The nine-to-five workday grind has its benefits but isn’t for everyone. In fact, 71% of people (or 73.3 million) in the U.S. plan to freelance in 2023.
With almost three-quarters of the U.S. workforce freelancing, this working style is undeniably attractive to many. Solo work allows people to structure their workdays how they wish, choose their hours, and define work-life balance. For the 71%, these perks are worth absorbing the risks of non-salaried work.
Here’s everything you need to know about what freelancing is and how to get a successful start as a solopreneur.
What is a freelancer?
Freelancers are independent contractors (ICs) who work on a project-by-project basis. They generally offer specialized services –– such as copywriting, photography, and graphic design –– and have direct contact with clients or end users.
Since freelancers deal directly with clients, they are often responsible for the administrative aspects of “running a business,” like sending price quotes, marketing services, invoicing, and collecting payment. They also calculate and pay their own taxes and invest in secure insurance policies — tasks employers often absorb for their employees.
There are different types of freelancers. For instance, many ICs work from home offices, while some attend client meetings or perform their services in person (e.g., a language interpreter or therapist).
How does freelancing work?
Since freelance workers are self-employed, they can choose projects. But freelancing also requires a great deal of responsibility. Here’s a comprehensive list of components aspiring ICs should consider:
- Business type: Freelancers should research business regulations for their geographic area before launching their business. In some jurisdictions, freelancers don’t have to register their businesses as long as they pay taxes. In other regions, they’ll have to register as a sole proprietor or limited liability company (LLC).
- Tax liabilities: ICs (or their accountants) must file “freelance taxes” annually. Unlike employees who work for companies that withhold taxes from each paycheck, freelancers must pay after filing, meaning they should set aside funds for this payment throughout the year. They should also record expenses to list deductions when filing.
- Insurance: Freelancers are responsible for insuring themselves and their businesses, so they should have health and life insurance in addition to a policy that covers business equipment, claims, and property damage.
- Bank accounts: A separate income and professional expense fund helps freelancers keep business and personal cash flow separate. This also makes projecting revenue and visualizing work-related costs easier.
- Contracts: Freelancers should be prepared to ask new clients to sign a contract detailing the scope of work, payment terms, and other rules of engagement. These agreements protect freelancers from non-payment and set client boundaries before a dispute arises.
How to become a freelancer
If you’re ready to reap the benefits of freelance work and take the plunge, start with a clear plan and expectations. Here’s how to set yourself up for success as an IC:
- Determine your offering: Although freelance work often includes jobs that people can perform from a home office with minimal equipment and overheads, you can also work as a freelancer in person. For instance, you could provide English-to-French translation services to tourists. But if you’re unsure about your services, research options that match your skill set and won’t require significant start-up fees or overhead costs.
- Choose your target market: Choose a target demographic based on your services. For example, if you offer Spanish translation services, your target clientele could be immigration lawyers, governmental offices, or brands with an international presence.
- Create a brand identity: Even if you’re a solopreneur, you should have a brand name, logo, and overall brand identity. Branding helps audiences recognize your company wherever they see reference to it, and strong images imply professionalism and generate trust. Establish a brand color scheme, fonts, and voice.
- Create a portfolio: Freelancers, especially those offering creative services, should have a portfolio of examples to show interested parties. This is your advertising folder. Host your portfolio online so you can redirect potential clients to it from your social media accounts or an email.
- Set prices: Research your local market or industry standards to determine prices for your services. Consider charging by unit (e.g., per word rates for copywriting or translation) or project. If you work in a field like coaching, create package rates as a perk for clients who purchase multiple sessions upfront.
- Market your services: Social media is critical for freelancers offering creative services, as potential clients treat ICs’ profiles as virtual portfolios. Use your web and social media presence to promote your business. For instance, create professional accounts on apps, such as Instagram and LinkedIn, with clear bios to cue potential clients into your work. Next, post industry-related content, offer promotions on your services, and add your website’s link to your socials, leveraging content marketing to propel traffic. Create blog content that contains keywords a potential client might look up on the internet, like “How does motivational coaching work?” Alternatively, freelancer marketplaces, such as Upwork, are also excellent spaces to promote services and connect with others in your industry.
What are some freelance job examples?
People typically think freelancing means photography, videography, and graphic designing. But these aren’t all. Here are a few freelance professions to explore:
- Copywriting, editing, and translation
- Financial and accounting support (such as tax filing)
- PR, marketing, and sales
- IT and development
- Engineering and architecture
- Legal work
- Gig economy
- Dog walker
The benefits of freelancing
Working from home might be a big enough draw for some aspiring freelancers, but a few other benefits sweeten the deal. Here are a few more reasons why freelancing is an attractive path:
- Project ownership: ICs see projects through, from start to finish, meaning they take full ownership of their work, pushing them to explore their creativity and develop new skills.
- Rate setting: Freelancers determine the cost of their work based on skills, experience, and earning needs. But they must also keep their rates in line with local and industry standards to compete.
- Client choice: Freelancers can take on only the clients they wish — to an extent. Occasionally, independents may need to take on whatever projects are available to make ends meet. However, even when taking less exciting work, freelancers move within the industry they’re passionate about.
- Exposure to new experiences: Freelancers learn a lot about running their own businesses and observe how others run theirs. For example, a business coach will learn valuable lessons from various industries, and a professional language interpreter will participate in compelling conferences.
Keep your freelancer work organized with Practice
Working independently allows you to reclaim your autonomy, explore the projects that excite you, and set your own hours. There are risks and a learning curve associated with running a business, but the payout makes it all worth it.
You can limit some of the risk and administrative hassle of sole proprietorship by using a customer relationship management (CRM) tool. Practice’s Client Management Software –– designed with small businesses, coaches, and ICs in mind –– lets you securely store client data, send messages and invoices, and receive payment. You can also use it to take appointments if you have a service-oriented business. Try Practice today.