How To Become a Freelancer

Freelancing Tips and Steps to Success

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The gig economy has grown in recent years, with opportunities arising in a variety of industries as contract work has become more readily available. As of 2019, there were 59 million freelancers in the U.S according to research from freelancing platform Upwork.

In a separate study conducted by ADP Research Institute, about 54% of workers around the world said they are more interested in taking on contract work due to the pandemic. The study also revealed that at least 18% of the workforce in several countries preferred contract work as opposed to regular employment. If you’re wondering how to become a freelancer, you can take some basic steps to be successful.

Key Takeaways

  • A freelancer is a self-employed individual who is typically paid by project instead of an hourly wage or a company salary. 
  • Freelancing offers more flexibility and the ability to work remotely and make your schedule. But you also pay more in taxes and don’t receive employer-paid benefits. 
  • Popular freelance jobs include writing, editing, graphic design, and web development. 
  • Some of the key steps to becoming a freelancer include creating your brand, developing a network, and enhancing your skills.

What Is Freelancing?

A freelancer is someone who is self-employed, provides a service, and is typically paid by the project instead of working on the clock for an hourly wage or a company salary. They are usually contracted, obtaining their work directly from clients and setting their own rates for the work. Being a freelancer allows you to take on the work the way you see fit, giving you the ability to set your own pace and make all the decisions on how to complete the work.

Freelancing jobs can be found in a variety of industries, from writing to tutoring to social media. Freelancers may also be referred to as independent contractors or gig workers depending on their field. Some freelancers are employed full time and consider their freelance work to be a side gig, while others have enough contracts or clients to make it their full-time job. Freelancing offers plenty of flexibility, but it can also come with plenty of work. 

Is Freelancing Right for You?

Based on your own preferences, you can determine if becoming a freelancer is right for you. Compare the pros and cons of self-employment and consider your options. 

Pros
    • Flexible schedule
    • Choose your work
    • Ability to work remotely 
    • Complete work how you see fit (at your own pace)
    • Be your own boss
Cons
    • No employer-paid benefits
    • Increased Social Security/Medicare taxes
    • Buy your own supplies
    • Administrative tasks (invoicing and budgeting)
    • Finding clients

Pros of Freelancing Explained

For many freelancers, flexibility is the highlight of the job. Being able to make your own schedule allows you to make time for other things, such as family, hobbies, starting your own business, or any other responsibilities that are time-consuming. Working remotely is also a huge benefit, as it removes the need to commute and allows you to work comfortably at home. Meanwhile, those who love to travel can opt to take their work with them wherever they go.

Another benefit of working as a freelancer is having the ability to select your work and determine your rates. As an employed worker, you must complete the tasks assigned by your supervisor. As a freelancer, you can make those decisions yourself. You can decide whether you want to take a job or not and also decide how it will be performed. 

Cons of Freelancing Explained

Though there are many benefits to freelancing, there are also extra tasks involved that often take up more time and resources than being an employed worker. Freelancers usually must provide their own equipment to get the job done. Supplies like laptops, pens, notebooks, and any other supplies necessary to complete the job will be at the expense of the freelancer. 

Though the costs for supplies add up, some or all of these expenses may be deducted on your tax return as business expenses. You can calculate how much you owe on a website provided by the IRS.

The self-employed worker must also find their own clients to make their income. This can sometimes be challenging if you don’t have a network in place. Platforms like Upwork and Fiverr make it easier to connect with potential clients, though many freelancers may opt to set up their own websites. The lack of stable income could prove to be challenging, depending on the industry and potential opportunities available. 

Freelancers also pay more taxes on a W-2 form compared to employed workers. Because employers pay half the costs of social security and Medicare taxes, employees only pay half of this cost, which is conveniently deducted from one’s paycheck. These taxes are required for all workers, regardless of employment status, but are to be paid out 100% by the freelancer. The self-employment tax is a prime example of an extra task required of freelancers. They must make quarterly payments to the IRS at the rate of 15.3%.

