We live in amazing times. With the internet, I run my business anywhere. I didn’t finish college but I am honestly very close to my dream life and it was just a matter of committing to it … just over a year ago now. My lifestyle now wasn’t even an option in my early 20s.
So many of my friends are stuck in this old school economic scarcity framework of being in competition for limited resources because the “jobs” were tied to a location. Which could necessarily only support so many people. And now we’re in this global market with the internet and it’s the gold rush and most people don’t realize that.
There is so much money to be made online. So so much. Infinite.
You can learn the basics of ANYTHING you want and start an online business from scratch with basically no money. That’s what I did.
In this post, I’ll explain exactly how I make a living online, working from anywhere (currently Bali – soon Malaysia or Japan). I work about 4 hours a day most days and am living comfortably while aggressively paying down debt. I also made a free step by step checklist to help you get started.
I start with my back story of how I went from flight attending to beauty blogging to freelance marketing. Then I share my first challenging attempts at working online while living abroad, how I finally chose my winning niche, and then 10 steps to how to start freelancing EASILY, without all the headaches I went through. There’s also a bonus! 20 freelance ideas suitable for creatives, mystics, introverts, and highly sensitive people.
I’m happy to share because I believe there is ZERO competition in this paradigm of infinite – and growing – digital clientele. More people get online and start businesses every day. Entire industries are constantly being born. All of this requires work to sustain. The money is out there. We can all get it!
My Back Story: From Flight Attending to Beauty Blogging
I actually first tried my hand at working online while I was a flight attendant from 2011-2013.
I was traveling for days or weeks at a time, so I would Airbnb out my apartment. One Airbnb guest asked about how quiet the apartment was during the day – because she was a medical transcriptionist and needed silence in order to listen to her audio files.
I was intrigued because I wanted a side hustle to make extra money while I was on my layovers. She recommended taking the Career Step medical transcription certification course. I did that and did medical and academic transcription for a few years. That’s a decent gig – if you want me to go more in depth on what that was like, let me know.
Then I worked a desk job for a year, got depressed, and decided to go to beauty school. I quit transcribing while in school, and then I moved into doing freelance hair and makeup for the next 4-5 years.
The first 2 or 3 years of that I would work as an assistant or front desk in salons and see clients outside of the salon. It was super hard work and not very lucrative, especially with San Francisco living expenses being ridiculously high – although I still love the creative and client-facing end of it and still see my regular clients when I visit the US.
It was through doing hair and makeup that I started this blog. I was finding myself recommending the same products, hair care, and beauty tips to clients repeatedly, so I decided to put all the info on my blog for their reference. I would research blogging strategy to figure out how to do various things, and it was in that process that I learned how to use Pinterest for marketing my blog.
My First Attempts and Mistakes Working Online in Bali
In January 2018, my boyfriend and I decided we were done with the Bay Area grind and flew to Bali with the dream of starting our own online businesses.
I – super naively in retrospect – planned to turn my fledgling beauty blog into my main source of income. Ha! I mean, I do make some income from this blog – but nothing I can live on. I’ve made about $400 in the last 6 months though, which is pretty good considering how little traffic I get (less than 1000 visits per month). I can do another post on how this blog makes money if you’d like, just let me know.
To supplement my blogging efforts, I created a freelancer profile on Upwork and started taking random gigs, mostly ghostwriting for other beauty blogs. I was taking really low bids and burning myself out doing all this time-consuming writing at low flat rates. I love and am decent at writing, but I am not fast at it. I did it because that is what I felt qualified to do.
In retrospect I should’ve done medical transcription. I mean I know why I didn’t – I got bored of the work because I couldn’t listen to music, videos or podcasts while doing it. (This is one of my favorite perks of being a Pinterest marketer.) I’m a very visual and ADD person, so that style of work just didn’t mesh easily with me.
Choosing the Right Freelance Niche
After a few months of this grind, I got a cool writing gig that I enjoyed: creating astrology content for Dreaming Souls. And around that same time I started offering Pinterest marketing services, as I was gaining 90% of my blog traffic from my own fledgling Pinterest efforts.
