Is everyone you know becoming a freelancer, and you’re left scratching your head wondering what you’ve missed? More and more people want to work from home or travel while working, and freelancing is an excellent way to get this level of freedom while still making some cash.
Freelancers can work in any field and any industry. But no matter what freelancers do, they get to choose their own schedules and pick who they work with. Those two facts make it a pretty attractive career choice for anyone who’s ever had an unpleasant or dead-end office job.
What is a Freelancer, and What Does a Freelancer Do?
A freelancer is simply a worker who works for themselves. Instead of being employed by a company and collecting a paycheck, they sell their services independently and bill their customers.
Any job or career can be done as a freelancer–there are no right or wrong ways to do it. Of course, some jobs are better suited to it than others. But for every occupation you can think of, there are possible ways you could do it working as an employee for a company or as a freelancer.
One thing to realize about becoming a freelancer is that you’re responsible for every part of your own business. Not only are you selling your skills, but you’re also going to have to market those skills to get clients. In addition, you have to create a business plan, set your pricing, and even take care of your accounting and paying your taxes.
In many ways, it’s much harder to be a freelancer than it is to be a regular employee. A freelancer has these business tasks to accomplish and the work to do as well. Plus, they aren’t tied to the clock-in-clock-out schedule of most workers. That means they have the freedom to work on their own schedule, but that they may have to put in extra hours or longer workweeks than a regular employee would.
Who Hires Freelancers?
Freelancers can work for anyone they want to. Many people imagine freelancers working for other individuals or very small businesses. This is undoubtedly the case many times.
But there are plenty of major corporations that use freelance professionals. So why would a big company want to hire a freelancer? There are a few different reasons.
First off, they might be looking to bring an expert to a project. Perhaps they need someone with a doctorate in the subject or someone who has decades of work experience. Or perhaps they need an extra entry-level worker for a short-term project.
If it’s just for one project, it’s not in the company’s interest to hire that person to a full-time position. Furthermore, they might not even be able to afford to pay them enough money to make it interesting!
But if they can find someone with that particular skill set, they can hire them as an independent contractor. Because they have a job that they need to be done, but they don’t have anyone on staff that can do it, they look to bring on a freelancer.
Is a Freelancer the Same as an Independent Contractor?
Many people use the terms freelancer and independent contractor interchangeably. There are a few differences that set them apart from one another.
Freelancers are usually individuals who exercise complete control over their workload. They work with multiple clients, and they pick and choose who they do business with.
On the other hand, independent contractors work with major corporations and big companies more often than not. As a result, they generally only have a few clients, and sometimes only one. And they’re more likely to be paid on an hourly basis than per project.
In recent years it has become prevalent for companies to lean heavily on the services of independent contractors. This makes financial sense for the companies since it saves them many expenses related to employee benefits. In addition, it allows employees to retain a certain amount of anonymity from the company and often means a more flexible schedule and work environment.
But some companies have relied almost entirely on independent contracts, resulting in some state governments cracking down on the practice. Even though it is common practice, some see using independent contractors as a way companies can avoid fair labor laws, minimum wage requirements, and other employee-relations issues. It’s wise to familiarize yourself with the local labor laws and regulations before beginning work in any business.
What Sort of Jobs Do Freelancers Do?
Any job can be done as a freelancer, but a lot of that choice has to do with the career path you choose and what sort of flexibility you’d like to have.
Many of the best freelance careers are those that can be done by one professional. In other words, if a task requires a team to complete it, it is possible to do those with freelancers. But generally, freelancers are those professionals that work on their own.
A photographer, graphic designer, or web designer makes good examples. These people work to produce a product and don’t need much help doing it. Furthermore, their brand and product might be integral to who they are as an artist. For example, it is a photographer’s work that sets them apart from their competition. This is often the case with freelancer workers.
But there are plenty of other jobs that allow you to freelance, as well. For example, Uber and Lyft drivers are freelancers. They don’t work for a company–they work as independent contractors. They’re in the business of operating a one-person taxi service, and those platforms enable them to offer their services to riders.
Advantages and Disadvatanges of Becoming a Freelancer
- Set your own hours and work schedule
- Set your own rate and income without limits
- Take time off when you need it
- Control your own workflow
- Pick and choose the clients you want to work with, and the projects you want to work on
- Opportunities for professional growth are boundless
- Must find your own clients
- Requires a component of sales–selling yourself and your services to potential clients
- Often harder to balance work and free time
- No perks or benefits that are common when working for big compnay–no retirement plan, no health care, no paid vacation
- Variable income depending on job
- Some freelancers have a lot of competition, while others have very little
- Requires excellent time management skills
- Often no team to work with–on your own most of the time
- Responsible for saving and paying self-employement taxes
- You’re responsible for all legal and regulatory compliance
How Much Do Freelancers Earn?
