How to Become a Freelancer: The Ultimate Guide

Freelancer
GaudiLab / Shutterstock.com

This story originally appeared on FlexJobs.com.

The reasons to embrace a freelance career are compelling. From supplementing your income to setting your own hours, freelance work is increasingly moving from the fringes of the job marketplace and into the mainstream.

If you’ve considered freelancing, you’re not alone. A recent study found that over one-third of workers (36%) are currently freelancing, an increase of 22% since 2019.

If you’re looking to become a freelancer, we’ve put together this detailed guide to help you get started!

A freelancer is not an employee. The IRS defines an employee as someone who:

  • Is not in charge of deciding when, where and how they work.
  • Does not choose how much they are paid or what their raises or bonuses are.
  • Is reimbursed for job-related expenses and receives benefits (like health insurance).

A freelancer, on the other hand, is almost the exact opposite of an employee. Freelancers:

  • Can choose who they want to work for, when they work and where they work with few exceptions.
  • Set their payment rates.
  • Do not receive any benefits from whomever they work for.

To learn more about what freelancing is all about, read:

Although the idea of being your own boss may sound exciting to you, freelancing is not for everyone. It takes more than an entrepreneurial spirit to become a freelancer. Before learning how to start a freelance business, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of freelancing.

The pros include:

  • Choosing who you do and don’t work for (along with when and for how long)
  • Working on only the projects you really want to do
  • Flexibility
  • Exposure — you learn a lot about different industries

The cons are:

  • You’re responsible for paying all of your taxes
  • No benefits
  • The work isn’t always steady, which can lead to cash-flow issues
  • Isolation — you’re almost always working alone

This is why it might be best to begin freelancing when you’re still employed at a full-time job. This will allow you to test the waters and get a better understanding of how being a freelancer works.

Prospective freelancers spend much of their time (at least at first) looking for work. For instance, writers may query various publications with ideas for articles they’d like to write. A freelance web designer might contact area businesses to see if any need help with their sites.

Building relationships and providing quality work makes securing future “gigs” easier through repeat business, word-of-mouth and stellar recommendations. There are also job websites that fully vet and verify all of their freelance opportunities (like FlexJobs) so that you can have a safe and productive job search.

For more ideas on finding freelance work, read “How to Find Freelance Work: Tips, Red Flags, and More

Following are some tips for becoming a freelancer.

Do your homework

Woman creating a home inventory
marvent / Shutterstock.com

Before you set up your website, order business cards, and hang out your shingle, start with some market research to make sure there’s a demand for whatever field you’re in and to understand the competition.

This can help you determine how and where to market your services. Check out your competition to see what kinds of services they offer and how much they charge. You don’t want to overcharge potential clients, but you don’t want to undercharge and devalue your worth, either.

Create a brand

Asian woman talking on her smartphone
miya227 / Shutterstock.com

Securing work in a crowded freelance field can be challenging. A strong personal brand can help you stand out and be memorable.

What distinctive blend of attributes and abilities do you bring to the table? Thinking about what you have to offer and who might benefit from your services will lead you in the right direction when trying to market yourself.

Plan ahead

goodluz / Shutterstock.com

Many freelancers go through feast-or-famine cycles, especially when they are starting out. Sometimes they have so much work to do they aren’t sure they can get it all done. And other times, crickets.

Part of understanding how to start a freelance business includes building up a nest egg to ease some of the stress when work is scarce. To become a successful freelancer, learn how to incorporate finding future work into your daily schedule — even while finishing up assignments at hand.

Plan for routine paperwork

Swamped with paperwork
Phovoir / Shutterstock.com

While passion for your work is certainly necessary to establish a thriving freelance career, so is the ability to handle other duties. Major responsibilities include securing health insurance, planning for retirement and paying self-employment taxes. You’ll also need to take care of day-to-day operations, such as ordering office supplies, invoicing, time tracking, and maintaining relationships with customers.