I pretty quickly realized I WAY preferred Pinterest marketing to writing, for two main reasons:
1. Like I said, my brain is super visual and ADD. I love that Pinterest marketing consists of a lot of *looking* at things and multiple little repetitive tasks, applied strategically – but not a lot of thinking on the spot, since I have a system established now that works like clockwork.
So I just sit down, put on a podcast, and do my work based on my to-do lists, and I really don’t have to think about much unless I’m writing captions. And even that little bit of writing is so formulaic that it doesn’t require a lot of mental energy. Unlike copywriting or ghostwriting.
I really only like writing when I am inspired to do it – then I can go super deep focus and enjoy the process. Doing it for money is really draining for me, personally.
2. Unlike a lot of freelance services, Pinterest – and social media – marketing lends itself to long-term clients. This is because success on Pinterest relies on consistently applying daily effort. And it takes a while to build up traction. So I always tell my clients to invest in working with me for at LEAST 3 months. Versus a lot of writing and admin work is short term. I just like having long term clients so I’m spending less time pitching.
I made so many mistakes and wasted so much time and energy figuring all this out on my own. I’m so glad you’re reading this so you can skip some of these tough, tedious lessons.
Here’s what I would do now if I was just getting into freelancing for the first time with zero experience.
10 Steps to Getting Started as an Online Freelancer (plus the free checklist which includes even more details and resources):
You have to pay a super small fee to apply to gigs – less than a dollar these days I believe – and they take a cut of your pay, ranging from 5-20%. It’s all worth it. Way easier and more legit than trying to find reliable work through Craigslist. Plus it is INVALUABLE to have Upwork guaranteeing that you’ll be paid on time. I never chase invoices. Money shows up in my bank account every week. That alone is a priceless service and in my opinion well worth their fees.
2. Select ONE freelance niche. Start with a skill set you already have from your day job, like customer service or data entry, or even a hobby that you’re experienced with – writing, for example, or photo editing. Don’t try to be a jack of all trades on Upwork. Doing so will work against you for how their search algorithm works. If you want to offer a lot of services for some reason, present yourself as a Virtual Assistant.
3. Best foot forward: Upload a crisp, professional-yet-friendly-looking headshot in business casual or professional clothes, shot in indirect natural lighting with a bright background. You can DIY this with an iPhone on timer mode. Feel free to send your headshots to me if you want to know if it’s appropriate. You want to get it right the first time because every time you change it, Upwork automatically locks your account (preventing you from pitching) and you have to do a video call with them to verify your identity.
4. Scope out your niche: Make a list of what services the top freelancers in your niche are offering.
5. Learn the basics: Spend a weekend watching Youtube videos and reading blog posts on how to do every single one of those things. Don’t spend any longer than this before sending your first pitch! Study QUICKLY and keep it moving. If you’re like me, you’ll spend way too much time in research mode – you’ll tell yourself it’s because you want to provide your clients only with the best but the reality is you don’t want to blow it and be embarrassed and look like an amateur. You ARE an amateur, at this point, and it’s okay. Get started anyway.
6. This step is super important and will differentiate you from 95% of your competition: Create a PDF using Canva or Google Drive that outlines your services. I like Canva because they have free sexy templates that immediately make you look more professional. You are going to send this PDF out in all of your pitches. I am positive mine is why I got all my first clients despite having very little proven track record of success except for my own blog. It needs to have two parts. First, describe your services, which you will refer to as your system. For example, “my copywriting system,” or “my Pinterest marketing system.” Second, it also needs to have a FAQ section. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never had clients before, just include at least 5 FAQs that you think would be helpful to clients based on the research you did in step 6. This demonstrates that you are knowledgeable and considerate of your client’s needs. If you’re not amazing at writing, have someone proofread it for you to make sure it’s punctuated correctly.
7. Set your rates: You need to make at LEAST TWICE living wage for your area + 20%, to account for future taxes (which you are responsible for) and Upwork’s cut. Freelancers have to charge a much higher hourly than employees because we pay our own business expenses and taxes. This is normal, and the type of clients you want to work with will expect this.
