What is a Freelancer and What is Freelancing?

Definition and Tips to Becoming a Successful Freelancer

Freelancer Home Business
Freelancing is one of the fastest most affordable ways to work at home. Credit: M_a_y_a | Getty Images

Definition of Freelancer

A freelancer is self-employed person offering services, usually to businesses and often to multiple clients at a time. The type of work freelancers do varies. Nearly every type of service a business would need could be provided by a freelancer, including (but not limited to), marketing, such as social media marketing, copywriting, and publicity, writing, such as articles and blog posts, technological support, such as web programming and design, creative works such as graphic design, and financial support, such as bookkeeping.

 

According to the Freelancers Union, 55 million Americans--35% of the workforce--have freelance careers, with a combined estimated earning of $1 trillion a year. 

Freelancing is so flexible, you can set your own hours, working full or part-time on the projects of your choice. While clients can offer specifications to the work, a freelancer works similar to an independent contractor, in which he's free to control how the work is completed. This is an important distinction for tax purposes, because the IRS views employees and independent contractors differently.

Further, freelancing allows you to set your own price, which is often higher than what you'd make as an employee doing the same work. 

The regularity of freelance work can vary. Many freelancers work for the same set of clients over a long period of time. For example, a freelance writer might have a client that requires an article twice a week ongoing.

Others work with clients over shorter periods, usually on specific projects. For example, a freelance web designer might build a website for a client and once the site is done, so is the work relationship. 

Advantages of Freelancing

There are several perks to working as a freelancer, including:

  • Get started quickly...today even. As long as you already know the skill you plan to offer, getting started is simply a matter of finding your first client.
  • Easy to start. You can start right now, using your network find a client. While you'll want to build a LinkedIn profile and/or a website, you can network within your current career and friend networks to find your first client.
  • Affordable. Odds are if you have the ability to provide the service, you also have whatever equipment or software you need to deliver it. Eventually you'll want to invest in business building tools, such as a website, but using LinkedIn (which is free) is a great online resume that can help you promote your service.
  • High demand for help. While the marketplace of freelancers is competitive, the need for quality, reliable freelancers is growing. Many businesses don't have employees and instead have a team of freelancers. 
  • Choose your own schedule. Work when and where you want.
  • Pick and choose clients. While in the beginning you may take any client that will hire you, as you grow, you can choose not to take on difficult clients. You can even fire them.
  • Do the work the way you see fit. While you need to deliver what the client asks, how the work is done is up to you.

Disadvantages of Freelancing

Where there's a good, there's usually a bad. Here are some disadvantages to freelancing:

  • Can take time to build a steady clientele. Getting enough clients to make freelancing something that supports you and your family can take awhile. 
  • Work can be irregular. Many freelancers experience an ebb and flow in their work. You need to plan for lean times, and be ready to work hard to deliver work on-time when work is plentiful.
  • Managing multiple clients and projects can be a challenge. While some people like the variety of working on several projects at a time, others may find it difficult to keep track of deadlines and pace themselves to deliver quality work on time. Great time management systems and organization is key.
  • Pay may be low to start out. Especially in today's digital economy, many people expect to pay less for work from a new freelancer. Breaking in with lower costs may be needed, but as quickly as possible, seek to charge what you're worth and find clients willing to pay for quality.

What's the Difference Between a Freelancer and Home-Based Service Business?

There really isn't a difference between freelancing and a home business. Both are self-employed individuals and can work for several clients at a time. Both can set their own schedules and have to abide by the same self-employment tax rules

With that said, there are a few differences between freelancers and home business owners. A freelancer often works under his own name, where as a home business owner usually creates a business name. Often a home business owner has found way to fill a gap in the market whereas a freelancer works within the established needs of the market. 

How to Get Started as a Freelancer

Getting started as a freelancer is as easy as visiting one of the freelance sites to find work, and networking with your current sphere of influence to find your first client. Here's steps to building a freelance career:

1. Decide what you'll offer. Common freelance work includes writing, web design, graphic design, photography, marketing, social media management, bookkeeping and more. 

2. Determine your target market. Who needs what you have to offer? Decide if you'll specialize within a specific niche of your service (i.e. copy writing or WordPress web design) or within a specific market (i.e. writing for Realtors or web design for authors). This is the time to decide your brand and unique selling proposition.

3. Create an online portfolio. Start at LinkedIn, a social network all about career networking. Build a profile that promotes the benefits you have to offer. Consider setting up a website, which will offer you more customization and flexibility than LinkedIn. 

4. Set your prices. Make sure you charge enough to cover your overhead, time to do the work, as well as to earn a living.

5. Start reaching out to find clients. Use your network to help you connect with potential clients. Consider using a freelance site, such as Freelancer.com or Upwork (formally eLance and Odesk) to find work. While they may pay less than you want, it can be a great way to get experience, testimonials and referrals

Freelancing is a fast and affordable way to get started working as your own boss from home. With that said, there are pros and cons, and success comes from those who plan their business and deliver high quality work. 

Updated by Leslie Truex Feb 2017