What Is Freelancing? A Guide to Freelance Work

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These days, more and more people are turning to side hustles to supplement the earnings from their 9 to 5. In fact, a good paying side hustle can boost your income much faster than the path that most people are on – waiting and hoping that the 2% raises they get at the end of each year will someday begin to add up. 

But not all side hustles are created equally. Too many jobs in the gig economy require that you work a lot of hours for little pay. You can only make so much money delivering food or driving for Uber. Freelance work offers so much more. But what is freelancing, and how does it work? In this article, I’ll cover the basics of freelancing as a side hustle or a full-time career. 

What Is Freelancing? 

By most definitions, a freelancer is a self-employed person who provides a service to an individual or a business. Freelancers can source clients on their own or find work through a 3rd party, also known as a freelance marketplace. Most freelancers work for many different customers, though it’s not uncommon to find consistent work with the same business. Often, a freelancer will target a specific niche until they become known as a go-to person within the community. 

Who Can Become a Freelancer? 

Just about anyone can become a freelancer. All you need is one marketable skill and there’s a good chance that someone, somewhere, will be willing to pay you for the service you provide. One thing I love about freelance work is that you don’t need a professional designation or college degree. If you’re good at something, someone is bound to notice and want to hire you.

If you are unsure if you have the necessary skills to freelance, start with your hobbies. Do you love to write? Are you a great photographer? Perhaps you have past experience with bookkeeping, or you find it easy to build a social media following. Each one of these skills can be easily monetized through freelance work.

Common Jobs Done by Freelancers

While there are no hard and fast rules about the type of jobs a freelancer can do, services of a creative nature are always in high demand, as are administrative jobs. Here’s a list of some of the more common freelance job opportunities: 

  • 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

Freelancing vs. Traditional Employment 

As a freelancer, you are in the driver’s seat. You choose the type of work you want to do, and the clients you work with. You also have control over your income, which can’t be said for most traditional, 9-5 employees. If you want to make more money, you can take on more clients or even raise your prices. And, as you gain experience, you can choose to work with better clients and command higher rates. 

This is in contrast to traditional employment, which refers to a typical employee/employer relationship. In this case, the employee agrees to perform a clearly defined role in exchange for a regular rate of pay along with some added benefits. 

While some may disagree, a traditional job provides a measure of stability not always present in freelance work. Because of this, traditional employment is ideal for anyone who prefers the predictability of a steady paycheck, and knowing what they will be doing day in day out, and who they will do it with. 

One option is to freelance as a side hustle and enjoy the best of both worlds. You maintain the steady paycheck and the benefits that come with being an employee, while boosting your income and gaining the satisfaction of building your own freelance business in your spare time.

Freelancing as a Side Hustle 

In many ways, freelancing is the perfect side hustle to balance alongside a regular 9 to 5 job, due to its flexible nature. Because you have so much control over the number of clients you take on and the hours you work, you can adjust your side hustle to fit your lifestyle. Freelancing part-time will also help you decide if you want to do something full time. It’s better to find this out before pulling the pin on your primary job.

Moving from Side Hustle to Full-Time Career

As a freelancer, you have the unique opportunity of learning all aspects of running a business. Unless you outsource tasks, you are in charge of everything, from sales and marketing to customer service and quality control. For this reason, many freelancers start out working part-time and find that their skillset (and income) reaches the point where their side hustle can become a full-time business. Of course, not all freelancers end up going full-time, but the possibility to scale your business is certainly there. 

Freelancer Success Stories: Ashley Barnett, Freelance Editor

How to Find Freelance Clients

One of my favorite ways to find clients is by joining online communities, such as Facebook groups, in the niches you wish to serve. As you interact with others, you’ll find people who require your services, and you can reach out to help. 

It’s also important to have your own website. Think of it as your home online. Not only does a website provide instant credibility, it’s the place where you can showcase the work you’ve done, display testimonials from satisfied customers, and publish things like pricing, contact information etc. If you don’t have a website, don’t let it stop you from getting started freelancing. That can come later, once you’ve established yourself. 

What Is a Freelance Marketplace? 

Did you know? There are entire websites dedicated to connecting freelancers with potential customers. These marketplaces, like Upwork, Freelancer, and Fiverr, make it possible for freelancers to find customers anywhere in the world. They also help with communication and collect payment on behalf of the freelancer. The trade off is that they keep a percentage of any money you make, as a fee for the service they provide. 

Which Freelance Marketplace Is Best for Beginners? 

