Freelancing is the act of working a self-employed job in which an individual sells work or a service by the hour, day or per project. A freelancer does not work for a single employer in a salaried position but, rather, a variety of clients.
While a freelancer may provide ongoing work to a single employer a freelancer generally works with various clients and is hired on a one-time basis to complete a project.
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The Freelancing Process
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Freelancing - Summary
Difficulty Level: Beginner Friendly
Freelancing is considered to be a beginner friendly business model because ample experience is not required to start booking jobs.
Most freelancers can begin job searching once a portfolio is set up with at least a few work examples.
Startup Costs: $0-$50
Becoming a freelancer costs very little in startup costs due to the nature of the job. Because most of the work is done online, all most freelancers need is a computer to get started.
There is also the option to create a website to host writing examples through free sites like WordPress or through social media sites like LinkedIn.
Timeframe: 0-2 months
The average timeframe for someone to begin making money in a freelance position is 0-2 months. Freelancers can begin earning money immediately based on how quickly they are hired for a job as well as the length of the job.
One way to begin earning faster is to submit to as many jobs as possible in the beginning. Take the time to create cover letters, brush up your resume and perfect your freelance examples for every potential client.
A beginning freelancer may only earn $25 their first gig but it can happen as fast as the next day. As time goes on and more experience is acquired, more money can be made.
Profit Potential - $100,000/annually
The potential profit of running a freelance business is upwards of $100,000 annually.
The average annual salary for a freelancer is around $65,000 however more it’s not uncommon for earnings to be highest based on the size of projects and experience.
It’s important to consistently assess your work and what you should be charging. You should be slowly increasing your rates overtime the more experience you gain and the more often you work with larger companies and clients.
Pros & Cons of Freelancing
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The freelance economy is booming and is expected to experience significant growth in the coming years.
According to data collected by the Nasdaq, 43% of the United States population will be working in freelance positions by 2020.
With advancements in technology, finding work as a freelancer is easier than in years past. The majority on freelancing gigs are posted to online job boards and platforms, allowing freelancers to search and apply for work more easily.
Studies show that individuals enter the freelancing market for a number of reasons, such as:
- Extra Income - Many individuals are using freelance work to provide extra income on top of their full-time positions. The flexibility of freelance work allows for easy scheduling, even for those working regular jobs.
- Work From Home - Parents who are acting as stay-at-home moms or dads are using freelancing opportunities to contribute to their families annual household income.
- Control in the Workplace - Some individuals are quitting their full-time 9 to 5’s and opting for freelance work and the ability to become their own boss. The opportunity to self-set a schedule, hours and clientele list is an appealing concept to many.
Millennials make up a large portion of the freelancer population, more than any other age group. A recent study done by MetLife for USA Today showed that 74% of millenials were interested in freelance work and were more inclined to prefer contractual work over a full-time job.
How Does Freelancing Work
These projects may last a day, a week or even a month. The time commitment for freelance work will vary from employer to employer on an as-needed basis. One of the perks of freelancing is the flexibility as freelance work can be done as frequently as needed or wanted. Freelancing could easily become a full-time position or could alternatively be used as a side hustle for additional income. There are a number of positions for online freelancers. The most popular include:
- Writing - As a freelance writer you will construct blog posts, articles, or complete re-writes for a client.
- Content Editor - A content editor works on improving content for a client across a variety of online platforms. They design, edit, produce and manage essentially all areas of content.
- Graphic Design - Freelancers in this position will design games, applications and websites while constructing marketing ideas. They may also create graphics for emails and or/ edit images for online use.
- Marketing - A freelance marketer creates a marketing strategy for a company to help bring in an audience/customers. They may design emails, newsletters, social media campaigns and more.
- Social Media Management - Social Media Management is a smaller branch of the marketing position in which a freelancer focuses mainly on running online social sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more.
- And others.
How Freelancing Works
Clients who are looking to hire a freelancer will post jobs on an online freelance platform.
Some of the most popular websites for finding freelance work include:
Problogger is ideal for freelance writers but there are also plenty of marketing, social media management, content editing and other jobs posted on this platform.
Some of the jobs posted will ask for freelancers to apply directly through the ProBlogger portal while others will direct you to an application link offsite.