It’s impossible to pin down earnings for freelance professionals for a few reasons. To start, most salary data comes from payroll companies–and freelancers work for themselves and don’t have a payroll.
Additionally, earnings are incredibly variable across different industries. You can freelance in anything–from writing to heart surgery–so figuring out an average salary or average earnings for the year for a freelancer is somewhat useless.
And then there is the question of experience. Freelancers set their own rates. It is usually a factor of how long they’ve been freelancing and how much experience they have.
Best Freelancing Gigs for Beginners
There are two basic ways that a person can become a freelancer.
Method one is the hard way. First, you work in a field and become an expert in that field. You get to a point where companies seek you out because you’re the one they want to work with–you really are the expert. At this point, it doesn’t make sense to work for one company anymore, does it? So instead, you become a freelancer and work for yourself. This allows you to set your own rates and hours and pick which projects you want to work on.
Method two is a little more complex–it involves going it alone from the very beginning. Doing it this way limits your career choices a little bit. For example, it’s unlikely that someone just out of school could get hired as a management consultant or project manager. These are skills that you gain from working inside big companies for a long time.
As a result, the best jobs for beginners tend to be those that are based on a skill that you have worked hard to develop. In some cases, these are based on artistic skills unique to you. In others, they’re skills that are in demand that you are particularly good at.
The first type of freelancer that jumps into most people’s minds is the artist. These are individuals who have marketable talents. Perhaps they paint portraits, or they photograph weddings. Whatever type of art you are talking about can be done as a hobby or a professional. Freelancers in these fields run the gamut from full-time freelancers to occasional workers.
Here are just a few examples of artists that can sell their services as freelancers.
- Graphic designer
There’s no more classic a freelance job than being a writer. Writers often work alone, and they often are working on their own projects. There is a romantic notion of a writer working from their studio, trying to get away from distractions while churning out the next novel for their publisher’s deadline.
Of course, as is the case with most other freelance jobs, plenty of writers work as employees for companies. The difference is not in the task at hand but in how the worker gets paid. Are they seeking out their projects to do? Or do they have a manager assigning them work?
The romantic notion of writers is usually limited to book writing, but a mountain of other types of printed material is published every day. The internet has meant a boom for writers, and there is a huge demand for those with the right skillset.
Here are just a few projects that writers work on. Writers can specilize in doing on thing or another–or they can pick up whatever kind of job comes along. Like artists, writers usually have a limited skillset and they work hard to hone those skills and sell to a particular niche.
- Novels, stories, and e-books
- Advertising and copywriting
- Blog or web article writing
- Magazine articles
- Proofreading and editing
Business skills are often mentioned as good options for freelancers, but the conditions under which you can land these jobs vary. In some cases, a company may need extra employees for a limited-time project. In others, they may be bringing inexperienced individuals to help their team set up something new.
In both cases, these aren’t great candidates for beginning freelancers–unless you already have a few years of business experience under your belt. Just because you want to start freelancing doesn’t mean you need to start from scratch. Look at your skill set and your work experience, and see if there’s anything that you can pull from to offer companies on a freelance basis.
Here are just a few jobs that big companies routinely outsource to freelancers.
- Project manager
- Virtual Assistant
- Social media manager
- Management consultant
If you have some in-demand tech skills, you might be perfectly set up to begin freelancing. Many companies are looking to branch out and publish their apps. Likewise, game designers and website developers can pick and choose their projects at will.
The thing that binds these jobs together is that they are in fast-growth sectors and are skills that most companies only occasionally need. For example, it doesn’t make sense for a company to have an app designer on staff. But if that’s what you do, there are plenty of companies that would love to hire you for a few months at a time.
Here are some tech jobs that are easy to freelance in.
- Website design and development
- App design
- Game developer
Teaching or Tutoring
Tutoring has taken off recently as a popular way to get into freelancing. Online education portals that are targeted to specific ages and markets are popping up.
One of the most popular tutoring jobs is helping non-native English speakers learn the language. Some companies work with school children and match them with teachers or tutors overseas. In other cases, you can advertise your services as a conversational tutor for business professionals or college students.
