A freelancer is a self-employed person who is not bound by the so-called commitments of a job. A Freelancer (usually) does not take long-term jobs and likes to plan his/her work timings as per the jobs in hand.
I have freelanced in past through websites like upwork, guru.com and freelancer.com. Also, i have trained working professionals to become successful freelancers.
All of them have done quite well for themselves. As a matter of fact, some of them have successfully transformed freelancing work into full-time businesses.
In this blog, I am going to teach you how to become a successful freelancer.
This blog is your complete Guide to Freelancing.
Before i jump to how to become a successful freelancer, let’s first understand the growth of freelancing economy.
The Growth of Freelancing Economy:
Thanks to the Internet, the freelancing economy has grown at a very good pace in the last few years.
- Around 36% of U.S workers work from home and they together contributed around 1.4 trillion dollars to the economy in the year 2017.
The amount of 4 trillion dollars is a 30% increase in comparison to the contribution made by the work from home workforce in 2016.
77% of freelancers feel that they are more financially stable after switching from full-time jobs to freelancing.
And if trends are to be believed, more than 40% of U.S population plans on freelancing in coming few years. They Say, 2020 is the year 😊. I have already started preparing for the day.
(stats source : https://www.upwork.com/press/2017/10/17/freelancing-in-america-2017/)
During our EDP training programs, I meet so many people who want to get that extra source of income (in addition to their full-time jobs) or are looking to leave their jobs and start working on their own.
Since most of them have not had any entrepreneurial experience, they are majorly interested in trying the waters of entrepreneurship as a freelancer and if things go well – hire a team and transform their freelancing into a full-time venture.
To be frank, not everyone is interested in running ventures and building businesses. There are many, who want to work as freelancers without taking the burden of running a business on their head.
A few years back, my wife wanted to get back to work. She was earlier working with me and had to take a long sabbatical because of kids. Anyways, kids started school and she started looking for work opportunity which allowed her flexible hours.
Full-time jobs were totally out of question. Before you interrupt me with “the flexible hours and work from home” argument. Here is what you must understand – the chances of any new employee getting flexible hours to work or work from home is very rare.
These opportunities are generally reserved (not the quota system) for old employees or for job seekers who have not had a career break.
The ones getting back to work after a long break do not so soon gain the trust of employers.
I suggested freelancing to my wife. She started working on some freelancing websites as a content writer and today, happily works from home – 15 to 25 hours a week (the money hasn’t been bad either 😉 ).
She has all that she wanted. Flexible work hours, a job matching her skill set, Good earnings and an amazing spouse (blushing :D).
Though, she might not agree with me on the last point – I think she at least will agree to have flexible work hours and earning decent money through her freelancing career.
Here are a few other reasons why people freelance:
- Earn extra Money: I will be candid in accepting when times were rough (when were they not ☹ ) for me with my venture. Basically, my business wasn’t paying me enough to meet my expenses and I was living on the hope of a better future – I freelanced for quite some time.
Likewise, I know of full-time employees who take to freelancing to earn those extra bucks.
Obviously, you need a lot of determination and hard work to freelance and work as an employee at the same time.
Add to it, the possibility of a conflict of interest with your employers.
Therefore, I highly recommend – you only freelance in fields which do not lead to conflict of interest with your employer and you only do it when you have enough time with you (Do you get enough spare time in your job? Please email me your company’s name. I have a résumé to drop 😊).
Do not be an unethical prick by diverting your company’s clients to you for a lesser fee.
- Their Qualification does not pay them enough: I know a freelancer who took to freelancing because his existing job paid peanuts.
He started as a virtual assistant for overseas clients and then, kept upgrading his skill set to become a digital marketer. Today, he earns a lot more than what his fulltime job paid him.
- They want to work on their own: You absolutely abhor your job life. Your boss is a dick.
The workplace is hell and everyone in the workplace is conspiring against you. In a nutshell, you hate your job. (My empathy for you comes from the privilege of sitting at this “thankless” Boss place for years. I know of employees who are the victims and they always smile at the “boss is a dick” stereotyped joke. Did it bring a smile to your face? 😉 ).
