Freelancing is a profession that has been growing in popularity, mainly because of the advantages it provides. Freelancing defies traditional job standards and requirements and brings equal opportunities for people worldwide. No more job commuting, no more 9-5 workday, and dress code. People who were not able to fit into work environments and are unable to commute long distances can excel as freelancers.
However, things are not always as they seem. As with any other of these opportunities to make money online, freelancing also has drawbacks which is why the job might not be the right fit for just about anyone.
Who is a freelancer
A freelancer is a self-employed person. This person works with clients, and this often includes working with multiple clients at the same time. Freelancers offer their services to other companies or even to individuals.
In terms of working hours, a freelancing job is quite a flexible one. Usually, there are no specific work hours during the day that a freelancer needs to work which gives them the freedom to organize their day more independently, as long as they leave enough time to complete all the work by the instructed deadline. Occasionally, clients might require for a freelancer to be available during a specified period of the day, but this is something both parties should agree upon upfront.
Freelancers can do this job as a full-time job which means they will devote all of their time to finding freelancing gigs. What this means is that their income entirely depends on the work they do and the projects they complete successfully. Unlike with traditional job, freelancers do not have a fixed salary. The income usually differs from month to month.
A certain part of freelancers retains their 9-5 job and do freelancing in their free time. This is a well-known road to starting freelancing full-time. People keep their regular job until they have enough clients and experience to make their living through freelancing only. Keeping the old job provides security regarding steady income and sort of a “safety net” if things do not go as planned with freelancing.
Here are the most important advantages to have in mind when you consider becoming a freelancer:
Again, this is the best advantage one can get with freelancing. If you are not a morning person, you can set your work day to start at noon. Because, why not? The job allows you to do this, as long as you do all your tasks during the day.
As a freelancer, you work as an independent contractor. Unlike employees, you have more control of your work and you do not have obligations to complete the work you do not want. However, in this case, your reputation is at stake, and you risk losing a client.
Set your own price
Freelancers usually get paid more than employees. First of all, besides work hours freelancers also have to cover their overhead and other expenses which regular employees do not have. All of this needs to be calculated in the freelancer’s price. Furthermore, as a freelancer, you get to decide how much you are worth. You get to set your own price and only work with clients who are willing to pay that price.
Easy to start
If you already know how to provide a particular service, you most likely also have the equipment needed to do that. For example, if you are a web developer, chances are you already have a computer. This means that your costs to startup your freelancing career will be pretty minimal if existent at all.
The global economy is developing in such a way that it welcomes more and more freelancers each year. Unlike traditional employees, freelancers become a better choice for companies who prefer not having to commit to an employee and to provide long-term contracts. Instead, working with freelancers gives them more flexibility as well, which is why freelancing services are in such high demand.
As a freelancer, you can work from anywhere in the world, for any company in the world. There really should be no barriers stopping you from seeking jobs globally. This opens up so many exciting opportunities.
To realize that things are not always as ideal as they seem, you also need to take into account these disadvantages of freelancing.
Deadlines and schedules
Even if your work hours are flexible, you will be working with clients who have deadlines and busy schedules. This means that occasionally you will have to work even if you have not planned on doing so. You might also end up pulling an all-nighter when the situation is urgent. Sometimes, you might even have to adapt to the client’s time zone, which might be the opposite of yours.
No consistent work
Although you might be able to get some regular clients and ensure a relatively steady monthly income, in general freelancing is a gig work. This means that at times you will have so much work to do that you will end up sitting glued to your computer for hours. Other times, there might not be enough work. This means that you will take opportunities even if you know you are pretty busy, just to ensure that you earn enough to cover for a less busy period.
Learning to manage and prioritize
Lack of consistency in work will also require you to learn to manage your clients and tasks. From time to time, you will even have to prioritize one over the other, and you have to be able to make the right decisions because these affect your relationship with the clients.
Relying on your reputation
Many future projects will depend on your reputation. You need to have a shiny portfolio and good recommendations to be able to score better projects in the future. It is also important to maintain a good relationship with your clients and to be able to do so, you will have to be successful at communicating well with people.
Taking care of yourself
Freelancing does not come with perks such as health insurance, paid taxes, and similar expenses. These are all expenses defined by the country you live in, and you will need to take care of all of them on your own. When you are a freelancer, it is not required to start your own company to be able to work on projects, but there are specific regulations which you need to explore. Since this is a relatively new career, these regulations are frequently updated, so it is best to stay informed.
No sick/maternity leave
Freelancers usually do not have sick or maternity leave. They can take a couple of days off, and most clients will not mind that, but unlike traditional jobs, most freelancers are not getting paid unless they work and provide results.
Getting started as a freelancer
There are many different ways to start freelancing. One of the most common ways is to use freelancing websites such as Upwork, Freelancer, and many similar platforms. The main reason why these are a jumping board for those starting with freelancing is that they enable you to begin immediately. All you need to do is to create an account, and you can start browsing the jobs. Also, these platforms have established a reputation in the online world and already have a considerable number of clients looking for freelancers. You will simply browse the platform looking for the specific jobs or skills, and you instantly get access to a massive number of job posts that match such search query.