Upwork is one of the most popular platforms for freelancers to find work.
Companies looking to hire can browse through the site to find freelance writers, web developers, marketers, designers and more.
And the process for finding jobs is extremely streamlined. Simply create a professional profile on Upwork and begin submitting proposals to jobs. Upwork will also highlight jobs that are a good fit for you through the algorithm.
Once you are hired on by a client you are immediately given access to an online workspace through which you can send and receive files as well as share feedback through Upwork Messages.
All payments and invoices are also processed through Upwork with the option using direct deposit, PayPal or wire transfer.
Freelancer is a hub for online freelancing jobs ranging from writing to website design.
Search for relevant keywords on the site and Freelancer will present the most relevant results. Freelancer’s job search can return a full range of results such as:
- Small jobs, large jobs and anything in between
- Fixed price or hourly projects
- International and local jobs
- Specific skills, price and schedule requirements.
Toptal is ideal for freelancers with several years of experience under their belt.
In order to be submitted for jobs, you must fill out an application to be added to Toptal’s list of talent.
Toptal only accepts the best freelancers who have years of experience. When working with Toptal, you'll gain access to a top-tier professional network, great clients, and resources you can leverage to accelerate your career.
Creating an account on Guru is free and easy.
Employers post jobs while freelancers create profiles and submit quotes to open jobs. Employers review the quotes, communicate with the freelancers, and choose who they want to hire for specific projects.
There are four possible payment agreements between you and the client available through the Guru website.
1. Payment By Milestones
Companies can use Milestones to break a job into smaller more manageable segments. There are no limits to the number of milestones that can be created. Freelancers can invoice milestones once they are completed.
2. Payment By Tasks
Clients looking for freelancers can create tasks for work with a certain job as needed. Each task is set at a certain value based on a fixed price per unit. Invoices for tasks can be generated once they are complete.
3. Payment By the Hour
Freelancers are paid based on the time that they work and at a rate that the client sets. Time worked can be entered manually into Guru or the free TimeTracker software can be used to see timestamped screenshots of the work being done. Hourly based agreements are invoiced every week.
4. Recurring Payments
This payment agreement sets unique payment cycles and rates for a freelancer. Recurring payments can act as a retainer - the client establishes a base rate of pay and assigns additional services/tasks as needed. Invoices are paid at the end of each billing cycle.
Important Notes About Job Searching
- Some postings will have a budget for the project already in mind with a set rate while others will ask freelancers what they charge for various services.
- Occasionally a company may ask for a trial piece prior to an official job offer such as a trial articles, graphic design or marketing emails. These trials may or may not be paid depending on the employer.
- If an employer is happy with a freelancers work, they may ask them to complete additional work for the company or keep their information on file for future projects.
Once you are hired on by a company you will usually be provided specific instructions for the project to be worked on.
If you are a freelance writer, for example, your employer will provide details about the article they are requesting such as length, what should be included, whether or not you are responsible for providing images, preferred text and font and so on.
Make Money With Freelancing
Freelancers can earn anywhere from $5 to over $100/hour, depending on the work and the client. The process for becoming a freelancer begins well before you start job searching.
Pick a Niche
Decide on the craft you will specialize in and what you will market to clients. In general, the more specific you are, the better because clients look for freelancers who are experts in their field.
Avoid being too general. This tells the client that you are “good” in multiple areas but not great in the area that they need.
A niche is a specialized market and an offset of a larger market. For example, if fitness is the larger market, fitness for pregnant women might be the niche. Or body-building, marathon running and so forth. Because fitness is such a broad topic, there are opportunities for a variety of sub-categories, or niches.
In general, try to choose a niche that you have real-life experience in. Company’s can usually tell whether an individual is an expert or whether they are just spitting back information they read on the internet. However, there is nothing wrong with needing to do additional research for some projects that you may not be as familiar with.
If you aren’t sure what your area of expertise should be try the following.
Start by writing out a list of your skills and abilities and ask yourself the following questions:
- What am I good at?
- Is this niche possibly profitable?
- How can I use my skill set to my advantage?
Create a Portfolio
Create an online portfolio or website to host examples of your work, your experience, rates and contact information.
