The Ins and Outs of Freelance Work: A Guide to Building Your Career as a Freelancer
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing nationwide lockdowns, more than 22 million jobs were eliminated. While many businesses have reopened, there are some jobs and positions that may never return.
As many Americans were losing their jobs and even more were working from home, the world of freelancing was a big topic in 2020.
It isn’t a new trend. But the ability to be your own boss and work from anywhere without starting a traditional business has grown in popularity in recent years.
Whether you’re thinking about leaving your old job behind or want to earn some side income, keep reading. We’re breaking down what you need to know about freelance work, landing clients, and more.
What is Freelancing?
Freelancing is a term that’s widely used, sometimes incorrectly.
The term can refer to work in many, many different fields. For that reason, the word “freelance” is often used when talking about any work outside of a traditional office space or outside of a boss-and-employee set-up.
In reality, freelancing is more specific than that.
Being a freelancer means that you work as an individual. You are performing work for other individuals or businesses on a contract. You may also work via an online marketplace-style website or through independent projects. While freelancers are their own bosses, they do work with clients and customers to complete projects and deliver work. These projects or services are often creative, technical, or administrative in nature.
As a freelancer, you may work with big corporations, small businesses, or even other freelancers. However, you are not an employee. This means freelancing most often comes with no benefits like vacation pay, health insurance, or, in many cases, even a workspace in an office.
It is possible to turn your freelance work into a small business. Some freelancers choose to register as an LLC, though this isn’t a requirement in order to do freelance work. However, not all small businesses are considered freelance work.
For instance, if you open up a brick-and-mortar store or online store selling pre-made products, you aren’t necessarily a freelancer.
Other Terms That Also Refer to Freelance Work
Just about every industry has freelancers filling specific needs in the field. With more than a third of Americans turning to freelancing, the number of different jobs that freelancers perform in each industry is almost impossible to count.
Because the term “freelance” is so broad, plenty of other terms have popped up to narrow the field and refer to specific freelance roles.
Some freelance jobs are individualized and performed without a written contract.
For instance, a copywriter drafting a short blog post for a website may utilize a casual email agreement or verbal contract. In this agreement, the writer outlines their terms and cost and the business lets them know what they need in the post.
Sometimes freelance work is referred to as contract work. In this case, a written, formal contract is often used.
This is great for freelancers and businesses alike, especially for large or long-term projects. It helps ease any confusion and also gives both parties a binding resource if the other party doesn’t follow through on their end of the agreement.
Another term used to refer to freelance contract work is a contract job. Often, this term refers to a single contract project, rather than long-term work.
Many businesses refer to the freelancers that they work with as independent contractors. This is another way to say that they are not full-time, benefit-receiving employees, but are instead working with the company on a contract.
“Independent contractor” is also used by the IRS. This is how they classify freelance work performed for a business. When you file taxes as a freelancer though, you’ll file as self-employed.
If a business is bringing on a freelancer to perform a specific job on a short-term or emergency basis, they may refer to this employee instead as a contract consultant.
Occasionally, businesses will bring on freelancers on a contract first, but with the possibility of them becoming full-time employees later on. In this case, the freelancer may be referred to as a “contract-to-hire.”
What are the Pros and Cons of Freelance Work?
A 2018 study found that more than 56 million people in the U.S. were doing freelance work on a part-time or full-time basis.
With many people forced to stay home and millions facing unemployment or lost hours and income, that number has likely risen even higher as of 2020.
While there is no shortage of the benefits of freelancing drawing people in, like any career choice, it has its share of cons as well. Before you take the leap and start working for yourself, it’s important to understand both the pros and cons of freelance work.
Pros of Freelancing
If you’ve ever woken up on a Monday morning dreading making your way to the office or found yourself staring at the clock, ready to rush home the moment you’re off work, you know how draining a traditional job can be.
Over three-quarters of full-time employees in the U.S. have experienced burnout at their current job.
This is often a two-part problem. First, employees are performing jobs that they aren’t passionate about or that don’t challenge them.
The second part is the lack of a work-life balance. A whopping 66 percent of working American adults feel that they don’t have a good balance between their work duties and their responsibilities at home.
Freelance work offers a way out of the burnout of a traditional job. You can choose your area of focus and accept only projects that you’re excited and passionate about. With the flexibility to set your own hours and accept the projects that you have time for, you can create the work-life balance you’ve been dreaming of.
