How to Become a Freelancer – A Complete Guide

How to become a freelancer - A complete guide


So, now that you’ve completed four very expensive years of University, you may expect to spend the rest of your working life behind a desk for a handful of companies and cubicles. However, alternatives to that have been growing in number to the point where it’s expected that in many countries, such independent freelancers, many with online jobs now form a significant portion of the workforce. While a lot of freelancers are at the top of their profession who have the luxury of choosing their projects, a lot of newcomers in the workforce are choosing this due to lack of job security in the common market, making the prospect of working on freelance jobs from project to project and from company to company seem more appealing. So,for any new beginners, this article will cover a lot of topics ranging from whether being a freelancer is an appropriate choice, what to charge, where to get the job opportunities along with what skills you may need.

Before starting, you have to ask whether working as a freelancer would even suit you. For instance, if you have a pre-existing job, it’s best to try being a freelancer part-time before leaving the job, to prevent complete loss of job security. Even if you’re doing it full time, it’s a good idea to have a few more roles lined up for after, to ensure continuous income. If you’re serious about freelancing however, there are some misconceptions that you have to avoid at all costs:

  • The freelancer job should not be taken as a hobby, but as a serious job. Many people start their freelancing careers as part-time workers doing what they are good at. But just because you enjoy it, doesn’t mean that it’s not work. Unlike a hobby, this isn’t something that you can pick up and leave at a whim as when you have clients, you are expected to deliver results. Failing to do so can have severe repercussions for your future career and many freelancer beginners have crashed and burned because they did not take it seriously as a “real job”.

  • As a freelancer, expect to work more than regular employees as not only do you have to work and show results rather than just clocking in and out, you also have to self-promote, multi-task and even negotiate for payments. This is in exchange for greater pay and flexibility.

  • Money will not be handed to you for clocking in, you have to show actual results as a freelancer. This isn’t the typical office cubicle work. You’re no longer a cog in the machine, doing some work for an allotted time and getting paid for the daily grind. Instead, companies will now treat you as a special tool that must be utilised when applicable to get results. As such, you’re much less likely to get looked over and while that may be a good thing in terms of recognition, you’re still expected to show results rather than work hours to justify your pay.

  • Work will not be handed to you. As a freelancer, you have to find the clients to get the work. This is similar to the statement above of freelancers having to work more and this is akin to a rule of thumb rather than a fast and hard rule. This is because the top freelancers on many platforms who let the platform to the searching work for them often can pick and choose the jobs that they want, most likely getting whatever strikes their fancy. However for the majority, including beginners, they have to actively search for jobs, apply for them, state why they are suited for it and hope to get picked. This goes on for a while, with every new role expected to follow suit for the freelancer. If they do well, it would get easier as they get credibility but it isn’t unheard of for beginners to do a bit of free work for the sake of exposure. So, having said all that, if you’re insistent on freelancing, just follow the points presented below, and you’ll better off than you were before reading it.

  • Get Appropriate Resources, Both in Terms of Hardware and Software

    While it may seem tempting you cannot work practically through just a smartphone. Outside of just plain ergonomics, unless the job involves just texting, you’re expected to do a lot more where having a bigger screen and an actual keyboard (along with the added computational power) of a laptop or a desktop is necessary for the freelancer to work practically.

    Outside of just hardware, there are some softwares for freelancers that are nigh universal. These include:

    • 1. Time Tracker and Software Trackers

    • These are used by freelancers to keep track of projects and/or time spent working on them. This is useful for say, keeping track of multiple projects while multitasking, keeping track of time spent on projects, which is especially useful when you’re paid hourly and also as proof of work done for employers. Some examples of this include Bonsai and Top Tracker.

    • 2. Quick Communication Sites

    • The sites and the corresponding applications are critical for team communication among freelancers as it allows for less meandering email threads, Slack is the most commonly known variant though Skype and Hangouts are available as well.

    • 3. Online Cloud Drives 

    • These allow freelancers to store and share files between other freelancers and clients. A good example of this is Google Drive, which also possesses additional applications to allow editing for documents, spreadsheets, presentations etc. As such, it can almost act as a portable office. However, other alternatives like Dropbox do exist.

    • 4. Online Course Sites 

    • These are useful for polishing up skills and learning about new skills, This is especially useful for beginners who need to pick up more skills to advance or from tutorial based freelancers who post on them to share their knowledge, often at a price.
    • Some other softwares that can be useful are password stored, online compilers, various multimedia editors, etc.

    Find Marketable Skills and the Freelancer Marketplace for Them

    No freelancer ever began as someone with all the skill they had at present. They had to grow over time, but still they had to start somewhere. So as a beginner freelancer, you should find some niche that suits you, whether because you have some talent in it, legitimately enjoy it, or just because there is an opportunity for it.

    Programming is one of the most highly on demand freelancer jobs. Whether it is as an app developer, web developer, UI/UX design or in game design, there is a job opportunity available for you. However, this is partially due to the time taken to actually master any significant portion of it. There is a reason there are university courses for it along with online courses. Moreover, no matter your knowledge base, as a beginner freelancer, you have to be willing to pick up on skills as quite often, different projects require niche topics. Outside of that, the video game industry has often been criticised owing to the issues with toxic work environment, crunch-time and generally exhaustive work schedules. In contrast, indie or smaller companies have to face an over saturated market and be overworked.

    Writing based skills are also a source of job opportunities for freelancers through roles like content creators, copywriters, marketers and SEO. As a freelance copywriter, you can work in copywriter websites, ebooks, blogs etc. Digital marketing often involves SEO and content creators can take the form of academic writers, technical writers and marketing content writers. In short, skills with words does pay. Outside of the above listed jobs, freelancers in general can write blogs, articles and so on, thereby finding work as freelancers.

