How to Become a Freelancer

Freelance work has never been more popular. In fact, more than 57 million Americans freelanced in some capacity in 2019. That’s 35% of the US workforce! It should come as no surprise that here at Zero To Freelance we’re pretty big on freelancing, either as a side hustle or full time career. You may feel the same way, but you’re not sure how freelancing works, or you have no clue how to get started. The good news is that anyone can develop the skills required to become a freelancer. 

What is a Freelancer? 

A freelancer is someone who is self-employed and provides their services for a fee, often to a large number of clients. While freelancers are not usually committed to one client for a long period of time, it’s not uncommon to find ongoing work with the same client. 

Because freelancers do not work for a traditional employer, they have the flexibility to choose the type of work they do, to set their own schedule, and can often work at home or from a remote location. Independent contractor is another title often used to describe someone who works as a freelancer.

What Types of Services Do Freelancers Offer? 

While there are no hard and fast rules around who can work as a freelancer, the profession is more common in fields like writing, acting, film and video, music, graphic design, and web development. 

That said, just about any service can be offered on a freelance basis. Here’s a list of common freelance jobs:  

  • Freelancer writer 
  • Freelance editor 
  • Freelance virtual assistant 
  • Freelance bookkeeper 
  • Freelance social media manager 
  • Freelance graphic designer 
  • Freelance computer programmer 
  • Freelance web developer 
  • Freelance illustrator 
  • Freelance photographer/videographer

Is Freelancing Right for Me?  

While I believe most people have the ability to do freelance work, at least on a part-time basis, it’s certainly not for everyone. The following questions may help you decide if freelance work is right for you. 

Do you require a structured work environment to thrive? 

One of the benefits of most 9-5 jobs is that they provide plenty of structure for your work. You have an employer who expects you to be in a certain place at a certain time, and the accountabilities and objectives of your role are clearly laid out for you. In most cases, that is. If you require this kind of environment to thrive, then working as a self-employed freelancer might not be the best fit for you. At least, not on a full time basis. You could choose to keep the 9-5, and freelance in your spare time. 

Are you a self-starter?  

This question is closely tied to the first one. As a freelancer, you are your own boss. While this may sound appealing, it means that the only person you are accountable to is you. If you find it easy to motivate yourself to complete the most mundane or challenging aspects of a project, then you may be well suited for freelance work. 

Do you have a skill you can monetize? 

Before you go freelance, you need to decide what type of service you’re going to provide and whether you have the skill required to offer it to your clients. For example, let’s say you are interested in becoming a graphic designer. What is your experience in this field? Are you able to produce the type of quality work that will be demanded by a professional client? These days, you don’t need a college degree to make money freelancing, but you do need to demonstrate a certain level of aptitude with the work you’re doing. If you’re a whiz with applications such as Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, then you’re probably off to a good start. 

Are you willing to surrender the steady paycheck? 

This is a big one. If your goal is to freelance full-time, expect that your income will fluctuate wildly. You could go from making piles of money in one month, to making close to nothing for the next three. If the very thought of this is cause for anxiety, you might not be ready to freelance full time. One way to get over this is to build a solid financial safety net before giving up the 9-5 lifestyle. While I would recommend more, an emergency fund of at least 3-6 months worth of expenses should be considered the bare minimum. 

How Do I Get Started as a Freelancer? 

Once you’ve decided on the type of freelance work you’re going to do, you’re ready to get started. Or are you? Unless you’ve got some wonderful connections, there are a few more steps you’ll need to take before booking your first freelance gig. Thankfully, I’ve laid them out nicely for you below. This isn’t a new freelancer rulebook, rather some suggestions for you to consider. 

Pick a Niche 

This is often overlooked, but very important. While it may seem more advantageous to offer your services to anyone and everyone, you’re likely to have more success by focusing on clients within a certain niche, particularly one in which you have some expertise or experience. Let’s say that you are interested in becoming a freelance writer, and your favourite hobby happens to be cycling. You might want to start out by looking for jobs writing for a cycling website or publication. If you have a background in personal finance, offer your writing services to that niche. 

Choose A Platform

Once you have decided on the type of service you’ll provide as well as the industry you’re going to focus on, you need to figure out the best way to market your services. One of the easiest and best ways to get started is by advertising your services on a freelancer marketplace such as Upwork or Fiverr. Chances are you won’t land the highest paying gigs on these sites, but it can be a great way to land your first clients and gain some valuable experience. 

Create Your Own Website 

Having your own website is not necessary when you are first starting out, but at some point every freelancer should have their own space online, where they can promote their work and build their own audience. Consider it your homebase of sorts. These days, anyone can pick a domain and get a WordPress website up and running with a few clicks of a button. That said, don’t wait until you have the perfect website to get started freelancing. This can be done once you’ve landed a few clients, and have a better idea of the direction you want to take your business. 

