing the work you love every day, in some way or form. If you are a writer, write. If you are a web designer, design a website even if it will never see the light of day. If you are a photographer, go photograph something. Your work as a professional doesn’t begin when you graduate or when you get a job, it begins NOW.
- Find a mentor who is doing what you want to do. Surprisingly, there are many people who are advanced in their field who are more than happy to share their hard-earned knowledge with newcomers who are passionate about what they are doing.
Simply find someone that you admire in your field and ask them to be your mentor (obviously some people are super busy so you may have to ask a number of people to find this mentor).
- Network in your chosen profession. Networking with others can not only get you leads for new jobs or new clients, but you will also gather lots of “insider knowledge” by the very people who are the movers and shakers in your industry.
Join a writers group if you are a writer, join a meet up if you are a techie, attend conventions that focus on your area of expertise, and share your knowledge with others.
- Do the work that you would be doing in your chosen field even if you have no clients and aren’t getting paid. It always surprises me that people can have a college degree in web design but have never built a website outside of school projects, or have a degree in writing but have never been published.
Somewhere there is a person or business that is desperate for your expertise, even if the amount of real expertise that you have is negligible. If you are a web designer, find a small non-profit that needs a website designed and go create it for them at no charge. If you are a writer, submit your articles to, well, every publication that you can think of until you get published. If you want to build an app, go build one. It may come to nothing but just like that, you have gained a bit more experience and knowledge.
- Expect to crash and burn in your initial attempts at becoming an expert. Just because you have studied and earned a degree, or in the absence of that, just because you have created wonderful projects or coded an entire video game by yourself, it doesn’t mean you will launch effortlessly into your career.
You will make mistakes, you will make clients livid, you will face palm on more than one occasion over your own stupidity…this is all part of the learning curve. The important thing is that you get back up, dust yourself off, try to make things right, then move forward.
- Fake it until you make it. Obviously you don’t want to deceive people and tell them that you recently redesigned the Coke website or had your photos published in National Geographic if you haven’t actually done these things, but faking it until you make it is a viable way to start to become who you want to be.
Consider this every time you say “when I am a famous (writer, business owner, game designer) I will do X (dress like a professional, carry better quality business cards, teach a class, etc). Go do those things now. If you carry yourself the way you expect to when you reach the pinnacle of your success, you will quickly move in that direction.
The bottom line, especially in this fast-paced, ever-evolving world, is to get out there and actually do stuff. So many freelance success stories begin with people who developed a passion then worked on that passion everyday by learning, creating and sharing.
They didn’t wait for someone to officially declare them “ready”, they didn’t wait until they were getting paid to produce a body of work, they simply went forth and did the things they want to make a career of. The path is that clear.