Freelance marketplaces are ideal for beginner freelancers who have not yet built a portfolio of work or a steady client base. All of the websites I’ve listed above can be helpful for beginners, along with many others, however, don’t expect to make a ton of money this way. As you gain experience, I highly recommend sourcing clients on your own. It will give you more control over the rates you can charge, and the work you take on. Below is a longer list of popular freelance marketplace websites, in no particular order. 

List of Top Freelancing Websites

How Much Do Freelancers Get Paid? 

How much a freelancer gets paid depends on a number of factors, including the type of work you do, the clients you work with, the industry you work in, your level of experience, and the number of hours you decide to put in. 

Some freelance jobs pay better than others. If you’re just starting out, don’t expect to charge as much as someone who has been freelancing for 10 years. A new freelance writer might only make $10 or $20 an hour, while someone who’s been at it for a while, and is writing in a highly profitable niche might charge well over $100/hour. 

I like to think of freelancing as a journey. The further you go, the more you learn, the more you enjoy it (hopefully), and the more money you will make. 

Related Post: How to Become a Freelancer

Advantages of Freelancing 

Earlier, I compared freelance work to traditional employment. Here’s a closer look at some of the ways you can expect to benefit when you make the switch to freelance work. 


As a freelancer, you get to set your own hours. Having this flexibility is one of the biggest perks of being a freelancer. There are times when you’ll want to shift your schedule to accommodate other things. In other words, you can make your work fit your life, and not the other way around. 

Pick and Choose Your Clients 

As a freelancer, you get to choose the clients you want to work with. If a client is difficult, or isn’t paying you what you’re worth, you can decide not to work with them again in the future. Of course, when you’re starting out, it’s probably best to take whatever work you can get. 

Work from Anywhere 

Most freelancers will attest to the fact that the laptop lifestyle really does exist. Whether you’re a writer, editor, graphic designer, or web developer, all you need is your laptop and an internet connection, and you can work from just about anywhere, for clients who live all over the world.

Charge What You’re Worth 

With most 9-5 jobs, you’re limited to an annual salary, or an hourly rate. Commission sales positions may have a higher income ceiling, but no matter what, an employee’s earnings will always be a fraction of the actual profit the company makes. As a freelancer, you get to charge what you’re worth. You can also charge more as you gain experience. 

Easy to Start

Unlike most business start ups, freelance work offers a low barrier to entry. In other words, you don’t need to make a huge financial investment up front compared to if you were, say, opening a restaurant, starting a landscaping company.

Disadvantages of Freelancing 

I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t touch on some of the downsides of freelancing, and there are a few. Here’s a list of things you should also consider before launching a freelance business or side hustle. 

No Steady Paycheck 

A big perk of working a traditional job is being able to rely on a steady paycheck every 2 weeks. This isn’t the case with freelancing. You might make a pile of money in one month, and then go without any income in the 2 months following. This is why it’s so important for freelancers to maintain a solid safety net to draw on during slower periods. 

Lack of Benefits 

When you work for a large company, the job almost always comes with a full benefits package –  medical and dental, paid vacation, an employee savings plan, all of these are almost expected. Heck, you may even get a clothing allowance, or catered lunches at the office. As a freelancer, however, you’re on your own when it comes to paying for benefits. This is something you need to account for if you’re planning to transition to freelance work. 

Life Can Get Lonely

One of the most underrated things about working a 9 to 5 job is the sense of camaraderie that comes from working with a team of colleagues. As a freelancer, you’ll collaborate with others from time to time, but it’s not the same. It’s important to realize that most of your work will be done alone. Even the most introverted people can get lonely at times in this environment. If the very thought of this sounds frightening, full-time freelance work might not be right for you. 

Success Takes Time 

As a side hustle, freelancing is one of the fastest ways to start making money. That said, it can take time before you feel as though you’ve achieved a level of success. Of course, this success looks different for everyone, but I’m referring to that place where you don’t need to work so hard to find high paying clients, or your freelance income exceeds what you made in your 9 to 5 job. 

Are You Ready to Start Freelancing?  

Perhaps you’ve read this article and you’re feeling like you might be ready to become a freelancer. If that’s the case, I’m super excited for you! Freelancing is an amazing way to take control of your life, both from a career and personal growth standpoint. But deciding to freelance is only a first step. You need to decide on the type of freelance work you’re going to do, and where you’re going to find customers. 

If you have no clue what kind of service you can provide, think about the things you are naturally good at, and enjoy doing. If you love to write, consider becoming a freelance writer. If you’re a whiz at building websites,. Whatever you choose, don’t wait any longer. Remember this, It’s ok to start small, the most  important thing is to just get started. 

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Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash

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