Forget all the fancy gadgets you may see others gathering together before they start their freelancing career. You know, the friend who gets a website made, has a fancy project management system, a home office setup that would make me jealous ... and yet hasn't gotten her first client?
Yeah, don't let that be you. You can get going with just a laptop & wifi and in this post, I'll tell you how to start freelancing with just those two items.
What do I need to start a freelance business?
Inevitably, when most people ask me how to start freelancing, they're expecting it to be more complex than it is. Both the process and the equipment needed.
But if we strip down to the essentials, all you need to start a freelance business is:
- A computer
- A professional email address (free)
- A way to accept payments from clients (free)
This is where a lot of people get surprised. They thought they needed a website or a bunch of tools that would cost a lot. But you don't.
You can start freelancing anytime, any day, and without any money. When I started out I was super broke (+ a negative balance with around $30K in debt).
I figured out how to start freelancing because I had no other options. And I made just the computer & wifi combination work because I had to. Then, over time, watching other freelancers and wondering why they hadn't found success as fast as I had, I realized that not having any money made me run an incredibly lean business.
I didn't have any money to spend on
spare tools distractions so I was left to focus on the only thing that mattered. Getting clients.
If you can remember this when you're starting your freelance business you'll be primed for faster success than your peers. Put the blinders on, forget about distraction, and stay focused on what's important.
What's the best freelance laptop?
Right, so now that you know you just need a laptop, here's the next question I get all the time. What's the best freelance laptop?
Tsk, tsk, tsk ... again, thinking about distraction in the form of buying a shiny new laptop. C'mon, let's stay focused.
The best freelance laptop is the one you've got!
See how simple that is? Remember, understanding how to start freelancing is not about focusing on physical things. It's all about getting clients and landing work.
If your laptop is working fine, there is no need to run out and get a new one. Let that be a gift you give yourself once you've made money.
Turn it into a goal that helps drive you forward. "Once I've made my first $10K freelancing I'm going to use $2K to buy a Mac like I've always wanted."
Or whatever. Put it in a sharpie on a big piece of paper and hang it over your desk.
Now, granted, if your laptop is running so slow that you can hardly work on it, you're going to need to do something about it.
If you're low on cash, there are a couple of things you can do before running out to get the best freelance laptop money can buy. (Remember, freelancing — especially in the beginning while low on cash — is all about being creative, working hard, and figuring things out.)
Look into getting a professional to clean your computer up
Ask someone in your friends and family for recommendations. Or check out Craigslist.
(I still remember this random guy from Craigslist who I hired to fix my iPhone years ago as a college student. I drove to his place hoping he wasn't a serial killer. Instead, he fixed my phone at the kitchen table while his mom hovered around wanting to fix me something to eat and his dad invited me into the den to watch the Bears game. Ahhh midwestern hospitality... but I digress.)
Often, a clean-up of your computer, done by someone who knows what they're doing, will do wonders for your computer's speed. It also won't cost you anywhere near the price of getting another computer. Once done, make sure to store most of your stuff in the cloud to avoid bogging it down again. A quick maintenance treatment can make your existing laptop into the best freelance laptop.
Go to the library
Most people don't consider this possibility but it's absolutely viable. A lot of public libraries let members use computers for free for up to an hour.
Membership in your public library is typically free (and you'll also get access to the entire catalog of books, including TONS on business, personal growth, and more).
Some libraries will let you use the computers for longer if they're not busy. Go to your local library. Get to know the librarians. Be friendly. Let them know that you're out of work and learning how to start freelancing. Who is going to be down on that?!
Typically they'll be more than happy to let you toil away — the hardworking, kind, polite person who shows up steadily and works studiously vs. the teenage kid who shows up to play video games and constantly forgets to keep their voice down as they mumble things like ... "Take that you MF'er, oh yeah, I almost got you, YES! I killed his ass!"
Trust me. I used to work in a library! 😂
Ask a close friend or family member if you can use their computer
Find someone in your circle who wants you to succeed. (Many won't because of many reasons, one common one being, that they don't quite understand what you're trying to do.)
But find someone who does.
And see if you can work out a deal with them to use their computer every day. How? Well, I'm assuming that most people you know are not freelancing. But they probably have a personal computer that sits home all day while they go off to the office.
See if you can make a deal to use the computer in the day while they're gone. Have them set up a password to lock their part of the computer, and then make a brand new separate user account for you so that your stuff doesn't get all mixed in with theirs.
Be a good steward of their home and property while you're there. Arrange to receive packages for them, walk the dog, or feed the cat that's on special meds and needs them 3x a day. Clean up when you leave. Make this a win for them as well as you.
What wifi speed do I need?
This is another common question I get when people are just learning how to start freelancing.
The wifi speed that you need will depend greatly on what type of freelancing you're doing. If you're working with video, you'll need a higher speed.
For most of us, however, the recommended internet speed varies between 3-10Mbps. Most basic internet these days is far above this. I'm writing this post from my rented home in Quito, Ecuador. We have a medium internet package which costs around $35/month. I just tested the speed and I'm currently at 39.79Mbps for download and 39.35Mbps for uploads.
However, when you're just learning how to start freelancing, you don't need a ton of speed, because you're not doing heavy lifting (and you shouldn't be on Netflix). Instead, you're doing a lot of grunt work.
You'll be heavily on your internet browser and in Google Drive. Or you'll be on Instagram and in Facebook groups looking for leads. So there isn't a whole lot of need for heavy-duty internet with crazy high gaming level speeds.
When in doubt about wifi speed, I use Speedtest.net. That's where I pulled my above numbers. It's beyond easy. Just go to it and hit the big GO button in the center of the page. Then it gives you back details on how fast your wifi speed currently is.
Try running tests at different times throughout the day to understand how it fluctuates, if at all. If things are going well and you're not dealing with a lot of lag times, I'd say keep your internet where it's at.
If you're having a lot of issues, however, definitely talk to your service provider about going up a level. It should be a pretty minimal change monthly and will allow you to work faster and smoother.
Wifi speed tips for my travelers
Wifi is fairly ubiquitous these days and in all my years of travel I've had very few issues with it anywhere, I've been. (Granted, I don't travel to places too remote while I'm working.)
If you're staying in an Airbnb, I recommend chatting with the owner about it beforehand if the speed is not listed in the posting. I make it clear to them (nicely) that I work from home and need good wifi. I'll ask if they've had any issues, and what the speed is.
This also clears the way for that text later when you message them that the wifi is down and can they get it fixed ASAP! They've already known since day one that it's important to you and will typically respect that.
You can also look for reviews. Many travelers will mention if they had trouble with the wifi since it's such a part of daily life whether working remotely or not.
You can do the same in hostels. Checking in with them ahead of time on whether or not they have wifi, what the speeds are, and mining their reviews should give you plenty of info. People love to complain about crappy wifi speed.
Finally, have nearby coffee shops on standby. There have definitely been those times when my wifi crashed just before... or even during a meeting and I chucked my laptop into my backpack, grabbed my keys, and headed to the coffee shop around the corner to finish the call. Know your backup plan!!
Surprised at how far you can get with the equipment you've got? It's how some of the most successful freelancers I know have gotten started. It's the drive and determination to make it that gets you to want to be, far more than fancy equipment. If you do have a bit of cash to spare, however, and you want to get results faster than going it alone, check out my course The Escape Hatch. It's a complete guide to everything you need to start freelancing and fast. You could make back the investment on the course with just your first client!