Of course, teaching and tutoring do not have to be done online or remotely. Tutors have worked with students of all ages for generations to help them with their academics. You can look for clients at any local high school or college. Whatever your best subject is, chances are someone is struggling with that subject and could use your help.
- English tutor
- Subject-specific tutoring–math, foreign language, science, etc
- Online course creator
- Sports instructor–golf, tennis, yoga, skiing, etc.
- Skills or certification instructor–diving, sailing, flying, etc.
Online Job Boards for Freelancers
Often the most challenging part of getting started as a freelancer is finding clients. Internet job boards are a meeting place for those offering work and those seeking workers.
The downside of looking for work online is that there is a lot of competition out there. These job boards are often global–so you’re competing against freelancers from all over the world. This is a fantastic opportunity for many people.
But for those working from the developed world, the result is that rates are often kept very low for beginning freelancers. So you’ll have to compete against people who are happy to do the job for free just for the experience of doing it.
The key to finding a job board that suits you best is not so much to find the one with the most traffic but to find the one with the most potential clients for your services. If one site is saturated with competition, you’re better off moving somewhere else and finding clients elsewhere.
Here is a list of the most popular ways that freelancers can find remote jobs.
- Facebook Groups
- LinkedIn networks
Tips for Building a Freelance Business
Write a Business Plan
A lot of folks approach their freelancing gigs in an ad-hoc way. A job comes along, and so they complete it and then look for another one. Then, after they’ve done it a few times, they consider themselves a freelancer.
This is not a bad way to get going. But most freelancers can benefit from sitting down and planning out their business. Taking a long hard look at their strengths and weaknesses, along with the operating environment and threats they face, will go a long way towards ensuring their success.
Putting a complete business plan together is a lot of work, but for the most part, it is simply the formalization of research that you really ought to be doing anyway. By carefully looking at the costs associated with running your business and what your competitors are doing, you’ll be much better positioned to set your prices right and market your services.
The act of completing a formal plan also helps you set some goals for your business. It will force you to know off the bat what clients you’re best suited to work with and what your competitive advantages are. Just having thought about these things will set you ahead of the pack.
Build a Quality Portfolio
A freelancer’s primary marketing tool is their body of work. This is what clients want to see–they want to see the results you can provide for their company.
It doesn’t matter what service you provide–you should have it organized into a professional portfolio. Portfolio websites are the most common way to accomplish this these days. They’re great because you can easily keep them updated and organized. In addition, you can use them as your resume and help potential clients get in contact with you.
But first and foremost, your portfolio website serves as a showcase of your best products. Portfolios are commonly associated with artists, but even a management professional can have a website. Instead of having their best photographs, though, it will have reports on projects they led with clear metrics showing how they improved efficiency, productivity, employee retention, or whatever their goals were.
Master Professional Social Media Use
Freelancers don’t get days off. So everywhere you go, you’re still marketing your business. This is especially important to remember on social media, where you might be doing quite a bit of marketing.
Again, it’s helpful to separate your personal life from your professional one. Have social media accounts for your freelancing business to help you find new clients. Keep this professional, but use them regularly.
Get Training and Build Your Skillset
Professional development is critical in any career. As an employee at a big business, your company will often pay to send you to training courses or get certifications. This helps you learn new skills, which make you more valuable as an employee.
As a freelancer, it’s up to you to take this challenge. It’s a hard thing to do, considering you’re going to have to spend a lot of your time getting jobs and working on jobs. But bettering your skills makes your portfolio stronger and makes your skills more valuable. In other words, keeping current with your training and taking new courses is important because it means that you can charge your clients more.
Dozens of websites specialize in teaching new skills now. Many of these, like Udemy or Coursera, are subscription-based. You can buy a single course, or you can subscribe to the service for a monthly fee and take all sorts of courses. Those programs that offer an official certification that you can include on your resume or personal website are great marketing tools, as well.
Freelancing has become extremely popular in recent years. More and more people are looking to work for themselves and set their schedules. They like the flexibility offered of being able to choose their clients and their projects.
There’s not much not to love about being a freelancer, actually. Yes, it takes a lot of work to get your business up and running. And in the end, you have no one but yourself to blame for your failures or your successes. But in a way, this is precisely what makes the lifestyle so appealing.
If you’re dreaming bigger than your employer is, maybe it’s time that you stretched your wings a little and became a freelancer. Chances are, you already possess a skill that is easily marketed. All that remains is formalizing the arrangement and getting some clients.