I’ll start with an anecdote: When I was first released to the world with a freshly-printed college degree and bright eyes, I jumped into sending out as many resumes and job applications as physically possible. I mean, thousands. And, as a young journalist graduate, I was met with a heart-aching reality — It wasn’t as easy as asking around. I was turned down by every single one. A million rejection emails sitting in a hopeless inbox. Around 50% of the emails suggested a simple task: freelancing.
At first, it was a bit deterring. I was told that an actual, full-time job was impossible for my level of experience. I was told that I simply wasn’t good enough (or old enough), to gain steam in a career I just spent 4 years studying. Discouraging was a simple and easy way to put it. I was absolutely destroyed, morally and emotionally.
After a moment of heavy breathing, I realized the normalcy of the situation. Freelancing is both common and respectable. In fact, some professionals purposely freelance their entire careers. It carries a negative connotation, but it is a fulfilling and prosperous way to live. In fact, Zippia found that there are 70.4 million freelancers in the U.S., as of 2022. So, if it wasn’t a smart decision, the number would be significantly smaller.
So, let the career guides at Tier2Tek Staffing break it down for you.
Should you start freelancing? Is it the best step for your career path?
- What Is Freelancing?
- How to Start?
What Is Freelancing?
As with all of our articles, we need to begin by breaking down the idea at hand. What exactly is freelancing?
To define the idea in basic terms: Freelancing is the act of working as an independent contractor, rather than as an employee of a company or organization. Freelancers are self-employed individuals who offer their services to clients on a project-by-project basis, rather than being hired for ongoing employment. These professionals may work in a variety of fields, including writing, graphic design, web development, consulting, and many others. As freelancers, they are responsible for finding and securing their own clients, managing their own schedules and workload, and setting their own rates and fees for their services.
As noted, freelancing has a bit of a negative connotation for both employees and some employers. Some employees believe that it is a less-than-profitable career. Some employers believe that the freelancer isn’t good enough of a worker to maintain a full-time job. Both of these thoughts are wildly incorrect.
First of all, freelancing is just as profitable (if not more) than some regular jobs. According to Demand Sage, the worldwide freelance market is estimated to be worth $1.5 trillion and increasing at a Compound Anual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 15%.
Second of all, people are choosing to be freelancers, taking the negativity out of the employment option. Some freelancers have the option to work full-time careers but choose not to (we’ll get to why).
The point is: freelancing is a valuable option for workers of multiple fields.
Remote Work and Beyond
After the pandemic (that we shall not name), ravaged the working world in 2020, the vision of work and working standards changed drastically. An entire year of being stuck at home shifted the thought process of what needed to be followed to create a productive work environment. Now, people prefer having the option to work from home.
A survey by Slack found that 72% of workers in six different countries prefer a hybrid remote-office model with only 12% preferring to always work in an office setting. 13% of surveyed workers would like to always work from home and never return to the office.
Generation Z (who are set to make up 27% of the world workforce by 2025) believes that remote work is necessary due to the increasing dread and health situations that the COVID-19 pandemic brought about.
Zippia found that 26% of employees in the U.S. now work remotely (as of 2022). Furthermore, according to a study from GOBankingRates, 29% of Gen Z say they prefer to work remotely (the lowest of all generations), and 27% say remote working is a necessity (the highest of all generations). Though conflicting information on paper, the idea is clear: Gen Z doesn’t like to work from home, but they understand the importance of it for both mental and physical health.
Simply put, the future of the working world believes that hybrid workplaces are the future. They understand that a return to the office is necessary for productivity, but they have seen the fear and danger that an in-person world can bring in the midst of a life-altering pandemic. Furthermore, they have seen the possibility of a hybrid workplace and know it’s a workable concept.
If the desire for freelancing was high before the pandemic, it’s only quadrupled since. With post-covid layoffs, the desire for remote work, and the need for working freedom, freelance gigs have become a desirable need for all industries.
Look back to the statistic mentioned in the opening. There were over 70 million freelancers in 2022. According to Upwork, there were 57 million U.S. workers freelancing in 2019, contributing roughly $1 trillion to America’s gross domestic product.
There’s your statistic. It’s gone up over 13 million in a couple of years, with the number continuously growing.
If the remote work boom of post-covid has caused you to crave working from home, freelancing is a valuable option, regardless of your industry.
Can It Really Be a Full-Time Career?
Though it may take a significant amount of time and effort to set up a full-time freelancing situation, it can 100% become a profitable and livable profession.
Once you have established yourself as a significant player in the field and garnered a notebook full of valuable connections, you should have no problem finding sustainable and full-time work. Furthermore, once you become a well-known and prestigious mercenary in your field, you can start upping your prices, leading to flexible and lucrative profits.