For more advice on how to handle the administrative side of your freelance business, read:

Get a mentor

Mentor
marvent / Shutterstock.com

Finding a mentor is a solid way to learn the ins and outs of freelancing from someone who has either been there or has enough knowledge about how the freelance business works to help you out.

Connect with a community

Consultant woman
fizkes / Shutterstock.com

Even though you may be a one-person business, you don’t have to go it alone. Local and professional organizations, as well as online groups, can answer questions about how to start a freelance business, be sounding boards for ideas, and connect you to a world beyond your home office.

Joining a group of like-minded people (like a writer’s group, for example) is a great way to get feedback and grow your skills with people who share in your goal to be the best you can be at your job.

For more tips on connecting with other freelancers and growing your network, check out “12 Networking Tips for Freelancers.”

Start small

productive remote worker
marvent / Shutterstock.com

When you are thinking about how to start a freelance business, start small. While it would be ideal to have a cluster of clients, start with one or two.

Consider starting your freelance business as a side hustle first. This gives you the freedom to start small without having to worry about generating an income or keeping your health insurance.

By alleviating some of the pressure and giving yourself permission to go small, you’ll be more inclined to find a steady stream of clients organically instead of worrying about freelance famine. In turn, you can focus on producing great work that will help you impress your current clients, which can then help you find more new clients.

Spread the word

Man using a smartphone
fizkes / Shutterstock.com

No one will know you’re freelancing unless you spread the word. So talk to friends and family first to see if you can get any job referrals from them. Then branch out to your social media circles, being sure not to mix your personal life with your professional one.

If you’ve left past jobs on good terms, it may not hurt to reach out to former employers and let them know that you’re open for business. You’re familiar with the company and likely know their niche better than most, so it could be a win-win scenario.

Ask for referrals

Young woman with smartphone showing no attention with finger hand gesture. Blocking forbidden adult contents, parental control reminder concept - Image
pathdoc / Shutterstock.com

One of the smartest things you can do to get started as a freelancer is to set up solid networking connections, including people who can give you great referrals. Potential references to consider are past work colleagues, present colleagues, and even friends. Any and all of these people can help connect you to clients in need of your services.

Protect yourself

PORTRAIT IMAGES ASIA BY NONWARIT / Shutterstock.com

There are many horror stories out there from freelancers who didn’t get paid for all their hard freelance work. Be sure to protect yourself with a freelance contract.

Having a written contract in place is no guarantee that you’ll get paid. But a contract is something to fall back on in the event you aren’t paid and have to take your client to court.

Build your recommendations

Handshake
Mongkol Foto / Shutterstock.com

Everyone wants their hard work to be acknowledged and praised. When you work for an employer, that praise generally comes in the form of positive employee evaluations, raises, and bonuses. When you’re a freelancer, though, praise comes in the form of a client recommendation.

When you’ve finished the job, ask your client to leave a review on your website, or recommend you on LinkedIn. These positive reviews from actual clients can help raise your profile, establish you as a professional expert, and help you find new clients.

Stay motivated

employees staff workers high five
By Flamingo Images / Shutterstock.com

Every job has its good days and bad days. Freelancing is no different. However, if you lose your motivation as a freelancer, you may lose your whole business!

Freelancer burnout is real. It might be because you took on too many projects or because you have a hard time maintaining boundaries. Whatever it is, burnout can cause you to lose motivation.

Learn when to say no

Woman relaxing holding a coffee
Antonio Guillem / Shutterstock.com

As your freelance business starts growing, it can be tempting to take on every new project that comes your way. But this might not be the best idea. Taking on more than you can handle only means you’ll be more likely to turn in subpar work that isn’t up to your (or your client’s) standards.

Instead, be thoughtful in the work you decide to do and be as sure as you can that whatever your workload, you can turn everything in on time.