Other benefits of freelance work include a chance to potentially make more money than in a traditional job. If you have the skills and experience—and a knack for attracting clients—the sky is the limit when it comes to what you can make.
Working on your own schedule also gives you the chance to work on other freelance income streams, like passive income, that you can use to generate even more money.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to be your own boss as well. Whether you want to take a long lunch or a two-week vacation at the last minute, it’s up to you what you can and can’t do. Most freelance jobs can be performed remotely as well, which opens up the opportunity to work from anywhere in the world.
Cons of Freelancing
When you’re stuck punching the clock in a cubicle, freelancing may sound like the perfect career. But as with any job, there will be bad days from time to time.
Starting a freelance career isn’t quite as easy as filling out applications for a traditional job. Instead, you’ll need to choose your area of focus, build a portfolio, and reach out to clients, either directly or through a freelance marketplace.
Depending on your area of focus and demand, it could take time to get clients. Even after you grow a successful freelance business, there may be times when work isn’t as plentiful.
When you’re a full-time employee, you know exactly how much money you’ll get each payday. But with freelance work, some weeks may be better than others. Or some parts of the year you may bring in more income, while others you might see less.
If you’ve never freelanced before, the thought of not having a steady paycheck can be terrifying. However, being smart about managing your income and setting aside money for a rainy day can help you manage the change.
Another reason that you’ll need to learn to manage your freelance income is that come tax time, you’ll face a big bill. That’s because your freelance income won’t have taxes taken out automatically as your traditional career did. You’ll need to pay taxes on all of the freelance income that you earned in the previous year.
It isn’t just up to you to pay it, either; you’ll also need to keep track of what you owe and pay the right amount, or else you’ll face fines. If you’re worried about managing your taxes, you can also hire an accountant to help you.
If you’re used to the benefits of a full-time job, like health insurance, vacation time, and a retirement fund, losing those is another con of switching to freelance work.
Weighing the Pros and Cons of Freelance Work
The pros of freelance work, like setting your own hours, working from anywhere, and the chance to follow your passion, all sound great. But it’s important not to forget the cons that you’ll face as well.
Dealing with the stress of an uneven income, the constant work needed to find clients, and the loss of benefits can be a lot to deal with. However, if you’re ready to put in the work and commit yourself to staying motivated and managing your time and money carefully, the pros can far outweigh the cons.
Ultimately, it’s up to each individual to decide whether or not freelance work is the right choice for them. Some people may be better at motivating themselves and networking with clients than others.
Luckily, you don’t have to be ready to give up your day job to start taking advantage of some of the benefits of freelance work. If you have a little time and are ready to dedicate it to bettering your future, you can always start a freelance business on the side to bring in extra income and perhaps start building towards a full-time freelance career.
What are Some of the Most Commonly Sought-After Creative Skills for Freelancers?
With just about every industry under the sun putting freelancers to work, freelancers are performing a wide variety of unique tasks. Many are jobs that you may have never heard of.
For instance, there are freelancers out there earning an income for their calligraphy work, for writing poetry, and even for dreaming up unique baby names.
While these job opportunities are out there, most freelance jobs instead focus on a specific list of skills that businesses are in need of. These are just a few of the most in-demand skills that businesses are looking for from independent contractors.
Writing is one of the most popular—and most in-demand—freelance jobs.
Just like the term freelance, freelancing writing actually encompasses a very wide variety of positions.
Freelance copywriting refers to writing content for businesses, like drafting emails, product descriptions, or press releases. Journalism covers writing for online or print publications. Technical writing often refers to industry-specific, research-heavy writing, such as for manuals.
There’s also blogging, ad copy, scriptwriting, fiction writing, ghostwriting, and more.
Another in-demand skill for freelancers is translation services.
In fact, translation and interpretation are one of the fastest-growing fields in today’s job market. Between 2019 and 2029, the field is expected to grow by 20 percent, which is considered to be much faster than the average.
There are plenty of full-time opportunities for translators. But there is also a growing demand for freelancers to translate documents, videos, and other content.
If you are fluent in a second language, this can be a great skill to use to start your own freelance career.
While perhaps less well-known than other freelance jobs, voice over work is a lucrative market for aspiring or experienced voice actors.
From audiobooks to digital advertising and everything in between, freelance voice over artists can record their work from the comfort of their home or mobile office.
Small businesses with limited budgets or large corporations in need of a few voice over jobs love the ability to hire an artist as-needed. And freelancers can use this opportunity to launch a voice over career, earn income alongside a full-time job, or even in addition to other freelance roles.
