December 20, 2018
How To Become a Successful Freelancer
With more and more approved options for working, it is now possible to fit your working life around your home life. This is a major plus point if you want to control your own workday or have commitments at home, e.g. family, or simply wants more spare time to enjoy life and perhaps see the world.
If you work in a static job, e.g. you go to an office or retail store every day, then it can be difficult to fit in appointments and travel around your working hours. This is particularly difficult if you happen to work full time. This is perhaps why more and more people are choosing to leave their regular jobs and become a freelancer.
If you’ve been hearing a lot of noise about the world of freelancing, and you’re considering whether it might be a viable option for you, the key first step is to do your research. Do not jump into the freelancing world without first testing the waters. Yes, freelancing is a fantastic option for many people, but it isn’t for everyone.
In this article, we will explore how to become a freelancer, and give you plenty of information on what to expect, the pros and cons, and what you might need to get started.
What is a Freelancer?
A freelancer is a self-employed person who works for various clients within a talent area. For example, someone could be a freelance writer and have eight regular clients, whom they submit work to across a month. They would then bill those clients for the hours/work they have done, and receive payment.
A freelancer isn’t employed in the regular way by any company, which gives total freedom and flexibility in the way they work. Of course, there are pros and cons to freelancing, which we will explore in more detail shortly, but on the whole, having freedom to choose your working hours, choose your projects, and choose your clients means that you can create a profession that you enjoy, whilst making cash from your passion.
Sounds great, right?
It is, but it’s vital to start in a slow manner, in order to build up your portfolio.
Becoming a successful freelancer does not happen overnight, and it is something you need to be prepared to work hard at, until you have proven yourself and obtained a positive reputation. A little later, we’re going to talk about the steps to becoming a freelancer, but the very first decision you need to make is what you’re going to freelance in.
Some of the most popular freelancing professions include:
- Blogging and vlogging
- Ebook publishing
- Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
- Website design and maintenance
- Social media management
- Social media influencer, e.g. Instagram
- Graphic design
- Online language teacher
- Life coach/counsellor
- Affiliate marketing
The bottom line is, if you can do the job online, you can usually freelance in it. Checking ahead for demand is also vital. For instance, the online world is full of freelance writers, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid that niche. What you should do however, is give yourself an edge, something to make yourself stand out. On the other hand, perhaps there aren’t as many life coaches around, and that means you can take advantage of that market gap.
Starting a freelancing business is the same as starting any other business – it takes time, effort, and a lot of research and planning in order to make a success of your idea.
The Pros and Cons of Freelancing
Everything in life has its ups and downs, and before you commit to a life of freelancing you need to really examine and ask yourself whether freelancing is the right option for you. It isn’t all roses, and there are many untrue myths which are attached to this method of working.
For instance, many people consider freelancing to be easy. You can work when you want, for who you want. Yes, that’s true, but it’s certainly not easy! If you don’t do the work, you don’t get paid! Also, motivating yourself in this situation can be extremely hard, when there are a million temptations and distractions outside. The number one skill a freelancer needs, besides their unique talent, is the ability to self-motivate and be disciplined in their work. Without this, it will never be a success.
Pros of Freelancing
- Total freedom to decide when you work and who you work for
- You can choose projects that really interest you, rather than having to take anything for money
- The ability to work from anywhere in the world, provided you have a good quality wifi connection
- No need to commute to work every day, which saves cash
- You are your own boss
Cons of Freelancing
- If there is a dry spell of work, you are not going to make any money that month
- You are self-employed, which means you need to deal with your own taxes
- It can be very difficult to motivate yourself to work when you don’t have a bricks and mortar office to go to
- Difficult clients can be hard to deal with, and could also mean you don’t get paid for work done
- Many freelancing careers are very competitive
- Freelancing can be lonely, especially if you are used to having colleagues in an office
The idyllic picture of a freelancer sat on a beach with their laptop, working in the sun with a cocktail in hand is often bandied around when it comes to freelance talk. The truth? Firstly, laptops and sand do not mix together well. Secondly, laptops and sun glare don’t mix together well either. Thirdly, alcohol and work really don’t mix together at all!
Freelancing is a fantastic option, but it is not a perfect choice by any means.
Your Options as a Freelancer
There are several different ways you can freelance, and several different types of freelancer too. Your main options are:
- Working for one static company and you dedicate your time entirely to them
- Using freelancing platform online, such as Upwork
- Searching for individual clients on your own steam
You could stick to one choice, or you could mix and match according to your needs and workflow.
The three main types of freelancer are:
- Independent contractor – The general type of freelancer, e.g. no one individual company to work for, and works for several clients
- Moonlighter – This type of freelancer is employed within a regular job, either full time or part time, and does freelance projects during the evenings and at weekends. Whilst building up your portfolio, this arrangement is a good idea
- Remote/virtual worker – This type of freelancer works for one particular company on a regular basis, but does not work within an office and has the freedom to travel and move around as much as they like. Regular check ins via video call are likely
Finding the best option for you is really about weighing up the options and deciding which will fit in with your needs and preferences the best.
Education and Qualifications Required to Become a Freelancer
A regular question about freelancing is whether there are any static qualifications required.
This really depends on the type of freelancer you are. For instance, if you opt to teach English online, you are going to need a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification. On the other hand, if you opt to become a freelance writer, you may or may not need any qualifications, but you will need experience.
As with a ‘regular’ job, certain professions are stricter in terms of qualifications than others, but it also depends on the client too. Going back to the writing example, many clients prefer native English speakers for the projects and don’t ask for an English degree. If the writer isn’t a native speaker, they may need to prove their English skills with a formal qualification. It’s a good idea to search online in terms of the regular qualifications required for the role you are choosing, and to check job postings to see what is being asked for.
