Let’s face it: a nine-to-five job just isn’t for everybody.
Steady bi-weekly paychecks, predictable daily tasks, and a consistent work schedule do have their perks, but sometimes those aren’t enough to keep you in the rat race.
Maybe you’re a skilled writer whose inspiration comes sporadically during the day, so there’s no telling when you’ll be most productive during a normal shift.
Or perhaps you’re a self-trained nature photographer and don’t have the field experience to qualify for a full-time studio job.
It’s also possible you just want complete control over your career.
How much money you make.
Who you choose to work with.
How often and how much you work.
Where your career is going.
Being a freelancer is a fantastic way to achieve all of these things. But, it’s not the type of job you should expect to jump into and see immediate success.
Those first few months can be discouraging, and the income may be slow. So, we’re not just going to show you how to become a freelancer; we’re going to teach you how to freelance the right way.
With this guide, you’ll be able to fast track your career and boost your income ASAP!
Common Types of Freelance Jobs
For every professional skill you have, there are probably a dozen or more freelance gigs waiting for people like you to apply.
Individuals and companies hire freelancers for all kinds of tasks, including:
- Writing (journalism, copywriting, blogging, content writing)
- Proofreading & editing
- Photography & photo editing
- Computer-related tasks (data entry, coding, accounting)
- Marketing (advertising, social media, SEO)
- Art & media (graphic design, web design, art commissions)
- Transcription services
- Virtual assistants (who are in exceptionally high demand these days)
There’s a niche for just about everything in the freelance world.
And many potential clients are even willing to train new freelancers, so long as you have the required basic skill set and a good personality.
But there’s a catch:
It’s in your best interest to stick to your strengths.
As enticing as the average freelance writer’s salary sounds (it’s about $52,000, for anyone wondering), this wouldn’t be a good path if you struggle with grammar.
The Best Places for Beginners to Find Freelance Work
Going digital does have its perks for us freelancers.
The most obvious benefit is that you don’t have to search far and wide for open freelancing jobs. There’s no registering at staff agencies or going door to door with your resume.
These days, job opportunities are readily available to view on any freelance platform.
Check out freelance havens like:
- Upwork (formerly oDesk)
- Indeed (search specifically for “remote” or “from home” jobs)
- Fiverr (though doing jobs for $5 apiece undervalues your work long-term)
Now, you can still reach out to companies directly if you want. For instance, if you’re a writer, you might reach out to an online magazine. And if you’re a web guru, you might reach out to tech companies about freelancing for them.
But they might not be interested in hiring independent contractors, so you could be wasting your time.
On a platform like Upwork, you’ll find plenty of companies who are looking for freelancers like you. This makes the lead generation process a lot easier.
Here are a few more reasons why every freelancer should be on at least one of these job sites:
- You can send out resumes en masse for a more efficient application process.
- You can use search filters to weed out job listings that don’t pay enough or require skills you don’t have.
- Clients can leave positive feedback or testimonials on your profile to boost your reputation and show others that you’re worth the investment.
Setting Reasonable Rates & Building a Reputation
There are a few questions that run through every new freelancer’s mind early on:
What do I charge?
Do I charge what I want to make or just accept what a client is willing to pay?
What’s the going rate for this type of service anyway?
But, no matter how new you are as a freelancer, asking for reasonable rates isn’t unreasonable.
How to Determine Your Rate as a Freelancer
Some people enter the freelance world after breaking free from corporate America.
So, there’s a genuine chance you’ll already have a related degree, certificates, and hands-on experience in the field.
This makes your work far more valuable than a complete newbie’s work.
If you want to make the average salary of someone in your field, here’s what to do:
- Do some research to find the average salary (let’s say it’s $60,000).
Add 30% to account for supplies, healthcare, etc. costs an employer would typically cover ($60,000 + 30% = $78,000)
Divide $78,000 by 48 to get your average weekly pay and give yourself 4 weeks of PTO (about $1,625 in this scenario).