Much like voice over work, music production is also a lesser known yet in demand role for freelancers.
Whether you want to release your own original music or record, mix, and produce tunes for businesses to use in their ads or for artists to release to their fans, there is no shortage of roles that a freelance music producer can fill.
When a journalist records an interview, an influencer films a vacation outing, or a business films an event, they often wind up with less-than-polished audio that’s hardly ready for their audience to hear.
That’s where freelance audio editing comes in.
A freelancer with the right skills and tools can polish up audio for podcasts, videos, and more.
Not all freelance positions are entirely remote.
One position that is freelance but often requires individuals to be on-location is video production. Shooting, editing, and preparing films and other video content for businesses is another fast-growing opportunity for freelancers.
While there are some businesses looking for stock videos that don’t necessarily need to be shot on-location or those who already have the content and just need an editor and producer, in most cases you’ll need to go to a specific destination to film your content. This makes freelance video production a better choice for those located near larger cities where there are plenty of clients looking for these skills.
If you have an eye for digital art and experience working with popular software like Photoshop, InDesign, and Lightroom, graphic design is another great freelance skill to have.
From creating advertisements for businesses to designing web pages and everything in between, there’s no shortage of ways to put your graphic design skills to work as a freelancer.
Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Skill Area to Focus On
With so many skills in high demand, choosing which ones to focus on when launching your own freelance career can be a challenge.
It can be tempting to choose several. After all, when you’re trying to build a new career, choosing just one or two skills can feel as though you’re limiting your options for gaining clients.
But choosing too many skills to tout to clients is a big mistake. If you lack the experience you need to put all of those skills to work, you likely won’t deliver the quality that clients are looking for. It can also make it tough to find the right clients for you because you’re casting too wide a net and won’t have time to check out every possible opportunity.
Instead, it’s best to choose a skill that you’re passionate about and skilled at, then focus your energy on showcasing it. If you’re looking to choose a skill to focus on as you launch your freelance career, start by asking yourself these questions.
What Are You Passionate About?
The most important question to ask yourself before launching a freelance career is what skills you have or would like to grow that you are passionate about.
In a traditional job, when you have days where you are feeling unmotivated, you’ll still get your paycheck, as long as those days don’t happen often enough to cause you to lose your job.
But when you’re a freelancer, staying passionate and motivated is the key to growing and maintaining a successful career. While it may be tempting to choose an area of focus that you feel will earn you a higher income right off the bat, it’s also important to choose something that you can see yourself working hard at day after day. If it’s something you’re going to dread doing, it isn’t the right choice.
John Hyslop, COO and Creative Director of Prose Media helps clients find freelance writers and says “As a freelance writer, it might be tempting to cast a wide net. We find that most of our clients actually prefer to work with writers who have a strong background in a specific sector, such as tech, finance, or healthcare. If you have expertise in a particular industry, be sure to emphasize that.”
Do You Have Any Formal Education in the Area?
Many freelance careers don’t require a college degree to work in their chosen field. However, if you do have a degree or any formal education in a specific area, this can make it easier to launch a successful career and help you demand a higher rate from your clients.
When working with a freelancer for the first time, clients may be wary of hiring someone who is new to freelancing. Having a degree on your resume can help set their minds at ease that while you might not have a lot of freelance experience, you do have formal training that will help you to get the job done right.
An associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, or master’s degree in a specific field is a great launching point for your freelance career. If you don’t have a degree, though, you don’t necessarily need to go back to school.
Even a non-degree-earning education, like an online course or program, can be a great addition to your portfolio and the applications you send to freelance clients.
Do You Have Any Previous Work Experience?
Previous work experience in a related field is another great way to win over clients when you’re first building your freelance career.
Even small voice over jobs you’ve previously done or articles that you wrote for your college newspaper can be a great way to attract your first clients and start building a reputation for yourself.
What Equipment Will You Need?
One of the cons of going from a traditional job to doing freelance work is losing out on the equipment that your employer once provided.
From a laptop to a desk to a cellphone to a printer, you’ll need to provide any and all equipment that you need to do your job on your own.
For instance, if you want to do freelance work as a voice artist, you’ll need to build your own mini-studio in your home or workspace. Besides a laptop or desktop computer for communicating with clients and managing your audio files, you’ll also need a good microphone and an audio interface.
If you want to create high-quality voice over work, it’s also a good idea to invest in a sound booth or create a sound-proof space in which to do your recordings.