Set Your Price

I’m a big believer that freelancers need to charge what they’re worth. The work you do is valuable, and that should be reflected in your pricing. That said, don’t expect to charge the same rates as someone with years of experience when you’re first starting out. Sometimes, in order to land your first job, you may be tempted to take on work for free. Many freelancers disagree with this approach, but it’s how I landed my biggest client when I started out. If you are considering this, make sure it’s a job that will lead to paid work, or at the very least, help to build your portfolio. Also, never do this more than once or twice. When it comes to your regular pricing, here’s an article that does a good job explaining how to price yourself as a freelancer.

Build Your Portfolio 

If you have examples of previous work you’ve done, build a portfolio that includes samples of your work that you can share with potential clients. One of the best ways to do this is with your own website, but as long as you can send something to a client, you’re in good shape. If you’re completely new and don’t have a portfolio, this is where you may want to discount your pricing in order to land your first couple of clients.

Land Your First Client 

You’ve decided on the type of freelance work you’re going to do, you’ve chosen your niche, and you’ve set yourself up on a couple of freelance marketplaces. All you need to do now is find your first client. This might be the trickiest part of freelance work, but it’s also the most rewarding. You need clients to make money, after all. 

One of the best ways I’ve seen to land clients is by becoming active in Facebook Community Groups in the locations or niches you’re wanting to find work in. LinkedIn is another good place to network online. As you build relationships with like minded people in those groups, including potential clients, you can let them know about the services you offer. There’s a good chance that when someone is hiring, you’ll be one of the first people they think of. In addition to social media, many websites have freelancer job boards where you can apply for jobs in your niche. 

Advantages of Freelance Work 

There are several advantages to working as a freelancer versus working a typical 9-5 job. Freelance work also has its drawbacks, which is why it’s important to know the pros and cons before you launch your freelance business. Here are some of the benefits you can expect, as well as a few disadvantages to freelance work.

Freelancing Pros 

  • Work from anywhere. While not every freelancer can work remotely, many freelance jobs, such as freelance writing or graphic design, only require a laptop and an internet connection. You’re one step closer to the much sought after laptop lifestyle.
  • You can get started quickly. If you already have the skills required, it doesn’t take long to get started freelancing. You just need to find your first client. 
  • Avoid the daily commute. This is one of the biggest benefits to freelancing. By working from home as a freelancer, you’ll save time and money by not having to commute to an office for work. 
  • It makes for a great side hustle. You can freelance on a part-time basis, alongside your primary job. The extra income can be used to pay down debt, travel, or to boost your savings account. 
  • You control your schedule. As a freelancer, you decide how many clients you want to take on, and when you want to work. In other words, you can design your work to fit around your life, and not the other way around. 
  • There are plenty of jobs available. Whether you find clients via a freelance platform such as Upwork, or other sources, there’s always someone willing to pay for the service you provide. This doesn’t mean that you’ll land every job, but there’s always an opportunity to work. 
  • It’s a great way to learn. By working on a variety of projects with a number of different clients, you’ll gain experience that you won’t find in most 9-5 jobs. You can leverage these new skills to take on larger projects, while increasing the rates you charge. 

Freelancing Cons

  • Your first client is the hardest to land. If you’re just getting started, it’s important to remember that finding your first client isn’t always easy. You have yet to build a profile of work, and you may not have that many established connections. 
  • You need to be self-motivated. As a self-employed freelancer, you are the boss. There’s no manager in the next office holding you accountable to show up everyday. As such, you need to be self-motivated, even when you don’t feel up to the task. 
  • There won’t always be work. In my list of freelancing pros, I mentioned that there will  always be jobs available. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be the one who lands them. There may be times when you don’t have work. You can’t rely on a steady paycheck every two weeks, like you can in a regular job. That’s why it’s important that you manage your finances accordingly, to account for the down times. 
  • Solo work can be lonely. While freelancers are free of the office politics typical in a 9-5, there are some real benefits to working in a team. As a freelancer, you’re often working at home, by yourself, which can get lonely. 
  • New freelancers are often paid less. When you start out, you’ll need to prove yourself. This often means accepting lower rates until you build a solid portfolio of work. My advice is to be patient, once you’re established, freelance work can pay very well.

Final Thoughts on How To Become a Freelancer  

It seems everyone has a side hustle these days. From Uber to Airbnb, millions of North Americans are finding creative ways to make extra money. The problem with many side hustles, however, is that they aren’t scalable. There’s a limit to how much income you can earn. Not only that, but you have to rely on someone else’s business model to make it happen. 

With freelance work, you own your own business and you set your own prices. You get to choose the clients you want to work with, and the amount of time you want to spend freelancing. Many freelance jobs are scalable, and you can make good money doing something you enjoy. Even if you start freelancing as a side hustle, the potential exists for it to become a full time career. So, whether you just want to make some extra money or you’re hoping to ditch the 9-5 altogether for the laptop lifestyle, I strongly recommend that you consider becoming a freelancer. 

Photo by Alizée Baudez on Unsplash

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