Popular Freelance Jobs

From writing and editing to administrative roles, freelancing includes a broad range of jobs. Depending on the line of work, freelancers may also be referred to as consultants, contingent workers, flexible workers, contract workers, or simply self-employed workers. More contract opportunities have developed in more industries in recent years. The ease and ability to work remotely has given rise to the gig economy, and as of 2020, one in six workers now classify as gig workers. This growing trend includes jobs such as:

  • Administrative workers
  • Authors, bloggers, and other writers
  • Editors
  • Graphic designers
  • Photographers
  • Project managers
  • Social media managers
  • Translators
  • Tutors
  • Web developers

Steps To Becoming a Freelancer

Do you like the idea of a flexible schedule, the ability to select your own work, and basically becoming your own boss? Then you’ll need to learn the necessary steps to start landing projects as a freelancer.

Decide What Service You Will Offer

Finding your niche is an important step to becoming a freelancer. Clients often choose to hire those who they deem more specialized as opposed to those who are more general in their work. Choose a specialty by narrowing down both your interests and your strengths. As you whittle down your specialty areas, you can work on becoming an expert in your field. 

Consider looking into any certifications that could boost your credibility as a freelancer. Clients might have a preference for certified workers depending on the industry.

Create a Brand

Building a brand is an ongoing step of the freelance process. As you grow in your field, your expertise grows as well, so your brand must reflect your accomplishments and reputation. Make sure to showcase your best work in a portfolio or on a website to prove your credibility. Build on a brand by finding your niche and adding noticeable elements such as a logo or letterhead. 

Having a social media presence is beneficial, as it allows you to potentially connect with more clients. Platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook can help you gain followers who aren’t already familiar with your work. By using these social media sites, you can showcase your work and lead potential clients back to your own website.

Consider Administrative Tasks and Contracts

Being a self-employed worker means you’ll have to complete all paperwork—including taxes, contracts, and invoices—on your own. Invoices are the easiest of the three, as they are simply a receipt of the work completed and the amount owed. Contracts are important as they set the standards and rates for your work. 

Freelancing taxes, however, may be more difficult compared to the taxes of traditional workers, as the former often require a 1099 form. Freelancers on this form can also deduct their business expenses from their taxes owed. 

Make sure you understand any legal or tax-related documents you sign and hire a professional if needed. If you decide to set up a business, you’ll also have additional requirements to form an LLC.

Develop a Network

Developing a network is a critical step to finding work. Connecting with professional contacts, such as clients you’ve already worked with or fellow freelancers, is one way to grow your network. But if you’re looking to expand your network further, you can get involved by attending career conferences or joining professional associations. Depending on the industry, you may be able to build relationships and gain repeat clients. 

For example, some freelance writers working with news organizations may find long-term contract work due to the consistent need for updated news content. Graphic designers who create logos, on the other hand, may need to continuously search for connections to land new projects. Along with Fiverr and Upwork, platforms like LinkedIn and Behance can help you to connect with clients, especially if you find yourself consistently looking for new work. Some freelancers may also be able to land contract jobs that are posted on a company’s job board.

Enhance Your Skills

You’ll need to stay consistent with trends and tools to continue growing your brand. Adding certifications or relevant coursework also adds credibility and could open up more opportunities if you need more work. For example, maybe you’re a writer who covers the music industry, but you want to expand into other entertainment topics. Maybe you’re specialized in social media topics but see an opportunity to expand into marketing. With the right tools, you can expand your knowledge of these other topics. 

Build a Strong Portfolio

Depending on your field, building a strong portfolio can be a strong asset. This may be especially beneficial for graphic designers, photographers, video editors, and writers. Having samples of your previous work adds value and allows potential clients to see what you’ve accomplished. Make sure to showcase your best work that is relevant to your clients. If clients are interested in your work, they’ll be interested in hiring you for the job. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can anyone be a freelancer?

Anyone who wants to become a freelancer can do so by preparing themselves with the proper education and credentials. Different companies have different criteria for freelancers, so this will depend on their preferences. Having relevant experience, a portfolio with samples of work, and the desired skills for the job will be helpful.

How much do freelancers get paid?

A freelancer’s pay depends on many factors, including education, experience, industry, and client base. Those who have strong portfolios or who have worked with well-known companies may have the ability to increase their rates. Also, because you’re paid by the project, you decide how many projects to complete—the more projects you complete, the more pay you receive. 

How do you get paid as a freelancer?

Freelancers can get paid in a variety of ways, depending on the contract agreed upon by both parties at the start of the project. Freelancers may receive a direct deposit or a check, just as a traditional employee would, or they may receive their pay via platforms such as PayPal or Stripe.