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How to Become a Freelancer

Arjun Kohli
Arjun Kohli

Freelancers have a ton of freedom in their careers. Here are seven steps to take to become a freelancer.

Across the world, small and large companies have significantly increased their use of freelancers. If you've decided to become a freelancer, the numbers say you're on to something good. Whether your goal is to earn some money on the side or make freelancing a full-time career, you'll need to arm yourself with knowledge, a determination to learn and improve, and lots of patience. Here's how to start freelancing.

How do you become a freelancer?

The freelance market is growing by the day, and if you want to be competitive, you have to prepare accordingly. Follow these seven steps to get started.

Step 1: Consider whether freelancing is for you.

Freelancing has its pros and cons, but, in general, you must possess a specific mindset to be a freelancer. Being your own boss is a great thing if you're disciplined and reliable. Freelancing enables you to set your schedule, so you can take a day off whenever you want, but you won't be paid for that time because there is no such thing as paid leave.

If you want to be a freelancer, you should maintain a daily work routine, be ready to juggle several projects at once and continually look for new projects to maintain a steady flow of work.

If you're still working full time, don't immediately quit your job. Instead, combine freelancing and full-time work until you accumulate enough clients and connections to support yourself as a freelancer. Working from a comfortable place of steady work and safe income is a much better environment for developing your freelance business.

Step 2: Find a platform.

Most freelancers use freelancing platforms to find work. While recommendations and social media channels like LinkedIn can also be a great source of gigs, freelancing websites are popular because they allow you to effortlessly connect with clients looking for freelancers. There are always jobs available there.

Also, most of these platforms have policies and offer protection both for freelance workers and those doing the hiring. On freelance platforms, every project you take on is a mini contract, and both you and the client are required to adhere to its terms.

Choosing the platform with the model that fits your needs and salary expectations is incredibly important for your success. Plenty of freelancing websites encourage the so-called "race to the bottom," where freelancers provide poor quality work in exchange for poor compensation.

Ultimately, it doesn't help anyone – buyers cannot find good quality of work and freelancers cannot earn enough money.

Some freelancing platforms, like Hiremotely, base their business model on admitting only top freelance software developers and connecting them with clients based on very specific requirements. Being a member of such an exclusive platform allows you to connect with serious clients and get paid for high-quality work. The admission process on these types of platforms can take several weeks and include several rounds of relevant tests.

Step 3: Build your profile.

You don't have to prepare a classical CV, as most freelancing websites have a predesigned template you need to fill out with your information, but you shouldn't treat your freelancing profile as a check box exercise.

Take time to create a substantial profile that will inform potential clients about your education, skills, expertise and experience. You don't have to write novels – keep it short and sweet. List your skills, experiences, special achievements and explain why you're the best person for the job.

Step 4: Build your portfolio.

Your profile may state that you're an astronaut, but unless you upload your selfie from the international space station, potential clients are unlikely to believe you. So, when you create a profile, make sure to provide a portfolio that illustrates your skills and experience.

If you're a beginner in your chosen field, take time to create a portfolio with sample works, or simply accept several jobs at a discounted rate in exchange for experience.

Step 5: Determine your price.

While your hourly rate or project price heavily depends on your skill set and experience, don't work for peanuts.

If you have only a couple of years of experience, of course, you cannot charge the same rate as freelancers with a decade of work under their belts. However, if you eventually want to turn freelancing into a full-time job, the rate should cover your monthly expenses if you have steady work, no matter how experienced you are.

Step 6: Find work.

If you're actively looking for projects and clients, here are a few tips to help you find them.

First, apply only for the jobs you are confident you can do. There is no point in applying for a project you cannot complete on time with satisfactory results. As a freelancer, you're building your reputation from scratch, and especially in the beginning, it's of utmost importance to secure positive feedback.

When you apply for jobs, make sure you craft a relevant cover letter that explains why you're the best choice for that particular job or project. Highlight the skills and experience that are relevant to requirements.

Over time, freelancing platforms reward top-rated freelancers with badges, lower fees and access to specially tailored job offers, so it's in your best interest to keep your clients happy.

Some freelancers avoid online marketplaces because they come with the fees (usually between 5% and 20% of your earnings), which can add up by the end of the month. In that case, try to use various groups on Facebook and LinkedIn to find work. However, be aware that with these gigs, there is no contract in place and no guarantee that someone won't take your work and never pay for it. [Read related article: Should You Require Contracts as a Freelancer?]