What most freelancers see as a drawback is the fact that you will mostly find less paid jobs on these platforms. Have in mind that this is not the rule. But the idea with clients who post ads on freelancing platforms is to find good freelancers usually at the lowest price. The whole system works like a sort of bidding, and your price quote is something that will usually influence the decision.
In addition, these platforms charge a fee or a membership. Either way, a certain percentage of the payment goes to the freelancing platform. This means that a certain fee will be reduced from your payment, and sometimes you will have to charge your clients more to be able to cover this fee. When placing a bid on a job proposal, you need to take a look at who is paying the fee. In most cases, the fee is deducted from the freelancer’s fee. For example, Upwork usually takes a 20% fee from freelancers, but the fee is reduced if you have long-term clients and reach a certain threshold regarding payments. Occasionally, there may be an additional fee for the client as well.
On the other hand, you can avoid freelancing platforms and start on your own. It might be more difficult to promote yourself and get job opportunities, but it is not impossible, and you have a lot of promotion tools to help you along the way. The main benefit is that you are completely independent. You are not at risk of getting your profile suspended out of the blue or paying extra fees. Being your own boss gives you more freedom and flexibility.
The usual road is starting with a freelancing platform, building experience, and portfolio, and eventually becoming independent. Once you have the expertise and reputation, and perhaps a couple of long-term clients, it is much easier to become fully independent.
In both cases, regardless if you choose to start with one or the other, here are a couple of things that are good to have:
Create an online profile
You should create an online profile people can check out to find out more about you. Share your portfolio as a part of the profile. Use social networks such as LinkedIn or Twitter to create your social media profiles and help you with building your reputation. You could also create a Facebook page. In general, social networks can help you interact with other freelancers, share experience and get in touch with potential clients.
Also, it is helpful to have a website. It does not have to be anything fancy or complicated. A simple website with a couple of pages, maybe with a blog if you are hoping to get writing projects or to share your best designs or photos. All of this is going to help you show off your work and advertise your services.
Choose a niche
Even though you might be willing to try many different freelancing jobs, there is usually a specific niche you can focus on. For example, design, translation, writing, web development, etc.
When you determine this field you work in, you can go even a step further and be more specific. For example, you might be a designer that only works on logos. Or a writer who writes only about a particular topic.
Even though this limits your potential contracts at first, in the long run, it gives you sort of an edge. It is like this. When you begin your freelancing career, there will be a sort of a learning curve. You will need more time and effort to complete jobs that will later become your routine. If you do more similar jobs, you will acquire this routine much faster. This essentially means that you will get better at your job. And the better you are, the better your reputation is. Of course, you will be able to charge more as an expert and someone who specialize in a certain niche.
As a beginner, you might avoid choosing the niche at first, and take the opportunity to try out many different job types. This is also a helpful approach because you will see first hand what kind of jobs you like and enjoy doing.
Determine the target clients
Having a niche and knowing precisely what you want to do is also going to be useful when determining who your clients are. While freelancing platforms mainly focus on browsing jobs, not clients, if you are starting solo, you will benefit a lot by knowing who your potential clients are. For example, those can be small or medium-sized companies. Or companies that work in a particular industry or are established in a specific location, etc. You will create a portfolio that is more effective and you will shape your approach to make it more relatable to them.
Also, you can contact the clients directly when you know you could potentially be interested in your work.
Set your rates
A lot of people are uncomfortable discussing money, especially those starting out. They do not know industry standards, they do not even know how much they are worth. However, it is something essential when starting out.
Start with an hourly rate, as it is kind of easier to decide. Try to determine an hourly rate you are comfortable with. Have in mind that the money you get needs to cover your expenses related to being a freelancer (health insurance, website hosting, etc.). Try to explore the rates in your industry and in your country.
Have in mind that rates can be quite different from industry to industry. Even if you are in the same industry, people from different countries have different rates for the same service, simply because they are adapting their rates based on the living standards. It is a lot to think about, but it is a calculation that will help you narrow down the jobs you want to pursue, and avoid wasting time on jobs that just do not pay enough. Also, your rate might be different for weekend work, working under a short deadline, etc.
When it comes to project rates, you will usually discuss the rates for each project individually. To make an estimate, you will need to have the insights into the work that needs to be done. You should also be able to roughly estimate the time you will need to complete such a project. Based on all of those, you can create your project rate.
Types of work you can do as a freelancer
There are a lot of different types of work you can do as a freelancer. The choice of work you are going to do is based on your knowledge as some of these require specific education. For example, you cannot be a Spanish to English translator if you do not know Spanish.
Still, there are a lot of jobs that do not require specific education or experience. Instead, the client will probably walk you through the process and show you how the job is done.
Here are some categories to have in mind:
Admin support group includes a variety of jobs, and some of those do not require any knowledge on the matter, especially if the client provides instructions.