- Now, divide the average weekly pay by 40 to figure out how much you’d make in a standard workweek (about $40 an hour).
So, if your clients will pay by the hour, you’d charge around $40/hour (give or take a few dollars considering you’re new at this).
If your client has a job that’ll take about 16 hours, you can also charge a project rate instead. In this scenario, you’d charge something closer to $640 for the whole task.
Newbie vs. Expert Rates
I hate to say it, but a day-one graphic designer’s work is far less valuable than the work of a designer with a great reputation and five years in the biz.
So your rates need to reflect your experience.
Here are some tips for setting the “right” price during your first few months:
Do Your Research
Look at what other entry-level folks are charging for the same services. You can find this type of information on Upwork and other online job sites.
Track Your Time
Record how long it takes you to complete each task involved in your job. This will help you provide more accurate project estimates to your prospects, and it’ll ensure you’re compensated properly for your time.
Charging $20 for a 1,000-word writing job sounds great until it takes you three hours to complete.
Consider Other Payment Structures
Charge by the word or project instead of hourly to maximize your pay.
Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate!
If you have your hourly rate at $30/hour and a client offers $10, send them packing.
Justify the Cost of Your Time
Back up your pricing with an explanation (“Yes, I’m new to freelancing, but I have a certificate and a degree that’ll help me perform this job successfully”).
Every new freelancer will deal with a client that overlooks the value of their work.
Or one that hits them with the old, “Why am I going to pay you XYZ when I have others willing to do it for half that?”
Don’t ever settle for a meager rate to get a client, especially when you’re putting in hours of hard work.
Tips For Applying To & Snagging Freelance Jobs
Once you have the skills and confidence to begin applying for gigs, it’s time to get down to business.
Here are some tips for ensuring your application doesn’t end up in the “trash” pile:
- Build a resume for each niche within your repertoire (for example, you wouldn’t send the same resume for copywriting as you would for a scientific journal writing job, would you?)
- Apply for any and all gigs that you’re interested in, even if you don’t meet all the requirements just yet.
- In your cover letter, clearly convey how your skills and experience make you a good fit (for example, transcriptionists should include their words per minute).
- Use excellent grammar, spelling, and tone in all interactions (proofread!).
- Emphasize your eagerness to grow, hear feedback, and learn new skills.
- Talk about your work ethic, especially regarding deadlines and helping the client succeed.
If you’re applying to the right types of freelance jobs, you’ll start hearing back about your apps within a few days (or even a few hours).
What do you say during your first conversation with a potential client? Read this article for some tips: Your First Meeting With a New Client.
Finances, Organization, & Time Management
Getting your first client is exciting. And when you only have one client, you can dedicate all of your time to pushing out high-quality work without feeling overwhelmed.
But then something terrible happens:
You become successful.
Then, you have to start weighing things like your finances, workflow organization, and time management.
The Financial Aspect of Being a Freelancer
Think getting paid $40+/hour in a new freelance career sounds too good to be true? Well, if you’re picking up jobs via these oh so convenient job boards, it is.
Most freelance sites take 10-20% of your paycheck in the form of “fees.”
Now your $500 weekly paycheck is suddenly cut down to $400.
And to make keeping track of your finances even more complicated, some clients will pay you through the platform where they hired you, others will pay you via PayPal, and you’ll have to file a W-9. You’ll need both when you go to file a 1099-MISC for the year.
Not to mention, independent contractors have to put money aside (typically 30%) to pay estimated taxes each quarter.
It gets complicated, but here are some tips to help you manage your 1099 income:
- Use money management apps like Mint or a finance Excel sheet to stay on top of what’s going in and out of your accounts.
- Track your income and how often you make money (after fees, of course).
- Don’t overspend with your new-found windfall, as you will owe taxes by year’s end.
- Save receipts from your business expenses so you can write them off as tax deductions later.
