This story originally appeared on FlexJobs.com.
The reasons to embrace a freelance career are compelling. From supplementing your income to setting your own hours, freelance work is increasingly moving from the fringes of the job marketplace and into the mainstream.
If you’ve considered freelancing, you’re not alone. A recent study found that over one-third of workers (36%) are currently freelancing, an increase of 22% since 2019.
If you’re looking to become a freelancer, we’ve put together this detailed guide to help you get started!
A freelancer is not an employee. The IRS defines an employee as someone who:
- Is not in charge of deciding when, where and how they work.
- Does not choose how much they are paid or what their raises or bonuses are.
- Is reimbursed for job-related expenses and receives benefits (like health insurance).
A freelancer, on the other hand, is almost the exact opposite of an employee. Freelancers:
- Can choose who they want to work for, when they work and where they work with few exceptions.
- Set their payment rates.
- Do not receive any benefits from whomever they work for.
To learn more about what freelancing is all about, read:
Although the idea of being your own boss may sound exciting to you, freelancing is not for everyone. It takes more than an entrepreneurial spirit to become a freelancer. Before learning how to start a freelance business, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of freelancing.
The pros include:
- Choosing who you do and don’t work for (along with when and for how long)
- Working on only the projects you really want to do
- Exposure — you learn a lot about different industries
The cons are:
- You’re responsible for paying all of your taxes
- No benefits
- The work isn’t always steady, which can lead to cash-flow issues
- Isolation — you’re almost always working alone
This is why it might be best to begin freelancing when you’re still employed at a full-time job. This will allow you to test the waters and get a better understanding of how being a freelancer works.
Prospective freelancers spend much of their time (at least at first) looking for work. For instance, writers may query various publications with ideas for articles they’d like to write. A freelance web designer might contact area businesses to see if any need help with their sites.
Building relationships and providing quality work makes securing future “gigs” easier through repeat business, word-of-mouth and stellar recommendations. There are also job websites that fully vet and verify all of their freelance opportunities (like FlexJobs) so that you can have a safe and productive job search.
For more ideas on finding freelance work, read “How to Find Freelance Work: Tips, Red Flags, and More”
Following are some tips for becoming a freelancer.
Do your homework
Before you set up your website, order business cards, and hang out your shingle, start with some market research to make sure there’s a demand for whatever field you’re in and to understand the competition.
This can help you determine how and where to market your services. Check out your competition to see what kinds of services they offer and how much they charge. You don’t want to overcharge potential clients, but you don’t want to undercharge and devalue your worth, either.
Create a brand
Securing work in a crowded freelance field can be challenging. A strong personal brand can help you stand out and be memorable.
What distinctive blend of attributes and abilities do you bring to the table? Thinking about what you have to offer and who might benefit from your services will lead you in the right direction when trying to market yourself.
Many freelancers go through feast-or-famine cycles, especially when they are starting out. Sometimes they have so much work to do they aren’t sure they can get it all done. And other times, crickets.
Part of understanding how to start a freelance business includes building up a nest egg to ease some of the stress when work is scarce. To become a successful freelancer, learn how to incorporate finding future work into your daily schedule — even while finishing up assignments at hand.
Plan for routine paperwork
While passion for your work is certainly necessary to establish a thriving freelance career, so is the ability to handle other duties. Major responsibilities include securing health insurance, planning for retirement and paying self-employment taxes. You’ll also need to take care of day-to-day operations, such as ordering office supplies, invoicing, time tracking, and maintaining relationships with customers.
For more advice on how to handle the administrative side of your freelance business, read:
Get a mentor
Finding a mentor is a solid way to learn the ins and outs of freelancing from someone who has either been there or has enough knowledge about how the freelance business works to help you out.
Connect with a community
Even though you may be a one-person business, you don’t have to go it alone. Local and professional organizations, as well as online groups, can answer questions about how to start a freelance business, be sounding boards for ideas, and connect you to a world beyond your home office.
Joining a group of like-minded people (like a writer’s group, for example) is a great way to get feedback and grow your skills with people who share in your goal to be the best you can be at your job.
For more tips on connecting with other freelancers and growing your network, check out “12 Networking Tips for Freelancers.”
When you are thinking about how to start a freelance business, start small. While it would be ideal to have a cluster of clients, start with one or two.
Consider starting your freelance business as a side hustle first. This gives you the freedom to start small without having to worry about generating an income or keeping your health insurance.
By alleviating some of the pressure and giving yourself permission to go small, you’ll be more inclined to find a steady stream of clients organically instead of worrying about freelance famine. In turn, you can focus on producing great work that will help you impress your current clients, which can then help you find more new clients.
Spread the word
No one will know you’re freelancing unless you spread the word. So talk to friends and family first to see if you can get any job referrals from them. Then branch out to your social media circles, being sure not to mix your personal life with your professional one.
If you’ve left past jobs on good terms, it may not hurt to reach out to former employers and let them know that you’re open for business. You’re familiar with the company and likely know their niche better than most, so it could be a win-win scenario.
Ask for referrals
One of the smartest things you can do to get started as a freelancer is to set up solid networking connections, including people who can give you great referrals. Potential references to consider are past work colleagues, present colleagues, and even friends. Any and all of these people can help connect you to clients in need of your services.
Having a written contract in place is no guarantee that you’ll get paid. But a contract is something to fall back on in the event you aren’t paid and have to take your client to court.
Build your recommendations
Everyone wants their hard work to be acknowledged and praised. When you work for an employer, that praise generally comes in the form of positive employee evaluations, raises, and bonuses. When you’re a freelancer, though, praise comes in the form of a client recommendation.
When you’ve finished the job, ask your client to leave a review on your website, or recommend you on LinkedIn. These positive reviews from actual clients can help raise your profile, establish you as a professional expert, and help you find new clients.
Every job has its good days and bad days. Freelancing is no different. However, if you lose your motivation as a freelancer, you may lose your whole business!
Learn when to say no
As your freelance business starts growing, it can be tempting to take on every new project that comes your way. But this might not be the best idea. Taking on more than you can handle only means you’ll be more likely to turn in subpar work that isn’t up to your (or your client’s) standards.
Instead, be thoughtful in the work you decide to do and be as sure as you can that whatever your workload, you can turn everything in on time.
Using FlexJobs to become a freelancer
Now that you know the ins and outs of becoming a successful freelancer, it’s time to land clients. That’s where we can help!
We post flexible and remote-friendly jobs in more than 50 career categories at companies that range from startups to Fortune 100 brands. Many freelancers have had success on our platform, and so can you!
Take the tour today and learn how FlexJobs can help you find freelance work.
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