- Personal assistant
- Virtual assistant
- Project management
- Data entry
- Web research
This group of jobs may come with fixed working hours during which you will need to be online and provide support to the customers. Alternatively, you can provide support through emails, but still, it is expected from you to be quite responsive and avoid making customers wait.
This is such a vast area which includes the actual development work as well as management of such projects. It includes:
- Web development
- Mobile development
- Web and mobile design
- Game development
- Other software development tasks/projects
- Project management
- Product management
For these jobs, some experience and knowledge is usually required to get you started, even if it is an entry-level position.
Even though you will narrow down your search by focusing on those languages you speak, you can go even a step further and specialize in a particular area such as:
- Medical translation
- Legal translation
- Technical translation
- Economy and business translation
- General translation
Design career requires knowledge and creativity to be able to work on such projects. Some crash courses could help you with more simple projects, but in general, learning the software for photo, video and audio editing is the main requirement.
- Graphic design
- Logo design
- Video production
- Audio production
Having in mind that writing is quite a popular job in the freelancing industry, you will find a separate chapter on writing later on in this ebook.
At this point, you can notice that the scope of potential freelancing jobs is quite vast. The best of all is that there are jobs that do not require specific expertise or even experience, which actually gives an opportunity to almost anyone to try this as their career.
Where to find a job as a freelancer?
Like you have seen, having your own website and promoting your services can be a good start, but if you would like to start with freelancing platforms, here are some of the most popular currently on the market.
Fiverr was founded in 2010. as a platform to buy and sell digital services. So far it has maintained its $5 reputation as all the services start at $5. Jobs on Fiverr are called gigs, and the basic value is $5. Once freelancers reach a minimum number of sales, they can add so-called “gig extras” and thus increase the price.
The company takes $1 for each $5 you earn or 20%. When you first start as a freelancer on the platform, the number of active gigs and gig extras is limited, but as you stay active and fulfill the requirements, you will get to unlock more benefits.
Upwork was introduced in 2015 as a merged platform of two global freelancing platforms Elance and oDesk. You start by creating a profile and submitting your proposals when you find interesting jobs. With a free membership, you get 60 connects per month, which limits the number of jobs you can apply to. Roughly, you can apply up to 30 jobs each one requiring 2 connects.
Rising talent program is built to help increase your visibility when first starting out. There is also a top rated program, which helps you make a good reputation and get access to better jobs.
Starting fee for freelancers per contract with less than $500 is 20%. The platform encourages you to go for long-term projects, so once your billing with the same clients exceeds $500, the freelancer’s fee is reduced to 10%. For billings with the same client that exceed $10000, the fee is 5%. Upwork offers a paid membership with 70 connects, possibility to buy more connects, hide your earrings, to view competitors’ bids and customize your profile.
Freelancer represents a large community and opportunities to find jobs across many different categories. Freelancer has several types of jobs, so the fee can vary. You can apply for fixed price projects where you have an introduction fee once your bid is selected and then 10% or $5 whichever is greater. For hourly projects, there is a fee on every payment, and it is 10%. It is free to apply to contest and the fee (10% or $5 whichever is greater) is charged once you are awarded the project. When you are offering services, the fee is 20%. The fees are charged upfront.
As you build your reputation, you can unlock access to a preferred freelancer program, where the project fee is 15%, and no charges are made upfront. Free members have 8 bids per month. Freelancer also offers paid membership plans with 5 types of plans with increasing number of bids, contest entries and skills added.
Unlike others, iFreelance lets you keep 100% of your earnings, but it requires a paid membership so you cannot join for free. You can look for work in two ways, by browsing projects, or directly advertising your services to the employers.
The platform offers marketing tools such as buttons and personalized banners to help you get more work, as well as performance tools to help you improve your success. Membership plans start from $6.25 per month.
People Per Hour
You start by creating a profile which is then ranked and shown to the employers who browse the platform. Being active on the platform People Per Hour and getting reviews will help you rank better.
You can send 15 proposals a month for free, and you can buy more. The fee model is similar to Upwork’s. For lifetime billings per buyer below $700 there is 20% fee. Billings per buyer between $700 and $7000 require 7.5% fee, and lifetime billings per buyer over $7000 have 3.5% fee.
When you search online, you will probably find more platforms for freelancers, and some of them might specialize in one industry (such as 99design). These companies here are some of the largest currently regarding the number of jobs offered and the number of registered freelancers. This means that they offer a lot of opportunities to find work. At the same time, the fact that they have so many freelancers means that they are quite competitive markets. Although this should by no means discourage you, it is simply worth having in mind that finding jobs is not always easy, especially if you are first starting out.
Since your career will depend on the work you do on one (or several) of these platforms, it is very important to go through the terms of service document. You need to be familiar with the processes that are allowed or prohibited. For example, most of these platforms prohibit taking clients to another platform or even communicating outside their own messaging system. This is why it is important to know your rights and obligations and keep your profile in good standing.