How to Become an Automation Freelancer: The Definitive Guide
If you’re looking to become an automation freelancer, chances are that you’ve come to a realization about your current work-life situation.
Perhaps you’ve already been doing automation work at a company and grew tired of the traditional 9 to 5.
Maybe you’ve mastered a few workflow automation tools and want to test your hard-earned skills in real life, with real clients.
It could as well be the desire to build creative solutions for others without resigning quality time with your family and friends.
What’s important is that you’re ready to act upon this realization, and understand that becoming an automation freelancer is not as easy as snapping your fingers.
This is where we come in. Make is the perfect fit for automation freelancers - we’re spearheading the automation revolution, and want you to succeed.
In this article, you’ll find a thorough guide to become an automation freelancer, plus a series of insider tips on how to put yourself out there, understand the field, stand out, and find clients.
We’ll start with the basics and then move on to the more advanced aspects of this process, so feel free to skim through and focus on what you need to know before making the leap.
1. Get clear on why you’re pursuing the freelancer path
As it happens with every life-changing decision, it’s important that you revisit the reasons behind this one as well.
For some people, becoming a freelancer is easier than it is for others. Factors like living (or wanting to live) in a remote location where there aren’t many job opportunities can be compelling enough to favor the decision, but it might not be as obvious for others.
So, before you set things in motion, get real and ask yourself the hard questions:
What is it that you’re pursuing?
What will change, and how fast?
What are you leaving on the table?
An in-depth assessment of your current situation will allow you to make a decision based on calculated risks, and help you build the necessary confidence to act innovatively from the get-go.
2. List and rate your skills
This is the first “real” step towards becoming an automation freelancer. Listing your skills will help you identify your core strengths, narrow down your purpose as a professional and, eventually, help your future clients understand what you’re offering.
It’s also important to identify the tools and apps that you’re comfortable working with, as well as the industries and related processes that you know how to serve.
Doing this will allow you to start profiling your ideal clients and address their specific needs and pain points. In addition, this will help you decide whether to cast a wide net or niche out to serve a specific type of client and industry.
3. Check the market: What automation services are in demand?
After listing down the skills, tools, and industries you’re an expert in, it’s time to get a sense of what demand looks like out there.
To do this, we recommend you to start with the most popular sites to find freelance automation jobs:
Besides searching for “automation”, it’s also important that you search by tools. For example, if you are a Stripe API expert, you’d be surprised to learn the amount of open opportunities for that specific search.
Remember, we’re not here to apply to jobs yet, but to get a feel of the market.
A quick exploration will allow you to check the demand levels for your skillset, how much the potential clients are paying, and what kind of solutions they’re looking for.
Bookmark at will and take notes, because this information will be useful for what’s coming next.
4. Outline a personal business plan
Now that you have a clear picture of your skills and the market, it’s time to decide how you’ll approach your freelancing career.
Will you go all-in, or will you start working side gigs until you’re ready to make the full transition to the freelancer life?
Different scenarios call for different approaches, and planning ahead is vital.
At this point, you’ll need to define your actual financial needs and goals, the type of projects you’d like to work on (and for how long), and the best way to approach your potential clients.
5. Define your offer and create a value proposition
Do you automate using Python or another programming language? Do you prefer no-code tools? A mix of both?
As you get closer to the action, you’ll have to create a clear statement of the services you’ll be offering.
Automation is a vast field with virtually endless possibilities, and this means two things: First, what you’ll encounter varies a lot. Second, things can get specific real quick.
This is why it is so important to define what you’ll bring to the table.
A good way to sort out your offer and value proposition is to expand on something you’ve previously identified: Skills, industries, processes, and tools.
Write down what industries and processes you’re knowledgeable about, the tools you use to automate them, and make this information visible to everyone.
For example, if you’re an expert in email marketing automation, you’ll have to define the related processes that you can automate (such as list building), for what (to grow contact lists faster), and the tools that you’ll use to make it happen (for this particular task, you could use Make, Mailchimp, and webhooks).