Though all of these factors take time and effort to establish, so does every career. If you started at an actual job, you’d likely start at the bottom of the ladder. You, too, would have to work before you grew into a profitable and prestigious role. It’s the same concept.
It does take a bit of chance and risk, though.
If you have not already established yourself in the industry through previous work, it may take a lot of time and communication before you have enough gigs to survive off of. Because of this, most workers wait until they are established in their industry’s network before they freelance. It’s also possible to have a part-time or full-time job and freelance on the side. Once you establish enough of a network, you can drop your normal job.
What About a Means to an End?
Let’s harken back to my introductory story.
In that situation, I was in need of any experience in my field. As a college graduate with my only work experience in the retail sphere, I was not going to get looked at by even entry-level jobs. Firstly, that’s a glaring issue with the journalism industry, but that’s an entirely different story. Secondly, it was a glaring issue with my resume.
It’s that long-laughed-at cliche. You need the experience to get experience. And, in the modern working world, it’s certainly the case. Luckily, freelancing becomes an actual option.
A company doesn’t waste or chance precious resources hiring an inexperienced worker, and the inexperienced worker gets to try their hand in the field and build their resume. It’s a win-win for both parties.
Furthermore, in a field like writing, graphic design, or web design, your portfolio is part of your lifeblood. It’s more important than your resume. It shows the company what you can do in the creative realm. Freelancing gives you an opportunity to build upon that with actual paid and/or published work.
If you are trying to get into an industry that relies on experience, portfolios, and other work-related proof, freelancing is a great way to bolster your resume. Once you have published work under your belt, you can use it as a tool to help you land a full-time job. It’s a great means to get into the industry permanently, especially if you don’t want to freelance forever.
Back to My Story:
I realized that a full-time job (even entry-level) was not going to be an option without published work. So, I began reaching out to local newspapers for an opportunity for freelance work. After some effort and discussions, I was thrown a few articles to try. I wrote them and began building published work.
One of the publications offered me regular freelance work. After a year of it, I had a bolstered portfolio. I was then able to take that new resume back to the entry-level applications, eventually landing one. The freelancing publication also eventually offered me a full-time gig.
It was, in a way, like a paid internship.
It can act as a full-time gig or a means of getting into full-time jobs at employers. Within the freedom is whatever you want it to be.
Does It Fit My Industry, Though?
Though the idea sounds splendid and desirable, it doesn’t always raise itself as an option, especially if you work in a hands-on industry. For example, if you want to become a mechanical engineer, you will likely need to be on-location and hands-on to be a worker. That doesn’t lend to freelancing well.
It is technically possible to land a ‘gig’ in the field, but it would be considered a contract or temporary job. In a way, that’s the same thing. If you are in an industry that requires hands-on work (i.e. carpentry), gigs and contracts are pretty much freelancing. You are building a resume through short stints of paid work. It isn’t technically the same thing, though.
According to Upwork, the most common freelancing jobs are in software development, design and creative work, writing, sales and marketing, administrative support, customer service, data science, analytics, engineering, and legal work.
Do You Need a Degree or Certification?
So far, we have spoken of freelancing as almost an entry-level situation. As if freelancing is your way to begin a career. But, on the contrary, we have said it’s a possible means of full-time and lucrative work.
Some clarification is in order.
Sometimes freelancing work takes as much background as landing full-time jobs. For example, a large company may not hire a web design freelancer unless they have a certification in specific coding. A publication may not look at a design freelancer unless they have a college degree. In this way, freelancing can be just as gate-kept as normal jobs. The requirements can be just as steep.
Therefore, freelancing on the high end takes time and background. Freelancing at entry-level may not take as much experience as full-time jobs, but it may still take a background or degree.
In some cases (especially art), showing off a stellar portfolio of personal work is enough to land a freelance gig. That’s an entirely different story, though.
Point being: we can’t simply say that you can freelance to get into an industry you have no background in. It is not a substitute for college or trade school (in most cases). It’s mostly just a way to build your resume or make side money after getting your degree or certification.
Therefore, we suggest looking into your specific industry and gigs to see the average requirements. Reach out to desired employers and ask what they look for in freelancers. See if you match the criteria before making a big leap.
How to Start?
If you have gotten this far, you may have decided that you want to try your hand at freelancing. And, we don’t blame you. What is there to lose?
But, as noted, it’s not as easy as asking for opportunities. It still takes communication, networking, and convincing people to pay you. While it doesn’t hold the same company risk as hiring you, it still holds company risk. Employers still have to spend their money on you.
