Are you looking to start freelancing in 2023 on the right foot? Or perhaps you want to improve your current freelancing career? While the job market is seeing massive, unprecedented shifts, the overall trend seems to favour freelancers.
This Freelancing 101 guide will help you learn how to become a freelancer. Let’s get started.
What is freelancing?
The bottom line is freelancing is self-employment. You don’t have an organisation backing you, you don’t have supervisors, and you must find work by yourself and manage your own deadlines. You are your own boss.
Freelancing offers your freedom and control over your work in a way that full-time and long-term employment don’t. You can pick which industry to work for or even work for multiple industries. For example, if you’re a freelance writer, you needn’t only write for hospitality, you can also choose to write tech pieces.
Usually, freelancers work on a contractual basis or, depending on the type of work, on a commission-by-commission basis.
As a freelancer, you may be approached by individuals, startups, or large corporations, for a range of work. The work may fall under personal requests, mini projects, or even large-scale campaigns for anything from website creation to a full rebranding.
There is no one ‘regular’ type of freelancer. Here, you’ll find people freelancing or taking on short-term contracts for everything from designing to translating, and even construction work and driving! That’s the beauty of it. If you provide a service somebody needs, you can freelance.
There is one crucial distinction though. You have gig workers and freelancers. The former are usually people who provide in-person services, such as cleaning, while freelancers are usually knowledge workers who rely on the internet to deliver their work. Take for example, designers or programmers.
Basically, as long as you have the skills, tools and a stable internet connection (be if for finding clients or for actually doing the job), you’re good to go!
How popular is freelancing?
Currently, it is estimated that roughly 1.57-1.6 billion people in the global workforce are freelancers. In fact, this number is set to increase, overcoming the downward trend of self-employment over the past century. Why is that?
The pandemic, for one, has been a major catalyst in promoting the gig economy and freelancing overall.
MBO Partners shared through its 2021 study that there was a noteworthy 34% increase in the number of people earning incomes from ‘independent work’ in the US compared to 2020.
This massive jump, following swiftly on the heels of ‘the Great Resignation’, can be attributed to the massive changes in the employment landscape brought on by the pandemic.
Additionally, by 2023, the “global freelance market economy is likely to reach $455 billion”. This makes it clear just how massively lucrative the freelance market can be.
CNBC, reporting on the situation, stated: “America’s gig economy saw the greatest growth in 2019, with freelancer earnings up 78% year-on-year, according to the Global Gig-Economy Index.”
They added, “The world’s largest economy was followed by the U.K. and Brazil, which each saw a jump in gig worker earnings over the past year, up 59% and 48%, respectively. However, it was Asia that recorded the greatest regional growth, with earnings up 138% across four countries.”
There has been a global shift towards the adoption of remote teams. This means that in countries with fewer viable domestic career paths (many of which are located in Asia), individuals can seek employment overseas — and the easiest way to do that? Freelancing.
Is freelancing for you?
Now, we’ve spoken about what freelancing encompasses, but whether or not freelancing is ideal for you is a whole other question.
As a freelancer, you are essentially alone in this endeavour. While this comes with a load of benefits, there are tons of obstacles to consider.
For one, you will have to keep track of and pay your own taxes. You will have to handle your own health insurance and whether or not you’ll have a pension after retirement lies solely in your own hands.
You need to have adequate self-control and optimise your time management and communication skills. Why are these important?
If you’re a freelancer who isn’t on a retainer or isn’t bound to a contract that ensures some form of income a month, you’ll probably be resorting to taking on ad hoc work or whenever something comes your way.
For some reason, if your situation suddenly becomes unstable, there’s a chance you won’t have a safety net to help you. You’ll need to save and set aside money for a rainy day. This also means that you’ll have to exercise self-control and not give into temptation — especially at the start of your freelancing career when you’ll have less disposable income.
Next on the list of must-have soft skills for freelancers is time management. You’ll have to set your own deadlines and estimate how long it would take you to complete a project. You’d also have to set up client meetings and follow up accordingly. You’re solely responsible for deliverables and there’s no team to depend on if and when your plate gets too full.
Finally, communication. Until you’ve made a name for yourself in the market, you’ll have to resort to your communication skills to sell yourself and get jobs. This involved having great interpersonal skills, too, along with good professional writing and conflict resolution skills. That’s an essential part of ‘networking’.
Once you’ve managed to reach out to a client and pitch your rates and skills, they’ll expect a certain level of professionalism from you and a certain level of quality to your outputs.
Unfortunately, try as you may, not every client interaction will go smoothly. Eventually, you’ll have an unhappy client on your hands. How you resolve that conflict could either make or break this relationship.
On top of all of this, as your own boss, you’ll have to make smart decisions about the type of work you take on. For example, sometimes you’ll have to calculate whether a large project that pays poorly is worth your time or whether you’d rather go for a smaller project with a similar level of pay. On the other hand, the large project ensures a longer period of income assurance.
You’ll also have to handle your own off days, sick leave and holidays. Just because you work for yourself, you can’t lapse into permanent relaxation mode, can you? Nothing would ever get done!
Overall, discipline is the most important quality a freelancer should have, but what else would you require to start freelancing?