8. Start pitching: Aim first for the gigs that have a verified payment, with good ratings from other freelancers, and that you resonate with. If you don’t get those ideal gigs within the first week, then branch out and try less ideal gigs. The pitch should be a mix of information covered in your PDF, but tailored to the client’s proposal. So don’t talk about your ability to drive product sales when what they are looking for is increasing email sign-ups. It’s okay to say the same thing in your proposal as in your PDF. It’s not repetitive – it’s consistent.
9. Grow from there: As you progress through your work, you’ll figure out what additional skills you need to learn and start investing in ebooks and online courses. There is so much free info out there though that I wouldn’t worry too much about it in the beginning. I am a big advocate of well-researched trial by fire.
10. Ways to be an awesome freelancer regardless of experience level or niche: Respond to emails promptly, within 24 hours. Even if you don’t have time to reply in depth, at least let them know you’ll reply more in depth at a specific time. Keep meticulous records of everything you’re doing in a Google Drive spreadsheet that you share with the client. I literally write down every single thing that I do for them. I can show you how I organize my spreadsheets if you’re interested, just let me know. Keep track of any analytics data on a weekly basis and share this info with your client in a weekly report, using everyday language so they can understand what’s happening. Keep your skills updated and let your clients know whenever you are updating your strategy based on current trends and research.
Bonus! 20 freelance ideas suitable for creatives, mystics, introverts, and highly sensitive people: Copywriting, editing, proofreading, photo editing, data entry, virtual assisting, Pinterest marketing, Canva designer, Instagram manager, Facebook ad manager, LinkedIn article writer, ghost writer, resume writer and editor, web designer, Wix or Squarespace website designer, email marketer, SEO specialist, content creator, web research, transcription.
You can do any of the above from home with nothing but a laptop. I have actually run my Pinterest marketing business entirely from my phone for periods of time. You can get started learning all of the above with free resources online.
Now I manage 6 Pinterest accounts and counting, and I have an awesome subcontractor who helps me with repetitive tasks. They are a Pinterest marketer in Bangladesh who I hired through Upwork.
I had ethical doubts while deciding to hire an assistant – was I exploiting someone in a smaller economy? Was it somehow dishonest to outsource work to someone else?
In short, no and no. Their rate is affordable for me, yet high compared to the average income available in Bangladesh, so it works perfectly for both of us.
And it’s not dishonest – I still oversee all of their work, they work according to the strategy that I researched and tested myself, and I take responsibility for the results. I bring in all the clients, handle the communication, and analytics. And I look forward to hiring others to do these tasks as well when the time is right, because my long term goal is to form an agency and then sell the company.
Subcontracting is a totally normal thing that people do in business, and I just had to get over my fears around it because I was honestly used to doing all the back breaking work myself. Literally. One time in the US I worked myself to the point where I was bedridden with a back injury from overwork and stress, for 3 weeks during the restaurant’s high season and I had no health insurance.
Just sharing this point because I have a feeling a lot of the folks reading this post may have similar hang ups.
I am actually growing so quickly that I am in the process of hiring a second subcontractor and building a Pinterest marketing website outside of Upwork (although I will still do business through Upwork).
I am averaging $35/hr (that’s net, after expenses, subcontractor fees and taxes) and working 15-20 hours a week from the comfort of my own couch. This is more than I made as a hairstylist in the Bay Area, and my expenses there were… impossible.
I receive enough client inquiries that I am raising my rates 10% every time I get a new client. I could work more, but my living expenses are so low here in Bali that I don’t currently feel the urgency to do so. I spend less than $300/month for a nice apartment, scooter rental, and food – yes, that’s a 3 followed by 2 zeros.
I’m still able to put an aggressive amount of money toward paying off $40K of debt (some back taxes, credit cards and loans), save 10% of my income, and have enough to play with. I actually am about to redo my budget so I’m putting more towards the debt. It’s really wild to experience all this in contrast to my lifestyle in the US.
I hope this is helpful to someone. Please let me know if you have any questions. There is so much cool flexible work out there once you know how to get it. The money is ready when you are.