As you build your reputation, you might stay in the red for a few months. But as you pair your reputation with quality work, efficiency, and higher rates, you’ll see green.
Need help managing your finances? Check out our Freelancer’s Guide to Tracking Business Expenses.
How to Manage Your Time While Freelancing
Time mismanagement is widespread in the world of contracting. A project you expect to take three hours suddenly takes nine, throwing your whole schedule off.
So here are some for staying on schedule:
- Track how long projects take so you can better prepare.
- Don’t accept new gigs if you’re already overbooked (this only risks quality, client satisfaction, and your own sanity!).
- Prioritize the earliest due dates and begin working on longer or more complicated projects well in advance (don’t wait till the due date).
- Factor in your personal life (sure, $800 a week is great, but not if it requires you to work an 80-hour week).
Time management is something that takes a while to build.
But once you perfect it, you’ll have free time, work time, and no overlap of the two.
Bloom can help you manage your time, money, and workflow.
Try Bloom for free today!
Organizational Tips for Freelancers
The best (and worst) part about being a freelancer is the lack of a defined schedule. It’s entirely on you to meet deadlines while juggling your personal life.
A calendar app—or even an old school handwritten weekly calendar—is a necessity.
These tools will allow you to keep track of your upcoming deadlines and better pace yourself within projects, especially as you begin to fill your schedule.
You’ll also want to use a few apps to stay organized.
Google Drive allows you to share and collaborate on documents with other people. This can speed up the project approval process, and will become even more helpful if you ever decide to hire subcontractors in the future.
Create an individual folder for every client to stay as organized as possible.
You’ll also need some sort of timer app.
This will help you to track your billable hours more accurately while helping you find the average time for certain types of projects. You can use this data to set new rates.
Also, you may want to invest in a customer relationship management system. CRMs are designed to be a virtual hub for your business, where you organize your schedule, client communications, invoices, and more.
Building Positive Relationships With Clients
As a freelancer, you might not sign a contract or have a full-time job. But, producing great work and impressing clients will increase your chances of getting repeat or referral work later on.
That’s why building positive relationships with your clients is absolutely crucial.
Be open, honest, and transparent.
For example, let your client know if you’re cutting it close on a deadline or having trouble with a particular task.
Accept feedback with open arms. And not only that, take your client’s advice and put it into action! Show them that you value their opinion and their expectations.
Knowing When to Move on From a Client
Want to know the most remarkable part about freelancing?
You’ll eventually have so many clients that losing (or dropping) one or two won’t be a serious cut to your weekly pay.
And sometimes, it’s in everybody’s best interest to move on.
Regardless of how much you dislike a client, the way you end your relationship can make or break your future as a freelancer. Bad feedback on your Upwork or Toptal profile will keep those top-rated clients from even giving you a chance.
That’s why a clean break is crucial.
How to Quit a Freelance Job
Ready to get higher-paying and more enjoyable jobs?
Follow these steps to end a relationship with a paying client:
First, be sure to thank the client for the opportunities they’ve given you. Let them know that you’ve enjoyed working with them thus far.
Then, deliver the bad news.
Give a reason that doesn’t place the blame on either party.
If you’ve realized that they don’t fit your ideal customer profile, tell them you’re shifting your focus toward another niche. If you want to make more money, tell them that you’re raising your rates.
Most importantly, give your client plenty of notice so that they’re not caught off guard or left scrambling to replace you.
You might just cross paths again in the future!
You can make as much money freelancing online as you could in a traditional full-time position.
In many cases, you can make more freelancing than you would in a part-time position!
But don’t expect a windfall of funds just yet.
It’ll take at least a few months to fine-tune your skills, get feedback on your job profiles, and justify higher rates.
It’ll all happen in due time.
So stop wondering how to become a freelancer and start sending out those applications!
Bloom can help you with almost every aspect of your freelance business.
Learn more about Bloom now.