By Sarah Landrum

Whether you’re a designer, a writer or something in a different field altogether, you’ve probably found that you have a specific skillset that is highly in demand. Perhaps you’ve ventured into the world of freelancing on the side, or maybe you’ve just been thinking about it. Regardless of your situation, with the right steps, there’s no reason that your side gig cannot become a full-time career.

The Statistics

As of the start of 2015, there are 53 million individuals employed in freelancing opportunities in the United States alone; that’s 34 percent of the entire workforce. The demand for freelancers with specific skillsets is increasing and will only continue to do so in the near future; in fact, 32 percent of freelancers have experienced an increase in demand over the course of the last year.

If you’ve been freelancing on the side or have considered the idea, you’re probably driven by the same thing that drives the majority of other freelancers, according to the Freelancers Union: the potential for earning extra money while setting your own schedule. Flexibility is appealing to everyone, especially parents with children at home or busy schedules, military spouses who need to be able to take their jobs with them, those who need unconventional work hours and those that are simply tired of the daily drag.

If you’re ready for a change, you’re not alone; there are countless stories of freelancers who’ve turned their side passions into full-time careers. Ready to jump in? Follow the steps below.

Identify Your Strengths

What are you great at? For freelancing to work, good isn’t going to cut it. Freelancers must be experts in their desired field of employment and must have the portfolio to back it up. Working with a freelancer may be less expensive than going the agency route; however, you need to be able to prove that you can handle any projects your clients throw your way. To identify your strengths:

  • Think back over successful projects you’ve completed. In what areas did you excel?
  • What need do you see out there that you could fulfill?
  • Narrow down your niche. Just because you can write, think about a specific area you’d like to focus on – marketing, editing or something else.
  • What projects do you have proof of completion? Pull them together and be ready to present them at any time.

Understanding your strengths is critical to establishing yourself as a trusted businessperson as opposed to a standard freelancer.

Develop Your Brand

Developing a brand helps present your skills as a company rather than an individual going at it alone. Brands can charge more and have more credibility than someone just offering their skills on the side.

Developing your brand requires:

  • Coming up with a company name. File a Doing Business As or DBA to make it official. Create a logo to take it one step further.
  • Creating specific service options with set pricing. No one wants guesswork when it comes to getting a project done.
  • Creating a website. This can be done for free or at little cost with sites like WordPress and Weebly. Make sure your website highlights your ability, what you offer, your contact information and project samples in a clear, professional manner.
  • Developing a social media presence. Create social media pages for your new brand and start posting information to generate interest right away. Start with your existing network of friends and family and ask them to invite others to like or follow you.

Think Like a Businessperson

Freelancers are businesspeople; however, they often see what they do as a side job. To turn your freelancing into a full-fledged career, you must be willing to think bigger. Steps to take your freelancing to the next level include:

  • Building a professional network. Consider joining professional organizations and attending events regularly to spread word about what you have to offer.
  • Attending trade shows, becoming a sponsor or hosting a booth when possible.
  • Sponsoring local events in the community to build brand awareness.
  • Hiring a virtual assistant – when possible – to handle the day-to-day activities and to show that you’re more than a one-person business.
  • Setting up marketing campaigns. If you’d like to grow, you’ve got to market what you have to offer.

When you take yourself – and your business – seriously, your customers will do the same. Your brand will begin to attract attention and you’ll go from side gig to full time in no time.