The Beginner’s Guide to Freelancing in 2021 (+ 7 Freelance Tips)

Are you thinking about freelancing in 2021?

Freelancing has a lot going for it. The flexibility to set your own hours. The ability to raise your rates whenever you want. The ultimate freedom of being your own boss.

Maybe it’s almost enough to tempt you to go ahead and quit your full-time job, right now.

But you’re smart.

You know it’s not necessarily going to be easy to get freelance jobs. You understand freelancing will bring up challenges, as well as opportunities. And you want to be sure you’re making the right decision.

We’re going to help you decide if freelancing is the right path for you.

Let’s start by clarifying what we’re talking about. What is freelancing and how does it work?

The Beginner's Guide to Freelancing

What is freelancing?

Freelancing means providing services as a self-employed individual. You will likely take on freelance work for several different clients, maybe working a few hours each week for each client. You’ll charge either an hourly rate or a project rate.

Pros and cons of freelance work

So what’s best about freelancing? And what might make you think twice?

Let’s look at the highs and lows:

Perks of being a freelance pro

1. Make money doing something you love

freelancing perk

One of the biggest perks of freelancing is getting to spend a huge chunk of your workday doing something you love.

Enjoy writing? Maybe you’ll take on freelance writing jobs as a copywriter or blogger.

Love art? You might start a graphic design freelance business.

Taught yourself to program? There’s plenty of freelance work in software development.

There are all types of freelance jobs out there, but some of the most common ones will fit into one of these broad areas:

  • Writing services: copywriting, editing, SEO writing, technical writing, proofreading, and more.
  • Graphic design services: for logos, websites, printed materials, infographics, book covers, and more.
  • Software development services: for mobile apps, plugins, websites, desktop software, and more.
  • Admin services: including tasks like data entry, email management, social media management, booking travel, and more.

Do any of those appeal to you? Is there anything on that list that you’d do just for fun?

2. Be your own boss

freelancing perk

At some point, you’ve probably daydreamed about being your own boss.

When you become a successful freelancer, you’re fully in charge. That can be a bit daunting, but it’s also something that most freelancers can’t imagine giving up.

You get to decide which projects to take on. You get to turn down clients you don’t want to work with. There’s no one telling you what to do.

You even get to give yourself a pay raise. Once you’ve established a good pool of clients who are delighted with your work, you can easily set your pricing higher.

3. Set your own hours to suit you and your circumstances

freelancing perk

Unless the type of remote work you do involves offering highly time-sensitive support to your clients, they’re unlikely to care what hours you work. You could work from 5 am until noon then finish for the day. You could work while your kids are in school. You could work part-time or full-time, whatever suits you.

This is a huge advantage of freelancing, especially if you have kids or caring responsibilities. You can freelance during nap time, or while your kids are at school or nursery.

Plus, freelancing means you can schedule your work for the hours when you’re most alert and productive.

You might be surprised just how much you can get done in just a couple of hours.

4. Work from home (or pretty much anywhere you want)

freelancing perk

In 2020, people all around the world ended up working from home. Some couldn’t wait to get back to the office – but many loved it.

If you like your own space and your home comforts, you’ll love working from home. You can set up your workspace however you like, listen to whatever music you want, and even take a mid-afternoon nap.

Of course, after 2020, you might be feeling a little tired of your own four walls. There are plenty of other options available, like local cafes, public libraries, and co-working space.

Some freelancers adopt a “digital nomad” lifestyle: with a laptop and an internet connection, you can work just about anywhere in the world.

While that might not be a practical plan until COVID is well under control, it’s definitely a perk to look forward to in the future.

5. Only work with people you actually like

freelancing perk

Have you ever had a colleague who you just couldn’t get along with? In a regular workplace, you’re stuck with whoever your boss or manager hires. You just have to hope they’re easy to work with.

Whether it’s an office mate who constantly chatters, a colleague who’s boorish, or a line manager who is constantly micromanaging you… the people you work with can turn a perfectly good job into a nightmare.

But in your freelance career, you can choose exactly who you work with. If a client proves to be a massive pain, you can fire them. Even better, you can actively seek out clients and businesses that you really want to work with.

