You’re probably reading this because you wish to become a freelancer, or you’re just getting started as one and don’t know where to start. The chances are that you have already figured out what field you wish to freelance in and what precise services you’ll be offering.
When getting started with freelance work, many websites will highlight that you only need a good computer, fast internet, and the required skills. However, there is more to freelancing than just the ‘freedom’ it comes with and the ability to ‘be your own boss.’
So what exactly does freelancing entail? What are the factors to consider before joining the gig economy? How does one thrive in the freelancing world? This post will get you the answers to these and many other questions on what freelancing is all about.
What exactly is freelancing?
In layman’s terms, a freelancer is someone that’s self-employed, offering their services and expertise to different clients simultaneously. In most cases, freelancers often earn money on a per-assignment basis, a fixed price, or charging by the hour, depending on the nature of their work.
Even though you may land on semi-permanent gigs as a freelancer, 98% of all freelancing jobs are usually short-term. This means, even though you may have a long working relationship with your client, you are still at liberty to move on to another job without any issues. While you may have to sign a contract and an NDA (Non-disclosure agreement) with your freelance client, you won’t have to sign a non-compete agreement which is usually the case for permanent employment.
It is technically possible to work in any field as a freelancer. Even if the job may require physical presence and technical expertise, you can still freelance as a consultant. This means that you can work for several companies at one instance without being held back by contracts.
However, the most common field where the gig economy thrives the most is the creative industry. This includes jobs in copywriting, photography, graphic design, website development, etc. Other service-based categories such as event management, deejaying, translation, etc., are also common among freelancers.
Other names that refer to freelancing
Did you know that not everyone that is essentially a freelancer actually refers to themselves by that name? Many of these people prefer to call themselves ‘self-employed.’ Other terms that may be used in place of freelancing are:
- Contract work – a contract job is the one you only have to work on until the end of the contract, usually on a short-term basis.
- Independent contractor – this is the same as a freelancer. It is, however, the official classification by the IRS.
- 1099 – 1099 is derived from the tax form used by freelancers: 1099-MISC, as opposed to the W2 used by full-time employees. Whenever someone mentions a 1099 job, they basically mean freelancing.
- Contract-to-hire – a contract-to-hire means exactly as it sounds. Sometimes, a job may be available on a permanent basis. However, the employer will offer the opportunity to a freelancer who will be on a short ‘probation period’ and will be promoted to permanent employment if satisfied with the services.
Other individuals that are worth mentioning include:
- Moonlighters – these are people that are permanently (or temporarily) employed elsewhere but will work as freelancers in addition to their day jobs.
- Freelance business owners – these freelancers are sometimes referred to as sub-contractors. They are trained and skilled in a particular field and have worked as freelancers in that industry for a while. As work becomes more, they get outside assistance by employing other freelancers who will work under them. Their job is to communicate with their clients directly and pass down the message to their juniors.
The rise of the gig economy
The freedom that freelancing comes with is the main driving factor for the high number of people shifting towards this trade. With the rise of the gig economy, freelancing is now more popular. The onset of the Coronavirus pandemic made it shoot even higher as many organizations were forced to embrace the remote working culture. This enabled the employees to seek alternative sources of income, resorting to freelancing.
According to various sources of data, it is estimated that over 1.1 billion people were actively involved as freelancers in 2020. Well, this information wouldn’t really be a surprise based on the gradual rise in the popularity of freelancing over the last couple of years.
For instance, a Forbes study found that between 2005 and 2015, 94% of all the new jobs created were either freelance or temporary gigs. This clearly shows that there has been a rising demand for freelancing jobs across various niches and industries, with a steady decline in the popularity of traditional 9-5 jobs.
How does freelancing work?
Being a freelancer means being self-employed. You are your own boss, and you manage everything in the business. This means you are supposed to handle your marketing, sales, customer engagement, handling the finances including paying taxes, and many other roles on top of the services you provide.
Although all freelance gigs are done differently, there are a couple of similarities. For instance, both the freelancer and the client must agree on the terms of the job, the rates to be provided, the payment procedures, etc., even before starting working. While most gig workers would not mind getting paid after the job is done and approved, some prefer partial payment before beginning the work.
Depending on the nature of the job, a client can get a freelancer to do the work for them for a short-term or part-time agreement. For instance, if you hired a freelance photographer to take headshots of you, once they do that, it is the end of that project. Others pay freelancers to work for a specified amount of time, such as the number of hours per week. This arrangement is usually referred to as a ‘retainer’ model.
This method of payment is mainly popular in the legal field. This means that the person involved will set aside a time every week for the client and will bill them at the end of the month whether or not the full time is used up.
Apart from being beneficial just to the workers, freelancing is also highly helpful to employers in many different ways. For starters, you get value for your money when you hire freelancers. For instance, instead of hiring a web developer on a permanent basis, what will they be doing whenever you don’t have work for them?