It can be downright frightening and overwhelming if you don’t know where to begin.
Here are some tips:
1. Determine What You Can Provide
What are you able to sell to these companies? Why should they pick you for the specific role?
Freelancing requires specialized skills and knowledge, so it’s important to identify what you’re good at and what you can offer to potential clients. Consider your experience, education, and training, and think about what services you can provide that are in demand in the market.
If you have a career in mind already (i.e. journalism), start thinking of your pitch. It’s most likely you will have to pitch stories or article ideas to publications to get them to look your way for gigs. Therefore, you have to have strong skills, a resume, and communication.
2. Create a Stellar Portfolio and Resume
As we said, some industries will allow you to bank a gig off of a portfolio alone.
Think art — You don’t need an educational background or certification to convince a company to buy your original artwork. You just have to show them how good you are. Then, if the art fits their identity or bill, they will be willing to give you a gig. This goes for web design and writing, too.
A portfolio is a collection of your work samples that showcase your skills and expertise to potential clients. It’s essential to have a strong portfolio that demonstrates your abilities and past work experience. Your portfolio should include your best work, testimonials from previous clients, and any relevant certifications or awards.
3. Set Your Rates
A lot of times, once you show your portfolio and explain your services, a company may ask what you charge (especially smaller ones). Bigger companies may have set freelancing prices, but smaller ones often don’t. They ask you.
You need to determine how much you will charge for your services and how you will invoice your clients. Research what other freelancers in your industry are charging and set your rates accordingly. It’s important to consider your experience, skills, and the complexity of the project when setting your rates. You can charge hourly, per project, or on a retainer basis. Make sure to have a clear payment policy and communicate it to your clients upfront. You are now your own business, after all.
While you may think your work is priceless, you aren’t big enough to start charging ludicrous amounts. Keep that in mind.
4. Get a Business License
If your freelancing career starts picking up steam, you may need to get a business license. But, ultimately, it depends on your industry and state.
If you are working directly under your legal name, you don’t need a Doing Business As (DBA) license, but you may need a city or county business license. In this case, you are a sole proprietorship and are filing all taxes under your personal name. Therefore, you just need to file a 1040 form at the end of the tax year. You don’t need to register for a license.
If you are in an industry that requires safety regulations or you are working under a company name, you will need to file a business license with the state.
It’s a whole other topic, but WeAreIndy broke it down here.
5. Build Your Social Media and Website
In today’s digital age, having an online presence is essential for freelancers. Building your online presence can help you establish your brand and reach potential clients. Start by creating a professional website that showcases your skills and services. Your website should include your portfolio, rates, and contact information. You can also create social media profiles on platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram to connect with potential clients and promote your services.
A lot of artists have blown up from getting popular on social media. It’s worth a shot.
Secondly, having a website can actually lead to work without your reaching out. People will find you, especially if you use SEO tactics to get your website in front of random eyes.
6. Start Networking
You have to start meeting people within your industry and building a name for yourself. Because freelancing relies on how many projects you have going, you need to have companies reaching out to you for available gigs and pitches. You need to become something of a business, having business-to-business clients asking you for your services.
Attend networking events, join online communities, and participate in forums related to your field. Connect with other freelancers, business owners, and professionals in your industry. You can also reach out to previous colleagues or classmates and let them know about your freelance services.
In the modern social media age, finding other workers is as easy as ever. Use it. Don’t be afraid to ask others for advice, pitch ideas to companies via email, or call for opportunities.
You need a bit of gumption and social expertise to become a high-end freelancer.
7. Establish a System
You simply cannot be a great freelancer without organization. After all, you are going to be reaching out to multiple people, working with different companies at once, and filing multiple tax papers at the end of the year.
You never want to send the wrong client the wrong work or forget a due date. It’s a bad look. As a freelancer, your reputation is everything.
Start by creating a schedule and setting deadlines for your projects. Use project management tools like Asana, Trello, or Basecamp to track your tasks and communicate with your clients. Create a workflow that includes client communication, project management, invoicing, and follow-up. It’s important to have a system that works for you and allows you to manage your workload effectively.
You’ll be lost without a practice in place. You are now a business. Act like one.
Freelancing can be a freedom-based career full of rewarding experiences. Freelancing can also be a way to break into your dream industry, carving out a great portfolio and connections. It’s all about what you want to do, how badly you want to do it, and how much you are willing to risk.
If you are attempting to get into freelancing, keep your head high. It’s okay to need a fallback job for finances at first. It’s okay to lose out on a bunch of gigs. It’s a practice that takes time and effort. Believe in yourself and keep working diligently. You will get there.