What do you need?
Becoming a freelancer requires a lot more preparation than people usually assume. Before you decide on a field to start freelancing in, consider the following.
Skills and Experience
The competition for gigs is only going to get more intense and diverse. Your skills and experience will work to your advantage, so invest in professional growth and development. Take a few online classes, read up on advancements in your field of expertise, and attend seminars. Do whatever you have to do to constantly improve. You can do all this while simultaneously looking for jobs, too! That’s the beauty of living in the digital age.
Additionally, although freelance gigs are a variety, they may not match your existing skills, and this could hinder you from getting projects right away. So, be open to trying new jobs because they may be something you enjoy doing and build a career on.
Membership on Freelance Platforms
The likes of Upwork, Freelancer, and Fiverr clear many hurdles that come with joining the gig economy. Signing up with any or some of those leading freelance websites lets you tap their reach and find clients.
Fees on freelance platforms can be steep when you’re starting out. One strategy to offset the costs is to earn more by messaging prospective clients directly on LinkedIn or by email.
Profile, Proposal, Portfolio
There are 3 Ps every freelancer would find critical to their early success.
- Profile: Crafting a concise, stand-out, and substantial freelance profile serves as your marketing pitch to clients.
- Portfolio: A portfolio showcasing your skills from previous projects makes it easier for potential clients to decide whether you’re suited for the job. This saves time for both of you.
- Proposal: Learning how to draft a solid proposal that a client would find hard to turn down is vital. These ‘proposals’ usually accompany your applications for a project request on freelance websites.
Pricing your services can be tricky the first time, but you’ll get better at it in time. For now, factor these into your rate schedule:
- Your experience and skills
- Going rates of professionals doing the same work
- Business expenses, considering the costs of living in your area or that of your client
- Each project’s level of difficulty
- The required number of hours that would go into the project
A few essentials
If you’re going to be freelancing, you need a few tools to manage your work. Basically, depending on your needs, you’ll require:
- A computer
- A mobile phone
- A reliable internet connection
- Certain software depending on the nature of your work (E.g., Photoshop)
- A to-do list or project management platform to manage your tasks
- Any extra gadgets you may need (If you’re an illustrator, then perhaps you may need a graphics tablet)
Top tools to get you started
Getting work done is your ticket to building a solid reputation as a freelancer for more gigs and hopefully more or higher earnings. Take a look at top freelance tools to help you accomplish your tasks, work with clients, and more.
HubSpot offers a customer relationship management platform for growing businesses. According to its website, HubSpot’s “hubs” include marketing, customer service, and operations, which are powerful on their own but even better together. It also offers resources for freelancers, including The Ultimate Guide to Freelancing.
This platform specialises in social media management for professionals and businesses. Hootsuite lets you schedule posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and manages and promotes campaigns.
Its free proposal guide with a downloadable template is a start for social media practitioners.
The thing about Canva is that it’s a relatively easy-to-learn tool that helps users create graphics like a pro.
Canva has templates for designing marketing materials, social media posts, presentations, custom prints, and invitations. For freelancers, templates for resumes and business cards are also available on the platform.
Adobe Creative Cloud
Adobe Creative Cloud is practically synonymous with design. It offers a range of 20+ tools for digital media, web design, and more. Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere Pro, Adobe Lightroom, After Effects, and Acrobat DC are some apps that students, professionals, and teams can use.
G Suite is lauded as one of the best freelance tools out there. The upgraded platform encompasses mail, chat, video conferencing, cloud-based storage, and solutions for creating, managing, and sharing documents for communication, collaboration, and productivity. Some features are free, with paid plans available.
It is an easy-to-use tool for tracking time, especially for hourly billing work, and managing your day essentially. Toggl Track’s free plan is popular among freelancers who can generate reports, create projects, detect idle time or inactivity, and integrate it with other tools.
It is undeniably the most popular video conferencing app, with the word Zoom going hand-in-hand with virtual meetings since its sudden burst of popularity during the early months of the pandemic.
Under a Zoom basic plan, a user can host one-to-one or group meetings subject to a time limit per meeting (usually 45 minutes, which is often ample time).
This project management board is foremost among freelancers. According to its website, more than 1 million teams (or 50 million users) use Trello to plan, manage, and collaborate on projects.
You can also copy Trello templates to adapt it to your workflow.
This password manager makes sharing of logins convenient and secure with multi-factor authentication. LastPass helps you keep track of unlimited passwords and access them on your personal computer or mobile device (unlimited per the plan).
Xero is an accounting software designed for freelance professionals. With Xero, you can send invoices and monitor income and expenses, which is useful in computing taxes.
However, filing your taxes may require another software or the help of a tax professional.
To summarise, as a freelancer, you have more freedom and control over your work, but you are solely responsible for growing your network and reputation. This means that you must exercise discipline and work hard in order to get your freelance career going.
The best advice we can give you is to never stop growing and developing your skills. The longer you’re in the market, the more expertise you’re expected to accumulate, so let your work reflect that.
Equip yourself with freelance tools and insights to navigate your way around obstacles with ease and confidence. And as any freelancer would tell you, be flexible.