Remember that at the end of it all, you still have to pay them. In the case of a freelancer, you only pay for the specific job done. Furthermore, you can also get into an agreement to pay by the hour. This ensures that the employees dedicate the required amount of time to your projects, enabling you to maximize productivity.
How to become a freelancer?
Making the decision to become a freelancer is the first step to realizing your dream of financial freedom. To become a freelancer, you must first master the basics, which includes things like:
1. Picking out a niche to focus on
Understand your expertise and qualifications to know which services you can offer that people would be interested in buying. Even though you may handle several other things at a go, it is crucial to make a name for yourself in one specific field.
This means you’ll become the go-to person whenever someone needs such services. If you do your job well, you have better chances of landing more clients even through referrals.
2. Register your freelance business
Depending on the region you live in, you may be required by law to register your freelance business with the authorities. This enables the government to effectively control the trade and also keep records of those working in their jurisdiction. The laws apply differently to different cities or countries.
For instance, if you wish to become a freelancer in Dubai, you will have to get a freelancer permit before starting your business. If you are not a citizen, you will first have to apply for a freelance visa. Failure to do so might land you in trouble with the authorities.
3. Getting the necessary tools to get you started
All freelancing jobs are different, and so are their requirements. Depending on the niche that you decided to go with, you should ensure that you are well-armed and ready to take on any projects without struggling due to the lack of extra materials.
In many cases, you will require a computer and a stable internet connection as a basic requirement. For gigs such as freelance content writing, you’ll need more than just that. You will also have to look for plagiarism software, spellchecker tools, SEO tools, etc.
Starting a freelance photography business means that you have to purchase the right equipment, such as a good DSLR camera, artificial lighting equipment, photo editing software, etc.
4. Work on a few projects for free or at a cheap rate
The first question you’ll always be asked whenever applying for a freelance job, regardless of the industry you’re in, is “show us your samples.” If you’ve never worked on any projects before, it will be challenging to land the gig as the employers won’t know how you handle your assignments. Furthermore, it will also help them get a glimpse of what you can offer them and whether it is up to their standards.
If you don’t have any samples or a portfolio ready, then just know it will be quite challenging to get employed as a freelancer. So what do you do to salvage the situation? The best move is to offer your services pro bono or at a subsidized price to friends and family.
If it is a photography gig, you can decide to offer free photography shoots freely to those you are close with. If it is food photography you wish to major in, start by taking quality shots of your own food and edit them accordingly. You can also talk to the management of your local eateries and offer to take pictures for them that they can use for commercial purposes.
Even though you may not get a substantial financial gain from doing this, you increase your creativity and experience. You also get to make your portfolio even better, and whenever you’re now in the field searching for work, the potential clients can easily get impressed hence increasing your chances of landing a job.
5. Start scouting for work.
Applying for work as a freelancer might be the most challenging moment in the life of a freelancer. But did you know that it doesn’t have to be that hard to land good freelance clients? While following some good practices and tips, you will land your clients in no time.
For starters, ensure that you have your portfolio ready. This can be both printed and digital copies that showcase your best previous works. Furthermore, your CV should stay updated at all times, indicating all the necessary qualifications that might increase your chances of landing that particular job.
The next thing to do is to create accounts and subscribe to job boards and freelancing websites. Here, you can advertise your expertise and keep monitoring the job boards for any job posting that might interest you. When the client wants a service done that you think you can handle, it is now time to reach out to them. There are also other methods of landing new freelance clients, such as cold pitching.
5 things to consider before becoming a freelancer
Have you made up your mind to become a freelancer? Great news. Before you get started, here are a few things that you need to keep in mind:
1. Successful freelancing takes time.
For any business to succeed, you ought to set realistic goals. The same applies to freelancing. Here, money doesn’t just start flowing overnight – it takes time. Don’t get into freelancing expecting to begin minting the following day, more so if you’re just getting started and have no client working with you at the moment.
Some freelancers that create accounts on freelance job boards such as Upwork, have complained of not landing a single client for months. This shouldn’t discourage you; take your time, and all will be good soon enough.
2. Personal health is vital.
Whenever you decide to follow the path of freelancing, you stand to risk overlooking other aspects of life. One of these is your personal health. As a freelancer, you may get bundled with so much work that you forget to take care of yourself. Here are a few tips that will help you to watch over your personal health as a freelancer:
- Have a designated room as your work-from-home office. Ensure that it has adequate lightning with as much natural light as possible. Your brain tends to think well when working in an ideal environment that it is used to. If you keep on switching the places you work from, your productivity will significantly reduce.
- If you work from home, ensure that you have the right furniture. The chair that you use should be built to protect your back when seated for long hours working.