    Analytical jobs in data science is another highly sought option as a freelancer but similarly to programming above, there is a lot of training required, especially in mathematics. While working, their technical skills often only require MS Excel, but it’s advisable to have a good understanding of various DBMS management tools. However, due to their focus on analysing data, they are more classifiable as a financial job rather than a technical one.

    Design jobs are also another choice for freelancers. It can take the form of graphic designers, logo designers, product designers, animators or web designers. The first few require technical knowledge in regards to various design tools whereas the last takes the form of front-end designers which require programming skills. As such, despite the obvious requirements of creativity, there is also a technical requirement for each role.

    Now, let’s get to the second point in this section: the freelancer workplace, the premier way to find freelance jobs online. First things first, try to get a LinkedIn account. Nearly every company has a footprint here, and quite often it is the first, last and only platform for people outside of the freelance world. Outside of the obvious advantages in networking, they are a good way to find freelance jobs online because many hire who don’t bother with paid platforms post there instead.

    Outside of this, it’s advised that you don’t follow the beaten path of going to the big freelance marketplaces like upwork. They are helpful to long term professionals but for beginner freelancers, it is akin to a rat race, with many freelancers under bidding each other to snag a client trying to hire freelancers.Going to specialised platforms may be an alternative, but you can still try to go through new platforms for better offers at your skill level instead.

    Polish Up Your Skills as a Freelancer

    As a freelancer, you should know that experience is the best teacher for new skills. However, to get experience, you need to have some skills to begin with. So, you have to take the initiative and pick up or polish your skills. There are many websites that allow for online courses including many that are also freelance marketplaces. For them, the courses are an additional feature but they are generally of good quality. Other than that, many courses are actually offered online by sites like Udemy and SkillShare in exchange for fees and require a membership. For the aspiring freelancer however, some courses are available for free at no cost at these sites, along with many on YouTube for no cost outside of internet costs and device costs.

    Depending on your line of work, you can go for different approaches. If you’re a freelancer writer, you can pick up on different writing formats, learn how to work on WordPress and also pick up on adding graphics and illustrations. If you’re a freelancer developer, try to pick up on additional courses on frameworks and libraries for your known languages or if your repertoire is limited to just two or three languages, try picking up a few more.

    Get Some Work done as Proof of Concept

    If you’re really serious about work, try to get some of your best works on a portfolio to show it as your own freelancer proof of concept. This can start from your college years during your internship and between that and a higher education, try to pick up side projects that truly show off your skills. College time projects if done well may be included too, but only if they are really good. Outside of that, you should continue this practice as a freelancer, as it is often crucial to getting better jobs in the future. For instance, as a developer, you can work on a few projects for showcasing or as a writer you can create and post guest posts on blogs. Outside of a portfolio, you can also create your own website to showcase your skills. Because of this, it is advisable that at the beginning of your career as a freelancer, try charging at a lower level to attract more and do the best that you can on them. If the situation is really desperate, some skilled but unknown freelance workers are also known to do some work in exchange for exposure.

    Figure Out your Budget and Pricing

    This is one of the common mistakes that new freelancers make while starting out. They either over-priced themselves from what they are actually worth in terms of their skills or shown work portfolio or by under-pricing themselves in comparison to their displayed skills and portfolio, making potential clients think that they were suspicious or cheap. As such, you need to figure out a clear budget while searching for a client. Before creating the budget, you should also consider whether to go on hourly rates or have a fixed rate per project. Fixed rates allow for offering the client a price based on the amount of work required. On the other hand, hourly rates allow for setting an appropriate price when work requires continuous re-doing. However, fixed rates allow for greater freedom in spreading hours across different projects.

    For instance,to set a budget, there are generally 40 work hours in a week. So, to get the budget, you have to calculate the total expenses and multiply by a factor of 2-3. To get an hourly approximation, divide it with 40. Moreover, to get an idea of how much to charge, you can also visit freelance websites to get an idea of how much to charge for your skill level. If that isn’t enough, you can also try various tools available with employment related sites like GlassDoor or LinkedIn. If all else fails, you can just rely on the client setting the price and negotiating with them.

    During negotiation, take what you would consider an accepted price and add approx 10% or so to get some negotiating price. Agree to lower the rice if necessary, but do not go below the accepted price. Don’t offer to lower the price just to get the job. This is because it may make it likely that you would miss a job that would actually offer the price.

    Finally, make sure to avoid lack of payment due to scope creeps by making sure that there is a price discussed for extra work done beforehand.

    Promote Yourself to the Client

    To attract clients, try for a few project proposals either online, through presentations or brochures. The last one is less likely but regardless of medium,some features are universal. Each proposal should include a basic introduction of your skills and experience as a freelancer, what your approach to the project as a freelancer would be, an expected timeframe and a budget.

    However, if you use a freelancer platform as a beginner, you may not have to go through the above song and dance, but you have to expect to submit a resume. This is where many freelancers, even experienced ones fail, especially when they are applying for foreign companies outside of their areas of previous experience. Their resumes often tend to be either barebones, containing almost nothing useful or being overly dense, containing too much irrelevant information and/or being poorly formatted. As such, many knowledgeable freelancers get rejected due to poorly written resumes.So, resume fixing is often a feature provided by some platforms and freelancers can also rely on in-built templates available on Google Docs, MS Word etc.

    In the end, you’ll still most likely have to go through an interview, so make sure that you’re familiar with video conferencing tools, do proper research on the client company and above all, put your best foot forward and snare the clients!

    Good LuckU!



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