Using FlexJobs to become a freelancer

A happy young man smiles and gestures thumbs-up while doing his taxes on a laptop computer
Rostislav_Sedlacek / Shutterstock.com

Now that you know the ins and outs of becoming a successful freelancer, it’s time to land clients. That’s where we can help!

We post flexible and remote-friendly jobs in more than 50 career categories at companies that range from startups to Fortune 100 brands. Many freelancers have had success on our platform, and so can you!

Take the tour today and learn how FlexJobs can help you find freelance work.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
This Is the Best Time of Day to Take Blood Pressure Meds
This Is the Best Time of Day to Take Blood Pressure Meds

The right timing can help you prevent a big — and possibly fatal — mistake.

The 5 States With the Worst Health Care for Retirees
The 5 States With the Worst Health Care for Retirees

All of these states are located in the same region of the nation.

6 Reasons I Will Never Trust Suze Orman
6 Reasons I Will Never Trust Suze Orman

Beware: The self-proclaimed personal finance expert has a track record that suggests more sizzle than steak.

9 Houseplants That Remove Toxins From Your Indoor Air
9 Houseplants That Remove Toxins From Your Indoor Air

These plants may also do everything from reduce the amount of dust in your home to improve your productivity.

3 Reasons You Can’t Rely on Medicare Alone
3 Reasons You Can’t Rely on Medicare Alone

Counting on Medicare to cover health care costs can jeopardize your retirement plans.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
10 Things Frugal People Never Buy
10 Things Frugal People Never Buy

If you’re a true tightwad, the mere thought of spending money on these items gives you the willies.

10 Useless Purchases You Need to Stop Making
10 Useless Purchases You Need to Stop Making

You might as well flush your money down the loo if you spend it on these things.

7 Social Security Benefits You May Be Overlooking
7 Social Security Benefits You May Be Overlooking

There’s more to Social Security than retirement benefits.

7 Social Security Rules Everyone Should Know by Now
7 Social Security Rules Everyone Should Know by Now

Confusion over Social Security is a shame, considering how many of us will need this money badly.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

14 Things You Should Stop Buying in 2021
14 Things You Should Stop Buying in 2021

These convenient household products come with hidden costs that you might not have considered.

The 6 Best Investing Apps for Beginners
The 6 Best Investing Apps for Beginners

If you’re looking to ease into investing in the coronavirus economy with just a little money, check out these easy-to-use tools.

If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It
If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

They don’t make coffee makers like this anymore.

8 Things You Should Replace to Improve Your Life Today
8 Things You Should Replace to Improve Your Life Today

Being frugal isn’t smart if you put off replacing these items.

Is Writing a Check Still Safe?
Is Writing a Check Still Safe?

Every time you pay by check, you hand your bank account numbers to a stranger.

9 Things You Should Never Leave in a Car
9 Things You Should Never Leave in a Car

Thinking of leaving these possessions in a car? Prepare for unexpected consequences.

7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

9 Mistakes People Make When Cleaning With Vinegar
9 Mistakes People Make When Cleaning With Vinegar

Cleaning with vinegar can save you a lot of money, but using it like this can cost you.

13 Amazon Purchases We Are Loving Right Now
13 Amazon Purchases We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

10 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday
10 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday

These items are all steeply discounted — but the deals won’t last long.

7 Income Tax Breaks That Retirees Often Overlook
7 Income Tax Breaks That Retirees Often Overlook

Did you realize all these tax credits and deductions exist — or that they apply to retirees?

10 Cars You Are Most Likely to Keep for 15 Years
10 Cars You Are Most Likely to Keep for 15 Years

The cars that owners hold onto the longest have one thing in common, a new study shows.

10 Things Successful Retirees Do Differently
10 Things Successful Retirees Do Differently

These habits and characteristics can help put you on the track to success.

7 Costly Health Problems That Strike After Age 50
7 Costly Health Problems That Strike After Age 50

As we age, our bodies wear down. Here is how to cut costs associated with some common ailments.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.