How to Become a Freelancer: Part 1
How To Become a Freelancer, Part 1 of 2
When you hear the word “freelancer,” the first image that may pop into your head is of someone wearing pajamas, typing on his or her laptop while sipping coffee and calling it “work.” While this is true[-ish], this person is a legitimate, self-employed worker who makes money from home.
Freelancing is one of the greatest gifts of the 21st century. It gives people the option to choose their line of work, hours, clients, and most importantly, their rates. When you’re a freelancer, you call the shots.
If you want to start freelancing, here are some ways you can start:
- Learn the basics of freelancing
- Decide what kind of work you want to do
- Familiarize yourself with freelance work platforms
- Set your rates
- Build your client base
- Set your routine
The Basics: How Does It Work?
Freelancing takes every aspect of work and gives you responsibility for all of it. Freelancers do the work they’re good at for clients that pay them rates they set for themselves.
The most difficult part of freelancing is finding opportunities to do your work. If you’re a writer, you can write all day long–but you’re not a working writer until someone pays you to write.
Fortunately, freelance platforms exist. If you’re serious about freelancing, you must create an account on one of the websites available for you. Freelance platforms operate similarly to employment sites like Indeed, Glassdoor or Monster, but they’re for freelancers looking for one-time projects and long-term gigs.
More employers and companies are looking for freelancers because it costs less for them. They don’t have to worry about benefits or taxes. It’s important that you find a platform that has a positive reputation in the freelance world, and that help you stay away from employers who may be trying to scam you.
These are the most popular platforms today, but there are over 70 other legitimate websites for freelancers to find work.
As soon as you create a freelancer account, you’ll have the chance to specify what kind of work you do, your rates, and upload examples of your work. You can also add links to your website, online portfolio or social media. Lastly, definitely add a short paragraph telling clients why they should hire you.
What Kind of Work Can You Do As a Freelancer?
Freelance work can be anything you want it to be, but some skill sets are more common in the community:
- Content Creating
- Virtual Assistant
- Graphic Design
- Social Media Coordinator
- Voice over
- Data entry
- Website or Software Development
After you check out a freelance platform that suits your line of work, you’ll have to specify what kind of work you do. What are your strengths? If you’re transitioning out of high school or college, look at the classes you excelled at.
If you killed it in English, then consider being a writer. If you participated in the yearbook or film club, you could be a freelance editor or videographer. If you’re super organized, you could be a virtual assistant or apply for data entry positions.
How Do You Get Paid?
Before you can get paid, you have to set your rates. Freelance rates fluctuate with the amount of hours you work. At first, choosing your rate can feel overwhelming, but it all comes down to just picking a number that seems appropriate to you.
Don’t overthink your initial rate too much. When you get hired by a client, there will be an opportunity to discuss an appropriate rate. You can always negotiate and find a rate that is fair to you both.
Clients want to save money by hiring freelancers, but you also need to be paid fairly for your time and efforts. Once you learn more about the position you’re being considered for, you’ll get a better idea of your workload. Once you and your client establish a rate, you can get to work and get closer to that paycheck!
However, with great pay comes great taxes. (Read Part 2 of this series: How to do Taxes as a Freelancer).
After you figure out your rate, post it up and work away! You’ll get paid securely through the platform, but always make sure the payment is protected. This means that the freelance service website runs regular security checks on clients, and have verified that their payment methods are secure.
How often you get paid depends on the kind of freelance gigs you get.
For a one-time project that takes less than a week to finish, you’ll get paid at the end of that week.
If you’re hired to do a one-time project that takes more than two weeks, you can choose to be paid every week until the project is finished. This is often referred to as “pay by milestone,” which means that you and your client set the milestones. You can withdraw payment when you have completed that milestone.
If you’re fortunate enough to land a longer term position like a virtual assistant or booking agent, you’ll get paid with a regularly scheduled paycheck.
How Do I Build a Client Base?
If you start strong and do great work for your first client, you’ll create a good impression and build a reputation for yourself on the platform. Ask your clients to leave positive reviews on your profile, and soon, it will feel like you’re not looking for jobs anymore. Instead, clients will be coming to you.
Your goal is to get to the point where you don’t have to apply for jobs anymore: Clients will ask you to apply or simply offer you a job based on your profile reviews and your repertoire.
Use social media, make a website–go the whole nine yards. Chances are clients can stumble upon your business unexpectedly and want you to contribute to their brand.
Ultimately, once you get the ball made and rolling, your client base will build itself if you consistently put out quality work.Your reviews and samples speak for themselves. Then, you can sit back and let things happen on their own.
How Do I Set a Routine?
At its core, freelancing is flexible. But you have to treat it seriously.
If self-discipline isn’t your strongest suit, schedule yourself a set time every day to get your work done for clients. Breaking down what tasks you need to do to complete the project also helps.
It’s easy to set a work routine when you remind yourself: You’re getting paid for your time. If you submit rushed, half-baked work, you’ll still get paid but there’s a chance you won’t be hired by that client again. Aside from losing a repeat customer, it will reflect on your reputation, and you want as many positive reviews as possible on your profile.
Is This Legit?
Most are, some aren’t. Be careful of scams. You should never have to give your social security number online for anything (in fact, only offer such information in-person and written down; even sharing via phone call or text is unsafe). When you get your profile set up, you’ll have to provide your banking information (a routing and account number).
Never take your conversation outside of the platform unless you signed an independent contractor’s agreement with your client, or if your work is long-term. For one-time projects, providing personal information like your email and phone number isn’t necessary.
As a solid rule of thumb, use the more popular platforms rather than those that have little or less freelancers on it. Use your best judgment and don’t feel tied to one platform.
Like I said earlier, there are more than enough platforms to choose from. You can consider joining another platform later in your freelance career when you feel like you’re ready for more work or when you’re not getting enough work, and would like to try another marketplace to sell your skills.
Click image for downloadable checklist
Challenges with Freelancing
Freelancing sounds pretty great so far, but like any job, it comes with its fair share of challenges.
All of the work you do is self-motivated. To be a great freelancer, you have to be a self-starter. You still have a boss, but she doesn’t have time to call you and tell you to start working. That’s the whole reason she hired you: Clients need reliable freelancers that can get work done without a lot of direction or oversight.
Some days, you’re not going to feel like working. When you work for multiple clients, you’ll be working every day. You can choose when you work, but you will still be busy. However, freelancing also means that you can work super hard for three days straight so you can have a longer weekend.
Sometimes, freelance work isn’t consistent. A client may just stop communicating with you out of the blue. Maybe he got everything he needed, and now you have to move on to the next job without a fair warning.
When it comes to something as flexible as freelancing, efficiency is the name of the game. The advantages of freelancing balance out the challenges.
Is This a Smart Move for Me?
It’s a smart move for anyone. Everyone has strengths; you might as well use it to your advantage.
I don’t recommend freelancing while you’re still in school. I recommend it for transitional periods.
Some transitional times when freelance work would fit well into someone’s schedule are summers in between school semesters, from graduating college to the professional workforce, or in between jobs.
If you quit your job but still have to pay the bills while you’re looking for another one, freelancing is a great way to go. You might even find it possible to completely support yourself full-time.
I made an Upwork account on the night of my college graduation. Four days later, I had my first writing job. My first client left a glowing review, and I kept submitting proposals. Now, four months later, I write full-time for three clients and I have a virtual assistant position that I love.
Getting paid to do the work you enjoy, while setting your own hours and compensation, is possible by freelancing. It gives you the freedom to travel and schedule activities throughout the day that you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.
In other words, freelancing can let you live your best life. And what’s a better life than the one where you can do what you love?