So, what are your options?
- You have already switched 5 jobs in the last 2 years and still have not been able to find something that gives you “inner peace”.
- You still hate to reach office at 10 and quite predictably, never get to leave office at 6:30. The last time you had the quality “family time” was, when you went out shopping to Big Bazar with your wife.
You have a strong drive to work on your own.
Most importantly, you do not shy away from work, but you hate the 9 to 6 mundane routine.
Yes, freelancing is a perfect option for you. Especially, when you might want to start small and test the waters of entrepreneurship as an individual than start a venture with a truckload of financial commitments.
I know of freelancers who only take up projects as per their workload and do not outsource. These guys rarely trust anyone else and are not interested in outsourcing works to anyone.
They are the best freelancers I have worked with and I (patiently) work around their work timings.
How can you Freelance?
Freelancing via online marketplaces:
Freelancing platforms such a upwork.com, freelancer.com, payperhour.com and fiverr.com has given birth to what is referred to as – the gig economy.
The first and the logical step performed by anyone looking to turn into a freelancer is registering on one of these portals (or all of them, depending on your bandwidth).
I vividly remember registering on elance.com around 8 years back and winning my first project there to help another freelancer from the USA find projects on elance.com.
My work was commission based. The more the projects I won on elance for him, the more was the commission I was to get.
Quite predictably, I did not earn a penny. I was a novice to the world of freelancing and I had my business to run. I just turned to freelancing to earn those elusive extra bucks.
The gig (commission based) wasn’t really too much of an encouragement for me.
As expected, I got fired after a month.
Despite all the embarrassment of getting sacked, I still have only good words for the guy who gave me the opportunity.
He was already an established player on elance. He just wanted someone to promote him more. The only mistake he did was. He forgot one simple rule of business “You are your best marketer”.
He outsourced me something, I had no clue about.
Nevertheless, he taught me:
- How to find jobs
- How to make proposals
- How to respond to leads
He gave me a template. A template I turned into a method for my business.
I later formalized the method into a full-fledged course on Udemy – Start a Freelancing Career or an Agency on upwork in 2018.
The biggest success for me was turning my freelancing into a full-fledged agency on elance and odesk (Both the web portals later merged into a single entity called as Upwork).
Our agency went on to do more than 1000 projects on both the platforms.
Other ways to find freelancing gigs:
The other ways through which you can freelance is through your connections.
You can visit networking events or let your friends, acquaintances know that you are freelancing. It’s like marking a business with a small difference. Here you are marketing yourself.
In starting, keep your prices low and keep up your top-notch quality work. I see no reason, why you will not get clients.
I know of a freelancer who does not rely on freelancing marketplaces. Instead, he relies on word of mouth publicity. Since he is disabled and cannot work for long hours, he takes projects and works from home.
Freelancing has been a blessing for him. I have personally outsourced him project many times and he has surprised me every time with the quality delivery of projects at an affordable price.
What are the best Freelance websites?
The largest amount of freelancing happens on the web through freelancing marketplaces like upwork, freelancer, fiverr, etc.
The reason for freelancing happening via these platforms is quite simple.
Most of the work outsourced here is to the third world countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippines, etc. And that happens for a simple reason – Cost cutting.
Consider this. On upwork, you can get Freelancers in a price range of USD 3/hr to USD 30/hour. Now compare the price range with the price you pay to get work done in any first world country.
Add to it, the paperwork, benefits, etc you must pay to hire someone locally.
Also, there are times buyers don’t need someone for a long-term project.
Buyers (most of the times) are not looking for long-term commitments. They just want freelancers to do gigs and move on.
The freelancing marketplace does not have a lot of players today. Around 2-3 years back, a lot of consolidation happened in the form of merger and acquisitions in this market.
Portals like script lance, getafreelancer, etc were acquired by freelancer.com. Thereby, turning freelancer.com into a major player in the freelancing platform market.
