The nature of employment is shifting. Workers of the past often stayed with the same company for most of their career and retired with a nice, company-provided pension. But today, that’s not the case.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median tenure for employees in 2018 was just 4.3 years for men and 4 years for women — a stark difference from the old days. People change jobs frequently in today’s world, giving way to the rise of the “gig economy.”
This new economy, consisting of contract work and one-off jobs, is a great way to earn money from home or simply supplement current income. Without relying on a single salary, workers can now control their income, work schedules, and lives.
It’s no wonder so many people want to jump into the exciting world of remote freelance work. But where do you even begin? How do you get started? And how do you achieve the freedom of working remotely from anywhere and become your own boss?
Keep reading below to get all the answers and start your freelance journey today.
What is Freelancing?
In the simplest sense, “freelancing” refers to a worker who isn’t tied to one particular company or business and works on their own terms. Rather than having a “boss,” freelancers have clients. An easy way to think of freelancers is as a single-person business offering services to multiple customers.
A freelancer picks and chooses who they’re going to work with and what they’d like to do. Because these types of workers aren’t tied to any company, they’re often free to move around as they please and only work on projects they’re interested in.
The lines do get blurred when workers are deemed “independent contractors” but function, in effect, like employees. These contract workers often get lumped in with freelancers but have little in common with them and, for clarity, are not included here.
Who Can be a Freelancer?
Anyone! Yes, that’s right. All you need is a marketable skill to get started as a freelancer.
There are no rules about what skills can or can’t be offered (assuming it’s legal), so regardless of your skillset, you can begin freelancing today! Start With a Skill
What’s the first thing a business needs? A product!
This is different from manufacturing a product, though, because freelancers offer a service. So, the “product” of your new business is whatever service you specialize in. This can be nearly anything.
Some of the most common services people freelance with include various tech-related fields like programming and web development. Still, there are so many more options to choose from!
If you’re not as tech-savvy, you can freelance as a writer, graphic designer, musician, voice actor, or something else — the possibilities are nearly endless.
So, the first step is finding what your “product” will be. Consider the skills you already have and can put to use, or learn a new one entirely. This portion all comes down to what you want to focus on and the type of work you like.
Make a Portfolio
Once you’ve decided on the what, it’s time to get to work so you can convince the clients on the why! When first starting out, this step often seems intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be.
As a freelancer, you need a body of past work you can point to and say, “this is what I can do.” Unlike applying for a job, clients don’t really care about your resume. Most people don’t want to hear about where you went to school and don’t care about your GPA. You’re offering a service; show them what that service looks like with your past experience.
If you don’t have past experience, then it’s time to get some! That doesn’t mean you need to run out and get a regular job related to what you want to freelance in, but it does mean you should put your skills to the test independently.
If you’re a writer, go ahead and start coming up with articles, blog posts, advertising copy, or anything else you want to showcase and start writing even without a client. If you’re a graphic designer, start creating mock-up logos, websites, etc. for real brands or fictitious businesses you made up.
At the end of the day, potential clients want to see what you’re capable of. If you can show them you know your stuff and do good work, they’ll be interested in giving you a shot.
Marketing Your Services
Finally, you’ve got the what down, and you’ve got an impressive portfolio of work to explain the why…what next? This is where things get contentious among freelancers, so let’s look at the options.
Starting With a Platform
The most common answer you’re likely to find when looking for information about freelancing is “signing up for UWorkit.com platform.” You’ve probably seen ads for these companies before, and they come with some pros and cons.
Platforms like Upwork and Freelancer (among others) do have significant benefits for new freelancers. Unlike more traditional methods of freelancing, these sites offer freelancers hot leads every single day. You don’t have to hunt and look for companies that may need your services.
Instead, you log in to the platform and see thousands of potential clients needing work done. If you see something you like, send them a proposal, and bid on the project. If they like your offer the most, they’ll accept it, and you can begin work. Easy peasy, right?