If you are a website or graphic designer, building your own website can be an example of your work in and of itself. This will show potential clients the type and quality of work you are capable of providing.
In addition, make an effort to detail what went into each project you are showcasing. Don’t simply post a link to an article or marketing strategy. Instead, go through the steps you took to bring that particular project to life. This lets potential clients see your professional process firsthand.
Your portfolio should be an example of the type of work you would like to do in the future. If your niche is writing blog posts about personal finance, make sure your website or portfolio contains examples of work related to personal finance.
And don’t forget to mention your qualifications and certificates. This may include your education, courses you have taken, certifications you have or credits you have acquired in the past.
Set Your Rate
Determining how much you will get paid as a freelancer is one of the more difficult aspects of the job.
It’s important not to overcharge potential clients and force them to go with more cost-effective competitors just as it is equally important not to undersell yourself and work harder than what you’re getting paid for.
Undercharging can be unappealing to clients because they often assume lower rates mean a less than quality service.
- Hourly: Set an hourly rate for your services.
- Per Project: Determine how long it will take you to complete a project and set an appropriate rate.
- Per Word: Freelance writers often charge clients on a per word rate. How much you charge a client is dependent on your experience. For example, these rates are fairly typical based on how long you have been working as a freelance writer:
- Beginner: 0.03-0.05/word
- Intermediate: 0.06-0.10/word
- Experienced: 0.11-0.20/word
- Expert: 0.21-0.30/word
Submit for Jobs
Begin submitting for freelance jobs online and marketing yourself to clients.
Always include your rate, examples of your work and approach the client in a polite but professional manner.
Frequently Asked Questions About Freelancing
How can I show examples of my work to clients when I am just starting out?
Freelancing can fall under needing experience while gaining experience. If a client asks for previous work and you’ve only just started as a freelancer, what do you do?
Create your own content. If you are a freelance writer, pick a topic and write a blog post or article that shows off your writing abilities. If you are looking for jobs as a freelance marketer, construct example emails and newsletters that highlight your marketing abilities. If you are interested in graphic design, create graphics for a game or app and use that as an example of your work. As you start getting jobs you will be able to start submitting published content in your job proposals.
Alternatively, you can offer to complete a few freelance pieces or projects for free to help build up your portfolio at the beginning of your freelance career.
In order to become a freelancer, do I need a certain license or certification?
The short answer is no. You can find work as a freelancer without a license or certification though this will usually be with smaller businesses. However, having a license or certification can’t hurt you - it can only help you. Companies will be looking for the most qualified freelancers and certain classifications definitely stand out on resumes.
How do I bid on a project?
One some job boards and platforms, jobs and projects are bid on by freelancers. Bidding is fairly straightforward. For example, this is how to place a bid on Freelancer:
When you find a project you'd like to bid on, click its title from the list of your searched projects to go to its main page. On the project's page, read the description carefully, and click Bid on This Project. Enter your bid amount and the number of days for delivery, choose an optional upgrade if you wish, and click Place Bid. Just make sure your profile is complete and you have the skills required for the job.
How can I avoid procrastination as a freelancer?
Most freelance positions are done from home which means you will have to set your own schedule. Unlike typical 9 to 5 jobs, there is no one holding you accountable for when you show up to work.
Combat the urge to procrastinate by making an effort to get into a routine. Perhaps the first thing you do when you wake up is an hour of job searching before beginning your work for the day. Having a calendar on hand is also helpful for knowing when certain projects for your different projects are due.
Will I get credit for my work as a freelancer?
It depends. In some cases, companies may publish your name along with an article or even have an author page for you. However, it’s not uncommon for freelance writers to be used as ghostwriter, which is the process of writing for or by the client’s name.
Even freelance marketers or social media managers are often not credited by name but are instead posting under the company or client name.
If you are worried about showing a potential client previous work that does not name you as the author, do not fret. Most companies understand that many freelance positions will not give credit. If it’s an issue, however, reach out to the client who’s project you are using as an example. In most cases they will have no issue verifying that the work is in fact yours.
How will I get paid for my freelancing work?
Again, this will vary from client to client. Some prefer to pay out through PayPal invoices, some will set up a direct deposit and other prefer to mail checks. Always verify payment method prior to beginning work for a company.