in Freelancing

My first Internet dollar(s)

I’ve alluded to my goal of becoming a self-sufficient, location-independent freelancer (or digital nomad, if you will) in the past. Unfortunately, I’ve been finding it difficult to devote much of my time to this particular cause as I’ve been focusing my efforts on finishing my research and writing my thesis so I can graduate before Christmas. I have a lot to do, and, unfortunately, that’s meant that any progress toward building up my freelancing skills or working on my online business has been put on an indefinite hold.

I was cautiously suspicious, then, when I received one email in particular late last week.

The subject was short:

“Your photo was sold.”

I did a double take.

Nope. Still there.

Hmm. Must be spam.

But no, it was the real deal.

Someone had purchased one of my photos from 500px, and in the process, I had made my first internet dollar.

As an aspiring freelancer, I always imagined my first sale would be a huge milestone, only to be achieved after putting in hours of blood sweat and tears. While it was still a huge achievement, it hadn’t really required any effort on my part.

Sure, I only made $24.50, and, yes, photography isn’t the niche I see myself focusing on as a freelancer, but a sale is a sale, and this one was made with zero marketing effort. For an aspiring digital nomad, that’s pretty motivating.

I’ve got a long way to go, but I thought I’d reflect on my first sale to see if I could learn anything:

1.   People are willing to pay you for the things you’re good at

Obvious, yes, but until someone has bought something you’ve created, it’s easy to think otherwise.

One of the biggest obstacles to launching a career as an online freelancer is self-doubt. No matter how much I’ve practiced or studied a specific skill, I still found myself questioning whether I was ready for the big leagues. Sure, maybe I aced my online copywriting class, practised for hours on end, and received praise from every peer that critiqued my work, but I can’t possibly be good enough to actually get paid for it, right?

Even though I don’t see myself making a viable income off my photography, simply knowing that there are people out there who are willing to drop hard-earned cash for something that I made is hugely motivating.

2.   A hobby can be a viable source of supplementary income

I’m not saying I should quit my day job (I’d have to get one first…), but I am saying that a hobby can be a viable way to earn a little extra money on the side.

I’m by no means a professional photographer, but I do enjoy tinkering with my camera in my spare time, so why not let others pay me to do that?

By placing some of my better photos on 500px, I’m not guaranteeing a paycheck, but at least my work is out there. If someone thinks it’s worth paying for, they can do that at a click of a button. The cost to me is minimal: I uploaded the exact same image to 500px that I had previously shared with friends and family. I added some tags to make it easier to find and that was it.

If you have a hobby that can be easily shared with an online audience, then by all means, find a marketplace for it and put it out there. Even if you’re already an established freelancer, you never know who might be willing to pay for the things you do in your spare time.

3.   Diversify your opportunities; narrow your focus

One of the very first challenges aspiring online freelancers face is the act of picking a service to offer (the self-doubt comes later). Do I go into SEO writing or Google Analytics? What about copywriting, or maybe web design? Which skillset is right for me?

There’s probably no right or wrong answer here; if someone else is doing it, so can you. But if you haven’t already invested a lot of time going down one avenue, I suggest you try as many different niches as possible (figuring out what you’re not good at is just as valuable as figuring out where you shine).

I recommend starting with what comes naturally to you. What are your hobbies? Are other people making money online doing the same thing?

If you’re into phototypography, like I am, then it makes sense to upload your best work to stock photography websites; if you love to write, start a blog or offer to write for one of your favourite online publications.

Do these things because you’d be doing them anyway, even if you weren’t sharing the fruits of your labour with anyone else.

Once you think you’ve found a niche that you enjoy and excel at, go after it! But don’t abandon those side projects just yet.The little wins and affirmations that come as a result of your hobbies will fuel your drive and provide you with motivation when things aren’t going so grand with your main business.

Do you remember your first sale, or are you still waiting for the windfall? Let me know!

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