The rise of freelancer.com was noticed by the other two major players – elance and odesk.com. They did the logical thing merging into a single business entity under the name of upwork.com.
Today Upwork has twelve million registered freelancers and five million registered clients, making it one of the largest freelancer marketplaces. Three million jobs are posted annually, worth a total of $1 billion USD. (source : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upwork)
Another good platform helping freelancers succeed on internet is Fiverr.com. The platform works on the concept of gigs where freelancers advertise their gigs in the form of packages. You can buy a gig and they deliver it in the stipulated timeframe.
There is close to 1 million monthly transactions on Fiverr.com and the website has around 2 million registered users worldwide. (source : https://expandedramblings.com/index.php/fiverr-facts-statistics/).
Overall the freelancing economy has grown from strength to strength over the years and all the above web portals have played an important role in connecting freelancers with buyers looking to get their projects done via internet.
If you ask me to select my favourite platform, I will be biased towards Upwork.com because of the quality of projects and freelancers on the platform. I also find their interface to be very easy to use.
What are the most in-demand skills in Freelancing?
I will get to statistics later. Let me address this question from my personal experience.
Since most of the work happens online, the most in-demand skillset in freelancing has to be programming or coding in open source languages and platforms like LAMP, WordPress, Magento, etc.
The second most in-demand scheme has to be Digital marketing, Content writing and then there are other in-demand skills like virtual assistance, telecalling, etc.
As per GetSmarter, website designing, graphic designing, photography, content writing and digital marketing were the top most in-demand skills in the year 2017.
With demand, comes a huge supply of freelancers and we have a lot of them. All the countries contributing to the major chunk of freelancers are south Asian countries.
The marketplaces are flooded with freelancers looking to make easy bucks. Thereby, making it very difficult for good freelancers to stand out from others.
This brings me to the inevitable question: “How can one become a Successful freelancer?”
I mean, how do you stand out of the crowd?
There is absolutely no secret formula to succeed. If there was one, I would be the first one to consume it as I have tried to find a shortcut to become rich for years 😉 (with little or no success).
Here are the few tips to help you become a successful freelancer:
Finally, we reach the section you have eagerly been waiting for. Here are some simple steps to help you become a successful freelancer.
- Become Presentable:
Aha! Here is your chance to look dapper. Time to get dressed in a three-piece suit as if you are heading for a business meeting.
I was joking. Leave the dapper look to the corporate. What is the point of being a freelancer if you cannot work wearing a vest and shorts 😉? Where is the freedom in wearing a suit?
By asking you to become presentable, I meant presenting your credentials in a well formatted, presentable format.
On freelancing websites, you get to create your profile. Work towards making it presentable. The profile is your brand identity. Spend some time on it.
Likewise, you must have a website to showcase your work. Use a website theme that goes with your work. If you are a photographer, have a website that relies a lot on images and so on….
Remember, you do not work for a company now. You are yourself a product that you are trying to sell. The more presentable you are, the better are the chances of you landing a gig.
- Learn to market yourself:
What’s marketing, mate? I know geeky guys are scared to shit when you ask them to market themselves.
Dude! If you cannot market yourself, you cannot freelance.
Marketing here does not mean creating ads about you. It very simple means making yourself presentable (something I mentioned earlier) and making good proposals.
And for god’s sake, do not hire marketing people to promote yourself.
There is no one on earth who can market you better than yourself. For some reason, if you cannot make good proposals or do not know what to do with your skill set – go back to “mother internet” and learn the tricks of the trade.
As they say “No Pain. No Gain”.
- Get some discipline in your life:
You might be thinking in your mind “Hey! You sound like someone who is giving a generic life advice to everyone. Why is it so specific to becoming a freelancer?”.
I know, everything I have written is so generic that it applies to everyone in life.
Here is the catch. What I have written holds more meaning to freelancers as their inability to bring discipline to their new-found freedom ruins their freelancing careers.