Saying “I automate stuff” may sound cool on your LinkedIn bio, but addressing the specifics is how you land actual paying customers.
6. Create a portfolio
Unless you want to spend many hours thinking about new problems and explaining concepts to potential customers on a regular basis, you’ll need a portfolio.
Portfolios speak for themselves, and clients value to see what you’ve done without having to ask about it in advance.
On top of automations you’ve built and processes you’ve improved, lean into testimonials, numbers, and hard data.
If you don’t have any of these available, you can start building automated workflows that solve common problems, and include snapshots of your work in your portfolio. Tools like Make will help you achieve this easily.
Remember: This is about proof, and you must be able to produce it if you want to compete with the best ones out there.
7. Build your online profiles
Your online profiles will be one of your most valuable assets when it comes to freelancing.
You’ll use them to search for opportunities, contact prospects, get exposure, and showcase your work.
So, where to begin?
First of all, it’s important that you update your LinkedIn profile with past work experiences, a bio that states what you do and what you offer, and samples of your work.
Second, choose the best freelancing platforms and do the same there. Your profile must show your portfolio, what you’ve accomplished, the tools you use, and what you offer.
If you’re unsure of what else to put in your freelancing platform profiles, it’s always wise to search for top-rated automation freelancers and check their profiles for an extra dose of inspiration.
Third and last, don’t forget about relevant communities, since potential customers often pop up there as well. The rule of thumb here is to go after product-specific communities of the products you’ve already mastered.
For example, if you are an expert Maker, you’ll want to be part of the Make community; if you know Airtable like the palm of your hand, join the Airtable community, and so on.
8. Find work and turn prospects into customers
At this stage, you’re ready to go after clients.
Armed with your skills, tools, a value proposition, a portfolio, and an online profile in a freelancing platform, it’s time to start answering to the job proposals that are within your scope of interest and expertise.
Depending on your situation and goals, you’ll have to choose whether to go after quality, quantity, or both.
Some freelancers like to start small and build from the ground up, while others shoot at anything that moves.
Our advice here is simple: Focus on your expertise, keep your goals in mind at all times, explain how you can solve your customer needs in a clear, attractive way (don’t overpromise!), and deliver quality, reputation-building work on a consistent basis.
It’s important that you put yourself in the shoes of your prospective customers when you’re starting out as a freelancer. They don’t know you, you don’t have a reputation yet, and you’re likely competing with more experienced folks for the same project.
Taking this into consideration, spend time honing the communication aspect of your proposals: Explain how you’ll solve the client’s needs, be attentive and polite, write down project-related questions, and offer a few minutes of your time to go over details if necessary.
Your answers must be real and demonstrate your interest; sending templated answers is a mistake.
To conclude, don’t grow anxious if things take a bit longer than expected.
Success rarely happens overnight, so be ready to spend your first months building reputation and working on less than ideal projects before you can afford to choose your customers.
9. Bulletproof your income
As we mentioned above, chances are that you’ll be dealing with an unstable income stream at the beginning of your automation career.
You can prepare for this by keeping your finances clear, accessible and easy to understand.
Identify your expenses, recurring costs (such as tools that require subscriptions), desired margins, and compound them in your hourly prices.
Over time, you’ll be able to adjust your pricing to the demand, and set prices that are both realistic and satisfactory for your business and the customers.
Lastly, it’s important that you carefully read the terms of service of the freelancing platforms you’ll be using. Most of them charge fees for your work, and some can be quite hefty at the beginning. Upwork, for instance, applies fees up to 20% to your earnings (depending on how much you’ve billed to a specific client).
10. Turn your clients into repeat customers
This is one of the keys to freelancing. As you build your business and reputation as a solid service provider, you’ll likely encounter opportunities to automate further for your existing clients.