Luckily, you can claim these and other costs as business expenses when it comes time to file your taxes as a freelancer. But it’s important to calculate the cost of any equipment you’ll need upfront, as you’ll need to pay for these items before you can start earning an income from your new income stream.
What Software Will You Need?
Besides equipment like computers or microphones, many freelance careers also require software and other digital tools. Just like your office equipment, this is another expense that you’ll need to account for before you can start getting freelance clients and seeing a return on your investment, so it’s important to consider them when choosing an area to focus on.
If you want to become a freelance copywriter, you won’t necessarily need expensive word processing software to get started. Typing your content on a free site like Google Docs will net the same result for your clients.
But if you want to become a freelance graphic designer, you’ll likely need a selection of software to create projects for your clients. Depending on the type of work you’re doing, you might need Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, or other software.
Voice artists, music producers, and audio editors also need the right software to edit and manage the files for their clients and to deliver a professional, polished final result.
Where Can I Earn the Best Return on My Investment?
Once you’ve considered your current skills and passions and calculated any up-front costs you’ll have to launch your business, ask yourself where you’ll earn the best return on your investment.
After all, freelance work is more than a chance to set your own hours; it’s also a way to replace or supplement your income from another career.
While you might be passionate about one area of work, if it won’t help you make up the cost of any equipment or software you need, it’s likely not the right choice as you’re starting your freelance career. Ideally, the field about which you’re passionate and the field that will earn you a reliable income will be the same, but as that isn’t always the case, it’s important to consider meeting in the middle. You want to choose something that will meet your financial needs and obligations while still allowing you to feel passionate about your work. And don’t forget, you can also add other areas of focus once you have established yourself and started working steadily for clients. The field you start off with doesn’t have to be the only thing you’ll ever do.
How to Market Yourself as a Freelancer
Once you’ve decided which of your skills you’d like to focus on, it’s time to get to work.
- Treat Your Freelancing as a Business
Whether you’re keeping your day job and instead building a side income or you’re looking to go full-time, it’s important to treat your freelancing as a business.
This means committing time and effort to grow your business each day, investing in yourself, and doing your research. Even if you’re pursuing something you’re passionate about, you need to be professional with clients and serious about finding the right opportunities for you.
While you might not be able to bring in the kind of income that you’re dreaming of right from the start, you also need to value your time and your work and make sure the clients you choose to work with value it as well.
Too many freelancers take on projects for free in hopes of securing a new client or gaining exposure. While it may be tough to secure clients without a lot of previous related work experience, building a portfolio and doing your own personal passion projects that you can showcase can go a long way towards making sure your first gig is a paying one.
Just as with any small business, when you do begin earning an income, it’s a good idea to start setting aside some of the money that you earn. Building a “rainy day fund” can not only help you get through tough times as a freelancer but can also be used when you decide to invest in your business down the road with better equipment or by taking a course to further your skills. And let’s not forget, it’s important to set aside some of your income for tax time.
- Create a Website for Yourself
Creating a website is a great way to start connecting with clients. Your website is a chance to showcase your work and talk about the previous projects you’ve worked on.
It also gives you a great digital business card to share with clients. Having a beautiful, well-designed website can help set you apart from other freelancers and ensure that you come across as experienced and professional to clients.
- Join Freelance Websites
While building a website to showcase your business is important, when you’re new to freelancing, it can be a challenge to get your website seen by clients.
Tracking down and contacting individual prospective clients is very time-consuming. Because so many others are also competing for their attention, this method can also be discouraging to new freelancers.
That’s where freelance websites come in. These virtual marketplaces help connect clients looking for help with freelancers who have the skills that they need.
There are tons of freelance websites out there designed to help clients find independent contractors with a variety of skills. If you have the time and dedication it takes to keep up with each one, you can join as many as you’d like. However, it’s best to focus your efforts on those that offer the best chance of getting steady, well-paying freelance work.
The Top 5 Freelancing Websites to Join
Freelancing websites are a great place to find your first client or to continue generating contracts alongside any steady freelance work that you’re already doing.
But while there are hundreds of websites out there, not all of them are a great choice.
Some charge high prices for freelancers to join, without any promise of a return on your investment. Others fail to offer support to freelancers, leaving them high and dry if a client fails to pay for work.
Luckily, there are a few popular websites that are great for both new and experienced freelancers to find steady work.
While UpWork sometimes gets a bad reputation for featuring many low-paying jobs, it can be a great resource for freelancers willing to take the time to find the many hidden gems.