- Always remember that cleanliness is next to godliness. Your personal hygiene is essential and as such, ensure that you begin your day all fresh and that your workstation is clean at all times.
- Eat healthily. It is no brainer that most freelancers have a tendency to ‘over depend’ on snacks and junk food. Limit your intake of such foods and always resort to eating healthy food at all times. Take plenty of fluid too, to keep your body hydrated at all times. You’ll be surprised at how much work you can do when properly fed and hydrated.
- Create a healthy work-life balance. This is yet another major problem that many freelancers face. Many of them have turned into introverts, spending much of their time in their workstations glued to their computers. Their social life suffers a lot, and if you’re not careful, you might lose social contact. Create time for your extra-curricular activities and quality time to spend with friends and family.
3. Proper finance management is key.
When working as a freelancer, you may not have a regular payment structure, unlike those in the formal employment sector. Some clients will pay you by the hour, per project, or after a couple of days or even weeks. That said, you do not have a clear structure of how your income generation is like.
This means you need to start planning for your finances to not run into financial problems along the way. You should figure out your monthly expenditure vis-a-vis your earnings. You also need to set a target for every month and figure out how much work you need to put in to achieve that goal.
Even though watching out on what you spend your money on is crucial, it is advisable to identify the key spendings that you must put aside, such as for emergency purposes or to take care of yourself during a scenario where there’s a delay in payment.
4. Don’t quit your day job yet.
Don’t make the mistake of quitting your day job to get into freelancing full time, more so if you’re just getting started. The best thing to do is to moonwalk for some time, as you get a better glimpse of what awaits you should you decide to venture into freelancing fully. You can even start by working over the weekends as a freelancer and see if it is possible to take up this new path full-time.
5. Have a firm hand approach
As you get into the world of freelancing, you’ll come to interact with different types of people who will treat you differently. To save yourself much trouble that many freelancers undergo, always have a contract handy with you to have your clients sign before beginning the work. This will set forward the rules from the onset of your relationship on how things will be handled.
A comprehensive contract should cover instances such as the expected pay, the frequency of payments, when the payments should be made, what times you’ll be available for contact or communication with clients, etc. This will hinder clients who overload you with work and expect you to work during ungodly hours.
You should also learn to be more of a ‘no’ person. Whenever you get approached with an offer you think may not work well for you, refuse it. You should also refuse to work with some difficult clients that will only give you stress. Having a firm stand will be one of your greatest weapons as a freelancer that you need to have with you at all times.
Is freelancing for you?
Freelancing is becoming a popular work model that millions are embracing every other day, but is it ideal for everyone? Of course not. One needs to perform a self-analysis to determine whether freelancing is for them. One of the best ways to do so is to weigh both the advantages that you may get and the drawbacks associated with freelancing.
While it all depends on an individual, we have compiled a list of the pros and cons of freelancing to help you get started with your decision:
Advantages of freelancing
- You are your own boss
- Flexible working hours
- The freedom to work from anywhere
- The freedom to choose which clients you wish to work for
Disadvantages of freelancing
- No steady or reliable workload
- This is a loner’s career, and you can easily become isolated when working on your projects
- You may not be entitled to employee benefits or perks working as a freelancer.
The main challenges you may encounter as a freelancer
The road to freelancing may not be a smooth one. Here are some challenges that you may encounter when you decide to become a freelancer:
- It can take time to land a good client
- It can take you a long time to make a self-sustaining full-time income.
- You must have good organizational skills to manage several clients at once
There we go – everything that you need to know about freelancing. The fruits of a successful freelancing business are sweet, but then you will initially have to face its bitter roots: the constant rejection, the inability to find good clients, etc. We hope that this post will open your eyes better to help you determine which career path you’d like to take.
As you have seen, becoming a freelancer isn’t as hard as people perceive it to be. All you need is to identify your niche, have the relevant materials ready, and scout for work either through cold pitching or through freelance job boards.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q: Can you make a lot of money as a freelancer?
A: Yes. Many people have successfully made a name for themselves just through freelancing. Some of them are even said to be making over $1,000 an hour through their freelancing projects.
Q: What are the biggest challenges of becoming a freelancer?
A: Like any other business, freelancing also presents its challenges, which you can easily avoid when you use the right techniques. For starters, it might be challenging to land on good clients for the first couple of days (or even weeks).
Apart from learning the necessary skills for your trade, you also have to master other related things such as proper organization, finance management, marketing, etc. These are the roles you’ll have to assume when you become your own boss.
Q: Must you have a computer to become a freelancer?
A: No. it is not a must for you to have a computer to become a freelancer. There are many factors that determine this, and one of them is the nature of the job. For instance, you may not really need a computer to perform your duties in event management, hairstylist, and many more.