Cons of freelance jobs

There are loads of perks to freelancing, as we’ve just seen. But there are some potential drawbacks too.

1. You will need to arrange your own health insurance

freelancing con

This is a big drawback for many would-be freelancers and small business owners in the US and other countries without nationalized health systems. If your health insurance is through your employer, striking out on your own could have serious implications for your household budget.

Of course, you’ll still have options for health insurance. For instance, if your partner is employed, you might be able to join their plan. In a worst-case scenario, you could simply pay privately for health insurance.

Whatever your exact situation, make sure you know what’s available and that you know how you’re going to handle health insurance before you quit your job.

2. There might be more admin than you expect

freelancing con

Running your own small business involves a lot of work that won’t contribute directly to your bottom line. As an independent contractor, you spend a lot of time on things like accounts, taxes, emails, marketing, social media, project management, and so on.

You’re not going to be able to bill for all 40 hours of your working week. Instead, you’re likely to be billing for 20 to 25 hours. So don’t make the huge mistake of comparing your hourly freelancing rate with what you were making per hour at your day job.

3. You might feel lonely without colleagues

freelancing con

While the solitude of freelancing can be a definite perk, even hardened introverts may eventually have enough of their own company.

If you’re used to having colleagues to chat with during the working day, freelancing may seem lonely and strange. You might find it hard to focus without the social interaction that you’re used to.

4. Your expenses may go up

freelancing con

Although you won’t be paying to commute, you may well find that your expenses go up. If you need a new laptop, a new chair, new software, or any software or tools for your freelancing, it has to come out of your profits.

Depending on what you already have, and the type of freelancing you plan to do, your expenses could end up being a huge chunk of your earnings – at least in the early months.

5. Your income will go up and down, often unpredictably

freelancing con

As a freelancer, you’re unlikely to have a consistent monthly income. Unless all your clients always want the exact same amount of work from you each month, your income will fluctuate a lot.

Some freelancers call this the “feast or famine” cycle. One month, they might have so much freelance work, they’re struggling to handle it all. The next month, that work has dried up. They haven’t been looking for anything new, so they’ve got little to do, and not enough money.

Even worse, you may find that income you were expecting doesn’t materialize. A client might be late paying you, or a gig that you were counting on might fall through.

How freelancers make money in the gig economy

Maybe you’ve weighed up the pros and cons, and you want to go ahead. The question on your mind right now is, “How can I start freelancing?”

There’s no one perfect path into freelancing.

Some freelancers have a good network of potential new clients through their LinkedIn contacts or even through fellow freelancers. Others turn to marketplaces like Upwork or Fiverr to get started, or they look for gigs on freelance writing sites like ProBlogger’s job board.

Ultimately, freelancers make money by:

  • Taking on a specific gig, which might be a one-off (“design a logo for my website”) or a regular commitment (“write a blog post for me every week”).
  • Charging either an hourly rate (e.g. $50/hour) or a project rate (e.g. $100 for a simple logo).
  • Completing the work on time.
  • Making any necessary revisions. Be clear with your client ahead of time how many rounds of revisions you’re prepared to do.
  • Invoicing the client.
  • Getting paid, which is always a great moment!

How can I start freelancing?

So how exactly do you start freelancing?

You could Google “freelance jobs” and hope to find something suitable. However, that can mean a race to the bottom with other desperate new freelancers.

Plus, you’ll need a few things in place before you start taking on freelance work.

Note: I’m assuming you’re already good at what you do and you’ve got some samples you’re proud of. Not quite there yet? Check out these tips on how to become a freelance writer for tons of guidance on developing your skills and portfolio.

Here’s how to get started, the right way:

1. Make sure your freelancing is actually legal

In order to legally freelance, you need to make sure you’re set up to pay your taxes, and that you’ve completed any necessary forms.

For most freelancers, it makes sense to register as a self-employed individual instead of forming a company. In the USA, this is called “sole proprietorship.”

However, you may want to take a specialist’s advice on what will work best in your situation, particularly when it comes to taxes. Forming an LLC may be a better option for you.