UpWork is a freelance website that allows freelancers to create a profile and apply to jobs posted by clients. You can filter your searches for jobs related to your skills and experience level. You will need to pay for connections, but if you’re struggling to connect with clients on your own, this can be a great way to get your foot in the door.
While UpWork claims to connect freelancers and clients in a wide variety of fields, it tends to be the better choice for copywriters, editors, and graphic designers.
If you do more specialized creative work, you’ll likely find better clients on a platform designed to connect them with freelancers who have those skills.
Voices is the #1 creative services marketplace. With access to over 42,000 companies posting more than 5,000 jobs each month, the Voices marketplace helps you focus less on finding work, and more on getting paid to do it.
Freelancers build a profile on the website, which can also be used to showcase their rating earned from previous jobs on the site. Then, clients post a job and the site’s JobMatch algorithm invites qualified talent to check out the job and apply.
Finding steady work can be a challenge for new creatives, but Voices makes it easy for talented freelancers to find clients.
If you have a degree or several years of experience in an in-demand field like copywriting or graphic design and want to avoid having to weed out the lower-paying clients on a site like UpWork, Toptal is a great alternative.
This site claims to accept only the top 3 percent of freelancers and requires a pretty competitive application in order to join. But if you make the cut, you can browse high-paying jobs with well-known corporations.
Much like UpWork, Fiverr has a reputation for low-paying jobs. However, many freelancers swear by it as a way to not only launch a new career but also to find great long-term clients.
On Fiverr, freelancers create a job post for any skills that they have. For instance, you might post an offer to write a blog of a certain length for a set price. Clients browse freelancers with the skills that they are looking for and hire them for that set price.
Another popular freelance website is Guru. While less well-known than the others on this list, this growing platform is inexpensive to use and can help freelancers with a variety of skills connect with clients.
Like other sites, clients can leave feedback for freelancers that they’ve worked with. This then goes into your feedback score that other clients can see when they’re thinking about hiring you.
Making Money as a Freelancer
Like any career, exactly how much money you can expect to earn as a freelancer will vary depending on a wide variety of factors.
Your experience, education, the type of work you’re doing, and the clients that you choose to work with will all affect your bottom line. However, there is an average range that freelancers with different skills can expect to earn for their work.
While some freelance writers may choose to charge by the hour, most copywriters, journalists, and bloggers charge by the word.
How much you can earn per word will increase as your skills and experience increase. The industries that you choose to work in and the types of clients that you take on will also affect how much you can earn.
On average, you can expect to earn anywhere from around $0.02 per word, or $10 per 500 words, to over $1 per word, or over $500 per 500-word article.
When it comes to voice over work, artists typically charge by the project or by the amount of time they are recording, rather than by the total amount of time it takes to finish a project.
Voice artist work starts at around $20 for a small project to several thousand dollars for larger broadcasts and voice over work. For a production under 2 minutes in length, companies can expect to spend between $100 and $249 for the finished product.
Because of the work that goes into editing audio, this type of work is typically charged by the hour. For instance, editing the audio for a 15-minute project will likely take between 1 and 2 hours, and net you anywhere from $25 to $100 per hour for your work, depending on your experience level.
Similar to audio editing, video production is another freelance job that tends to pay by the hour because of the work that it takes. However, because you may need to shoot on location and use your own expensive equipment, you’ll also earn a higher rate.
Rates for video production work range from around $50 per hour to over $200 per hour.
Video editors typically use a ratio to determine how long it will take to edit a certain amount of video content. For instance, an editor might set a 5:1 ratio, which means that it would take 5 hours to edit the footage down to a 1-hour video.
Once this ratio is set, editors then charge by the hour. You can expect to earn between $75 and $150 per hour depending on your experience.
Similar to freelance writing, freelance translation is a job that typically pays by the word. Because you are not creating new content and the work takes less time, you’ll also earn less per word than freelance writers.
As a translator, you can expect to earn between $0.04 and $0.08 per word, though you may earn more when working long term for a larger corporation, or when you need to work on short deadlines.
How To Be Successful as a Freelancer
Launching a successful freelance career takes hard work and determination. But if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, doing freelance work full-time or even on the side is a great way to earn an income. It’s also a chance to enjoy flexible hours and to follow your passions.
If you’re ready to launch your own freelance career as a voice artist, we can help. Whether you’re brand new to the field or already have years of experience, building a profile on Voices is a great choice. It’s a simple way to connect with clients and start building your own successful business.
Check out our talent membership options today to choose the right one for you!