You have no idea, how many freelancers I have ended a contract with because of their lack of commitment to stick to deadlines and go incommunicado without any prior intimation.
I perfectly understand that you are a freelancer who wants to work as per your convenience but what does your client tell his client about your unprofessional behaviour?
I have had projects tank because of outsourcing mistakes I have done in past.
From what I have observed, in discipline is a major issue with freelancers. They earn some bucks and spend it recklessly 😊. (millennial, are you listening?)
Screw the project and forget the client. Since the client is sitting 1000 of miles away from you and you are not a company he can sue, you make him work as per your whims and fancies.
Trust me, this is the biggest reason for failures of freelancers. That’s why I emphasize a lot on getting discipline in the work regime of freelancers to build trusts with their clients.
You get discipline by pro-actively working with clients. Simple things like:
- Communicating properly via chat or calls.
- Sending weekly reports.
- Sticking to schedules
- Maintain a proper project plan and sticking to it.
- Letting clients know beforehand about any urgent issues.
- Prioritizing work as per deliverables agreed
Will help you succeed.
It’s not easy being a freelancer. You are working from home (most of the time) and family starts taking you for granted. They will expect you to do things, you wouldn’t do if you were working in a job.
Talk to them and explain to them, why your presence at home cannot be confused with you having little or no work to do.
A little discipline and planning are all you need to succeed.
Once the trust develops, there is no dearth of work in the market for freelancers.
- Learn the language of Masses: English
Before you start spitting your patriotic B.S on me, here is a food for thought “Where do think does the majority of freelancing work on the web comes from?”
It’s from all the first world countries where the language of interaction is English.
How do you expect to interact with clients if you do not know their language?
Please don’t tell me, you plan to use google translator because it is a horrible tool. A tool where the meaning of language gets lost in translation.
Learn English to succeed as a freelancer.
- Make use of web-based tools to help you with freelancing:
Time is money. You as a freelancer will have to make good use of time to earn some good money.
How can you do that?
I recommend you to use tools like skype for calls, task management software like trello, asana or teamwork for better project interaction with clients and a scheduler like google calendar to take care of your work reminders.
Do not forget to have an account on PayPal, stripe for receiving online payments.
Plainly speaking, since you are on your own. You will need all the help possible to succeed as a freelancer.
Let automation handle some of your workloads.
Freelancing v/s Full-time jobs:
Living life as a freelancer is amazing (if the money is good). Still, freelancing has its own set of issues. Yeah…They tricked you into thinking – grass is greener on the other side.
- You will have full freedom to do whatever you like. You can create your own work calendar, you can decide your own work days – off days. You are your own boss! Now, how empowering is that?
Unfortunately, It’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, you have all the freedom in the world. On the other, you will be living without a support where you slip a little and you will not even have a notice period to serve.
- You will be minus insurance, job security, free office coffee, free travels, etc, etc. Please forget all the perks given to you by your last company. They are all things of the past. You are better off forgetting them as now, you will be living minus all past benefits.
- You will have to live with the thought that there are going to be times when you will have no work which will be different because, in a full-time job, you got paid even when you had no work to do. Frankly speaking, it should not be such a big deal as freelancers make a lot more than their jobs. If they plan smartly, they can save for days without work.
- Your home is your office and there is nothing like it. You can just get up from the bed and start working on your laptop. Think of the invaluable time you will save that you earlier saved while commuting and getting ready for office. Okay, do not take the last point seriously….please bathe, brush and live like a normal human. Do not confuse living like a freelancer to living as a primitive man.
- There will be a lot of distractions to get away from. Its good to be your own “Boss” but have you learned to work without a boss? Do you know what it takes to be successful with no one sitting on your head? Understand this point clearly. You are not reporting to a boss now and have your own time calendar to adhere to, but do you have the discipline to keep away all the distractions?
Life as a Freelancer is fun. I have lived it and have mentored enough freelancers to know the pitfalls.
I wish you luck. May the force be with you!