2. Put together a simple portfolio to show prospective clients

Whatever your freelancing niche, clients will want to see examples of your work. They need to know that you’re good at what you do.

Before you start bidding on jobs, put together a writing portfolio. This doesn’t need to be anything fancy. If you’re a copywriter, it might consist of some examples of copy you’ve written. If you’re a logo designer, it could be a web page with images of the logos you’ve created.

3. Create a professional-looking email address

If your regular email address is something like sparklybunny@hotmail.com or firefly4eva@yahoo.com… you won’t be making the best first impression on your potential clients.

Ideally, you want an email address at your own domain, like name@yourdomain.com. If you don’t yet have a freelance website, a sensible Gmail address is a good alternative.

Good options for your Gmail address include using your name, your initials, a middle name, or your name plus what you do (e.g. janedoewriter or johnsmithdesigner).

Even if you already have a sensible-looking email address, you might want to create a new one for freelancing so that you can easily distinguish between business and personal emails.

4. Create some kind of online presence

If you can budget for it, the best option for your website is to set up a self-hosted WordPress site. This gives you plenty of freedom and flexibility.

Setting up a website can be time-consuming, though, and you may not want to create a whole website before you even get started freelancing. Some quick and free alternatives include:

  • Creating a free website with WordPress.com, a commercial organization that offers a basic free plan
  • Setting up a free page on About.me
  • Creating a Facebook page for your freelancing business

It’s important to have something online so that friends and contacts can easily point a potential client to details about your services.

5. Let everyone know that you’ll be freelancing

When you’re looking for freelance work, it doesn’t pay to be shy. Let everyone know that you’re going to be freelancing. Friends, family, former colleagues, even your old high school classmates. Someone will have a gig for you (or they’ll have a friend who does).

Don’t worry that you’re going to come across as annoying or desperate. Unless you go way overboard, your network will be excited about your career change and eager to help.

Keep your message short and to the point: this isn’t the time to send a potted history of everything you’ve been up to for the past decade.

Here’s an example of what you could write by email:

Hi friends,

I’ve got some exciting news. From today, I’m officially a freelance writer. I’m going to be specializing in writing copy for small business or startup websites – though I’m open to other gigs too.

If you happen to need any website copy for your business, I’d be thrilled to work with you. Or, if you know someone else who’s looking for a writer, I’d love it if you could point them to my website: www.joesmithwriter.com.

Thanks,

Joe

6. Land your first paying gig (and keep going)

Your first paying gig might come from your existing contacts. If you’re really lucky, you might get several ongoing gigs from your network.

Most freelancers, though, find this only works for the short-term. A couple of great places to turn to after this are:

  • Agencies. These will often have ongoing freelance work for months or even years to come. Do a bit of due diligence, though, to be sure that you’re only looking at reputable agencies that pay well.
  • High-quality job boards or job sites. There are lots of different sites that list freelancing gigs: some of these have regular, well-paying jobs, and others aren’t worth your time. For some great options, check out these lists of freelance writing job boards and blogging job sites.

7. Get testimonials from your clients

After you finish a project for a client, ask them for a testimonial. Most clients will be delighted to provide one – but very few will do so without prompting.

High-quality testimonials are particularly important if your work is hard to demonstrate through samples. If you’re a virtual assistant, a programmer, or a ghostwriter; testimonials may be a huge factor in helping potential clients decide to hire you.

Asking for a testimonial doesn’t need to be complicated. You could send a message like this:

I really enjoyed working on (project) with you. Any chance you could write a quick testimonial for me that I could use on my website? I’d be really grateful.

You might want to get stronger testimonials by prompting your clients with specific questions, either by email or through a quick feedback form that you send to clients after the project is complete.

Start freelancing in 2021

Ready to take your first steps with freelancing? Here’s your quick action plan for today:

  • Gather clips of your existing work. Make scans or find links to where they’re posted online.
  • Email at least one person to ask for a testimonial that relates to your freelancing area (e.g. writing). This could be a past colleague or someone you’ve helped out for free.
  • Set up a professional-looking email address, either at your website domain if you have one, or with Gmail.

Keep moving forward, and before you know it, you’ll have the freelancing career of your dreams.

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