Yes, it is easy, but there are some drawbacks as well. Potential clients on Upwork and Freelancer are often known for being unreasonable with pricing expectations. That’s because they’re usually looking to outsource jobs to cheaper countries (which is to your benefit if you’re somewhere with low living costs!). However, that’s not always the case, and it’s not an issue with the platform itself so much as the clients using it. Proper vetting and search parameters allow you to avoid this issue.
The real cons with a platform are the rules and fees associated with them. For example, Upwork (one of the most popular freelancing marketplaces) charges a 20% fee on the first $500 for each new project. That fee does lower as you work with a client for longer, but that’s no small amount for any new freelancer.
Also, freelancers must use tokens called “connects” to bid on various projects. These are inexpensive ($0.15/connect) and were instituted to reduce spam on the platform. However, it is still something to keep in mind.
And lastly, there’s no guarantee your profile will be approved. Suppose you’re starting out in a field that already has thousands upon thousands of freelancers. In that case, your chances of approval may not be high. If you can’t bring something unique to the table, there is a chance you’ll be rejected.
Starting From Scratch
If you decide you’d like to start on your own with no platform, then there are some other pros and cons to consider. Before getting into the differences, it’s also important to note that you can do both. Many freelancers use platforms as a part of their process but don’t rely entirely on them.
When you go the road alone, there are no third-party rules placed on you. There’s no need to worry about keeping communication on one platform. You won’t have to worry about unfair client feedback hurting your “rating.” And one of the most significant benefits: no fees associated with the platform. However, there are still fees for many payment processors like PayPal and Stripe, so you will need to factor those in.
The main pros are that you get paid when you’d like and can create the rules to make your own contract.
Want to be paid 50% upfront? Do it. Want to be paid net-10 after completion? Go for it. Want to use an escrow service? That’s up to you.
With no platform, you make up the rules for your business and set your own terms. This, and no platform fees, are the most significant pros of working independently from platforms.
But while there are many great things about working alone, there are some negatives as well–the most significant being that you’ll need to network and hunt for clients, a lot.
With no dashboard of hot leads in front of you each day, you’ll need to get creative in the ways you look for new work. You can utilize LinkedIn to network and respond to companies looking for freelancers, start a marketing funnel of your own, or just try out some old-fashioned cold calling and cold email outreach.
This takes time and effort that you won’t be getting paid for, so it’s essential to keep in mind when evaluating your options. However, as you’ve been freelancing longer, you’ll be able to start taking advantage of referrals. Referrals are one of the single-best tools freelancers have for maintaining a consistent workload.
Learn About the Boring Stuff
And lastly, before you begin your freelance journey, you need to learn the boring stuff. That means taxes, regulations, business accounts, and all the other not-so-fun stuff. These areas all require specialized advice depending on your location and personal situation, so there’s no one-size-fits-all answer here.
You’ll need to consult with local professionals and governing bodies to learn your obligations as a freelancer and what your tax burden will look like. Though there’s no specific advice here, there is one takeaway that’s crucial for all freelancers: Yes, you do owe taxes.
If you’re in the US, that means you’re going to learn about the wonderful world of self-employment taxes and filing quarterly estimates. However, rest assured that these topics aren’t impossible, and there’s excellent software available for self-employed freelancers to make things easy.
It’s just important to remember that you can’t ignore your obligations, so start strong with an organized approach to keep things easy come tax season.
Get Out There
Once you’ve got a defined skill set in mind, a portfolio to back it up, and the knowledge of how to move forward, there’s only one thing left to do. Start freelancing!
Whether you’re an experienced programmer or a brand-new copyeditor, there’s no reason not to start your freelance work today. For some, it will lead to a life of freedom of working on your own schedule doing only the job you want. For others, it may only add a bit of extra income at the end of the month.
Regardless of your situation, though, there’s no good reason not to get out there and put your skills to the test and start freelancing today!