It all starts with delivering quality work, but being proactive doesn’t hurt either. After focusing on the specifics of what you’ve been hired to do, evaluate if you can bring up something else - a process that could be automated, a more efficient way to do something.
Repeating clients are instrumental in advancing your career for two reasons: First of all, they know you already, and are satisfied with your work. Second, you’ll be able to bypass the intermediators - that is, the freelancing platforms - which means that you won’t be spending extra money on fees, or time and resources in contacting new prospects through them.
11. Build your online presence
Having an online presence is not mandatory for a successful freelancing career, but if you can spare the time and effort, it can work as a valuable investment over time.
Automation is a hot topic these days, and there’s no shortage of people consuming automation-related content on social media.
Sharing your solutions, work, results, ideas, and observations across product communities and social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube can yield you customers as you build a follower base.
There are thousands of companies and people around the world facing automation-related problems, and putting yourself out there can result in extra work.
As a rule of thumb, you can start by focusing only on the platforms that you’re positive you’ll be able to post good content on a regular basis. For example, it wouldn’t make any sense to create a YouTube channel if you’ll only be able to upload once every couple of months.
Also, don’t forget to interact a lot! Participate in conversations, leave comments, and ask questions related to your trade whenever you can.
You need consistency and frequency, so choose your channels wisely!
Extra tips and resources
The advice we provided so far will help you transition to a freelancing career in automation, but there’s more useful information before you make the leap. Let’s take a quick look at it.
How much money does an automation freelancer make?
According to the employment marketplace ZipRecruiter, freelance automation engineers make an average of $46/hour, or $94,693/year.
That’s a rather attractive figure, 54% higher than the national average wage measured by the hour.
If you go to Upwork and search for “automation”, you’ll find that there are roughly 5,000 listed jobs that pay by the hour. Of these, 1,100+ offer rates above $50/hour, and 2,200+ offer rates between $30 and $49/hour.
As you can see, there’s good money to be made as an automation freelancer, and also thousands of opportunities waiting for you.
Aside from freelancing platforms, where can you find automation work?
Freelancing platforms represent the easiest, fastest way to find work, but not the only one.
Depending on your skillset and experience, you can apply to specialty platforms that provide quality talent to their own network of customers, such as Toptal and Lemon.io.
Bear in mind that getting into these platforms is a lot harder, and expect your skills and profile to be thoroughly tested and reviewed.
In addition, several automation companies feature partner programs and marketplaces where you can be included as a certified service provider. Make, for instance, runs one of the most successful partner programs in the industry; among the 700+ certified providers, there are several freelancers and solopreneurs.
To conclude, you can also explore other places as well. There are Reddit communities dedicated to automation (such as r/AutomateYourself), Slack communities like No Code Founders, and creator spaces like IndieHackers that are definitely worth exploring.
And don’t forget about traditional job marketplaces! If you grow tired of scouring through freelance marketplaces, you can still set your eyes on sites like Indeed, ZipRecruiter or Monster.
Where can you learn more about automation?
There are plenty of learning resources available; some are free, while others are paid.
Learning platforms like Coursera, Udemy, and Skillshare feature hundreds of automation courses for coders and no-coders.
If you’re interested in free alternatives, YouTube is your friend. In there, you’ll find thousands of tutorials showing you how to automate anything with a myriad of tools.
Spending a couple of hours a week learning something new is definitely a good investment, but before you embark on this journey, identify what will be the goal. You can cover a weak flank in your skillset, or add something new that is in high demand.
Conclusion: Ready to start your automation freelancer career?
Freelancing isn’t always easy at the beginning, but it does pay off down the road.
If you manage to deliver quality work on a consistent basis, your clients will love you, and work will start coming to you - and not the other way around.
Once that happens, you’ll know that all the efforts have paid off, and you’ll be ready to take your new career to the next level - high-level consulting, an automation agency, or perhaps something better.
After you take off, the sky's the limit!