What you will need, regardless of the type of profession you opt for, is a portfolio of work which proves your talent. A writer will need to show samples of their work, as would a website designer, a graphic designer, and an ebook publisher. Testimonials/references from other clients are also beneficial. In many cases, experience and proof of work are required over qualifications.
The Importance of Preparation
The single most important piece of information to pay attention to when considering whether or not to become a freelancer of some type is preparation. It is vital to plan and move slowly, not jumping into the full time role of a freelancer until you are sure that you are going to make a profit.
Most people start out moonlighting, e.g. working their regular job and building up their experience and portfolio in the freelancing world. When they have accrued enough clients and experience, they may cut their regular job down to part time and then dedicate more time to their freelancing work. When that has gone well, they may eventually leave their regular job and go completely freelance. This is the best option because it gives you a safety net. Jumping in too soon could end with a lack of money situation very easy!
It is also a good idea to pick a freelancing profession which you are sure you could transition into a ‘regular’ job in the future, should it not work out. This is your plan B. Having a small amount of savings will also tide you over should you have any quiet times. For most freelancers, the end of December and into the middle of January is a ‘dry’ spell, due to the holiday season. Having a small amount of savings helps to cut down on worries and stress at this time of year.
Talk to other freelancers in the same field, accrue as much advice as you can, and really think about whether you could be motivated or not. Be honest with yourself. When your friends are out having coffee and enjoying the sunshine, and you have to stay home because you have a deadline to meet, it can be very hard to turn the offer down! Reminding yourself that if you don’t work, you don’t get paid, and taking your freelancing as seriously as you would any other job is 100% vital.
How to Get Started as a Freelancer
Now that you know the low-down on life as a freelancer and the questions you need to ask yourself before you begin, we need to talk about how to actually get started.
If you can make it work for you, freelancing could provide you with a solid, enjoyable profession for many years to come. A successful freelancer has the following traits:
- Committed to the job
- Always willing to continue learning and diversifying their skills, in order to stand out
- Hard-working and able to prioritise tasks
- Self-motivated and self-disciplined
- Talented in their field
- Able to use various IT software packages
- Able to deal with issues as they rise – freelancing can often throw up difficult situations, e.g. last minute deadlines, clients who won’t pay, etc. The ability to problem solve effectively and think on your feet is vital
- An effective communicator
If you can tick those skills off the list, you may be an ideal candidate for the freelancing life.
Now, how exactly do you get started?
- Pick Your Profession – First things first, what job are you going to do? Pick something you know you’re going to enjoy and something you have a natural talent in
- Research Skills And Qualifications – Do you have the correct skills and qualifications to succeed in your chosen field? What do you have which makes you stand out above everyone else? If you need to update your skills or study for another qualification, now is the time to do it
- Decide Which Method of Freelancing is Best For You – Are you going to work from home, are you going to travel? Are you going to work for one company, are you going to work for several clients? Are you going to moonlight at first?
- Register With Freelancing Platforms – Whether or not you choose to use an online platform or not, it’s a good idea to register with the most popular ones, e.g. Upwork, and look around to familiarise yourself with the skills you will need, and the types of clients you might be able to work for
- Register as Self-Employed – You will need to register as self-employed for tax purposes, and how you do this depends upon your country of origin
- Start Slowly – Find your first project, either via your online platform or networking opportunities, and start slowly. Ask for feedback and learn from the comments. Don’t expect miracles and major success overnight, and it may be that you need to work a regular job at the same time, until you build up your reputation
- Develop Your CV and Portfolio – As you gain your first few projects, build up examples of your work and your CV. This will give you evidence to show to future clients, and hopefully help you work up to bigger contracts
- Develop a Website – As a self-employed person, you need to sell your services, and this may mean having your own website. This allows you to advertise your skills and your services, your prices, and showcase testimonials from other clients
- Considering Offering Lower Prices at First – Consider lowering your rates at first, until you have secured experience, and then slowly raise them as time goes on. This will attract your first few clients. Having said that, don’t price yourself out; you shouldn’t be working for free, or next to nothing
- Ask For Feedback on Every Job – Ask your clients for feedback on every job you do. This helps you develop your skills for the future, and fix any issues that you might not be aware of. A good freelancer knows that they are always changing and developing, and there is always an opportunity to learn. You can also show positive feedback on your website, which could lead to further work
As you move through your freelancing life, it may be that you want to diversify into other areas. For instance, a writer may want to move into the world of SEO, which could add another string to their bow. A translator might want to move into the world of teaching English too, which is another skill they can show to prospective clients. It’s a good idea to always be on the lookout for new software packages you can use, new innovations and skills in the niche you’re working in, and to try and give yourself a USP (unique selling point) 100% of the time.
Remember, competition in the freelancing world is always tough, no matter which particular occupation you decide to focus on. There are thousands more people out there who are trying to do the same thing as you, and the more you can stand out, the better.
Start Your Freelancing Adventure
And there we have it, your beginner’s guide on the world of freelancing.
By reading this chat, it shows that you are seriously considering the freelancing option. Think carefully before making any moves, and don’t allow yourself to become seduced by promises of an ‘easy working life’. Freelancing isn’t easy, and some workers even think it is harder, because you have to be so disciplined.
At the end of the day, when you are doing a job you love, you’re blessed. So, if you have a talent you can make cash from, perhaps freelancing is an avenue you should seriously explore.