Step 7: Focus on client relationships.

Relationships with your clients are the most important part of freelancing. By maintaining a good connection with your current clients and providing quality work, you’ll be more likely to secure more consistent jobs in the future. Make sure you meet every deadline, listen to instructions, make any necessary edits and communicate efficiently with your clients. While you aren't tied down to set hours, you should still be available to your clients in case they have any questions, requests or concerns.

Additionally, you'll want to build your portfolio to attract new clients. A good reputation is crucial as a freelancer, so make sure you are delivering your best work and earning high reviews/ratings. You can advertise your services on social media and on your website, which should be updated regularly. A strong digital presence is critical, as clients want to feel like they can trust you and your brand before working with you.

What is a freelancer?

A freelancer is a self-employed individual who offers services to a company (or multiple) without being a W-2 employee. Freelancers can take on as much work from as many businesses as they please. Ultimately, their career and workload are in their own hands.

Since they are technically contractors and not employees, freelancers must pay self-employment taxes every quarter. They also do not have access to benefits like company-sponsored retirement plans or health insurance coverage, unless they are a W-2 employer at another company.

Freelancers are most common in creative industries like graphic design, copywriting and photography. However, service-based industries offer a ton of opportunities for freelancers as well. Jobs like consulting, translation, marketing and social media management are often outsourced to contract workers.

How does freelancing work?

Freelancers typically work on a per-project basis. For instance, they might take on a certain number of projects every month and charge either by the project or the amount of time it takes them to complete it (i.e. an hourly or even daily rate).

Freelancers set their own hours and work on deadlines. For example, they might get four assignments from a client at the beginning of the month, with deadlines scattered throughout the month. Freelancers can work from any location at any hour, and they might even freelance for extra income on the side of a full-time job.

The freelance process typically goes as follows:

  • The freelancer reaches out to clients/vice versa for possible contract work
  • The freelancer tackles projects at a set price (per project, per hour, etc.)
  • The client pays the freelancer for work (taxes are not taken out of paycheck; freelancers must pay quarterly taxes)

A career in freelancing offers flexibility and a chance to hone your skills for a price that you set. If a client refuses to compensate you for your worth, you can simply reject their offer and move on to another client.

Should I be a freelancer?

There are pros and cons to freelancing, just as with anything else in life; in my opinion, the pros outweigh the cons.

Here are some of my favorite things about being a freelancer:

  • There are always work opportunities. Every hour, there are dozens of new job postings added to freelance platforms. Of course, you won't be hired for each of those, but there are plenty of offers to go around.

  • You control your schedule. You work when you want, how you want and as much as you want. You don't have to beg for days off. You don't have to get up in the morning if you're a person whose focus is sharpest late at night. With freelancing, you make the best of your peak productivity, without being tied to the office for specific hours.

  • You have an amazing opportunity to gather experience. You can work with different clients on various projects and amass experience that would be impossible to come by in a traditional office setting.

  • You choose whom you work with. If things aren't working out with a client, you can always find another one. You don't have to stick around in a toxic environment because you're afraid to quit your job.

What are the drawbacks of freelancing?

Even though there's a lot to love about being a freelancer, there are some downsides, including:

  • You need discipline and routine. If you want to be a good freelancer, you have to be self-motivated. There is no boss checking what you're doing. You're that boss. You have to be strict with yourself.

  • Sometimes there won't be work. There will be times when you'll be offered more projects than you can accept, and there will be periods when it seems that no one is hiring. To combat this, establish a stable of clients before quitting your day job.

  • Sometimes you'll work longer hours. There will be times when maintaining a steady flow of work and income means working outside of your normal working hours – in fact, you may find yourself working longer hours than when you had a regular full-time job.

  • It can take a while to get your first gig. Don't feel discouraged if you don't land a freelance gig immediately. In general, it takes anywhere from three months to a year to build connections and acquire a steady roster of clients. But once you reach that point, you'll see your career as a freelancer take off.

Additional reporting by Sammi Caramela.

Image Credit: Poike / Getty Images
Arjun Kohli
Arjun Kohli,
business.com Writer
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Results-focused Inbound Marketing consultant with a thorough understanding of automation tools, marketing funnels, content marketing, customer engagement, and community building strategies.